How Instant is Instant Gratification?

The “instant” in instant gratification, particularly for teenagers, has gotten much quite a bit more instant than when I was a teen – back before cell phones and the Internet. Indeed, the expectation of “instant” for today’s teens is even more immediate than it was for those just a few years older. Instant for teens navigate their social world, reduce anxiety, reinforce self-esteem…it’s a critical security blanket for many. And the expectation of getting instant gratification extends from how teens navigate their social world, to how they interact with mobile ads.

Technology has allowed us, and apps have conditioned us, to get response in a nanosecond. Really. Today’s teens might not be the peak spenders for advertisers at the moment, but their habits will likely stay with them as they get older and spend more, becoming even more attractive to advertisers. The implications for advertisers include the need to be able to engage with consumers in a nanosecond, and to engage frequently, even constantly.

A story from a recent New York Times article helps drive the point home.

“Mr. Jones, Mr. Pham and Mr. Vatere (Wishbone) started rethinking their strategy for sending out push notifications. All through the summer and fall they had been limiting the number of daily alerts on the assumption that, like them, Wishbone users would be annoyed if they were interrupted by too many pings and dings. And, as one might expect when three fathers make an assumption about teenage girls, they could not have been more wrong.

“We talked to them and they’d be like, ‘Why am I not getting notified when people vote on my stuff?’ ” Mr. Jones said. “And we’d be like, ‘Well, we wouldn’t want to do that ’cause we might send you, like, 50 notifications that you got 50 of your friends to vote on your card.’ They’re like, ‘But that’s what I want.’ ”

“In fact,” Mr. Jones said, “they would even kind of subtly infer that if they didn’t get at least 50, it was kind of like a bad day.”

The same way Gen X measured its worth in answering machine messages, the mobile-minded teenager sees each like and mention as reassurance of an active social life. And when your phone is the default security blanket for enduring the awkwardness of walking a high school hallway, it feels nice to have a bunch of digital hellos ready with a swipe.

So just before Thanksgiving weekend, Wishbone opened the fire hose, sending out notifications for everything — every vote, every mention, everything that has to do with a user on the app. A week later they found several key metrics, like voting, had almost doubled.

How fast is fast? Faster than you think, and getting faster. Get ready.

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