Hansel & Gretel Effect: the hidden trail of digital breadcrumbs #m360 presentation

Yesterday I spoke at the Mumbrella 360 #m360 conference in Sydney and I thought I’d share the speaker notes. The topic was social media and youth and I decided to talk about the concept of ‘digital breadcrumbs’ and how youth are expressing themselves and evading parents using social media tools……


Brands have and will always be playing catch up with youth culture. They’re always trying to stay on the trail.

As we all know, we’re all leaving traces of our presence across the internet, whether that be through social posts, sharing pictures and videos, or just surfing the web whilst signed in with Google. Think of these as ‘digital breadcrumbs’. So how are digital breadcrumbs affecting the social media behavior of the Internet’s most prolific sharers.. youth (specifically 16-24yr olds)?

I call it the Hansel & Gretel effect, the ways youth are both expressing themselves on social media platforms but also evading parents, marketers when leaving their digital breadcrumbs.

Today’s teens are constantly crafting and curating their online identity. This isn’t a new concept, but the explosion of new visual social platforms like Instagram has turbocharged this behaviour.

Our (Iris Worldwide’s)  recent Planet Hyperconnected study looked at the digital breadcrumbs of 6,000 18-24yr olds across 6 countries including Australia. Amongst other things, we found the average teen is consuming, creating and sharing content for up to 13hrs a day. Yes more than half the day. So they’re creating and leaving a hell of a lot of digital breadcrumbs.

So what are some of the digital breadcrumb themes (both good and bad) we are picking up on right now?

Firstly, we’re seeing the onset of Selfie Obsessed Syndrome – teens spending hours posing for the perfect selfie, or altering it on one of the many free photo editing aps. This is a behaviour that’s celebrity fuelled but also has permeated from youth subcultures driven by fashion and also sports for boys.

Whilst brands have moved away from a focus on image to reality/transparency over the past 5 years, teens are going the other way.

They are trying to create an idealised version of themselves to boost self esteem.

It’s not all fun and games though, there is a real INSTAGRAM- PRESSURE to look your best all the time and have a ‘perfect life’. We’re seeing many teens talk about ‘faking’ checkins at parties or festivals, as they feel the pressure to be seen in the right place.

They’re seeking approval by asking their friends to rate them #hotornot and #rateme on their posts as well as uploading selfies to judgement sites.

Their self esteem and confidence are increasingly being defined by how many likes and comments they get. When you’re a LIKEAHOLIC it’s a constant contest putting an amazing amount of pressure on your appearance.

This girl who we spoke to loves the fact that she gets up to 100 likes when she posts a selfie..for her it’s clearly a sense of validation and confidence.

However, the flipside of the positive validation is that there is an undercurrent of teens with body image issues as their selfies or pics are not perceived to be making the grade.

A week doesn’t go by when we don’t hear another story of a teen committing suicide following a relentless Facebook Bullying campaign by her classmates.


A little cultural trend born in Australia (to my knowledge)

Forget hanging at the local Macca’s or skatepark. We’re seeing Pop Up social media takeovers in the form of Instagram Parties.

Teens getting together, having a party and trying to post enough content to effectively take over Instagram for a couple of hours… Their plan is to #ownthenight

In an era where everything is shared, do teens really give a shit about privacy and do they worry about the ramifications?

Well a global study by Device Research for the Young People’s Consumer Confidence Index found that 68% of 16-24yr olds are not concerned that their social media behaviour could harm future job prospects.

However they are only really concerned with the NOW and those with immediate power over them.

Think about when we were growing up, teens have always wanted privacy – in our day it was our bedrooms with  “no parents allowed” hanging on the door.

For todays youth– the motivations are the same – they still want a place to express themselves away from Mum and Dad, but now it’s a digital hideout instead. They want a place they can call their own and talk their own language.

Comparing todays youth with older generations;


Their photo albums are now on Instagram

Their MTV are YouTube playlists

Their tapes and CDs are now spotify playlists

Their loveletters are now short sharp Snapchats

Their diaries are Tumblr pages

Their posters are now Pinterest pins

Their playground gossiping happens on facebook…  or at least it did…

Teens still crave privacy, but now Mum and Dad and unwanted friends are now on Facebook following their breadcrumbs.

It’s no surprise that today’s youth are spending less and less time on Facebook. I’ll go so far as to say there’s a movement off the platform by Aussie youth, following the trend from American youth.

There are simply too many chaperones at the party. The average age of a new user is now 47. So teens are getting out of there

So where are they going? Places Mum and Dad won’t find them like Instagram and Tumblr and places where they’re leaving fewer breadcrumbs.

