Sydney Morning Herald
July 7, 2008
For the under-20s
crowd, cool is all about the technology, writes David
What do teens want? Tech, tech and more tech.
From the latest mobile phone and game system to a new
Apple i-something and a virtual apartment, technology
increasingly defines the lifestyles of teenagers, say
marketing experts and company executives.
That was the main theme of the "What Teens Want"
conference in Manhattan last month, as advertisers
sought insights into a tech-savvy and globally connected
generation that is remaking the image of the typical
Tina Wells, chief executive of Buzz Marketing Group,
says: "Technology is starting to define what's cool in a
way that fashion used to define what's cool." For teens,
"as long as it's technology, it's what's hot".
Technology also has turned advertising upside-down, with
companies scrambling to adapt to internet video, digital
video recorders, mobile media devices and online social
networking. It's a fast-moving, tech-heavy world that
teens take for granted.
Jeremy Wright, global director of mobile brand strategy
with the European handset maker Nokia, says: "They're
just so receptive to new technology in ways that we find
hard to understand. They're the early explorers in
Jordan Berman, executive director of media innovation
for AT&T Mobility, the wireless division of the San
Antonio, Texas communications giant, says: "Teens have
adopted text messaging as a second language." He jokes
that thumb-typing teens now use their thumbs to push
The teen marketplace breaks into "tribes", Wells says.
Two of them are preppies, the popular kids, and techies,
who "five or six years ago were called nerds and geeks".
"As times have changed, [the techies] are really cool
kids," she says. "They're the ones that know about an
iPhone 18 months [before it arrives] and they teach a
preppie how to use it."
Wells, who started her firm in 1996 when she was 16,
studies trends with a global network of about 9000 young
people dubbed "BuzzSpotters".
Quoting an unfinished online survey, which so far
includes about 680 US participants, she says 65 per cent
of American teenagers plan to buy one or two tech items
this northern summer before heading back to school.
More than half say they will buy tech items when they
can afford them, Wells says, and only one in 10 is happy
with the tech gadgets he or she has.
Of the teens Wells polled online, 93 per cent say they
prefer the internet to television.
New York high school senior Jonathan Molyneaux agrees.
"You can watch TV shows on the internet, so what's the
point?" he says. He says he's cut virtually all
conventional TV viewing and has email forwarded to his
mobile phone, which he dubs "my life".
Wells's research also found 57 per cent of teens prefer
Facebook over MySpace, 71 per cent choose text messages
over instant messaging and 65 per cent would rather use
a Mac computer instead of a PC. That's a sign of brand
strength, since far fewer teens own a Mac, Wells says.
Counter to digital trends, 69 per cent of teens say they
prefer magazines to blogs, she says. Magazines remain
especially important to teenage girls, who see them as a
social, hands-on experience, Wells says.
At the other extreme, teens are increasingly flocking to
online destinations such as Habbo, a virtual community
for teens that reports 9.5 million unique worldwide
visitors each month, 2.4 million from the United States.
Owned by Sulake Corp in Finland, Habbo is free to use
but makes money through advertising and when users buy
in-world items such as furniture or clothing. Teens use
virtual avatars to chat, explore or play games.
Teemu Huuhtanen, Sulake's vice-president for marketing
and business development, says the site provides great
insights into trends, since "teens might want different
things every day".
Teenagers expect global interaction as technology such
as instant messaging lets them connect with their peers
around the world, Wells says. Teenagers also accept
there is a merging global youth culture, where hot
trends and entertainment can emerge from anywhere.
With this in mind, she says, media coverage of the
presidential campaign has puzzled many teens.
"They don't understand why race is such a big deal," she
says. "Their universe is totally different."
Wells says another force in youth culture is the idea
that anyone can easily become famous thanks to
video-sharing sites like YouTube, blogs and social
An example is the teen band Push Play from Long Island,
whose four male members are recent or imminent
high-school graduates. They told their story at the
marketing conference on Wednesday.
Without a music label, the band has found success
connecting with fans through text messages and a popular
MySpace page. Now, with merchandise and a popular album
on Apple's iTunes site, they've sold out 2000-seat New
York venues and plan to tour.
But, showing the gap between marketers and the teenage
consumers they covet, 18-year-old Push Play musician
Steve Scarola made many older audience members groan
after being asked to name his musical influences. "I'm
into old-time rock and roll," he said. "I saw Pearl Jam
at Madison Square Garden last night. It was incredible."
TEENS ON TECH
* 93 per cent say internet rather than TV.
* 71 per cent say texting rather than instant messaging.
* 69 per cent say magazines rather than blogs.
* 65 per cent say Mac rather than the PC.
* 57 per cent say Facebook rather than MySpace.