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The perception of today’s youngsters as media-savvy cynics could hardly be further from the truth. Instead, this
generation of keen consumers may turn witty advertising into an endangered species. Julia Day reports

The youth of today are cynical, media-savvy, seen it all, done it all, wouldn’t-be-seen-dead-in-the-T-shirt types
who appreciate only the most achingly trendy adverts, TV shows and magazines, right? Wrong: that was so last generation.

Today’s youngsters don’t “get” clever ads, are not in the least suspicious of commercials ercials, don’t know the difference between newspapers’ political stances, or TV channels, and they don’t mind admitting it. In short, they are not half as media, marketing and advertising literate as we might have thought, according to new research
commissioned by five media groups – Guardian Newspapers, Channel 4, Carlton Screen Advertising, media buying
agency OMD, and Emap Advertising.

As a result media companies and advertisers are going back to basics to arouse the interest of 15- to 24-year-olds with instant impact messages, plain product pictures, bigger posters, annoying jingles, celebrity endorsements and repetitive ads. Today’s youth are a far cry from today’s thirtysomethings who grew up as commercially-naive kids weaned on the cold war, no national commercial radio, three national TV stations, grant-funded higher education, sponsorship-free Glastonbury festivals and regular strikes and student protests.

Now a lifetime of MTV, the internet, dawn-till-dusk advertising and PlayStation gaming has created a generation
so used to being bombarded with fast-turnover information, they filter it instantly without paying much attention to its meaning. This is a generation of “thoroughbred consumers” says Stuart Armon, managing director of 2cv: research, the company that conducted the so-called Roar research into the media habits of the nation’s youth. “Previous generations were suspicious of advertising, they might have liked ads, but they wouldn’t necessarily buy the product. But this generation has been consuming since they were born. They don’t see any reason to be suspicious,” says Armon.

One young panellist in the focus group research embodied this attitude: “If the advert is good, you think their
product will be good because the more they can spend on advertising, the more money they are obviously getting for
their product.” Armon says the trend has become more pronounced over the seven years that the continuous tracking
study has been running, but has reached a peak in the latest round of interviews with 600 youngsters.

“Advertising is accepted and expected. Young people don’t see anything wrong in being sold to and think that if a product is in a TV ad, it must be good. It’s a myth that they are interested in clever ads – they are not willing to decipher complicated mmessages, they want simple ones.” Many panellists dramatically illustrated this point by revealing they thought Budweiser’s “Real American Heroes” ad, ironically celebrating “Mr foot-long hot dog inventor”, was an ad for hot dogs rather than beer, even though the ad might not be aimed at them.

However, many loved Heineken’s ironic ad featuring Paul Daniels singing Close to You, purely because it made
them laugh. “They are looking for an instant message. If it’s not there, they don’t take any notice. And they literally,
and naively, believe celebrities in ads really use the products they are advertising,” says Armon. A girl panellist from Birmingham commented: “In some of the Nike ads they’ve got all these well-known footballers. You think, ‘Oh my God, they’ve got everybody famous there.’ You think it must be good if they want it.”

The youngsters only read newspapers for the celebrity gossip and sport, rather than news, and couldn’t distinguish between papers’ political stances. They also failed to distinguish between TV channels – they access TV through programmes, not channels, for example watching Sky because The Simpsons is on, not because it’s Sky.

The results of the research deeply worry Sid McGrath, planner at the ad agency that made the infamous “You’ve
been Tango’ed” ads, HHCL and Partners. But they do not surprise him. “My worry is that the youth of today are not
being called upon to flex their intellectual muscles enough,” he says.

“There is instant gratification everywhere – in food it’s Pot Noodles or vending machines, even their pop icons are one-dimensional figures delivered on a plate. Young people are living vicariously through other people’s lives and are not asking for much at the moment. A lot of stimulation is ‘lean back’ – it doesn’t require as much involvement as it used to.”

He says advertising is changing as a result: “Lots of the most popular ads at the moment are happy, clappy, fun.
Easy to digest. They’ve got notice or inclination to decode ads.” One reason behind the shift, McGrath believes, is that young people want relief from the traumas of real life: “Advertising is becoming the opium of the masses rather
than the educator.”

16. Research shows that, compared with the previous generation, young people today are _____.
A. less perceptive B. more sensitive C. more worldly-wise D. better informed
17. In paragraph 3, the word ‘stances’ is closest in meaning to which of the following?
A. attitudes B. situations C. functions D. places

18. According to new research by five media groups, today’s youngsters are _____.
A. able to understand the language of advertising
B. unable to ‘read’ the messages in the many forms of advertising
C. bright enough to do some research before buying something
D. a bit wary of adverts
19. Advertisements aimed at the present young generation _____.
A. are using a variety of new techniques B. are technologically sophisticated
C. are making use of old techniques D. are becoming more subtle
20. It can be inferred that celebrity endorsements are advertisements _____.
A. that show viewers how to become famous
B. that famous people like watching
C. where famous people say they use and like certain products
D. where viewers are invited to take part in a phone-in progra e
21. Young people seem to believe that costly advertising _____.
A. makes no difference to the popularity of the product B. is the mark of a good quality product
C. means the product is probably overpriced D. does not inspire customer confidence
22. According to Stuart Armon, youngsters today pay more attention to an advert _____.
A. if its message is i ediately obvious B. if it is on their favorite TV channel
C. if it gives them something to think about D. if it has a witty element
23. Sid McGrath is concerned that young people these days _____.
A. are encouraged to eat too much B. are given too many choices
C. are not required to drink D. do not get enough exercise
24. The author uses the phrase ‘living vicariously’ in the penultimate paragraph to mean that young people _____.
A. want to become more sophisticated than other people
B. do not imitate people around the
C. do not rely on their own feeling or senses to understand the world around the
D. want to be independent of other people
25. According to McGrath, many advertisements today are adapting to satisfy youngsters’ desire to _____.
A. understand their problems B. see the funny side of their problems
C. forget their problems D. find solutions to their problems

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