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Echoes beached far away in time

What’s the first song you ever heard?

The one that pops into your head every now and again and you just can’t get rid of.  The one you probably never liked anyway and even if you did, it’s been echoing around the back of your mind for so long now that it’s not really just music any more.  It’s a fragment of your own personal theme tune, a beached fish twitching on the sand at the edge of your memory.

Much as I’d like to pretend mine was by someone cool like Martha and the Muffins, it was actually January by Pilot:

“January… Sick and tired you’ve been hanging on me…”

It would have been a bad song by any standards, but at a time when Marvin Gaye and Led Zeppelin were around to show the way, it should have been particularly unimpressive.

But it made a huge impression on me.  I can still hear every note of the whiney falsetto and the odd staccato rhythm, just as if I’d spun the vinyl only a few minutes ago.

And that’s the weird thing.

I haven’t ever actually heard the song.  Not once.  Not now, not back in the 1970s.  Never.

At home, the only radio was permanently nailed onto BBC Radio Three or Four.  I grew up believing that Listen With Mother and The Archers were the only programmes that didn’t involve harpsichords.  Tony Blackburn and his kind were an incomprehensible mystery to me. (They still are.)

But I did hear January sung a lot by other kids in the school playground.

Thanks to them, the opening lines of this dead fish of a song that I’ve never actually heard are firmly beached way above the high water line in my memory (alongside The Archers theme music – cheers for that, Mum).

It’s because what buzzes around the playground in break-time impresses far more than any constructed message.  You want viral, it’s there in the schoolyard and it works far better than any contrived advert on a social networking website ever will.

Amanda Anderton is the group research director at 2CV Research.  She says in Marketing Magazine that the only thing that gets tweens and younger teenagers to really buy into a message is exactly that playground buzz.  “If someone comes into school and says ‘I’ve found a cool online game’, this spreads like wildfire. That has interesting implications for online marketing; maybe it doesn’t need to happen online at all.”

She argues that older teens may begin to explore the internet, but younger teenagers and tweens “…are not sophisticated users of social media and their habits are surprisingly limited in scope”.

Teachers and youth workers know exactly how the break-time buzz works; if you can get young people to talk to each other about the point you want to get across, you’ve already won.  My unruly high school class twigged that there were some ways you could cause trouble that you absolutely could not be told off for.  One day we decided to get in everyone’s way by marching round the school corridors in break times, 30-strong, reciting a section of Shakespeare we’d been told to memorise at the tops of voices.  By the time the staff had decided they really couldn’t put up with the noise any longer, we’d all managed to drum the passage into our own heads, without our teachers having to do it for us.  OK, so we were a bunch of spoilt brats, but there’s not one of those 30 spoilt brats that isn’t still word perfect on Macbeth Act 1, Scene 4 even 25 years later.

But how do you get the ball rolling? How do you generate sufficient awareness and interest to get the playground viral buzz started?  Mobiles can’t be used in most schools; web access is usually restricted, so you have to use a medium that works best with what the school structure provides plenty of – dwell time.

There are poster panels on buses and bus-stops, but not all pupils use them.  And as the schools have no control over the content, teachers have no interest in reinforcing the message, so the only people to actually benefit are the owners of the panels.

To get teachers and mentors to discuss campaigns with teenagers and help get the break-time buzz going, you need to have material actually inside schools and clubs.  Messages will always be supported by staff so long as their institutions have a full veto over content and receive an income from the campaign.  With far higher OTS, longer dwell time and much greater awareness than other media aimed at tweens and teens, this is what will really get the break-time buzz to kick off.

Get the message right too, and the echoes will still be buzzing around for years to come.

One Comment

  1. Byron Wolt (USA, Minnesota) says:

    Thanks for the great article! I could not agree more that if school age audiences are important to your business YOU HAVE TO HAVE A PRESCENCE IN SCHOOLS!!! However, posters on the wall, vending machines, social networking links and other logoed materials do not always do anything to get the attention – let alone hold and direct the attention – of this generation of super marketed to savvy teenagers. I have been providing in school marketing services for going on 13 years. There are a few crucial elements to being successful in creating in school educational marketing opportunities.

    1. You must NOT “SELL” to students in school – but you can TELL students about your product or service. If you do it honestly and concisely most teachers and students will accept it as they understand they process.

    2. You MUST offer value and content to teachers to help them or you will NEVER, EVER have a chance to speak to their students.

    3. Be interactive!!! Sitting and listening does little to creating BUZZ – participation is key.

    4. Think small. I get much better responses from students when I speak in classrooms and not auditoriums. Classrooms allow connections that auditoriums/web sites cannot.

    5. Finally, you must craft your message so students WANT more from your presentation. If you tell them they will benefit from what you have, the natural teenage tendency is to think “No, I won’t”.

    Students are important to most companies present and future. Since most school age youth are in school, it only makes sense to reach them there. When you reach students, you also reach their parents and familes as well as their teachers and their families. Thanks again for the GREAT article! I look forward to following more of what you do!

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