Brand Materialism Breeds Conflict at Home

Under a section titled, “Anti-parent alliance,” (p. 218) in their book Consumer Kids, Ed Mayo and Agnes Nairn write:

Advertisers present a wonderful brand world which is parent-free.

And based on their research, they later they go on to write that,

…the more materialistic children think their parents are uncool, boring and no fun to be around. And when kids think less of their parents, they think less of themselves, too: the children with a low opinion of their parents also had the lowest self-esteem. So, material culture delivers a double whammy: it’s not only linked with children’s own unhappiness but it implicates the happiness of the whole family.

They go on to link the branded media message with several forms of mental illness in children and even youth suicide (which is now the second-most common cause of death in UK males aged 15 to 34).

Clearly, advertisers, marketers, and commercial media producers who target children need to start examining the moral and social implications of their craft.

Brands Haven’t Cracked Mobile — Yet

For the most part a video report on Nielsen’s self-serving “What Do Teens Want” conference is pretty unremarkable (Special Report: What Do Teens Want?), but one thing that the editor at Brandweek, Todd Wasserman, said regarding text messaging, was very important:

…this is a medium that hasn’t been penetrated by advertisers, unless they can somehow get themselves into the conversation.

So, for the time being, it would seem that texting is a relatively safe zone for teens in terms of exposure to ad messaging. But Wasserman also makes it clear that accessing teens through text is a priority for advertisers and exhibited hope that iPhone 3.0 might offer new possibilities.

(By the way, does Jack Koch from Microsoft’s Massive agency actually say anything at all? He seems more concerned with the girl behind him.)

It’s a Teen Cultural Revolution

If you’re a young person, somewhere between the ages of 13 and 18, you’re currently involved in the first great cultural revolution of the 21st Century.

You may not be aware of it, but you are helping to redefine how we communicate and socialize. You are inventing new ways to share thoughts, feelings, emotions, and ideas.

In a way, much as your hippie grandparents did to sexuality way back in the 1960s, you are turning the totality of social interaction on its head.

You almost certainly have a Facebook profile, and you maintain it regularly. This is an essential method for maintaining your personal relationships.

You probably have a second profile on Windows Live, where you engage with a different set of friends apart from your Facebook milieu. This is less important to you. In a way, it’s a social sandbox, where you can explore alternative versions of yourself.

It’s unlikely that you tweet, and it’s quite possible that you don’t even know what I’m referring to by that remark. But that’s okay, because the Twitter social model doesn’t jive with your mindset.

You more than likely have a mobile phone which you treasure more than pretty much any other possession. It is your lifeline, indeed your lifeblood. You maintain your most important and personal social dialogues through your mobile phone by sending hundreds of text messages every day.

You make plans, joke, flirt, shout, cry, and seek solace by text. And you’re always texting because, remarkably, you can even do it undetected in class.

You probably asked someone out on a first date using your mobile phone. You probably dumped your first boyfriend by text message. Maybe you dump them all that way.

You probably take your mobile phone to bed with you. Most nights you fall asleep to the glow of its screen.

There a distinct chance that your first sexual experience was had on your mobile phone. Maybe you sent someone a provocative photo of yourself. More likely, you texted dirty with your girlfriend.

You have an emotional bond with your mobile phone, and you experience extreme stress when it’s not in your possession.

Your mobile phone sets you free. Or at least that’s what you think. Because it’s also your anchor.

The teenage years are an important period for establishing independence from your parents.

Previous generations worked at defining personal identity in isolation, away from familial influence.

No more. Your mobile phone promises a steady line of communication with your folks. And not only are they repeatedly interrupting your life with phone calls and texts, but you are also homing in on them for emotional gratification, support, and feedback.

Where once a teen like you may have bought a new pair of shoes in spite of your parents’ tastes, you now vet your mom’s input via MMS.

As a result of this, combined with your tendency to multitask your social communications, you are having difficulty cultivating a true sense of self.

At any given moment, you’re probably simultaneously engaged in an IM session on Facebook, several text discourses on your mobile, and a face-to-face chat with your mom. In each of those communication environments you’re maintaining a different mindset, probably even a different personality.

Psychologists are starting to worry that many of you are developing split personality disorders.

And as a result of this impaired sense of identity, you are prime fodder for consumer marketing messages.

