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The Language of Young Consumers

According to Forrester, in the US alone today there are 73 million people under the age of 18. While they sometimes resemble a completely different species -- confounding marketers, device makers, and their parents -- young people are neither scary nor intimidating. More than media pirates or rip-off artists, young consumers are technology amenable gadget gurus who embrace the Net and make themselves readily available to marketers. Tapping into the youth market can be tricky, though -- you need to reach young consumers on their terms and, more importantly, speak a dialect that they understand.

Forrester recently surveyed 5,216 young US and Canadian consumers age 12 to 21 about their technology habits and attitudes:

1. Gadgets
Young consumers love consumer electronics even more than their adult counterparts: more than two-thirds own PCs, DVD players, home stereos, game consoles, mobile phones, and handheld videogames. Portable MP3 players like Apple's iPod and browser- or camera-enabled mobile phones have caught on with the younger set, with adoption around one-quarter and growing: MP3 players rank first on young consumers' wish lists; camera-phones rank third.

2. Web-Based Entertainment
Music, movies, and gaming content score big with young consumers on the Net. Teens spend, on average, 11 hours per week surfing the Web, and 79 percent of them can be found visiting game sites like gamezone.com. More than one-third visit music sites for artists like Kanye West or The White Stripes, and almost half favor sites dedicated to films like "Napoleon Dynamite."

3. Social Marketing
Although equally as skeptical about traditional advertising as their parents, young consumers have already jumped on the social marketing bandwagon. More than half of young consumers rely on their friends and families for purchase advice, and 65 percent tell others about products they like. Marketers can reach young consumers' social marketing networks by using the electronic communication tools favored by youth: IM, mobile phones, and email.

4. Video Games
Almost all -- 94 percent -- of young consumers own some device that they use for game-playing. More than half of young consumers prefer gaming to watching TV. This affinity for all things video game, along with their love for Web-based entertainment, makes young consumers a prime audience for advergames.

5. Digital Music
Young consumers have not been mislabeled "media pirates" -- they do download MP3s and use peer-to-peer file sharing more than adults. But teens' piracy will not be the force behind the potential demise of the conventional music industry. As rates of file-sharing decline, young consumers buy more music online. iTunes and Napster To Go, legal alternatives to Gnutella and eDonkey, give young consumers an easy, inexpensive, and conscience-friendly way to fill up the MP3 players they plan to buy.

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