The Kids Have Spoken

I am not fluent in Kid, but I can get by. When my 16-year-old asks if I have enough flow for the T, I respond that yeah, I have enough money to buy dinner at Taco Bell. I know he’s fine with something that’s chill, and he’s really, really fine with something that’s insane. After much struggle, I have even come to terms with being called dude, man.

And because we write about marketers’ attempts to pick apart the pubescent lifestyle, I am privy to a bigger picture than most parents have about what their offspring do or don’t do. So, all in all, I’m usually pretty pleased with my knowledge of the darling demo.

But apparently I don’t know jack, and I’ve got the survey to prove it.

I’ve seen endless explorations into why teens don’t watch much TV at all anymore, but little about how they respond to what they see when they are watching—not an unimportant inquiry, considering the medium’s obsession with youth and its attendant positioning to advertisers and agencies.

So I asked Streetwise Concepts & Culture, the Los Angeles-based teen-marketing company, to ask some of its teen street-team members if they’d seen any “totally great” or “really terrible” ads recently. I figured the feedback would heavy up on hip-hop, videogame, athletic-shoe, potty-humor, straining-to-be-insane spots.

That so did not happen.

Nearly 700 kids gave their thumbs-up or -down to various commercials, and none of the usual suspects showed up in the findings, pro or con.

The favorites were Grey’s ad for Dairy Queen’s Brownie Batter Blizzard and Fallon’s spots for Starbucks’ canned coffee drinks. The former, in which a hubby gets his tongue stuck to the beaters of an electric mixer when he tries to lick the batter, “cracks me up,” says Noel from Chandler, Ariz. The latter, in which Survivor follows a guy around singing “Eye of the Tiger,” is “brilliant,” according to Juan from Bellflower, Calif.

At least there weren’t any Cialis ads on the “totally great” list. That would be creepy.

On the flip side, there’s bad news for some agencies. Doner’s Mr. Six, and the whole Six Flags campaign, on air for less than a year, “really needs to die,” says Kevin in Lewiston, N.Y. And The Martin Agency’s Geico commercials are “old fogeys,” posits Goldie from Golden, Colo.

Kids were split on Deutsch’s Old Navy work, either loving it or hating it. Especially polarizing was the spot in which a kid goes into what appears to be a manic episode over mowing the lawn.

What surprised me was that the youngsters surveyed didn’t single out any spots, one way or the other, for jeans, games, movies, music or products that require carbonation.

Sure, some of the advertisers they did mention do want to talk to kids, but not necessarily kids exclusively. (Geico and Starbucks, in particular, figure to skew older in their targeting.) Still, the results beg this ticklish question: Could the parade of broadcast and cable buys designed to tempt teens by advertisers in all of these various categories be for naught?

Sure. And—counterintuitively—it’s because jeans, games, movies, music and soda are really important to kids. They don’t pay attention to those spots, because they’ve already gotten their brand preferences from their peers. And by some hormonal telepathy, they always know about new products from any really chill advertisers way before the campaign breaks. Humming-bird attention spans like these aren’t going to alight on an ad for something they’ve already made up their minds about.

So the results are both surprising and sobering. You can break through to kids through TV advertising, as long as it’s a category they aren’t all that interested in to begin with.

Which is not good news for jeans, games, etc. But it’s great for the Brownie Batter Blizzard.