Like the minds of the demographic it hopes to distill, the one-room YPulse Tween Mashup conference hall is a different world.
Upon entering, you're accosted by Michael Jackson's ABC (this is before Hanson's Mmmbop was spun about 6 different times) -- and with so much pink SWAG just waiting to be snapped up, you feel roughly the same emotional tug that only Lisa Frank's overpriced unicorn-shaped pencil sharpeners could conjure.
With all this going on, the YPulse atmosphere serves to make marketers feel pre-adolescent and out-of-touch, all at the same time.
While waiting for the feature -- a panel consisting of children who seem worlds smaller than I remember being at age 12 -- I hung out with Maura of WeeWorld and a girl named Allison from Fleishman-Hillard.
From what I could gather, FH is a data aggregating firm for youth.
"So what exactly do you guys do?" I asked. "Is it a TRU kind of deal, where you take streams of information and paint pictures of Queen Bees and goths...?"
Allison gave me a look that actually made me feel like a member of the demo we came to see. She has a very expressive face. "No," she replied. "Actually, we make forecasts about upcoming trends."
"Cool," I said. "How do you do that? Like, do you take previous data and..."
Before I could finish, Allison interrupted in a manner most factual. "Our founder just knows things," she said. "He really has a good grasp on what's going on."
"I'm sorry, I don't understand." Seriously. I was confused.
Allison replied, "Well, he's made a lot of predictions that turned out to be true," she explained, broadening her hands for emphasis.
"Oh, he's clairvoyant," I said. After this she seemed to think I was some species of lizard, so she stopped talking to me for the most part, but I hung out near her anyway because that's where all the computer outlets were.
Somehow, it seemed fitting to close up a week-long ad conference orgy with a panel consisting of eight 10-12-year-olds.
Each of the kids gave their names and ages. They started out shy, with personalities that developed once they realized every marketer in the room was falling all over himself to field a question. And not even just for general opinions, either. On actual products. From what I recall, a woman from a major technology company actually asked whether they like the special features on her firm's DVDs.
"I like playing the games," a 10-year-old (who's teaching himself how to CODE!) answered nonchalantly. "But I hate it when you send me to websites. I like doing everything from my remote control."
Most of the panel members already owned a cell phone, though I can't remember having possessed one until I was 14 - and even then I was considered ahead of the curve. Talk about being dated. The kids also said they prefer to IM rather than text their friends, though one girl said the idea of texting was appealing, mainly because she didn't have a mobile phone and all her friends did.
A few young members of the cult of Apple expressed their preference for instant messaging because they could video chat.
The oldest of the group, a 12-year-old girl, kept emphasizing how technology gets boring after awhile, and sometimes she wants to go out and play, or see her friends face to face. Other panel members echoed her view - the 'net could get boring, it helps to get some fresh air. These opinions seemed largely overlooked.
Who plays outside anymore? That was so, like, mid-'80s (remember those branded basketballs that McD's used to give away?).
More importantly, the wee gen-Y reps admitted that when an ad appeals to them, they make the coveted click. Ads with little games are popular, but the most favored of all are ads that don't redirect them to another website. In fact, it's "really annoying" to get sent to a page they don't want to be on. Tell it like it is, baby.
Sometimes, they show an ad to their parents if it features something they really, really want.
This is a tendency that's not new to kids, but is largely overlooked by marketers in the digital era - unless you're Virgin (Parental Enlightenment, anyone?), which pretty much never overlooks any opportunity that involves desperate feats for attention.
In the early '90s, Nickelodeon leveraged kids' willingness to bring parents to ads by giving them examples of how they could actually nag adults into buying them a subscription to Nickelodeon Magazine. I wish I could find the example I remember. In any case, here's a classic in which kiddies are encouraged to tell their parents about some weird experiment involving herring, and give their parents the phone number for the Nick mag.
"Just give them the number, heh-heh." Even while awash in pleasant nostalgia like this, that guy still creeps me out.
Never underestimate the power of "gimme."