Young ad stars show old pros new tricks

To court new generations of consumers, advertising executives are discovering that experience has become an impediment. It is a far cry from the glory days of advertising, when newcomers spent years working their way to the top. But unprecedented change in media and technology has given teenagers and kids an advantage in forecasting what products will appeal to consumers. Put simply, too many executives have grown up with traditional media -- television and newspapers -- which is now losing audience and revenue to websites, cell phones, chat rooms, social networking sites and online games. "I would say you have experts at the age of 14 of fantastic value because those people are extremely intelligent, they have time and they produce a lot of very good counseling on technological issues," said Pierre Bellanger, chief executive and co-founder of Skyblog, Europe's top social network site. Many of the most impressive bloggers are teenagers, with some particularly linguistic and tech-literate authors punching well above their weight at age 13, Bellanger told Reuters. Jacques Veyrat, chief executive of Neuf Cegetel (NEUF.PA: Quote, Profile, Research), France's second-largest fixed-line telecoms operator, says his company will often provide work to young programmers and developers. "I always try to pick young, talented people and let them develop what they want to develop," he said, adding that many were happy to problem-solve and apply their creative talent on small or short-term ventures. Some executives, particularly in advertising, find the changes taking place to be disconcerting as digital media plays an ever greater role in our lives. For the young, such shifts in popular culture and technology are just a fact of life. "Teenagers ... think they are too sophisticated and they are immune to advertising messages. Of course nothing could be further from the truth," said Jeffrey Cole, a director at the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California. Hollywood in their pocket Younger people spend more time online than watching television, have access to millions of on-demand content channels and are fueling a boom in video gaming, an industry that is bigger in terms of sales than Hollywood's box office. As some media executives note, who needs Hollywood when almost every teenager carries a personalized film studio in a phone in their back pocket? "The people coming into and out of college don't look at things in terms of media or marketing. They look at what is cool," said James Hilton, co-founder and executive creative director of advertising consultancy Akqa. This was borne out at the Cannes' Advertising festival earlier this month, where thousands of advertising executives met to brainstorm on the next big idea. Akqa held a creative competition at the festival inviting young talent to draft an ad campaign using tools not available five years ago. Art director Todd Parker, 27, and copywriter Peter Trueblood, 26, picked up joint trophies for an Earth Day campaign using 3-D City-making imaging and Google (GOOG.O: Quote, Profile, Research) mapping to show the future impact of global warming. Interacting with the campaign triggered snow falls on mountain peaks to symbolize how action makes a difference. "Technologic advances, changing media landscape and the way messages are consumed has turned convention on its head," the two said in an e-mail response. "There are only two possible reactions to this -- terror or excitement. We choose both, we're terrified about how excited we are." Some ideas that didn't make it to the winners' podium owed more to science fiction and looked to be a little beyond the grasp of contemporary thinking. Try selling a campaign to an account manager that involves cheoptic holograms -- a way of using free-floating video or haptic sensory technology, eye-tracking or brain scans. David Brown, who studies at the Miami Ad School, picked up a trophy for an interactive campaign he created for Prevent Child Abuse America. One element of this showed a digital billboard whose image changed as donations were texted to a specified phone number, transforming a sad child into a happy one. Although Brown is only 25, he looks to his teenage brother for inspiration. "The scary thing is that, when I watch my younger brother and his friends, I'm amazed at the stuff they pull off with their camera phones and cutting video and editing and making songs," said Brown. "It's great to be in this industry now when you never know what's going to happen tomorrow."

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