North Castle Forms Digital-Marketing Unit

Marketers use all sorts of tactics to get their ideas across to teenagers—including pop culture tie-ins such as popular songs in commercials and product placement. With that age group in mind, North Castle Partners is looking to leverage the next potential big thing: digital marketing.

The Stamford, Conn., shop, which targets teens with work for Slim Jim and PHisoderm, is hoping to take advantage of the growing importance of wireless technology among the target with the launch of its Nextstep unit last week.

Headed by digital-marketing executive Jim Davis and agency partner Grant McDonald, Nextstep will use technologies such as MP3 download sponsorship and cell-phone text and picture messaging to market its clients’ products and services to the youth market.

“Teens are naturally very receptive to new ideas,” Davis said.

North Castle was impressed with Davis’ experience developing digital-marketing programs.

Though Nextstep will focus on teenagers in the near term, Davis stressed that the unit will not be limited to youth marketing, particularly as teens exert their influence over family purchases of items such as cars and computers.

“The combination should interest marketers looking for opportunities with this [teenage] target,” said Amanda Kelly, a relationship-marketing executive with Unilever, who worked with Davis in the 1990s at Modem Media in Norwalk, Conn.

North Castle plans to introduce this summer a Digital Teen Lab, which will feature the latest technologies in a setting for teens and marketers to come together and test out new products and services.

Other agencies that focus on marketing to kids and teenagers include The Geppetto Group, Alloy and McCann-Erickson’s new venture, Tag.

More than any other age group, youths are turning to the Internet and other interactive media, according to Knowledge Networks/Statistical Research in Westfield, N.J. A 2002 study by the group revealed that 33 percent of 8- to 17-year-olds chose the Internet over five other media—including television and radio—if given the option to access only one.

“We haven’t cracked the code yet on all the ways to leverage and market and position and price the wireless-messaging revolution, but it’s going to be big, and it’s going to be important,” said Jeff Kagan, a telecommunications analyst based in Atlanta.

Although they are still relatively unused in the U.S., text messaging and digital marketing are commonplace in Europe and Japan, said Rishad Tobaccowala, president of Starcom MediaVest Group’s Starcom IP in Chicago. But as the U.S. catches up to those markets, expertise in the arena will be in demand, he said.

“When it comes to a richer experience, [digital marketing] will be no different from TV commercials or Internet-based ads,” he said.