Generation Spongebob in a cross-media world

Debating about kids media consumption is extremely trendy nowadays and, at the same time, difficult to evaluate. Traditional media have to compete and coexist with mobile devices, games and videos, hybrid forms of stories and contents integrated across multiple platforms as kids are used to cross-channel consumptions and simultaneous media usage.

How do these trends affect communication and marketing strategies? How to promote contents through different media and devices in a context where children skip from tablets to books to TV?

On March 31, TISP organized jointly with Associazione Italiani Editori and Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the Masterclass ‘Finding the reader in a cross-media world’, providing a thorough review of these trends as well as a debate between all the players involved in the promotion and set-up of marketing strategies.

The evolving habits of children and families towards content consumption

Fabrizio Savorani from Doxa opened the discussion by providing some data concerning usage of traditional and new media with a special focus on  evolving habits of children and families towards content consumption.

Statistics on traditional media show that TV is still dominant in terms of media consumption at European level: there’s no sign of decline in linear TV viewing and the average daily viewing time grows  – even if the decline in TV viewing time is starting to become noticeable in younger demographic groups. TV thus still rules the kids media landscape and no other device is about to replace it. Only smartphones are becoming relevant for tweens and teens, along with the PC / laptop used primarily for studying and the Internet.

As for the old-fashioned books, parents still think they play an important role for their children as 58% parents in UK with children aged 5-15 prefer their kids to read a book instead of watching TV or playing games and 41% parents of Italian children aged 5-13 bought at least one book to their kids during last year. Parents seem to still have an active and meaningful role and they perceive books as a vehicle for high value content.

In conclusion, reaching out to kids and parents today needs to take into account that on one hand TV is still the most used and loved, on the other the digital space is getting more and more relevant for kids aged 11 and more. In this scenario, new forms of communicating messages (and stories) to children and their families, especially online, are emerging as in the case of popularity of the so called advergames, online games with children conceived as form of communicating advertising and marketing messages.

Mr. Savorani raised the attention of the attendees on children’s vulnerability to marketing and advertising messages, pointing out how parents represent the key in the relationship with kids.

Trends in Digital Marketing to Generation Spongebob

Gerda Van Damme, Business Unit Manager at Dreammachine, a specialised digital kids marketing agency, by featuring a wide number of examples drove the attention of the attendees to the trends in digital marketing and to the target audience: kids or, using her words, the Generation Spongebob, the first generation of Internet users born at a time when the internet is completely accepted as a mainstream element in our daily lives.

She provided an identikit of this generation as used to hybrid worlds and immersive experiences, in love with projects from a brand they admire (and can have an impact on) and expecting continuity and consistency through all the types of media. Of course, this generation expects digital media to entertain them! Kids never got so much positive attention and respect as now; it’s the “millennial mums”, who want positive, relaxed, entertaining messages, and are to be addressed with fun marketing tactics; in addition, kids are the trend, the focus, as mini-consumers  – Osper has launched a prepaid debit card for kids allowing parental monitoring.

Another lesson not to forget is that even if kids have cross-channel approach, they care about the characters, not the channel.  Since content is the fil rouge to their experience with the brand, in order to be successful it’s crucial to adopt a cross-media approach. Content marketing to kids is therefore all about storytelling and, preferably, storytelling which comes in a video format.

Kids have a direct influence on the purchases that are done for their consumption and they influence the general purchase behaviour of their family. Today’s kids are a ‘digital first’ generation: digital media are the media of choice for this audience. So it’s fundamental to digitally engage with kids for brands, media or organizations.

(Digital) content for kids and digital promotion

Elisa Salamini, co-founder of Mamamò.it, a website for parents, educators and librarians dedicated to technology, apps, e-books and videogames for children, provided an analysis of the most relevant communication and promotion channels for children content providers.

Ms Salamini first introduced the concept of transmedia storytelling as one that uses different channels, media and social networks, bringing forward more engaging and immersive messages, catering to a wider audience and aiming to expand the narrative itself.

