Mobile marketing to teens: an Asian perspective from Ian Stewart, Friendster

More than 80 percent of teens in Asia have a cell-phone in their pocket, making mobile the ideal medium for brands to connect with young people. Korea, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong are leading the way, but in much of Asia the cost of mobile data, and lack of sponsored services, shuts teens out of the mobile Web.
Ian Stewart is a veteran of youth marketing including roles as head of trends for Coca-Cola Asia, founder of youth agency Filter and head of MTV Asia. He is now head of Asia at Friendster. With a quarter of daily traffic coming via the mobile site, Friendster, Asia’s largest social network, is pushing the boundaries with its own all-you-can-surf data plans, virtual wallet and a calling card

Q1. What is the teen market?
The teen market is no different from when we were teens, it’s just larger. They are transforming themselves into themselves. It is a period of searching for interests, identity, friends and ultimately, for acceptance. It is a time of massive change, requiring constant communication with those around you for reassurance and recognition. Their mobile phone and the Web are essential tools for connecting with others.
Teens are influenced by everything around them and, perhaps even more than the rest of us, by the opinion leaders in the group and by celebrity. Brands and their symbols become critical identity markers for teens trying to express who they are and what they represent. The right brand of phone, MP3 player, shoes, jeans, etc … nothing has changed, except the cost of keeping ahead of the curve.

Q2. Why should marketers get excited by the teen market?
Marketers should be excited about this segment because teens are easily influenced by the world around them. A brand that penetrates a peer group, generally via the leader of that group, will be adopted across the whole group. This can be a friendship circle, a neighborhood or a whole school and beyond. So yes, it’s worth getting excited by the malleability of this segment.

Q3. Are brands successfully targeting and engaging teens?
There are countless examples of both huge success and dismal failure among the fickle teen market. The brands that have tried and died have only to look at the cult followings of Apple, Nike and Adidas to see how it can be done with the right combination of iconic marketing, grassroots seeding and peer influence.

Q4. Is mobile a good channel for communicating with teens?
On paper, mobile is a great channel for reaching teens. Almost all middle class and upper teens in Asia have, at the least, an entry-level phone, if not something more sophisticated. But in practice, almost all are on pre-paid accounts, with limited access to mobile services. Both the rampant piracy of content and the complex web of mobile network operators and partners – most of who have priced themselves out of the teen market – can make brands think twice about using mobile to connect with and earn revenue from the youth market.

Q5. How cost effective is the mobile channel compared to print, TV, Web etc?
The cost of mobile advertising, in terms of cost per thousand banners (CPM), is very low in Asia. There are numerous mobile ad-serving partners here. But very few brands and their agencies have embraced this form of communication yet.
Conversely, it’s the high cost of data that has held up mobile content delivery. The cost is too high for the average teen to afford – or their phone isn’t geared properly – and the agencies haven’t been creative enough in proposing brand-subsidized content-delivery platforms. But this will all change too.

Q6. Where are the best mobile places for brands to find teens?
I hate to sound simple, but beyond the mobile gaming portals for the hardcore, SMS remains the most efficient way to reach consumers via their phone.
Downloadable applications are proving popular with iPhone users – with lots of choice, range of free and fee, easy payment solution, good bill tracking and customer service, it sets a good standard for others to follow.
However, Asia is brimming with fantastic mobile partners, platforms and applications – so the mobile Web will really take off as mobile operators start to open up the gateway.

Q7. What needs to happen to open up the teen mobile marketing potential beyond SMS and downloads?
There needs to be more subsidized content – paid for by sponsors – for a start, more accessible subscription-streaming services that are meaningful to a teen, and reward programs. If we start with the premise that teens have little cash and work backwards, the ideas will flow more easily.
We have to make it possible for young consumers to use mobile data services, as they do in Korea and Japan. Think super-fast, always on, streaming data on your phone. It’s only industry barriers that stops this being reality across Asia.

Q8. So is it all about giveaways?
For the average teen, it has to be free or as close to as possible. Promotions involving free minutes are being spoken of widely. Friendster, for example, is discussing free-minutes promotions with brand and mobile partners, and possibilities using the newly launched Friendster virtual wallet.

Q9. What are teens prepared to pay for?
They won’t pay for something they can get any other way for free – legally or otherwise. And in my experience, teens will take the free game for example over the fee-based alternative in most cases.

Q10. What are the pitfalls of targeting teens?
On a personal note, I am a huge advocate of not over-marketing to teens. With fewer protection and privacy laws across most of Asia (compared to Europe particularly), the market is open for exploitation. Advisory Boards, advocacy groups and the like are needed to keep rogue agencies in check. You only have to be the parent of a pre-teen to see how close to the bone things can get.

Q11. What else should mobile marketers know about teens?
Here in Asia less than 50 percent of the population are online, with some countries as low as 15 percent. Yet more than 80 percent of the teen market has a mobile in their pocket, albeit it mostly a pre-paid segment and with all the pricing issues mentioned above, that’s a lot of people with a phone. It’s always with them, always on and in constant use.
From here, the only way is up. Look to Korea and Japan: that will be the rest of Asia within the next year or so. It’s already happened in Singapore and Hong Kong, and is rapidly on the move in China and Vietnam.

Further reading on mobile marketing to teens:

  • What makes teens tick – what you need to know about the cell-phone-obsessed generation
  • Bring your mobile campaign to life, virtually: the insider’s guide to augmented reality
  • 10 important things to know about media habits of teenagers
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