Harvesting Kids’ Eyeballs; Free Mobile For Ad Views: Blyk!

“What do young people want in mobile? Text. Voice. Alarm clock,” Antti à–hrling, the co-founder of Blyk, mused…

What else? Free. And man, do kids want free…

Blyk, (pronounced ‘blick’, YouTube video here) offers 217 texts and 43 minutes free to 16-24 year olds in Europe…The quid pro quo trade-off of minutes for marketing? Try a 29% response rate easily reaching their “100,000 member target” six months in advance of plan.

This gives me an eye-popping, mane-flying, wild-mustang-loose kind of visual in the horse race for kids eyeballs in youth mobile…Before you can mumble, ‘whoa nelly’ or ‘tally ho’ to observe the stampede in the UK, they’ll expand Pan-Euro…the Netherlands this year, Spain, Germany and Belgium in 2009…all funded through advertising.

By tailoring the ads to the audience in ‘what do you want to see?’ mode, mobile shifts from a “How many ads will you tolerate?” mindset to a ‘you’ll want to know this’ dialogue…giving users the opportunity to text back and refine their ‘experience.’ (e.g. opt for say movie studios, Penguin Books, whatever, and ditching ads that are irrelevant or don’t appeal)

But at what cost? Yah, “free” I know…I’m talking more about privacy and transparency and giving away your digital fingerprints in Beacon blast behavioral profiling style.

Yes, yes, I know, this is ‘opt in’ so it’s different from Facebook’s creepin’ and peepin’…

And sure, content that’s tailored to your interests voluntarily rather than random shovel-ware and data dumping in a scattershot cacophony of noise is a huge plus…

But it’s still fueling commercialism, consumption, and ad creep on every single morsel of media, from captive kids on BusRadio to in-school product channels like notebooks and supplies, sponsored school buses and even food samples. (remember the one with the free Clearasil trial in health class?)

Whether you’re hawking youth eyeballs inside or outside the hallowed halls, online or offline in media it still feeds into the same notion of ubiquitous commercialism.

(For those interested in the affordability issue, this is a solid pro/con argument about ad-supported textbooks showing the digital divide (this one discusses free agency/collegiate vs. K-12, and this one from The Itinerant Librarian questions educational autonomy altogether, sourcing the New York Times“Words of Wisdom vs. Word from our Sponsor,” so it’s not a simple subject)

Exchanging eyeballs for ad space is nothing new, and may ultimately change youth behavior altogether desensitizing ads to irrelevance, like the ‘banners and pop ups’ kids don’t even notice in their peripheral vision anymore other than as an annoyance.

But Blyk’s method is all about engagement. Interacting with your ads. Making them relevant versus nuisance driven…and there are solid trade-off questions here…

On one hand, if Blyk youth want to listen to a sound clip of a new media release and decide it’s a ‘must have’ that’s their business, and if they want to sell their eyeballs to swap free phone minutes for ads, that’s their business too…After all, 16-24 year olds are not in need of nanny state hand-holding like under 8s and impressionable tweens…

BUT from a larger scale ecopsychology perspective, as Dr. Allen Kanner writes in this MUST READ MEDIA, at what price the “corporatized child?”

This is a much bigger conundrum.

Let’s just say it continues to be laughable to me hearing youth panels talk about how they’re “not the least bit influenced by advertising or brands” as I look down at their feet and see every single one wearing either Vans or Converse in peer-mirrored style…or plastered with the brand du ‘jour on every item from apparel to notebooks…

To me, this opens a whole slew of marketing concerns in terms of influence and persuasion for long term public health reverb and media literacy acumen…

What constitutes “free” and who judges what is “harmless?”

What TYPES of ads are being served and how will free ‘cost’ us all in the long run?

Obesity via junk food, heart health via energy drinks, societal norms/trash-n-flash entertainment, alcohol ads, or whatever? How are ads chosen? What passes muster?

Blyk says they’re very ‘careful’ about who they partner with.

Well, yah, they may not be serving vices…but it feeds into the whole FCC product placement/integration ubiquitous broadcasting where airwaves have the potential to turn into virtual catalogs to buy interactively in real-time.

How far will the ‘free movement’ of monetization formulas go?

“Today’s class is brought to you by…” as Allen Kanner writes in this Revlon reveal. So this prompts me to ask”Just how far will FREE be to get freebies?”

What about free education…free clothing as a human billboard…free merchandise for being a ‘brand ambassador’ (like Victoria’s Secret integrating with 33 college campuses when their PINK exclusives launched yesterday!)…free friends with purchase?

Sigh. Nothing is ‘free’ people.

“Freedom means choosing your burden.” ~Hephzibah Menuhin

Related Resources

What’s Next in the Mobile Youth Space? Texting is the New Rock & Roll (NGT blog)

Cellphone is Mom Avoidance Device for Teens (CNET) (more on this from Shaping Youth later)

7 Steps for Parents: Should Your Child Have a Cellphone (On Teens Today, Shaping Youth Correspondent Vanessa Van Petten)

For Teens the Future is Mobile (CNET)

Predictions/Mobile Era Youth: Massive Links List on McGuire’s Law blog

YPulse Mashup Panel/Live Links to What’s Next in Mobile Youth (PSFK)



  1. Amy Jussel says

    Blyk Bites the Dust…

    Great post on Ypulse today by Anastasia about how to properly ‘break up’ with customers, particularly in the ‘let ’em down gently’ youth market…


    “Blyk’s Bad Breakup”

    Excerpt here:

    …”In many ways Blyk’s marketing and corporate persona embodied a lot of principals youth marketers strive for — they were, as the writer noted “chatty” on Twitter, maintained a relatively active corporate blog and tried to offer a service that young people desire (mobile) and to work with their advertisers to create campaigns that young people would respond to. Unfortunately, their business model wasn’t working.

    Debate over their model aside, The Youth Conspiracy post reminds us that you can’t just talk the talk as a youth brand and then start talking a lot less when the sh#t hits the fan. This applies to all brands, but especially those speaking directly to youth — why? Because if you’ve created a product and a brand that connects with this audience, you’ve also won their hard-earned trust and loyalty. As brand “savvy” as youth may be, they are still more idealistic than those of us who have been burned enough to develop a thicker skin when it comes to relationships with corporate entities (or human entities!). Feeling like you were “dumped” by a brand you loved via Twitter is not so different than being broken up with through a text message.

    In the tech world where websites and mobile companies come and go, lots of young users who invested time or posted content on these sites/ services end up being left behind when the business goes south. To me this seems incredibly shortsighted on the part of these entrepreneurs/business owners. If you’ve worked hard to be open, accessible and relatively transparent with your young customer base, why not be that way even as you wind down? Talk to them EVEN MORE.

    Write conversational blog posts explaining why your business model isn’t working, ask your passionate users for help or ideas, and if you know you’re sunk, tell them you’re winding down and what it means for them AND for any content they may have posted to your site (read the comments – most ever on any Ypulse post). This is the adult way to handle breaking up with your young audience…”

    etc. Well said, imho. Anastasia nailed this…

    .-= Amy Jussel´s last blog ..Consuming Kids: Selling Value As A Virtue =-.

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