Generation M
By Carlo Longino, Mon Apr 23 00:00:00 GMT 2001

Hyperactive marketers are already labeling youth around the world as "Generation M" ? for mobile. They are being targeted with specific mobile products and services - creating customers for life. But are today?s youth as hip to mobility as we?d be led to believe, or is this just another fad?

Kids have long been an easy marketing target, as companies could depend on them to spend their money on anything and everything under the sun, and of course whine to their parents if their allowance couldn’t cover it. Mobile companies are no different, but are now facing a seemingly much more savvy consumer, thanks to the Internet.

Branding is more important now than ever, despite what “No Logo” might have you believe. Although today’s kids have a heightened awareness of the media and marketing haze that surrounds them, they still want the same thing we all wanted when we were young: to be cool.

And that means, in a lot of cases, the right brands. Youngsters look to brands not just to lend them some sense of identity or street credibility, but also to reinforce their individualism. They’re drawn to brands that have specific attributes they admire – whether that be the image a product gives off or the materials its made of.

The mobile world is no different. Manufacturers and service providers are battling to create products (and brands) with which kids identify, and then of course that they’ll purchase. But the market intelligence of kids today provides lots of challenges for companies keen to collect their dollars (or marks or lira or yen).

Students in the US alone spent USD 1 billion on cellular phone bills - just a small chunk of the estimated USD 155 billion they dropped in total – but the money isn’t the only thing at stake for mobile operators. They’re looking to turn consumers on early in life to mobile services and then retain those consumers throughout their lives. So early and successful branding takes on great importance.

They have to protect their brands and make them known, while at the same time master "recessive" branding – the not-so-noticeable brand elements that allow kids to show off their brand intelligence. They have to come up with compelling products and services and sell them in a way that is the exact opposite of how they market to these kids’ parents. It’s easy for these companies to capitalize on the necessity that business customers and adults feel for a mobile phone. But what absolute need does a kid have for a mobile phone? Not much, really, past convenience.

But convince a kid he’s gotta have a phone, and he’ll be your best salesman.

Express yourself

And there are myriad ways to do that, but the most popular seems to be to convince teens that a mobile device is the perfect combination of self-expression and empowerment. One such approach by a carrier is Rogers Wireless of Canada’s new iD Wireless program. Users buy a CDN 200 start-up package, which includes an exclusive Panasonic handset, a handsfree kit and some iD membership items.

Then they can choose either a pre-paid plan or a CDN 30 per month plan which includes unlimited night and weekend calls, and both plans of course include unlimited text messaging.

But signing into the plan also provides access to the program’s Carlo Longino is a freelancer writer based in Austin, Texas, where the weather is much nicer than Helsinki. In addition to writing for TheFeature, his previous experience includes work for The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires and Hoover's Online.