User-driven sites such as MySpace.com can help advertisers reach coveted youths as long as the marketers are willing to break free from traditional approaches, a MySpace executive said Friday.
Rather than blasting a generic message, marketers could tie their pitch "to why kids are there in the first place" —to express themselves, connect with friends and discover popular culture, said Shawn Gold, MySpace's senior vice president for marketing and content.
He cited as a creative example the creation of a profile page — essentially an online identity —for "X-Men: The Last Stand," the new film from 20th Century Fox, which like MySpace is owned by News Corp.
More than 3 million MySpace users ultimately added the X-Men profile as a "friend," giving the film greater visibility and Fox an easy way to reach the fan base via e-mail.
Gold, addressing the iBreakfast Club of industry executives, said MySpace routinely works with advertisers to make sure ads and profiles address users' core needs, such as self-expression and sense of belonging. He said MySpace also develops features with those points in mind.
"It's very simple sociology," he said.
Driven largely by word of mouth, MySpace has grown astronomically since its launch in January 2004 and is now second in the United States among all Web sites by total page views, behind only Yahoo Inc., according to comScore Media Metrix. The site currently has some 87 million users, about 20 percent registered as minors, according to the company.
MySpace, whose parent company News Corp. bought last year for $580 million, offers a mix of features — message boards, games, Web journals — designed to keep its youth-oriented visitors clicking on its advertising-supported pages. Users stay connected by adding others as "friends" and expand their networks by meeting friends of their friends.
Gold briefly addressed some of the growing concerns among parents that teens who hang out at MySpace can fall victim to sexual predators. He said the danger is small compared with how large the MySpace community is.
"Anytime youth culture defines itself in a new way, ... it's a big issue for the press and a big issue for politicians," Gold said, adding that parents had similar concerns decades ago when rock music first appeared.
"The irony is that one of the reasons MySpace is so successful is the real world is so dangerous that everyone is coming online," he said.
He added that MySpace uses technology, human monitors and education to improve online safety.
On marketing, Gold said users tell a lot about themselves when they register, and MySpace's databases can be tapped to help advertisers tailor their message.
Currently, targeting is largely based on age, location and marital status, but MySpace is tweaking its technology to permit targeting by music interests and other attributes in user profiles — ultimately, Gold said, "the hopes and fears and dreams of users."
"It's a unique opportunity," Gold said, "to talk to tens of millions of people as individuals."