Digital ravings of an analog girl

         Shoes and the meaning of life.

June 10, 2009

Engaging with Youth

Filed under: Ad-Tech Asia @ 4:26 am
Tags: , , , ,

I’ve just attended the ‘Engaging with Youth’ panel discussion at ad-Tech Singapore.  Five bright young things (BYTs), aged between 19 and 21 sat at a raised table and addressed an audience of 300 about how they communicate, socialise, shop, live – all online using social media.  None of them were fazed by the large crowd – after all, they consider themselves experts in this area.  They’re here to share their wealth of knowledge with the old folks…  Their confidence was palpable.  They are the future consumers we will/are marketing to.

So, what are the BYTs like?:

Of the five BYTs, only one regularly reads a newspaper – but only on the weekend.  They prefer to seek out the news they’d like to hear about – but not necessarily from the online versions of print media.  One BYT said he gets all his news from Digg.  The news he reads is only the top-rated stories, and of course mainly American slanted news (so much like a local US paper then).  None of the BYTs watch television via the box.  All of them download and watch TV programs online.  All of them consume TV advertisements on Youtube (but only if they’re entertaining and informative and recommended by their friends). 

However, the BYTs all agreed that they still interact mostly in the real world.  They commute to school/work, they regularly see their friends in the flesh (and discuss the things they’ve seen in their online interactions),  They all still browse in real world stores, eat at restaurants, travel to real places, for real experiences.  But, the BYTs do their pre-purchase research online.  They don’t accept the first price offered.  They make purchase decisions based on the recommendations from their ‘friends’.  The reason that friends is in inverted commas, is that in this case, ‘friends’ might include members of their wider online circle – user groups, fan clubs, twitter friends, bloggers, users of Digg,, FriendFeed.

The BYTs agreed that they don’t like to see banner ads, and they don’t like being followed on Twitter so that if they follow you back, you can send them commercial messages.  This type of behaviour is likely to give them a negative impression of your brand or product, which they will share with all their ‘friends’.  You can see how the wrong behaviour in this world can materially and instantly damage your brand.

The BYTs do not check their junk email folder and they have no problem with hitting the SPAM button if perchance your un-requested message makes it to their inbox.  They block or ignore all unsolicited messages of a commercial nature, yet are quite happy to receive personal, non-commercial messages from people they don’t know.  When the BYTs want a commercial message, they will find you and ask you for it.  They are very sure of what they want, and when they want it.

Four out of five BYTs had shopped online recently.  Two had bought clothes, one had bought music downloads. None had bought books.  The moderator jokingly asked if they know what books are…  There was marked and prolonged silence, accompanied by five icy stares.  Clearly the moderator was one of those old traditional media dinosaurs…

Interestingly, even though all five of the BYTs have iPhones (even the one who claimed not to like Apple), they all agreed that the mobile device was still really for snacking-type consumption.  Text messages, brief tweets and the like.  For more involved messaging or surfing, all preferred to use their computer.

If they don’t read the papers, watch TV or view banner ads, how do I get their attention?

This tough question was posed to the BYTs by one of the traditional dinosaurs in the audience.  We know this audience member is a dinosaur, because she asked her question using the microphone.  All the relevant, intelligent questions were posed via twitter using #adtechasiayouth.  They responded that brands should interact with them in their forums, but not try overtly to sell them anything until they’re ready to buy.  When they want to buy, they’ll find you, and ask you for the sale. 

…erm, so how do I tell them about something they don’t know they want yet?

In short, unless you are in the BYTs circle of friends, you don’t.  You can try to seed a discussion in a forum about your product or brand, but if you then try to lead the discussion in a certain direction you risk turning the BYTs off.  And of course, the discussion could flame you and your brand, or even worse, fizzle.

So what does all this mean?

We’ve come full circle in marketing.  Back in the good old days before mass media, if you wanted, say, shoes, you’d ask your mum/granny/friend where to get shoes.  Chances are your mum/granny/friend would send you to buy shoes from your local cobbler, who would rely on you to tell your friends, and to come back when you needed more shoes.  With the advent of mass media, you no longer had to ask where to get shoes, because the shoe makers were telling us, even before you knew we wanted the shoes.

We, the mass media generation, came to trust what was told to us by the sellers of products and services.  In fact, we seemed to think that if it was on TV/radio/print, then it must be the truth, despite the fact that we knew these messages were paid for content.

The BYTs have an inherent mistrust of brands, mass media and the selling process.  They’ll listen to what you have to say about your product, but will not believe it until it is confirmed by one or many of their ‘friends’.  We are back to the friends and family advocacy model, but on a much larger scale, because now you don’t need to buy from your local cobbler any more.

Is this the end of marketing as we know it?

Well, not completely, not yet.  The BYTs still interact in the real world, and consume marketing from multiple sources  – conciously or otherwise.  But, we as marketers do need to adapt.  We need a mindshift about how we communicate.  Our brands and products need to make it back into the circle of trust for the BYTs.  We need to leverage the friends and family advocacy model.

