How do you market to a new generation of virtual hermits?

A new survey out of London from global market research leader TNS (a Peppercom client) shows that teenage boys, aged 12 to 18, are spending record amounts of pocket money on computer games. In fact, fully one-third of the average British boy’s chump change now goes to purchasing the ‘Grand Theft Autos’ of the world (note: teenage girls in Britain have little interest in computer games, opting instead to shell out their moola on music).

While there are many disturbing elements to these findings, what troubles me is the parallel trend acompanying the money spend: teenage boys are spending inordinate amounts of time online, whether it’s playing video games, surfing MySpace or doing god knows what else. As a result, they’re literally not interacting with the world at large and gaining the requisite social skills they’ll need to succeed later in life.

Such a scenario is fine if the lads all aim to work in isolated cubes sorting through some kind of research. But, I can’t imagine any positive outcome for game-playing zealots in the business world of tomorrow. Futurist Watts Wacker has researched teens and pre-teens and says many of them count ‘virtual’ friends as among their closest buddies. Our youth are deeply engrossed in conversations with people they’ve most likely never met, and confiding their most intimate secrets to literal strangers. What would Dr. Phil say?

To me, it’s a mind-boggling trend that not only has significant implications for the day-to-day social interactions of the next quarter-century, but for marketers as well. How will traditonal approaches possibly resonate with the Grand Theft Auto crowd when they don’t send or receive information the way we do?

It seems to me the best answer will be to market via relationships built on trust. Reaching and having a dialogue with a future consumer’s ‘circle of influencers’ will become even more important than ever. Marketers will be forced to figure out totallly different ways to not only break through the clutter, but to connect with a guy who grew up choosing his friends and entertainment from in front of a keyboard. And, a guy who, sad to say, spent one-third of his discretionary income on video games. Yuck. Whatever happened to whiffle ball, stickball and bubble gum cards?"

5 thoughts on “How do you market to a new generation of virtual hermits?

  1. Excellent point, Beth. Maybe I should have called PCOM to say as much as opposed to posting this response? HA!

  2. I think what will likely happen is that tomorrow’s workplace will become more and more virtual in itself. It’s already starting. Everytime we send an IM instead of picking up the phone, or an email instead of walking over to someone’s desk, or even the fact that these topics are being discussed on a blog shows that this shift is already beginning.

  3. Excellent points, Andrew and Jimbo. While I’m sure the smart marketers will figure out how to reach these isolated target markets, I do worry about about the social implications of kids losing themselves in the virtual reality of the computer. How will they learn the necessary social skills to interact and succeed in tomorrow’s workplace? It’s a real problem that few, if any, educators, politicians or business leaders are discussing, much less suggesting solutions….

  4. I don’t think it will be all that hard for marketers to do though (breaking through the clutter and reaching their targets who are no online).
    Sure, you will have your stick-in-muds like the lady from Diet Coke, but others are catching on to this. Marketers who aren’t already searching for new ways to deliver their messages better be searching for new jobs…

  5. This trend definitely has implications for marketers, Rep. In fact, many gurus are already discussing “Avatar-based Marketing” (engaging audiences in virtual worlds like Second Life). Last week there was a virtual conference held in Second Life titled: “What is the future of real companies marketing to Second Life Avatars?” It was hosted by a senior editor at Harvard Business Review and a bunch of marketing and PRos where in “attendance.” You’re absolutely right..in the virtual space, it’s all about building relationships and creating content that adds value. Some companies like American Apparel and Amazon are already getting involved in this.
    For anyone that is not familiar with Second Life, I recommend that you check out the May 1st BusinessWeek cover story about it.
    This is not just some geeky trend that’s going to die out. Virtual worlds like Second Life are growing because they offer the ability for people to network and earn real money. Some Second Lifers have even quit their day jobs because they are earning enough money in their virtual life. Crazy, but true!