How Mobile Video Surveys Helped DINE Launch a New Product

When food innovation company DINE needed to make a snap decision about whether to introduce a new product to consumers, they turned to mindswarms. The feedback they got was invaluable, and quick. (The consumers’ facial expressions alone speak volumes.)

“Basically they would think that maybe I was racist because I’m speaking out about it [police brutality]. It’s scary that there’s a lot of people out there that can’t even go to the store at night without worrying about dying, and there’s people who can get pulled over, and pull a gun out, and maybe because of their skin color or their background they won’t even die…”

Much has been written about the benefits of using mobile video surveys to glean consumer insights. This method empowers respondents to speak freely, and captures human emotions through first-person accounts in an environment that is familiar to them. Also, it’s quicker than field research.

That’s why when DINE needed to make a fast decision about whether to launch a new product, they chose to use mobile video surveys. The process was so efficient. They sent packages of the new product to 30 households around the U.S., and consumers recorded their reactions using their web cams as they opened the package, cooked the food and tasted it for the first time.

DINE was struck by how much insightful information they got, not only from the respondents’ words, but by seeing their facial expressions and physical environment. The qualitative data was rich and shaped their next steps: Despite serious initial apprehension about how the product looked, the consumers all agreed that the product tasted great. DINE knew exactly what they need to do to overcome this and make the launch successful. The product was green-lit.


Millennials & Home Cleaning

In a recent study, mindswarms set out to understand unique generational considerations in how Millennial women relate to home cleaning, home cleaning brands, and home cleaning product purchasing. What we didn’t anticipate? That we’d open up a Pandora’s Box of emotionally deep insights. You can watch a video clip here.

“Basically they would think that maybe I was racist because I’m speaking out about it [police brutality]. It’s scary that there’s a lot of people out there that can’t even go to the store at night without worrying about dying, and there’s people who can get pulled over, and pull a gun out, and maybe because of their skin color or their background they won’t even die…”

Research Objective

To understand the emotions, pressures, and motivations related to household cleaning. By gaining a deeper understanding of the the modern young woman’s relationship to cleaning, we can better gauge what types of products and concepts would appeal most. One interesting technique we employed was to have women show us a photo of their Mom in the first response, to dial up the emotional intensity of their responses.

Target Audience

  • National US sample
  • 12 states
  • 14 cities
  • Ages 25 – 40
  • Female
  • Mix of ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds

We Learned:

While we anticipated interesting results given the nature of the study and the research design, what we didn’t see coming was that the study became a form of mother/daughter therapy as told through the lens of home cleaning. Millennial women’s cleaning rituals, habits and schedules opened up a Pandora’s box of deep memories, providing a rich and emotionally colorful set of insights.

Here’s a look at how we set the stage for success by tuning the study design and triggers for the unique attributes of mobile video surveys.

The unique nature of mobile video studies

We’ve found that in mobile video surveys, respondents are remarkably open, honest, and candid in their replies. This may be because mobile phones – given how much they are used – serve as virtual extensions of the human hand. The device becomes quite personal and intimate in that respect. Additionally, we often use mobile devices to communicate in confidence with people we trust. So in a sense, the technology, by association, takes on attributes of a confidante: people are comfortable sharing openly with it.

Furthermore, as a market research methodology, mobile video surveys are highly effective for anything to do with the home. Participants often record their responses while at home, where they typically feel comfortable being themselves and where they are surrounded by belongings and items they use every day.

The compounded effect of using a familiar, personal technology in a familiar, personal environment makes the results of mobile video research studies highly insightful.

Applying ethnography best practices to mobile video study design

New technologies and media have opened up new ways to apply ethnography best practices with increasing sophistication and excellent results. The market research industry, driven to stay ahead of consumer preferences and trends, has rightly seen mobile video surveys as a way to overcome some limitations of traditional research approaches.

Take focus groups, for example. The sheer power of close observation, a highly insightful research practice, is largely absent from focus group research. Focus group observers are often situated such that it’s impossible to see the nuances of participants’ facial expressions from 10+ feet away. Depending on the seating arrangement, an observer might see some participants only in profile, making reading expression virtually impossible.

In contrast, a mobile video study is up close and personal, with the mobile device either held at arm’s length or in close proximity; so it offers a level of facial and body language observation that’s quite intimate, yet uncomplicated by interaction with an interviewer or other people.