Snapchat is the mobile app of the moment for youth … posts, pics and videos are sent and then selfdestruct within 10 seconds. They use it for meaningless fleeting interactions. It’s either silly selfies or sexting. Youth see it as failsafe way to share, communicate and interact without ever getting stung by mum and dad. As one teen said

‘It’s a way to connect with friends when you don’t really have anything to say.” Anonymous teen

However literally this week sites such as Snapchat Leaked and Snapchat Exposed  have popped up where people are screen grabbing naughty Snapchat pics and sharing them.


Another new behavior we’re seeing is youth leaving “coded breadcrumbs” online.

Teens are doing this by creating and sharing Cryptic Content as a form of privacy protection in the digital age. Academics call it social steganography where they control the meaning of content.

This is content that has layers of meaning, and hidden messages. To the untrained eye it can look like an innocent, vague facebook post, insta pic or vine video, but to those that know the inside language, it has pointed meaning.

Pew’s recent study on teens social media habits found that 64% of teens admit to using inside jokes and subtle cultural references to hide what they’re really saying.

As Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd states, ‘The more they share in public, the more they are hiding in plain sight

A recent example of a brand that’s tapped into cryptic content by creating a new language with hidden meaning is Puma with their Dance Dictionary.

So marketers today must be highly perceptive and agile, able to quickly spot and act upon the digital breadcrumbs the Hansels and Gretels of today are leaving behind them.

I think there are several types of brand action to consider when engaging youth in the social space:


Start with what will give teens social currency in the digiverse, conversation is king. It requires shifting the participation focus from message to cultural relevance that will get people talking.

Brands need to act at the speed of culture, real time marketing is an imperative  – think like a newsjacker,  being able to tap into relevant cultural memes or events and respond with social ideas at speed. At Iris we call it Urgent Genius and creating conversational currency must be a key tenet of your marketing program.


Trying to navigate through 13hrs of content a day is hardwork, at a minimum brands need to play the role of curators. Think less about what content you can create (remembering Youtube cops 72hrs of new content every minute) and how you cab make their life easier by being a curator.

Aggregating, organising and sharing ‘best of content’ created by others to add context, narrative and meaning to it.

Coke’s doing this really well at the moment.


Todays youth get a kick out of discovering the underlying meaning, and knowing what others don’t. Challenging youth to discover the hidden meanings and mechanics through gamification. Motivating and then rewarding them for deciphering ideas.

Our Iris team in London recently launched Adidas NEO fashion label using Justin Beiber, our ‘Find my gold shoes Adidas NEO’ idea generated participation by hundreds of thousands of Beliebers, with reach social reach to over 300m people on Facebook. If the reward ‘Bringing Justin the gold shoes you found online’ is motivating enough, people will participate in droves.


Finally and most importantly we need to continue to look at ways in which we can collude with youth. I purposely use the word collude over collaborate as I think collaboration is the most overused word in marketing. Collusion is much more about giving youth something special, making them feel like they have the inside track, letting them put their fingerprints on ideas so they can share as their own…in secret without broadcasting to their parents..just to their friends that will give them cred. It’s a word shift, but one I think is critical.


So yeah it’s harder than ever to keep up with youth culture, but understanding the digital breadcrumbs and the needstates is the key to engaging youth in the social age.

The Digitally Dependent student

Great infographic from onlineeducation.net on how US students are using digital technology. Most interesting stat is 38% say they can’t go 10mins without using a device. It really is a digitally dependent generation. Also, 75% of tablet users prefer them to text books, certainly a sign of things to come as tablet penetration increases in the coming years.

The Digitally Dependent student

Who is Generation C

A speech I gave last year at a digital conference here in Sydney on who is Generation C. This is Part 1 where I cover off who these digital natives are and their relationships with brands and each others. Part 2 will of the presentation which I’ll post shortly was about how to create conversation and tribal ideas with Gen C. Stay tuned.

Experimentation is the New Engagement – Speech at AIMIA Gen Y conference

Speech I gave 18months ago (have only now decided to upload it) at AIMIA (Australian Interactive Media Industry Association) conference on Gen Y. I speak about the dimensions of Gen C and how brands need to experiment with popular culture and involve youth in the brand narrative if they want to engage. The examples are a little outdated (apologies) but hopefully there are still some relevant learnings even though this presentation was delivered well over a year ago.

5 Communication principles to turn people into message carriers

People have always been the most powerful media asset. It’s just been turbo charged in the social media age. If your brand isn’t social by nature, you’ve got serious issues.

