WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY? THE CHALLENGES OF MARKETING TO YOUTH

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Teenagers and children with mobiles represent a huge and valuable segment of the mobile market. But mobile operators face several challenges in selling to the youth market, says Chris Couch.  

Teenagers are generally more technically adept and, as they grow older, more willing to embrace revenue-generating services such as digital content.

But mobile operators face several challenges in selling to the youth market. There are obligations to protect children from adult content and harassment, as well as the tricky issue of whether it is even appropriate to market services to teenagers and children. Add to these the challenge of increasing subscriber uptake when parents are becoming more and more aware of the potentially negative aspects of mobile phone use.
Traditionally, the technology that enabled operators to restrict access to adult content has been limited – they can restrict access by imposing default settings on phones, or by requiring customers to prove their age by giving credit card details. Neither is a failsafe method, as under-18s can easily give someone else’s credit card details or negotiate around default settings.
Currently, the onus is on the telecoms industry to police the way technology is used and who is using it. However, MPs recently called for legislation to ban the marketing of mobile phone services specifically designed to attract children, and the education bill currently going through parliament gives teachers the legal right to confiscate mobile phones if necessary.

Parental control
Surely it would be better to put the responsibility of monitoring children’s mobile use into the hands of parents. Technology is available, such as ACE*COMM’s Parent Patrol, that allows parents to monitor child phone use and to restrict what the phone can access. Such restrictions can be done via content classification and filtration, similar to the functionality provided by parental control software on personal computers. Web content can be intercepted, submitted for classification, and blocked or redirected to a different site. Operators can offer this as an additional service.
It would be better for all if, rather than becoming the subject of legislation, issues of safety and protection were kept in the hands of subscribers – parents. Operators providing a way for parents to monitor and restrict their childrens’ mobile use has the double benefit of addressing issues of access to inappropriate content while allowing them to respond to market forces and demands.
Such a solution needs to be easy to use, comprehensive, personalized, non-disruptive, and economical. Ease of use is a key characteristic because the service needs to be available to the mass consumer market. After all, parents are trying to solve a usage problem, not a technical problem.
While inappropriate content is all over the headlines today, it is equally important to comprehensively address all aspects of mobile use – even the mundane, but most frequently used services such as voice and text messaging. It is also important to allow for personalisation, as the broad brushstroke definitions of “appropriate or “mature” categories are a good starting point, but do not take into account the individual traits of children or their parents.

Tween vs teen
Considering the high percentage of the teen population that already has a mobile, the solution needs to be incremental and not require new handsets. Specialized handsets such as the Teddyfone are great for the very young, but parental controls need to be available to the very large – and different – segments of ‘tween’ and teen users.
Such an approach would allow mobile operators to sell to the youth market whilst still adhering to acceptable standards for doing so. Marketing the parental control service would be easy, as it would address the dilemma that parents struggle with – wanting to provide their children with phones for security and convenience reasons, while not wanting to expose them to the potentially negative aspects of harassment, bullying, and access to adult content.
Providing such a service could also encourage migration from prepay to contract plans, with parents able to control the number of voice minutes and text messages used each month by their children whilst maintaining the child’s ability to contact parents at any time. This is a vast improvement over prepay-based restrictions, where the child has no way of calling home once he or she runs out of credit.
In the case of pre-teens, it is parents who decide whether or not they are provided with mobiles. Mobile operators wishing to expand the numbers of subscribers in this age group need to understand the conflicting interests that parents struggle with. On the one hand, they want to provide mobiles for safety and security, while on the other hand they are concerned about misuse and other problems. Parents are very aware of the issues around mobile phone use among children. For the mobile service operator, it’s all about offering the right product to match the demand, or, put another way, the solution that solves the problem. The demand for family services will ultimately be driven by parents desiring some measure of control as their children inevitably sign up for mobile services.
The key to marketing services to teen and pre-teenagers is to market to parents, and to provide what parents want – parental controls and access in an emergency. It is reasonable to assume that as awareness of the availability of effective parental control solutions grows, reluctance to provide phones will decrease, leading to even greater demand for phones in the youth market.

Chris Couch is Chief Marketing Officer at ACE*COMM, supper of Parent Patrol – a web-based application that lets parents set limits and restrictions on how their kids use their mobile phones.

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