5 Completely Surprising Marketing Tips Learned from Fifth Graders

January 21, 2014

fifth grade classroom

Photo source: User Michael 1952 on flickr.

This post was originally published on the DNN Software blog.

Recently, I served as “teacher for the day” in my daughter’s fifth grade classroom. My guest appearance was coordinated by a great organization, Junior Achievement, who “teaches young people about money management and how business works.”

With a lesson plan provided by Junior Achievement, I taught five, 45-minute lessons on topics related to business and entrepreneurship. I know about raising fifth graders from the one I have at home, but spending a day with a class full of them gave me further insights on their attitudes and inclinations.

Before long, these fifth grade students will grow up and become part of the target audience for your marketing. Here are five surprising marketing tips based on my observations.

1) Forget about social media marketing.

I asked students to name examples of businesses. Here’s the list compiled by this Silicon Valley-based class:

social media top of mind with fifth graders

Perhaps they were too young to name Snapchat? The point is, fifth graders are on the bleeding edge of technology. They used iPods as toddlers, then graduated to iPads. They may not be using Facebook, but their siblings and parents are. So they’re aware of what it is and what it does.

That being said, forget about the social media marketing you’re doing today to reach their parents. Once these kids enter the workforce, social marketing will no longer be relevant, because another form of advertising will have emerged.

2) Invest in billboard advertising.

T-rex billboard ad

Photo source: Eric Fischer on flickr.

We did a lesson on advertising. The fifth graders were given a business scenario and asked to work in teams to devise a business, then create an advertisement for that business. Before they started designing, they were asked to name examples of advertising.

Many of the students mentioned billboard ads that they see on Highway 101 in the Bay Area. They were able to recall the messaging contained on those billboards in impressive detail. Out-of-home advertising works! It’s effective because of the captivated audience it commands. So as these fifth graders grow into adults, think of ways your own marketing content can be delivered to a captivated audience.

3) Decrease your online marketing budget.

If you think about standing up in front of a fifth grade classroom for an entire day, it can be worrisome: will the students have any interest in what I’m saying? To be honest, I noticed that some of them “tuned out” during segments of the lessons.

But what got them to pay attention, engage and interact? Activities. The Junior Achievement lesson plans pair verbal instruction with a fun activity that reinforces that instruction.

Online marketing is great. It’s cost effective and it’s measurable. But to make a deeper connection with your  marketing, consider programs that include face-to-face interactions. The fifth graders are kind of expecting it.

4) Tomorrow’s workers won’t be motivated by gamification.

Many of the day’s activities came in the form of games. The fifth graders would high-five each other when they rolled a six, but what got them most excited were forms of peer-to-peer connections and recognition.

WHITE PAPER: How Community Managers Can Use Gamification to Create Sustainable Engagement

We did an exercise in which two students were named partners in a popcorn and ice cream business. The two partners stood at the front of the classroom. Next, they called up classmates (one by one), assigning them to assorted roles within the business (delivery people, business analysts, attorneys and ultimately, a CEO).

Students were most excited when they were called up to the front of the room. The selection and “job assignment” (in front of the entire class) gave meaning to the activity. It made them feel rewarded. How do you “gamify” experiences for tomorrow’s workers? Make it less about points and badges and more about peer-to-peer relationships and recognition.

5) Make them wait for it.

child using tablet

Photo source: User nooccar on flickr.

Today’s generation of kids live in a world of instant gratification. With timeshifting and on-demand consumption, they get what they want, when they want it. Remember how Thursday nights on NBC were called “Must See TV?” Today’s generation calls it “I See TV” (“When I Want It”).

So first, make your product, content and experiences great. Then, act differently with it. Don’t give it to them right away. Make them wait. Make them go through hoops to get it. Why? Because when they do, they’ll cherish it. They’re so used to getting everything right away, that making them wait adds to the enjoyment.


Today’s fifth graders are tomorrow’s customers. While I enjoyed my time in the classroom, I also considered it a form of market research, in better understanding tomorrow’s buyers. Hopefully, I learned from them as much as they learned from me. And, I hope this post served to spur forward-looking thoughts on how to do marketing in the future.

10 Reasons Print Rules in The Digital Age

November 12, 2012

Image source: User delusionalcubsfan on flickr.


I subscribed to a magazine just once in my lifetime: it was in high school and I responded to a promotional offer for a 12-month subscription of SPORT magazine. According to Wikipedia, the magazine was shuttered in August 2000.

