Generation Y’s fleeting attention spans

Posted on: 01/8/08 10:15 AM | by Jonathan McKee

I’m always intrigued by research about this new generation of young people. Anastasia Goodstein is one of the voices, if not THE voice, I listen to when it comes to gen y. Her Ypulse website and daily news always provides a gold mine of information about this generation.

I was fascinated by a guest post in her January 4th update. 12to20’s Richard Ellis and Vanessa Van Patten share their insight on how to make your “pitch” teen friendly. I think youth workers can glean from points 1 and 2. Points 3 and 5 come into play in event marketing for sure. Point 4 is just a keen insight into the lure of our sinful nature.

Sure, there are good songs and bad songs, good products and bad products, but, more importantly, there are certain necessary formulas you need to get your X factor “teen sticky.” With my (Richard’s) 20-year experience in the teen marketing industry and Vanessa’s young age, exposure to the net-generation and candid perspective, we have examined the successful viral marketing campaigns, recent explosive trends and current teen obsessions. Here are our golden rules so you can milk your cash cow and tap into Generation Y’s fleeting attention spans:

1) Make them aware of what they do not know…so they need to know

Smart rappers will throw in a few words in their rap song that are obscure and only a select few use/know the definitions. Teen listeners are usually embarrassed and curious that they do not know what thee words mean, and will immediately go and look them up. The key is to make sure that you only have one or two things that are mysterious so it taps into their curiosity rather than frustrating them.

Example: Platinum Rap Albums with interesting word choices that might have to be looked up: Red American Express, lamping, bushy behavior, Cholo, Cranking.

2) Make them aware of something they do know…so they feel like an insider

Everyone wants to feel like they know something that other’s don’t. Especially when it is something that they feel is made just for them. Evoking a sense of community or even slight ageism can be very appealing to teens because it makes them feel special or more like an insider.

Example: “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “Scary Movie 1 and 2” — Movies like these use special teen lingo, teen humor and have almost cult like followings, with Generation Yers, you constantly hear quotes and references to these movies as a type of bonding experience with others in your generation.

3) Make it gossipable

There has to be something about your product, book, video, or advertisement that teens can talk about. Whether it is something funny, something outrageous, a good story…make sure that they will want to talk about it with their friends, maybe get someone else’s opinion or be the person who can spread around the news of something cool.

Example: “Gossip Girl” — Yes, easy name, but the Gossip Girl books and show are so popular right now because girls love to talk about them. Not only do they talk about the story line, they talk about which actor is the ugliest, the outfits, the advertisements, the online community on their website. Girls are obsessed because there is so much to talk about, so they do not stop talking about it!

4) Make it naughty

This is one great way to make something “gossipable.” Everything is better when it feels like it is a little bit bad. Of course, you do not want to offend anyone, and it is a careful balance between offensive and edgy, but when it is good to add a little bit of “naughtiness” to your product’s package, maybe just a glimpse of something that a teen would say, “oh, that’s bad, I sorta want it.”

Example: Jessica Simpson’s “These Boots Are Made For Walking Video” — Ok, we know, that was an awesome video with some scantily clad women, but many teens who purchased or downloaded the video were girls who were not interested in the women, but something else. Well, much of the video was Mrs. Simpson looking at the camera with a secret grin, the whole production has an air of you-are-watching-something-you-are-not-supposed-t0…but that video got watched and watched and watched by teens (girls and boys included).

5) Make it sharable, Let them manipulate

Whatever you are trying to promote, you need to make sure you have lots of ways that teens can manipulate it: text messages, ringtones, communities, website, chat rooms, profile pages, videos, discussion boards. Teens love to be able to have a say in whatever they are doing. So if there is a TV show, there needs to be an online community, textable reminders when the show starts, t-shirt contests…anything that makes it easy to participate in your product.

Example: “Leave Britney Alone!” — There is a video going around the Internet on Youtube by a guy who is defending Britney’s behavior, every teen I know has this video saved onto their computer. Youtube makes things very sharable, there are message boards, links, embed codes. Teens made websites where people could post response videos, it was easily able to have mass dissemination and teens could partake in the process.