Small Data Points Signal Huge Changes Ahead

For over seven years, I worked in marketing for a video game publisher. There was no part of the job I looked forward to doing more than producing TV commercials.

There was one aspect of this work that tied my stomach up in knots, though: pitching the idea for the commercial to my company’s CEO. Not only was he an important person to impress. He also had a son who, at the time, was solidly in the target market for my games. If this boy liked the spot, it was a lot more likely to get the CEO’s blessing.

This “testing,” if I can call it that, would never pass muster with a trained market researcher, but directionally, it was useful. I therefore came to appreciate data points that may be small in size and stature.

As a parent of two who are under the age of 15, I now have my own kid-friendly sounding board. The things I’ve learned about my daughters’ preferences signal not only a huge change relative to my youth, but even relative to the disruptive Millennial generation with whom many marketers are just now starting to dance.

Here is a brief catalog of the Collins household, under-15 set’s paradigm-changing behavior.

  • Nearly online-only video: between the two of them, they watch less than two hours of programmed TV a week. They prefer video on-demand and YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu.

  • Streaming music: my oldest (14) sets her alarm to the radio on school days. Otherwise, she listens to Spotify. My youngest (9) prefers the music she owns on iTunes.

  • Celebrities they admire: neither of my children looks up to a particular actress, athlete, musician, or reality TV personality. Instead, YouTube stars generate buzz in our house, especially Connor Franta, Zoe Sugg, and Troye Sivan. Each employs a similar style: speaking directly to the camera in 10-20 min. segments with very light editing to remove any unwanted frames. Their videos monetize in a combination of ways TV can’t: product placement, display ads and links to things viewers can get, such as music.

  • McDonalds, Burger King or Wendy’s? No way: my kids do not like fast food because they are concerned about its nutritional value, or lack thereof. They seldom crave soda, either.

  • Google keeps them current on current events: we get The Wall Street Journal, but they won’t look through the print or digital version. Instead, they rely on search engines to look up news and will click on the most relevant result nearest the top of the page.

  • In no hurry to drive: though probably a product of living so close to New York City, my children do not get excited by the prospect of driving themselves. (This is one attitude both my wife and I wish we could change, especially as both get more and more involved in stuff beyond school.)

If these preferences are indicative of a wider audience of their peers, the cumulative impact of these changes will be massive for marketers. Fast food providers will need to reinvent their images if they’ll have any chance at convincing these kids to come back, much less take their own children one day. TV and radio broadcasters seem poised to struggle to feed this generation traditional programming (live events excluded). Advertisers who depend on TV and radio today must move faster to keep pace because these changes are so fundamental and extreme.

Not everything is changing. My kids would have me take them to the mall every weekend if they could. They enjoy seeing movies in the theater. In most ways, though, they have carved out a flavor of consumerism that makes them unlike any generation that has come before.

If you’re a marketer who thought Gen Y/Millennials were a tough lot to crack, you ain’t seen nothing yet.


  1. Damien D'souza · · Reply

    Matt, my 2, although a little older (18 – girl, 20 – boy) are so similar to yours, and I am always surprised at how discerning they are. When asked why they have a particular point of view or way of engaging i am often surprised at their thought process and reasoning ,which makes us parents need to keep up more so than my parents generation. If we are closer to our kids and have to keep up, what of commercial enterprises ?? The embrace of new ways of engagement by the young is rapidly changing the consumption landscape those that dont embrace change will be rapidly left behind. An example: A friend of my son is funding her university here in UK. By vblogging and getting paid for product endorsements etc. She has over 100K followers !


    1. Thanks, Damien. I love the story about your son’s pal, who is killing it with video blogging. The next generation’s embrace of content creation is another striking characteristic. I think it’s terrific.


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