I’m now onto my second-ever magazine subscription, which is somewhat ironic in this day and age. Why did I do it? Because an airline (which I don’t fly any more) sent me a notice in the mail, indicating that a significant number of my frequent flyer miles were about to expire.

One way to consume those miles is to purchase magazine subscriptions. And I did just that, opting for 12 month relationships with Sports Illustrated and The Economist. In this era of tablets and smartphones, I’ve discovered a number of benefits of old fashioned print. Here are ten of them.

1) Raises questions from the kids.

I have one child, so when I say “kids,” I mean my daughter and her grade school friends. Today’s generation engaged with technology moments after exiting the womb. And it amuses me how much technology shapes their world.

When kids saw the DVD display in the ceiling of my car (a technological marvel when it was installed), they were amazed that a physical disc is needed to watch a film. One child asked, “Can’t you download the movie onto that?” So with magazines, it’s great when kids ask me what is “that thing” I’m reading? After all, it doesn’t reside on a tablet.

2) Opening and viewing a two-page spread is (still) magical.

A two-page spread in Sports Illustrated, featuring Oscar De Lla Hoya

Yes, the iPad, with its retina display, provides visually stunning images. But there’s something about opening up a two-page spread in Sports Illustrated (SI) and “taking in” the image for a little while. After the 2012 World Series, SI published a three-page spread, with the third page tucked underneath the first page. The top half was a panoramic shot of the Giants’ AT&T Park. The bottom half was Comerica Field. And it was awesome.

3) Gives you an excuse to go offline.

It’s rare to be offline these days. We’re always an email, text or phone call away from work, family and friends. But with a magazine, I can head to a park bench, tuck my phone in my pocket and read an entire issue from front to back. Note: despite that statement, I’m rarely able to make it happen.

4) Creates an appointment-based experience.

I love checking my mailbox for the week's issue of SI

I’m a creature of habit, a lover of routines. So I love going to my mailbox every Thursday and grabbing the SI from among the circulars, junk mail and related offers. It’s like the days when I was a Netflix subscriber and I’d look first for that red envelope. I save portions of my Thursday evenings for reading the latest issue of SI. And that routine is supreme.

5) Allows you to fully immerse in something.

Related to being offline, the magazine allows me to go somewhere quiet and fully immerse myself. SI keeps me up to date on the sports world, while The Economist keeps me current on the world. How often can you claim that you’re fully immersed in anything these days?

6) It’s so retro, it’s in.

Publishers are shuttering magazines and newspapers and moving things online (if at all). In relative terms, there’s a dearth of print publications out there. So I when I walk through town toting my SI issue, I’m not afraid to show it. I’m retro and I know it.

7) Engage with advertisements. Yes, advertisements.

I pay attention to the ads in SI

Sure, magazines have been far less successful of late in selling ad pages. If magazines were pizza, we’d all learn to appreciate the thin crust variety. But what I’ve found is that the ads that do make it in are quite contextual to the adjacent pages. And that’s good for readers.

Unlike online banner ads, I pay full attention to the ads in magazines. Banner ads can be contextual, but the amount of targeting and re-targeting done is reaching the point of creepiness. So  I love knowing that my viewing of a print ad is not being track by Big Brother Online. At least not yet!

8) Page turning feels right.

Yes, we’re all used to the swipe of an index finger to turn a page. But we do that so much that I’ve come to enjoy the physical page turning involved in magazines. And that also applies to books, for which I’ve been reading the old fashioned format (print).

9) Multiple ways to hold and fold.

On a tablet, it’s portrait or landscape. With a magazine, there are more ways to hold the pages. Do I spread out both pages, or do I fold the two in half? Or, do I fold half of the right page over the back of the left page? The possibilities are endless.

10) Exercise more fingers.

With a tablet, it’s all about the index finger, with occasional thumb action. With print, I’m able to keep more fingers in shape by involving them in the experience.

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .

Hey Kids! I’ve Got a Virtual World For You

January 14, 2009

As a parent, their existence is virtually unavoidable – the online companion to a kid-themed product.  A Reuters article (published by MSNBC) titled “Disney’s Penguin spreads its wings globally“, describes Disney’s ambitious plans with its Club Penguin virtual world.  Operating out of Sao Paolo, Disney will launch the first non-English version of Club Penguin in Brazil.  There are additional plans to launch in other Latin American countries and France.  Forget the climactic limitations of the species – penguins will now be spanning the globe.

