Market to avatars? No. Market to the avatar mindset

There have been a slew of studies and news stories coming out in recent weeks about teens and their spending habits. From their increasing ignoring of mall-based retail outlets built specifically for them to their desire to turn dorm rooms into statements of personal expression, teens are increasingly looking for ways to spend money that are unique to themselves.

The “marketing to avatars” meme has run through the online world several times. The gist of the topic was that since teens, the favorite demographic of marketers because of their highly social nature and vast disposable income, are spending so much time in virtual worlds such as Second Life that that’s where those marketers needed to be. This was epitomized by so many brands rushing into Second Life and building stores, kiosks or islands that it was getting a bit ridiculous. Actually it was more than a bit ridiculous, as proven by the fact that now so many stores, kiosks and islands are unmanned by store personnel, unvisited by members and are gathering virtual dust. it turns out that, despite the breathless hype, people didn’t want their virtual existence to be subjected to marketing.

But the mindset of people who create Second Life avatars, MySpace and Facebook profiles and Miis that they share with their friends is emerging in those real-life habits mentioned at the outset.

It’s becoming clear that teens, with so many outlets for self-expression, are seeking that same sort of goal with their buying. Their preference to create customized environments, customized outfits and other products. But mass marketing can’t do that, and doesn’t. Instead the world expectation of teenagers is being formed by targeted online advertising, avatar creation, inputs and recommendations from friends in their Facebook network and other personalized inputs. So it should be no surprise that what they’re creating/buying is more personalized.

And can you imagine these people, who have spent so much time making sure their environment is a reflection of themselves, entering the housing market? How popular do you think cookie-cutter sub-divisions where all the houses look the same are going to be?

There needs to be a massive shift in marketing, retail and other consumer-focused thinking that addresses the minds of people who are creating their own experiences. Without that there’s going to be a lot more trouble in the overall economic pictures.