November 09, 2004

Ad agencies sound alert over the mobile phone generation

In theory, advertising agencies should love mobile telephones. What better way to reach consumers on the go?

In practice, though, advertising industry executives are growing increasingly concerned that the popularity of mobile telephones will only make their jobs harder. Their worries centre on the impact that mobile phone use is having on the social lives of young people. They fear the phones are creating a new, more furtive generation that will be more difficult to reach with traditional advertising. [via the FT \]

“Behind the scenes, ad agencies are furiously studying the habits of the mobile phone generation. The results so far have proved disconcerting as Mr Edwards’s company discovered when it asked people in the UK aged between 15 and 24 to go without mobile phones for two weeks and record their experiences.

Several of the young people deprived of their phones found they had to engage in a novel form of social interaction - talking to their friends’ parents. It seems that previously they had arranged meetings at other locations, using mobile phones to keep in contact. What for previous generations had been a rite of passage calling on friends at their homes had become an anachronism.

They never go into the house. They never meet the parents, Mr Edwards says. They are empowered by this device to avoid situations they don’t like, like meeting a friend’s parents.

The fear among advertisers is that they will meet a similar fate and wind up being ignored by the generation that has grown up using mobile phones. The young always have been self-involved, but never quite like this.

The mobile phone is the ultimate expression of an individualistic society, which I think is the thing worrying everyone, says Dan O’Donoghue, strategic planning director for Publicis, the marketing group. We are all becoming so individualistic we have no relation to society.

A study of 1,600 young Europeans this year by Omnicom’s BBDO ad agency detected similar tendencies, describing the continent’s youth as pursuing what it called a me project .

The study found that young Europeans craved new experiences but distrusted large organisations and national obligations. Only 38 per cent said they would fight for their country.”