Show & Tell is another ethnography methodology especially well suited for mobile video studies. Participants responding to Show & Tell prompts tend to be much more animated and articulate answering questions because they are either in the environment they are being questioned about or quite literally holding the object they are talking about.

Why did we survey only women?

While statistics show that men are a significant and growing audience for home cleaning products, we were experimenting with research design and especially curious about infusing a research study with the mother/daughter dynamic.

Mom knows that I take pride in the cleanliness of my home, and its organization, but it’s just never good enough for her.

~ Leslie Stone


We’ve worked as ethnographers in marketing, advertising, product design, strategy and consumer insights, and are still fascinated every day by the insights that emerge from the studies we do; from the standpoints of both study design and human thought and behavior. In this case, it was genuinely amazing to see study design, technology and human experience come together in such a powerful way.

Lesson #1: Engage emotion to reach deeper insights

STUDY DESIGN: Mommy and me; setting the stage

We decided to ask participating Millennial women to benchmark themselves against their mothers. “How do you compare to your mother?” From a study design standpoint—or from any standpoint, really—that’s a loaded question with some magical power:

  • It sets a very emotional tone, starting with the first question.
  • It provides a harder edge to the research findings because people are not just talking about themselves, they are talking about how they are different from their mothers.
  • With this in mind, in the first clip of the study we asked participants to show us a picture of their mother (or parents), to help bring the mother/daughter or parent/daughter relationship vividly to mind in the moment. Loading a research study with a design that gets to deeper emotional territory will almost always result in more meaningful insights and set the stage for that emotion to carry through the rest of the study.

Understanding emotion is invaluable for a number of reasons:

  • Despite what people SAY they will do, emotion often overrides logic
  • There are so many options for consumers that understanding the emotional drivers for brand preference can be a powerful asset.
  • While most categories—like home cleaning—have the potential to be mundane, we believe every category has emotion in it that can motivate consumers to buy specific products or brands that resonate with them.
  • The most successful brands and companies typically create powerful emotional connections with consumers.

CONSUMER INSIGHTS: They are their mother’s daughters

Oh mama! Whether study participants remained adherents of their mother’s cleaning practices and philosophies, or whether they were outright rejectors of their mother’s way of doing things, they all had powerful emotional connections to home cleaning.

For many of respondents, their relationship to home cleaning started with early childhood memories of cleaning routines, scents, brands and products, all intertwined with their relationship with Mom.

As you might expect, many of the women adopted a very different set of brands from their mother’s loyalties. Typically, the brands Millennial women related to more had a different mission, vision, or purpose. They weren’t as much brands that had been around for generations, but they were brands with original narratives and associations that aligned more meaningfully with Millennials’ desire for a greater purpose or mission.

I think my mother would probably say, as far as my home cleaning products and home cleaning style goes, I’m doing the best I can with two little ones under the age of four. And I would say she understands the type of products that I buy and why I buy them. Organic products are just not what Mom chooses.

~ Julie

Lesson #2: Help participants paint a complete picture in full color

STUDY DESIGN: Transition from Culture/Category to Brand questions

We typically sequence questions in a way that helps participants show us if/how their relationship with the broader research topic aligns with the brand landscape. To achieve this, we start with broader topics about the culture and category, then narrow the focus to more specific product areas in order to approach the topic from a cultural level where the richest—and often highest ROI—insights are found.

In this study, we sequenced questions to follow this arc:

  • Their relationship with home cleaning, relative to their mother’s
  • Their relationship with home cleaning brands, relative to their mother’s
  • Their relationship with home cleaning products, relative to their mother’s
  • Their relationship with home cleaning purchasing, relative to their mother’s

CONSUMER INSIGHTS: A kinder, gentler brand landscape

Since Millennials tended on the whole to move away from brands their mothers groomed their daughters on, this can have significant impact on new brands launching, as well as on existing brands either repositioning themselves or extending into new areas.

From a product perspective, Millennial women tended to relate best to what we would refer to as “gentler” cleaning products. They cited products that had a less harsh chemical footprint and were perceived as more environmentally friendly. They also lit up at the idea of convenience. Wet wipes, for instance, were one of the most commonly cited products they lived by because of the ease with which they could be used. (Incidentally, respondents did not seem to associate that extra convenience with an increased environmental cost of the throw-away plastic tubs).