It goes without saying that recommendations from mates are infinitely more powerful than traditional media channels and messages in changing behaviour. Management consulting firm Bain believes that the most recommended brand in any category grows at 2.5x the category average.

So, how do you turn customers into advocates? Advocates who ‘become the media and message carrier’ thereby reducing the brands dependency on ‘paid’ media and playing more in the ‘earned’ media space.  Brands today need to think as much about potential ‘earned’ media and how they can amplify ideas as they do about traditional ‘paid media’ and ‘owned media’ channels.

Brands need to interact differently with people if they want to people to become message carriers and amplify their ideas for them.Here are some thoughts on principles brands need to think about when trying to harness the power of people media:

CONVICTION – Be crystal clear as to what your brand stands for, is fighting for or is trying to change. The middle is to be avoided at all costs, as people gravitate to brands with a strong point of view or belief which aligns with their own.

CHANGE CULTURE – Culture wants to change, and people want to be part of that change. Find something in culture worth changing and align your brand to that new culture change.

RESOLVE TENSION – Find a cultural tension or gap worth resolving or passion to be exploited. Where there is tension or passion in culture there is conversation waiting to be unleashed.

LET ME PLAY – Create ideas which are inherently shareable – that can drive participation, be played with, be prodded and of course, be passed on.

Be ENTERTAINING, USEFUL and INNOVATIVE – These three things are the evergreen themes of social ideas. Ideally be all three, but at least be one. Eg: Entertaining (Old Spice ‘ Man’), Useful (Fiat Ecodrive), Innovative (Orange Glastotag).


Nokia Push Burton – a collaboration to make Nokia cool again

Yes I’ve said it. If Nokia nails the Nokia Push Burton project, they will officially be cool again.

I absolutely love this idea.

Nokia are collaborating with snowboard brand Burton to help redefine snowboarding forever. This is a perfect example of a technology brand providing real utility and doing it in a culturally interesting way.

Nokia by itself has never really been cool, lets be honest. But when they collaborate with a brand like Burton and provide the tech genius to ‘turn the world’s mountains into playgrounds’ then they really elevate in status & get instant cred.

Nokia’s “Push” technology was originally mashed with skateboards, but now they’re mixing gaming & reality with the data that you generate boarding any mountain in the world.

The bigger your tricks, the faster you go, the crazier the turns, the more points you score. And it’s all connected through your board and synced with your social life in real time, while logging your entire mountain experience online.

This is the first idea from Nokia in while that has got me really excited. Well done guys.

Give your Mum a Digital Makeover

I don’t talk about my agencies work too often, but I’d love to share with you some work we’ve just launched for Telstra. It’s the Mum 2.0 idea, whereby we’re giving Mum a ‘digital makeover’ via some simple do’s and don’ts of social networking delivered by online tutorials.  On Facebook kids can share their experiences and tips for parents in social networks. We wanted to provide some real utility for Mum but do it in a playful way that’s not your typical Telstra campaign.

Here’s a couple of the short online tutorials

For the rest of the tutorials check out the youtube channel just launched.

Adidas’ Urban Art Guide App for Berlin – more street cred for zie German wunderbrand

Adidas' latest branded utility - the urban art guide for Berlin

Adidas' latest branded utility - the urban art guide for Berlin

I’ve been talking about one of the key rules for youth brands being ‘DO STUFF before you say stuff’, well Adidas already has way more street culture cred than Nike or Puma via their Originals range,  but they’ve now come up with a cool app which consolidates that position, in German anyway. They’ve created the Adidas Urban Art Guide to Berlin which lists all the top graffiti locations in the city.

Users download the application for free, giving them access to a Google map of Berlin that’s pegged with the locations of its urban art masterpieces. The map can be navigated in several ways: “Find artworks nearby” provides users with a map of art works in their immediate vicinity; “Tour guide” calls up a curated walking tour of local urban art; and “Gallery” gives users the option to browse the city’s street art and then seek out their favourite pieces. Users can click on each marked location to call up images as well as information about the piece, the artist and further references.

The app’s interactive elements including rating and commenting functionalities, and letting users upload their own snaps of new art, which keeps the map cutting-edge at no extra cost to Adidas. Berlin is currently the only city on the Urban Art Guide’s map, but I imagine it’ll be in NYC, London, Tokyo soon.

 Smart move on behalf of Adidas, getting the brand straight into the hands of its target audience, while reaffirming its street credentials and delivering real brand utility.