As pointed out by Savorani, Ms. Salamini stressed the importance of the role played by parents in the relationship between kids and content providers. In order to engage with them and therefore with children, she identified the key elements that drive the success of company strategies: the synergic use of owned (websites and social media accounts), paid (as Facebook and Twitter ads and reviews) and earned media (the social buzz). (Original) contents, not the channels in themselves, play the main role in the communication strategies as kids don’t seem to mind too much about the media.

Digital children book evolution and readers engagement

Karen Nahum, Digital Director of the Italian De Agostini Libri, presented some digital initiatives of the publishing house, explaining how they were coinceved in order to drive readers engagement and go along with the digital children book evolution which led to an ecosystem set-up by digital, paper and social media. The social ecosystem resulting from the book evolution and encompassing paper and digital allows the publisher to get information from and about its users; as patterns of usage of paper and digital start emerging, it seems clear that kids won’t mind the format much if products are well made. De Agostini uses all of its own media to enhance engagement and interaction with its readers, also across all its brands.

Core of her presentation were a  couple of examples of promotion strategies, matching physical and digital tools, for digital products.

First one was the collaboration with Timbuktu, a start-up  aiming to combine storytelling and technology to build educational interactive experiences. Together, they built a combined presence paper-digital for the digital interactive stories series, Missione Paura.  As described in the presentation below, it was the first editorial case of combined presence: paper books and digital animated books, digital version available on the iStorie app with games, digital books for iBooks Store and Kobo. In this digital scenario where both De Agostini and Timbuktu took part in the promotion activities, the organization of a digital lab for kids in a physical place at the Open Bookstore in Milan, was an occasion not just to present the product but to speak with kids and parents and receive first-hand feedbacks from the young users.

The other initiative presented was the Create the book of the future contest held in Spring 2014 which identified 4 interesting project and stories to become interactive digital books. In particular, Ms. Nahum spoke about Milano ad altezza di bambino, an interactive e-book for kids, filled with games and interactions which aims at discovering the city of Milano in 10 steps. This initiative shows that not only cross-media marketing strategies but also the capability to open up to new players and voices, especially in the digital field can be successful.

Made in Me, a story of iteration, pivot, ux, discoverability, story and brand

Eric Huang, Development Director at Made in Me, an award winning digital agency in London specialising in children’s entertainment, took the stage and expressed the point of view of a creative studio exploring new ways for technology and storytelling to engage with kids as well as the role played by marketing.

He presented his experience with creative studio Made in Me (MiM), started as he worked for a digital publisher based in London, which launched an interactive learning experience (The Land of Me) with MiM in 2009 (before tablets appeared on the market): The Land of Me included printable activities and was nominated for many awards,. It was downloaded 12,000 times in few months (and selling at 30£ it could not be considered cheap), but when the iPad came this success was interrupted abruptly, as the product had been developed in Flash, a platform not compatible with Apple’s devices. This led to financial disaster and the acknowledgment that the project was too big from the start, and that it was better to start smaller.

MiM then created an app, which soon needed marketing; banners on websites wouldn’t do, print ads in magazines neither, then the company tried to join campaigns in which books are given for free (first with Save the Children, then Nestle, McDonalds, Qantas and many more). The strategy worked out, and now 60% of MiM’s turnover comes from marketing campaigns, and 40% from sales. The next step was launching a website to sell e-books; they focused on search to be visible online (SEO, keywords), looking into words people used to find them, and had some surprises when they did this with the help of professionals (such as the use of “bedtime story” as a search term for their products).

Faced with the frequent need for the rapid granting of permissions for joining campaigns and the near impossibility to obtain such permissions quickly working with big companies and their brands, MiM started publishing their own books; after a while they ended up selling print rights back to traditional publishers. Mr Huang explained that adding a bestseller title to their shop does not seem to affect sales of other titles, whereas marketing campaigns that drive traffic do increase new sales by bringing in new users.

Eric Huang had no doubt about the keywords to summarize his experience and, overall, the outcomes of the seminar: iterate and pivot (being ready to change business model if necessary), focus on user experience and discoverability (online sales are to some degree different from physical sales, app stores have their specificities and company websites help to control search), provide good stories and develop your brand.

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