My number one home cleaning product would be my Windex Touch-Ups. I love this product. What makes this different from what my parents used? It’s convenient, the ease of use and the design: it’s kind of high-tech, I think, compared to an all-in vinegar mix that’s maybe something my parents would’ve concocted

~ Pamela

Lesson #4: Seek to understand the entire journey

STUDY DESIGN: Show & Tell methodology for product context

What’s a day in the life of a product? For product context, we had these women show us where they stored their cleaning supplies in the home, talk about the range of products found there, and discuss how they typically used the assortment of products.

By designing studies to investigate what happens to products pre, during and post use, mobile video surveys can help identify new opportunities for product marketers and designers to innovate around that product, including “product as service,” an escalating trend across categories. This is especially valuable in the re-order world, where increasingly popular subscription models help increase customer loyalty and lifetime customer value.

CONSUMER INSIGHTS: The untold story = new brand & product opportunities

By having participants show us their cleaning supplies, we were able to understand more deeply not only their favorite product(s), but also the brand clusters and assortments they purchased in other categories. It also gave us insight into their unmet needs when we could see, for example, how disorganized some of the supply areas were; many participants were reluctant to even show those areas because they felt embarrassed by the mess.

Would these participants want a product or system that made it easier for them to create and maintain a supply area they wouldn’t hesitate to show us or Mom? Absolutely.

I think my mom and my parents would say that I do keep my house in good clean state, but she would definitely be appalled by the number of different products that I have. She would say, it’s way too much and I should just stick to the old fashioned water and baking soda.

~ Grace

Lesson #5: Use mobile for an intimate, very human point of view

STUDY DESIGN: Get into their personal space, literally and emotionally

Seeing into people’s natural environments using mobile video surveys is a unique way to truly understand their world from their point of view—not just product or product context, but what else matters to them and the kinds of challenges they face every day.

Additionally, not only does the research methodology address the core research objective, it’s also valuable and easy to share throughout an organization, both upstream (into Product Design & Development, or even R&D) or downstream (into retail presentation and online buying).

So the Swiffer Dust and Shine with Febreze Lavender and Vanilla is my favorite cleaning product. […] It definitely differs from my parents, because they never had these things back in the day growing up, when cleaning, I think things were much more old-school.

~ Shaun

CONSUMER INSIGHTS: Under the sink can be as emotional as in their closet

Having consumers show you spaces in their homes that very few people ever see—like under kitchen counters and in laundry rooms—opens them up to share unexpected stories and details.It also opens the eyes of the researcher to the reality of these spaces.

Hearing in someone’s voice the pride about how she organized an area or seeing the anxiety on another’s face as she introduces a space in her home that’s chronically disorganized reveals all sorts of explicit and implicit insights.


Would participants have been so candid in a focus group or even in a filmed one-on-one, ethnographic-style interview? Unlikely. Certainly not without considerably more time invested in building rapport and trust.

In this study, each person’s familiarity with—and trust of—her mobile device led to surprisingly candid sharing. There was no unconscious bias, and no group think.

Specifically, using mobile video surveys in this study helped us:

  • Understand the prevailing attitudes, practices, brand affinities, and purchase habits of Millennial women as it related to home cleaning and home cleaning products;
  • Infuse the study with emotion beyond simply asking women about their habits and preferences;Identify clear attitudinal, behavioral, and emotional differences between Millennial women and their mothers;
  • Surface the broader shifts amongst Millennials and the home cleaning category towards simpler, less harsh, and more convenient products;
  • Identify all sorts of opportunities for new brands to disrupt the category and/or for existing brands to re-tool, re-position, or extend their brands;
  • Explore zones of innovation in which both new and established brands can identify opportunities for new services and experiences on top of the existing product portfolio, such as organizing ecosystems for storage, re-supply purchasing, and line extensions into tangential categories


Special thanks to the people who shared their personal stories and insights with us as part of this mindswarms study.


Amplify Your Pitch with Mobile Video Surveys

Four days away from a pitch to a major national bank, BBDO wanted to gauge consumer impressions and attitudes about banking, with an emphasis on the client’s brand. They knew that having authentic and timely consumer video insights to share with the client would amplify their pitch’s power. The result: they won.

The Situation

The call comes in from the pitch consultant with multiple agencies on the long list. Everyone is excited but, at the same time, you realize you’re up against some serious contenders and statistically you have a 1 in X chance of making the final round. You need to get the biz dev wheels turning fast. You’d love some qualitative research to have a POV to start informing the creative brief, but OOP expenses are strictly managed by the CFO and every group is asking for funding. Focus groups are seen to be too traditional or you can’t afford a national sample; plus, time doesn’t permit because you have one week to get the next round of pitch material together.