You may pride yourself in being impregnable to such messaging but, in fact, a consumer mindset is key to engaging in the new world you are helping create.

After all, consumer goods such as computers and mobile phones are absolutely essential for you to communicate. Not only are they technically required, but the sort of devices you select to use contribute to your sense of identity.

In other words, consumerism is the superstructure in which the new cultural environment you are building exists. Marketers recognize that this leaves you sensitive to their messaging. Beware.

And keep in mind that, as the old cliché goes, you are the future. Older generations are already feeling excluded from this strange new world you inhabit and one day you will use it to govern, build businesses, sell goods, and generally run the world.

Make sure you let the old folks in.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, June 26, 2009.

Social Media: Canadian Teens Have a (Slight) Edge

Two recent surveys collected numbers on teen use of social media sites like Facebook and Windows Live (What’s Your Child Doing on Facebook? and Cox Communications’ National Teen Summit on Internet and Wireless Safety). Interestingly, Canadian teens are slightly more likely than their American counterparts to maintain profiles on social networking sites: 76% of Canadian teens have profiles, while 72% of US teens do. In both cases, Facebook is the de facto choice for teens’ online activities: fully 93% of those Canadian teens with a profile use Facebook.

Interestingly, both surveys highlighted the level of parental ignorance regarding online teenage activities. Associate Vice President of Ipsos Reid, Mark Laver said,

Online teenagers’ use of social networks has expanded rapidly in the past 18 months; however, their parents’ usage hasn’t kept up. Consequently, some parents will have little to no clue about what their children are doing online.

The Magic of Heterosexuality in Children’s Media

In the world of Disney, falling in heterosexual love can break a spell, save Christmas, change laws, stop wars and even, in the case of The Little Mermaid, cause an individual to give up her personal identity.

While such dramatic plot twists may keep kids glued to television and movie theater screens, they send a memorable message to impressionable young viewers that heterosexual love is not only the norm, but that it is also exceptional, powerful, transformative and magical, concludes a new analysis of top-grossing G-rated children’s films.

I’ve often personally observed that non-heterosexual relationships are “alternative” in popular media. What’s interesting about the studies cited in this press release (Disney elevates heterosexuality to powerful, magical heights) is that they identify a classification process to promote this mindset that begins in media that targets the very young.

$99 iPhone 3G “kneecaps” Mobile Industry

There’s a fascinating piece of analysis regarding the iPhone 3G that was published by Nielsen about a week ago. The Impact Of The iPhone 3G Price Cut outlines how Apple’s reduced pricing on its second generation iPhone completely redefines the economics of the global mobile industry:

It is hard to overestimate the impact that a $99 iPhone has on the wireless carriers and handset manufacturers in the US. The new $99 price point for the iPhone 3G completely changes the value proposition of every handset at every carrier in the US. Some observers have commented that the $99 price point “kneecaps the Palm Pre,” but the kneecapping does not stop there.

The information in the piece is particularly acute for Canadian telcos and gives Rogers an incredible edge over its competitors, Bell and Telus. (Though, it’s worth noting, the $99 price is Canada requires a 3-year contract, compared to a 2-year with AT&T.)

Rogers.com - iPhone Devices

Compare that to a competing (and vastly inferior – like, no WiFi?) unit on Bell’s network, the Blackberry Storm, which goes for 50% more.

BlackBerry Storm 9530 3G Phones from Bell Mobility

With Bell at the $99 price point, you’d get stiffed with the laughable Treo Pro.

It’s a no-brainer to pick up an iPhone – even an older generation one – over any unit in the Bell stable, particularly when you consider the fact that most of those current Bell units will only run on the end-of-life CDMA network and have a limited lifetime. And this pricing will no doubt force down the prices on other units from RIM, Samsun, HTC and others.

Because, I think that Nielsen is bang-on when they say that,

…voice has been commoditized and has become table stakes. Defendable differentiation will come from devices and data.

This is near-gospel truth. The “smartphone” category will become the de facto standard mobile device ongoing, and the average consumer will use it more for tasks that involve internet, texting, and IM, over traditional voice calls.

This trend, along with Apple’s rock-bottom pricing of the iPhone 3G, will force a realignment in the business model between device makers and network operators. In general, we consumers should see an overall drop in device pricing and, assuming mobile carriers keep the pace, a reduction in price for data plans.

