The Tipping Point: Teens Spend More Time On Mobile Than Desktop

But that doesn't mean they want more emails or notifications — it's 'quality over quantity,' say Gen-Z teens.

At last month’s MMA Location Leadership Forum, the closing panel consisted not of marketing experts but Gen-Z teens ranging in age from 12 to 17 — mobile aficionados in their own right who got their first mobile phones between the ages of 9 and 12. The group reported that they “learned about the world” through their smartphones, and they said that they spent more time on them than any other device.

Now, a report from eMarketer confirms this anecdotal report: Teen internet users spend an average of 3 hours and 38 minutes on their smartphones per day, eclipsing the amount of time they spend on laptop/desktop/tablet — and becoming the first cohort for which this appears consistently true.

“Given the stereotype of teens and young adults always staring at their phones, it’s a surprise this tipping point wasn’t passed long ago,” said eMarketer analyst Mark Dolliver in a statement. Indeed, saying teens like their smartphones is a akin to saying the sky is blue. But does that mean that they prefer more of everything on their devices — and that brands need to up their mobile communication?

Quality Over Quantity

Not necessarily — at least according to MMAF’s panel. “It’s quality over quantity with our generation,” one participant explained. Yes, the quantity of time spent on mobile is significant with Gen-Z, but that doesn’t mean they want more emails or notifications; it’s all about sparing, quality content delivered at the right time.

Actually, it’s Millennials who tend to be more responsive to email marketing and who actively want to talk to brands on Instagram — Gen-Z users spend more time on messaging apps with friends and watching videos (70 percent spend 3 hours a day watching video on a smartphone, according to the eMarketer report.)

So, what works? In addition to the well-documented rise of mobile video consumption amongst younger users, Gen-Z teens appear more apt to engage with native advertising on popular platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, provided the content was relevant and not invasive — and often, they’re not even aware that this is advertising at all.

As Kinetic Global CEO Mauricio Sabogal put it in reference to his teenage daughter, “she doesn’t think she watches any advertising,” he said at MediaPost’s Marketing Automotive. “Of course she does. She just doesn’t realize it.” This is part of the challenge and opportunity for marketers looking to reach Gen-Z: It’s important to be transparent — and, when possible, aligned with meaningful social causes — without seeming opportunistic.

But for those who can walk that line across mobile and social platforms, the rewards are significant: Gen-Z reportedly already wields $44 billion in purchasing power.

About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.