Thursday, 11 August 2011

The youth who fell to earth

Greg Grimmer, partner, Hurrell Moseley Dawson & Grimmer, on how media consumption habits change in the holiday season…

A number of things influenced my choice of subject this month and the prudes among you will be pleased to hear that Jim Marshall’s Skittles predilection isn’t one of them.

On returning from my annual family sojourn to the sunshine (more of this later) I – like most of my media brethren – have spent many hours catching up on emails, newsletters, trade mags and the general information overload that we all deal with the moment our feet are back ensconced at our work stations.

Two pieces struck a chord, potentially due to the fact that I had been spending extended time with ‘The Grimmer Youth’ and watching first hand their interaction with the media world and the human race. Firstly Dave Brennan’s piece here on MediaTel’s Newsline on the porkie pies told by everyone when asked to self-complete research questionnaires.

For those that didn’t see Dave’s piece, it was a very ingenuous article about the lies told by the great and good of our industry – who all work 20 hour days, save for a quick read of the Economist or a snaffled listen to the Today programme. It reminded me fondly of my old girlfriend who was ad manager of the now defunct Just 17 magazine, who once proudly told me that according to TGI Just 17 readers (average age 14) were more likely than Vogue readers to “drink champagne regularly”.

The second piece that rose to the top of my virtual mailbox was the earth shattering news that young men use computers. Well knock me down with a featherlite.

This remarkable insight was provided by The Great Male Survey, developed by It stated that 72% of young men said they relied on online sources for their news consumption. It went on to say that almost a third of the men (28%) never read a newspaper. Now I’m no mathematician but if 28% never read, that means that 72% must have said they do read newspapers, spookily enough the same amount that are relying on online for news. Work that one out.

At this point I was drawn to my modern day Disraeli – the ever reliable Tess Alps, who hilariously and charmingly debunked and their ilk in her very apposite blog post about the International Pear Foundation.

Anyway, back to young men and their love of computers and ‘The Grimmer Youth’ holiday media consumption.

Having spent meticulous hours packing every network enabled device they could find, the unwashed youth begrudgingly accompanied their handlers into sunnier climes among much talk of “there had better be Wifi”.

Onto 3am Gatwick hell and perhaps the most surprising find, and first sign of an urbanite adolescent ‘chillaxing’, was the preference for magazine reading on planes ahead of iPads and DS’s. Avaricious reading of the duty free catalogue was soon added to by the stealing of my GQ and Wired and a none too perfunctory glance through a particularly top shelf version of Heat.

This revisionist trend continued on arrival and whether it was the sun, the sea air or the (unfulfilled) chance of pubescent sex, the digital devices were, if not forgotten, certainly neglected in favour of more traditional media channels throughout the quinze jours.

There are of course good reasons for this – the much-heralded hotel WiFi was limited to certain hot spots within the campus and did not include teenage rooms. Additionally (and thankfully) one aspect of the criminally insane data roaming charges on smart phones abroad meant that favourite device number one was virtually obsolete for a fortnight.

On arrival TV viewing of foreign channels became a compulsory part of the day for both budding polyglots. I was impressed by the dedication to the news channels and also the ability of Grimmer Minor to articulate the editorial difference between CNN, BBC and Russia Today. Whilst talking about the US debt crisis (broadly – We’re F@@ked; They are F@@ked and so are we; they are F@@ked and deserve to be). A shared addiction to the Tour de France also breached language boundaries and reminded me (as well as the tribe) that some sports are best served as edited televisual feasts rather then real time text tickers or indeed live events.

Other local media also made an impact – I once remember the late great Peter Howard Williams of cinema-fame winning a raft debate by proclaiming “have you ever seen anyone stand up and clap in front of a poster site”. Well Peter, I have now. After 10 days of Greek salads, teenage eyes spotted a McDonald’s poster, and gave it that very response. Other outdoor ads also had the same immediate response effect. The ad plane tagging a Calipo advert at 3pm daily on the beach produced immediate repeated sales. Far more effective than the now Famousily (sic) Effective Grey advertising plane at Cannes this year.

So, half a month passed without Facebook shutting down (19 holiday ‘friends’ were added swiftly on return though) and in hindsight I thought this media behaviour doesn’t really differ greatly from home consumption. Like the media industry I concentrate my vitriol about failed exams and late nights on the omnipresent Facebook or Xbox… but in reality all media are still playing a part in teenage behaviour and also, contrary to what any youth based media owner will try and tell you, these muddy funksters are the easiest consumers to reach because they are never away from media.

Free newspaper and magazines are grabbed happily on school commutes in a way that wasn’t available to previous generations unable or unwilling to pay their 20p for the Soaraway Sun.

Whilst at home, as with every parent in the last fifty years, I say too much TV is consumed, but with ‘The Grimmer Youth’ – in common with their contemporaries – it is almost always at least dual screen and at times simultaneous conversations via networked devices (Skype on the laptop, Facebook on the iPad, IM on the smart phone and Xbox live headphones).

At times this makes me think of the scene in the great Nicolas Roeg movie – ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’. David Bowie as a humanoid alien who comes to earth to get water for his dying planet. Due to his high intelligence he regularly consumes multiple screen images. He then starts a high technology company to get the billions of dollars he needs to build a return spacecraft. He does not count on the greed and ruthlessness of business on earth…

Now this made me think… technology genius… Larry Page? Do no evil? Perhaps a theme for another day.

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