Perfect occasion for Fabric; perfect occasion for high quality mobile video surveys.

The Solution

A 15-person Fabric survey. Bingo. 7 questions per person gives you over 90 minutes of video responses (respondents each have 1 minute to respond to each question). You have a national or global sample of people answering very specific questions about the client’s brand or product that you can bake into a presentation or even edit into a quick video. Heck, create a pitch manifesto for your approach based on the insights gathered, and leapfrog those other agencies. Responses “ship as they fill” so you and everyone on the pitch team reviewing responses as they come in. You can start to inform your internal teams about the consumer POV and use it to influence the way they think about creative, media, and every other aspect of the pitch.

I walked into the agency at 9:00am on Monday morning with a deck full of films, photos and verbatims. Heroic.

~ Gordon McLean, SVP Group Planning Director, BBDO NY

How They Did It

Working with Fabric mobile video surveys, BBDO quickly locked down the recruitment specs. They wanted a 20 person survey with an equal spread across gender, race, and geographic location, while also specifying other key needs; brand awareness, and regular use of the brand’s banking services. Fabric immediately created a screener to ensure that candidates met all basic demographic, geographic, and psychographic requirements. Recruitment began hours later. Together, BBDO and Fabric developed the survey questionnaire for participants. Conducted asynchronously over mobile devices (or webcam) via Fabric, the survey began the same day BBDO reached out to Fabric. By Monday morning, the participants had completed the survey, netting BBDO one hundred forty minutes of consumer insight to pick and choose from to both inform and complement their pitch.


BBDO was delivered a cloud based study link that allowed for download or online viewing of all video responses. Using that study link in the pitch, BBDO showed a board with twelve choice participants, including their photos and summaries of their responses. To accentuate specific points, BBDO played poignant video responses for the client. Mobile video surveys helped anchor BBDO’s creative strategy in genuine consumer insight (vs agency staff speculation), making the client much more receptive to their ideas. In the end, BBDO won the pitch.


How to Seal the Deal with Mobile Video Surveys

What happens when you need consumer insights within a matter of days? Check out how Fabric helped a leading holding-company-owned N.Y. advertising agency new business group craft mobile video surveys that delivered compelling results. They won the new business. And they’re now big fans of mobile video ethnography.

The Problem

A leading holding-company-owned N.Y. advertising agency new business group received a call most agencies dream about: a major national FMCG food brand was interested in having a conversation in a few days time. This potential brand currently had an ad agency. Reading the tea leaves, the agency knew the brand would be in play, and wanted to seal the deal before word on the street created a situation where a furious pitch process would be ignited, bringing dozens of other agency contenders into the mix.

The Solution

A 15-person Fabric survey. Bingo. 7 questions per person gives you over 90 minutes of video responses. Although the conversation was positioned as a preliminary chemistry check, the agency brought its “A” game, aiming to close the deal in the first meeting. The agency reached out to Fabric to craft a consumer research strategy that would deliver compelling insights in a matter of days. Using mobile video surveys with a national sample of respondents, several methodologies were employed.

(1) Missions: qualified consumers were sent to a grocery store where they recorded their impressions of the frozen foods section, as well as specific brands within it.

(2) Prompt & React: respondents were prompted (with a link to videos and PDFs) to the character-based advertising campaigns the client had created over the years, and asked to respond to the perceived relevance.

(3) Show & Tell: consumers were asked to show the contents of their freezer to get a glimpse inside a typical respondent’s frozen food choices, thereby revealing the actual truth of what their freezers contained (vs. what people might report in a focus group, or quant study). Plus it allowed the client and agency to see the cluster of brands their core consumers actually bought.

Those insights were packaged into a curated, edited short video, along with some informed points of view meant to generate healthy strategic conversation. You have a national or global sample of people answering very specific questions about the client’s brand or product that you can bake into a presentation or even edit into a quick video. Heck, create a pitch manifesto for your approach based on the insights gathered, and leapfrog those other agencies. Responses “ship as they fill” so you and everyone on the pitch team review responses as they come in. You can start to inform your internal teams about the consumer POV and use it to influence the way they think about creative, media, and every other aspect of the pitch.


