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What My 15-Year Old Son Taught Me About Marketing

Teenage Boy with Cell Phone The other day I was irritated by the lack of response to an email I had sent a few days before to my 15 year old son. That night at dinner, I asked him why he hadn’t responded. His answer? “Mom, it’s not like I check email every day you know!”.  That statement stopped me in my tracks. While I am a user of blogs, Facebook, twitter, and text, I am also of a generation who couldn’t survive without email. I check it many times each day and couldn’t imagine going without it for long.

Curious, I asked him how best to reach him when I was at work and he was at home. His answers, in order of preference were:

  • Text me (I always have my phone with me)
  • IM me (it’s the first thing I do when I get home from school and it works when I am playing video games on TV too)
  • Facebook me (yes Facebook is also a verb)
  • Phone me (but not on my cell phone cause it costs me money)

I then asked him how many emails he gets each week – “about 3-6 per week depending on the time of year”, and how many he sends each week – “about 1-2, mostly for school projects and only because Facebook won’t let you send attachments”.

He went on to tell me that aside from sending school attachments, email was just for “work”, adults he doesn’t know well (like his boss) and adults who weren’t on his friends list on Facebook.

If he is the norm, this next generation of kids has completely different internet usage patterns than their parents and these behaviours have huge implications on marketers who want to reach this demographic. How do you reach an audience who live in a connected world but who are trained to talk only to their “friends”. Here are some predictions on what this might mean to consumer marketers in the future:

  1. Opting in to receive product information on Facebook is not exactly a staple in the average marketer’s toolkit but it may be the most important next evolution in consumer marketing.  Cracking this code will be huge.
  2. On the bright side, these kids have a lot of “friends” – we’re talking many hundreds and they can reach out to all of them with only a few keystrokes so the possibilities for word of mouth marketing are huge.  Looking for teenage product champions now may well be the best course for the future.
  3. Mobile marketing will also gain in importance as teenagers are glued to their smart phones and i-phones. Special deals and especially electronic coupons may appeal to teenagers with big appetites for “toys” and not much income.
  4. If my son is any indication, these kids love their “apps” so product placement in mobile entertainment applications will surely be something to consider.

These are just a few of the adjustments we’ll need to consider going forward – anyone want to add more to the list?


  1. Evan Jones
    Evan Jones May 4, 2009

    Great insight Lynda – it’s very interesting to see so many of your son’s methods of communication are enabled through a proprietary format – IM and Facebook. Email, phone and SMS are some of the ‘open platforms’ of the web and easily ported when one system goes down. I wonder how much this new generation realizes they are relying on communication methods with literally one person at the switch!
    Thanks for the wake-up call all the same. Shocking to see the web-savvy adults lose touch with the next generation, even if it does seem inevitable in hindsight.

  2. Roger Garcia
    Roger Garcia May 5, 2009

    Globe & Mail technology writer and blogger Mathew Ingram, alluded to this trend in his Nov 15, 2007 post “Is email dead…” where he comments on a similar experience with his daughters.
    I see this trend as a great opportunity to exercise open communication principles where we need to earn the trust of our audience, before we can “sell” to them. Once you obtain their trust, you will have access to one of the most segmented and targeted audiences; true brand advocates.

  3. luke
    luke May 9, 2009

    Well, being a fifteen year old myself, I must agree with your son. I know that pretty much none of my friends have/use email at all. Facebook is the main way of communication today.

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