Search Engines, Teens, and the Southern Oracle
In a study that is both interesting and destined to get more attention than it should, A Couple of Chicks Marketing has published the findings of a 125-student survey on search engine use and online travel brands. That’s not a knock on the study itself, but rather an observation of how het up we all tend to get when research about teen online behavior comes out – as ’twere we gazing upon the marketing equivalent of the Southern Oracle.
We’ve built up this archetype of The Online Teen: He was born with a silver mouse in his hand and can program a 17-in-1 remote control with his mind while hapless adults quake in fear. His reward? The keys to the SUV. A perfect storm of disposable income and existential crisis compels him to solidify his tribal membership by spending an exorbitant amount of money on ringtones and other such in-group identifiers. His tastes are fickle and faddish, but if you, gentle marketer, can stay less behind the curve than your competitors, the rewards are great.
This is largely nonsense. Teens are actually a lot like adults. Some are smarter and savvier than others. Some are richer, some are poorer. Some are artists, athletes, scholars, techies, couch potatoes, scientists – or all of the above. But there is one crucial difference: Today’s American teens have been marketed to like no other generation before.
Which brings me back to the aforementioned study. According to the authors, teens are both tenacious and cynical when it comes to using search engines (and a whopping 85 percent prefer Google over Yahoo and MSN – though there was no mention of ubiquitous teen portal MySpace.com). Fifty-three percent say they go through as many search results as they need to find what they’re looking for, with only 18 percent staying on the first page of results only. That low number of first-page devotees may have something to do with another interesting finding: 46 percent of the teens surveyed believe the first pages of search results (both paid and natural) are advertisements.
In this, teens show a higher awareness and sensitivity to being marketed to than adults. The good news is that teens are also more comfortable making purchases online (58 percent of the teens surveyed had already done so). So respect your teen audience, and it will respect you. At least for the next 3-6 months.