If all the world's teenagers could hang out in one place Wednesday night, they would probably choose Key Arena in Seattle to watch the Chicago Bulls battle the Supersonics for the American basketball championship. Or so suggests a new survey of the habits, tastes and values of 25,000 adolescents in 41 countries.
And, say the authors, advertisers would do well to heed the study's conclusions for clues on how to connect with a huge and amorphous, but in some ways surprisingly homogenous, consumer group.On every continent, for example, teenagers stay glued to the television set for roughly six hours a day, according to the poll conducted by the Brainwaves Group, a consulting subsidiary of D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, the New York advertising agency. North American parents might be relieved to learn that their kids are actually less addicted than those in many developing countries, watching a total of 5.3 hours of programming a day, compared with 6.7 hours in Latin America and 6.2 hours in Africa. (Western European youths also watch 5.3 hours a day; Chinese teenagers watch the least, a total of 5 hours.)
Most youngsters in most parts of the world also use computers, believe the only way to get ahead is through hard work, are afflicted by wanderlust and love their families. And everywhere, boys and girls alike enjoy basketball and adore the Bulls.
Basketball was easily the favorite sport of those surveyed: 71 percent said they either watched or played it, including 64 percent of the girls and 77 percent of the boys. That means it tops even soccer - an obsession in most of the world except the United States - which garnered a 67 percent rating. Basketball's popularity was further reflected in the awareness ratings of corporate logos, where the Bulls ranked among the top 10. (The teenagers surveyed were shown 75 brand names, such as Adidas and Sony, and asked which ones were most familiar to them. Brainwaves declined to identify the other most-recognized logos.)
Elissa Moses, the consulting group's managing director, said the findings about basketball's global appeal offered a golden opportunity for advertisers. "Basketball has captured the hearts of teenagers worldwide," Moses said. "It provides icons, imagery, mythology. It's about winning by a couple of points, not giving up, using your head and your feet, being part of a team. It embodies terrific values."
The National Basketball Association, which is currently holding the championship series that the Bulls lead 3 to 0 over Seattle, was quick to pounce on the study as proof that the game is the wave of the marketing future. "What we now have is empirical evidence that amplifies the anecdotal evidence we've been hearing for the last five or six years," said David Schreff, president of the NBA's marketing and media group. "This is the first global teen study that confirms it.
"There's a strong connection between playing the game, being a fan, watching it, interacting with it at the retail level," Schreff added. "This is why Coca-Cola and McDonald's became our first two global partners (in 1994.) If advertisers can count on a sports league that has a global teenage audience, the reach and frequency of a long season, with games played shown on TV and promotion of licensed products, they can see an integrated approach to marketing they can take advantage of." The NBA says its games are broadcast in 175 countries.
Brainwaves surveyed middle-class youths 15 to 18 years old at their schools between November 1995 and April 1996 on everything from their favorite activities to their hopes for the future. It conducted a similar but much more limited poll in the fall of 1994.
The survey contained a few surprises. The highest rate of computer use, for example, was found in Peru, at 99 percent, and one of the lowest in Japan, at 43 percent. Overall, 81 percent of those surveyed said they had used computers in the past year; only 10 percent, however, had surfed the Internet.
These were among other findings:
- A big dose of wanderlust, with 55 percent of those polled expecting to travel often and only 43 percent planning to live in the country of their birth.
- Lots of worries, the biggest being getting a good job (70 percent), parents' health (63 percent), finishing school (54 percent), and AIDS (43 percent).
- A strong streak of self-reliance, with 85 percent believing "it's up to me to get what I want in life."
- A pessimistic outlook, with only 30 percent predicting that the "world will improve" during their lives. Chinese teenagers were the most hopeful, with 69 percent expecting improvement, while North American and Western European teenagers were the gloomiest, with only 22 percent and 14 percent, respectively, anticipating, better times.
- An attachment to family, with 56 percent saying "my relationship with my family" was of highest importance. In contrast, only 12 percent rated "upholding time-honored traditions and values" as a top priority.
What can advertisers make of all this? Perhaps that, at the very least, teenagers are living up to their reputation for causing their elders headaches. "Advertisers may have to work a lot harder to get their attention," Moses said. "If you think they will hang onto every word of your copy, or hear the benefits in the last five seconds of your commercial, it won't happen."