The panel of bright young things consisted of:

Ajeeja Limbu: Nepalese by birth, brought up and educated in Singapore.  Ajeeja confessed that he likes quiet – to go into his bedroom and shut the door, read and surf the net (shame that he was placed next to the very un-quiet moderator…).  He is currently studying online journalism at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

Devin Gustafson: A 3rd year advertising student at University of Texas at Austin.  Devin is the opposite of ‘quiet’.  Everything about him, from his hot pink shades to his strident remarks, yells at you.  He’ll do well in advertising.  He came with his own large entourage from the University of Texas.

Dorothy Poon: Recent graduate of Singapore Management University.  Dorothy was hired for her first job via Facebook.  The employer did a search on keywords/tags and invited Dorothy to apply for a job as their social media executive.  Dorothy is already well connected.  She blogs, she tweets, she has her own site, she has her own opinion and she’s not afraid to share it.,, @summerisque

Daryl Tay: Recent graduate of Singapore Management University.  Co-founder of Social Media Breakfast | Singapore, and blogger  Claims he does not read newspapers.  Ever.  Already bears a striking resemblance to every cantankerous, opinionated newspaper editor I know.

Vickland Malik: About to graduate from Singapore Management University.  A youth with a social conscience and a soft-spoken but firm manner.


  1.   Daryl Tay — June 10, 2009 @ 2:54 pm    

    Hi thanks for posting this! It’s awesome that you could have blogged about any of the sessions but found us interesting enough to do so! =)

    So I guess first the people don’t have to be friends, just influencers. I just saw Jimmy Eat World (the band) on Twitter saying they thought “Up” (the movie” was cool, and that sparked my interest too.

    I’m not sure if we’ve really come full circle, but rather we’re back to giving the street cobbler a chance, where he preciously couldn’t compete with maybe the Nikes of the world who simply had more to spend on advertising on tv and traditional media.

    It’s really like a blog isn’t it. Previously we might have to hear about the panel from a newspaper (though I doubt they’d have found it interesting enough to report on), but now we can hear it from you or anyone else, each bringing a different perspective. It levels the playing field, so to speak. Money doesn’t buy attention anymore.

    By the way, I’d love to meet said newspaper editor! Assuming the resemblance is positive ;)

    Oh and I think we were laughing at the “books” joke. I personally am not into the Kindle or the Sony eReader. Just love the feel of a good ol book.

    Thanks again!

  2.   Dorothy Poon — June 10, 2009 @ 3:06 pm    

    Hi Analog Girl,
    Wow this is great stuff you’ve summarized about our panel, and plus your added insights too.

    I just wanted to add that it was probably hard to get a comprehensive picture of our digital lives in the short time that we had, so not all of the perceptions might be entirely accurate – I do read the newspapers (just not that often), and I don’t have an iphone (yet). ;) That might be rectified soon.

    My FB hiring was also not quite through keywords, but probably a little mixture of my online contributions, mainly my blog and twitter, and invovlement in local efforts such as Social Media Breakfast… all of which were aggregated in FB’s news feed.

    But thanks for this post! It’s kinda hard to remember everything that went on while on stage, so any external perspectives are always great.

    PS: I can totally identify with the soft spot you seem to have for shoes. ;)

  3.   Kate — June 10, 2009 @ 4:12 pm    

    Velly Intellesting read Ritsa. Things have certainly changed a bit since we were the BYT’s huh? What does that make me I wonder… A BOT? I wont say that of you of course, since you are still only 28…

  4.   technebish — June 10, 2009 @ 4:27 pm    

    Well done guys – took you about 5 minutes to find the blog post. You’re very connected.

    Daryl, I’m from a publishing and traditional media background (yes, a dinosaur) and I have something of a soft spot for cantankerous opinionated newspaper editors, so you may take it as a compliment that I compared you to one. :)

    Thanks for being so up front at the session…

  5.   Suz — June 10, 2009 @ 9:54 pm    

    Hey Ritsa
    Absolutely fascinating read! It’s makes my head spin about how we need to revolutionise our business for the future But we have a great base to start from as opposed to other industries and products! See you next week back in wild windy wintery wellington!

  6.   Devin Gustafson — June 11, 2009 @ 4:41 pm    

    I just wanted to say thank you for your blog post and opinions as well as the kind remarks about my future in advertising. I have to agree with Dorothy, in the short amount of time we had on stage it was very hard for us to really get in depth about anything. I feel like we gave the audience a very abbreviated sampling of our ideas and thoughts about brands, advertisements and marketing.

    On the other hand, the GennY podcast with Dorothy and Daryl goes a little more in depth to anyone willing to listen.

    And finally, I guess you saw me after the panel networking and walking around, since I did not wear my famous pink sunglasses on stage.

    Either way, thank you for you kind words.

  7.   technebish — June 11, 2009 @ 6:39 pm    

    You’re welcome Devin. I’d hire you.

    You’re right – you can never get a full picture in a 45-minute session. Still it was a very valuable insight into ‘youth’ for me – albeit a partucularly connected and confident segment of youth. Look forward to listening to the podcast tonight.

  8.   University Singapore — August 24, 2009 @ 8:13 pm    

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

  9.   technebish — August 25, 2009 @ 9:04 am    

    Thanks. All comments appreciated. Hope you’re having a great day there in Singapore.


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