The iPhone revolution continues.

Hey, Northwestel. What’s So Special About High Level, Alberta?

I was browsing Northwestel’s cable internet plans today and stumbled upon the fact, captured in the screen shot below, that Northwestel provides exceptionally preferential high speed internet pricing to a teensy weensy little town in northern Alberta called High Level.

High Speed Cable Classic in High Level, Alberta

High Speed Cable Classic in High Level, Alberta

In case you can’t read the tiny print in the screen grab, I’ll summarize it this way: Northwestel gives this town of just over 4,000 souls three times the monthly bandwidth for half what Whitehorse pays. Yeah, that’s 60 GB for $50 per month.

Northwestel’s Ultra service in High Level not only gives more data transfer per month, but the company also provides this town with improved data transfer rate, as illustrated in this screen grab:

Northwestel Loves High Level

High Speed Cable Ultra in High Level, Alberta

That’s a 20% improvement over Whitehorse download rates and double our upload rates.

So, what’s up with that, Northwestel? Why the love for this little cowpoke ville and the bird for the rest of us loyal customers, eh?

If you’re going to monopolize a regional industry, at least monopolize equally. Your “Bringing us together” slogan is starting to ring pretty hollow. Perhaps you should adopt something more relevant like, “Divide and conquer.”

Double the Bandwidth, Double the Fun?

I took a rather unusual step further into geekdom today: I picked up a second cable modem for my house.

I’ve been regularly exceeding my monthly bandwidth allotment of a measly 20 GB with the Northwestel Ultra package, which costs $90 per month.

I’ve been going over every month by anywhere from 4 GB to 15 GB. As Northwestel bills this extra data at an absolutely ridiculous fee of $10 per GB, I’ve been paying anywhere from an extra $40 to $150 extra each month.

It makes a lot of sense, then, for me to pick up a second cable modem account which buys me with an additional 20 GB at just 45% of Northwestel’s overage rate. Really, once anyone goes over Northwestel’s limit by 4 or 5 GB, it makes sense to pick up a second modem.

For some silly reason, Northwestel can’t just increase the bandwidth allotment on my original cable modem. I would have been sort-of willing to pay a full $90 extra each month to receive an additional 20 GB of data without even any increase in speed. Instead, they insisted that I pick up a second cable modem. Oh well, I’m not the one paying for the hardware.

But having two modems, to a geek like me, begs the question: how do I load balance these puppies?

Right now, I must swap the modems out once per month when each reaches its 20 GB data limit. But that seems kind of silly. At any given time, I have a perfectly good cable modem sitting there idle.

What I want to do, instead, is this:

Internet Load Balancing Hardware Architecture (v1)Yeah, that’s the ticket. I want both modems online simultaneously so that, on top of my new 40 GB per month bandwidth limit, I can reach a theoretical data throughput of 20 Mbps (a utopian dream with Northwestel, I know).

My problem is the load balancing device. I managed to locate a D-Link DI LB604 Load Balancing Router:

6076f8e4dd0a8ba551921f1ae3e902b4

CNet reviewed it a few years ago. But the D-Link site reports that the device is discontinued. I haven’t been able to locate anything currently on the market that compared with this device (for less than $5,000, that is). Anyone else out there seen anything?

I’ve read up on how one could configure a Linux server to load balance multiple network connections, but that seems a bit like overkill for my needs.

Until I can identify a good load balancing solution, I’ll just swap the two modems regularly to avoid paying overage fees to Northwestel.

Once I get a load balancing solution in place, I’ll report back on what I put together, and whether I experience any increase in bandwidth speeds. (In case anyone actually wants to replicate the solution!)

Post Script

I’d like to note that, yeah, I’m now paying the ridiculous sum of $180 per month for a lacklustre, patchwork internet service that pales in comparison to other Canadian providers.

For example, in southern Canada Shaw offers a High Speed Warp service for the unbundled price of just $102 per month. Warp provides speeds of up to 25 Mbps and a whopping monthly download budget of 150 GB of data.

So while we pay comparable prices in the North for fruit and vegetables from Equador at Superstore, when it comes to an essential and modern infrastructure, we get shafted hard.