When Disney acquired Club Penguin in 2007, one may have thought that the strategy was around product/brand integration of Disney properties (and characters) with the Club Penguin world and audience.  While that possibility still exists, it seems Disney is looking to Club Penguin as a full-fledged brand in its own right.  Accordinng to the article:

Within two years of launch, Penguin claimed more than 12 million registered users, of which about 900,000 were premium subscribers typically paying $5.95-$6.95 per month for access to additional features and virtual collectibles.

If I’m doing my math right, 900K subscribers paying $6.50 a month (taking the midpoint of the prices quoted) amounts to $70.2MM in revenue per year (wow).  And here’s a clear sign of Disney’s plan to grow Club Penguin as its own brand:

Over the past year, Disney has been busy taking some of its most popular licenses, such as “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Cars” and Tinkerbell and creating virtual worlds around them.

But with Penguin, that strategy has been somewhat reversed, giving the property the chance to leverage Disney’s retail muscle. The recent launch of a toy line includes plush versions of popular characters, a set of figurines as well as an Igloo Playset. The brand was also extended into the lucrative game field with the introduction of “Club Penguin: Elite Penguin Force” for the Nintendo DS.

So if you’re a parent paying for that premium subscription, the next thing your child will be asking for is the Igloo Playset, along with the Club Penguin game for her Nintendo DS.  Or, she’ll be asking you to buy the Nintendo DS so that she can attain Elite Penguin Force status!  Also mentioned in the article is a related, kid-themed virtual world, Webkinz:

Of course merchandising is not new in virtual worlds and has already proven to be far more than a branding play. Toronto-based Ganz is estimated to be earning more than $100 million annually from collectible plush toys and accessories kids buy that allow them to unlock virtual goods online at Webkinz World.

I’ve found Webkinz model to be quite interesting, as they’ve reversed the traditional marketing flow.  Instead of online promotions to drive product sales in the physical world, Webkinz employs small stuffed animals as a physical world “footprint” to drive kids (and their parents) online.  So the physical “product” is sort of a loss leader (or, promotion) to generate online memberships, where the online world is the true end game.

And once you’re in-world at Webkinz World, there’s lots to do (and buy) – collect KinzCash, play online games, collect Gems to exchange at the Curio Shop, etc.  Then there are additional toys that tie in to the world, called W-Plus Items (e.g. bookmarks, charms, body spray, lip gloss, etc.).  There’s also trading cards and a recently launched Webkinz eStore, where one can make purchases of virtual goods.  All in all, it’s not surprising that Ganz (parent company of Webkinz) generates $100MM per year.

By launching an online presence, toy makers seem to have the following goals:

  1. Commerce (including subscriptions)
  2. Branding
  3. Both!

With Club Penguin and Webkinz, the clear focus is on commerce – but keep in mind that once you’ve established a strong footprint and audience, you will have opportunities for branding – imagine subtle tie-ins within Club Penguin to other Disney properties (including exclusive offers for Club Penguin members).  On the branding (microsite) side, I checked some toy brands (off the top of my head) and found the following:

  1. Cabbage Patch Kids – Flash-based microsite.  If the original Cabbage Patch product launched today, I’m nearly certain they would have developed a full-blown virtual world
  2. BarbieGirls Virtual World – This looks to be branding focused – but may have related commerce
  3. Beanie Babies 2.0 – Flash-based microsite
  4. Playtime in Ponyville – Microsite for the My Little Pony franchise

One notable exception – a quick search did not turn up any microsite or virtual world for the Leapfrog franchise.  Perhaps that’s in the works for 2009!  Anyway, as a parent who has enabled/used some of these sites at home (for my child, of course!), I see them as a powerful branding vehicle that builds customer loyalty and (potentially) spurs product sales (both in the virtual and real worlds).

I compare the microsite to banner advertising – but instead of having your creative agency design your next Flash banner ad, spend a little more and have them build out a Flash microsite.  Then, your destination becomes your “advertising” and instead of trying to reach your audience across the web, you find that your audience comes to find you.  This is much more efficient than running a large amount of banner impressions and television commercials.  Your microsite fulfills the advertising concept of “frequency and reach”.

And that’s a wrap for now – my daughter needs this computer to access Playtime in Ponyville.

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