“I don’t see how this applies to me,” said the brand manager of an advertiser with whom the Cartoon Network team and I recently met. “You’re talking about plurals, and I get how the disruption in consumption behavior applies to the media business, but we’re a bricks-and-mortar business. I don’t see how plurals’ media consumption habits apply to me,” he repeated.
As SVP of research for Turner Emerging Consumers, I get that kind of response quite a bit. It’s a mistake to underestimate the power of plurals and the effect they will have across businesses. To effectively connect with this generation of kids and teens born after 1997, it’s essential to understand them—and at Cartoon Network, we’ve made it a priority to become experts in them.
We call them plurals because we recognize the importance of the time in which they have been raised. They’ve been defined by the consumer-centric internet, which in their lifetime went from dial-up to high-speed. They became known as “mobile natives,” intuitively using a smartphone and tablet better than anyone else, and they don’t know a world in which the ability to play, watch, share and buy isn’t quite literally at their fingertips. In their lifetime, Hispanics became the largest minority in the US; by 2011, fewer than 50% of live births in the country were Caucasian. They lived through an economic downturn in the first decade of the 2000s and a recession in which they saw their parents lose jobs and fall on hard times. They saw Barack Obama become the first African-American President of the United States, witnessed the legalization of same-sex marriage, and were born into a national debate of diversity issues.
Taken altogether, it places this generation in a pluralistic society, which it assumes is the norm, effectively creating the most diverse generation in US history.
This sense of diversity has had a significant impact on the media habits of the plurals. Unlike their older counterparts, plurals don’t compartmentalize the media landscape. They lean toward being colorblind when navigating the entertainment marketplace. To them, there is no differentiating brands and marketing from devices and tools, or distribution methods from IPs—these are all choices for entertainment and content. And with this range of options available to them, plurals expect to have power over the choice of content, and control over the type of platform, consuming entertainment omnivorously.
When it comes to choice and control, the differences between plurals and millennials become clear. Millennials had to learn to navigate content and platforms, having lived at a time when there wasn’t an endless array of choices. Plurals, on the other hand, find this ability to navigate very intuitive—almost as if it was developed in the womb. As millennials had to learn and change, their stress level was very high, unlike plurals, who are very comfortable curating their own experiences.
In addition, unlike millennials, plurals don’t find it all that necessary to embrace brand filters or taste makers to tell them what to like—they do that very naturally on their own, with ease.
For plurals, it’s crucial to empower them to inherently navigate content and platforms anytime and anywhere, to go deeper into IPs to learn about characters and stories, and to express their fandom in meaningful ways.
With mobile as their platform of choice, they use devices to curate an immersive experience, which includes a spiraling pattern of exploration and expression. By going deeper into an IP, kids and teens try to do two things. First, they explore by watching, reading and playing with a brand to try to figure out where their interests lie. Do they like Star Wars? Do they like Adventure Time? Is their preference a combination of both? Once they assess what kind of person they are, they then express their feelings about that brand to get feedback from (also using it as currency among) their peers. This identification with brands leads plurals to define themselves through very niche definitions of “cool.”
In order to explore all of this content, plurals choose what they want to watch based on the need they want to fulfill at the time of consumption. As a result, their decision is impacted by things like the mood or situation they’re in, and how much time they have available. The good news for content suppliers is that there is room for all of it, as plurals are efficient in how they consume different types of media.
Appropriately, long-form and short-form content provide very different experiences. Long-form content allows for deeper immersion into lore and characters. Think of TV series or movies based on books. This content lets plurals build their own personal taste, and experience it, in the company of friends or family in a living room or movie theater. The influx of experiences, lore and social bonding brings about an accumulation of social currency for later use.
Short-form content is seen as a way to link and enhance the long-form occasions. In the supermarket with their parents or waiting for the school bus, plurals tap into the opportunity provided by short-form content to develop gaming skills, increase knowledge about characters, share content and explore user-generated content. The content supplier can best leverage this opportunity to help keep their IPs from “going dark” for an extended period of time.
To keep plurals’ interest, the primary agenda for the content supplier then has to be to keep their IPs fresh on a consistent basis. Whether the plural consumer is binge-watching a TV season all in one day, or watching it over the span of a number of months, the savvy programmer will ensure that she/he stays interested by offering fresh IP-oriented options in gaming, clips and opportunities to share user-generated content.
So, I turned to the brand manager who was having difficulty comprehending the application of plurals’ consumption habits to that business, and I said, “Therein lies the problem.” If you are not looking at your business the same way plurals look at your business, you need to. Don’t look at yourself as just bricks-and-mortar. Their visit to your establishment is consumption of long-form content.’ You want them to come back and consume that long-form content again. As a result, you need to figure out a way to “not go dark” between visits.
This is where you leverage your company’s expertise in short-form content. Keep them engaged, and allow them to express their love for your product in the same way that they do for other IPs. Embrace the new way of thinking or you will be left behind.
Jeffrey Grant is SVP of research for Turner Emerging Consumers and is responsible for all aspects of research for Cartoon Network, Boomerang, Adult Swim and truTV. The research and analysis referenced in this piece is based on a multi-year custom research study completed by Turner, its sister company Warner Bros. and research firm Insight Kids.