By bringing to life key insights about consumers’ relationship with the client’s brand and its advertising in a matter of days, the agency was able to engage the client in an informed preliminary strategic conversation about how to potentially manage and leverage some of the brand’s historical communications assets and equities. While the client was expecting an informal first meet-and-greet discussion, they were impressed by the agency’s ability and initiative to gather insight rapidly, across a broad geography.

The agency won the business in the first meeting and has continued to use Fabric for other successful pitches. The agency has also introduced Fabric to its existing client base as a strategic research tool to craft creative briefs and campaigns, to not only help drive agency relationships deeper inside its clients’ organizations, but to create new relationships more broadly within their clients’ companies.


Mindswarms Partners with Carnegie Mellon HCI Masters Class

In a pilot study at Carnegie Mellon University, students enrolled in Human Computing Interaction Masters program used mindswarms video mobile surveys to get feedback on their idea storyboards. The responses they received from consumers were illuminating, helping them determine which prototype to develop, and enhancing their learning in a real- world way.

“Basically they would think that maybe I was racist because I’m speaking out about it [police brutality]. It’s scary that there’s a lot of people out there that can’t even go to the store at night without worrying about dying, and there’s people who can get pulled over, and pull a gun out, and maybe because of their skin color or their background they won’t even die…”

Steven Dow previously of the HCI Institute at Carnegie Mellon University (now at UCSD), decided to engage mindswarms. In this pioneering pilot study, he asked mindswarms to help students develop a mobile video survey, designed to elicit responses from consumers on their early-stage prototypes. This method was coined “using crowds in the classroom” and was implemented during the Testing stage, in which student innovators had developed a concrete idea and were ready for feedback on their storyboards. It was thought that students might benefit from the authentic and rapid responses that mobile video surveys provide, giving them information that would help them shape design solutions.

Under guidance from mindswarms, the students received a series of one-minute video clips from consumers. They then processed the feedback and presented their reactions in class. It was a positive experience. Many students praised the mindswarms methodology, one student saying, “I can’t think of other better ways to get a lot of user input very quickly.” Students also found the diverse points of view useful, as well as the quick turnaround, and one group of students said it helped them “direct and improve” their design prototype.

Carnegie Mellon University distributed a press release citing the benefit of mindswarms partnership on the project.


Mobile Video Ethnography Dives Into the Teenage Mind

What shapes the identities of teens today? California ad agency BSSP wanted to reach beyond data-driven assumptions to find out, going deep into the minds of Generation Z. Using mindswarms mobile video surveys, they captured teens’ unfiltered responses. What they learned is that Gen Z’s attitudes center around purpose, authenticity, and technology. (Oh, and transparency.)

What is it like to be 17IN17?

Seventeen interviews with 17 seventeen-year-olds—it’s our initial exploration into the lives and minds of teenagers today. It’s our attempt at digging beyond data-driven assumptions to get to their mind-sets and motivations.

Much has been reported and debated about Generation Z, this new breed of future consumer that marketers are trying to familiarize themselves with before their spending powers become fully realized. We wanted to get past the stereotypes and statistics. We wanted to get to know them as distinct individuals with their own unique stories and points of view, not just as a collective demographic cohort. To do so, we partnered with mindswarms, a mobile video ethnography firm, and interviewed 17 seventeen-year-old participants from across the states through a series of mobile video surveys.

In some ways, not much has changed. It’s still about human biology, after all. Seventeen-year-olds are in that transitional phase between high school and college, with their teenage years disappearing into young adulthood. They are increasingly independent, and starting to think about the future. They are social creatures whose lives revolve around family and friends.

In other ways, it’s completely new territory. They are entrenched in technology and living out these progressive years online, under intense scrutiny.

We’ve identified three key themes that have shaped their self-identities.

As diverse members of this world, today’s teens are forced to confront the pervasive global issues that seep into their daily lives and flood their newsfeeds. They often reject the beliefs presented to them by their families and local communities, presumably because the Internet gives them access to alternative perspectives from a global community. They do not I. Exposure to global issues drives their sense of purpose. passively observe, but actively voice their opinions, shaping their own personal brands through these issues. Social media often becomes an amplifier for these points of view, whether it pertains to gender, race, religion, politics, or global warming. At times their beliefs are so actively rejected by their local communities that it seems as if they’re experiencing their teenage rebellion in the form of a social stance.

In their own words:

I grew up in the Christian homeschool community, and they’re not very accepting of gay feminine guys. I was taught that it was wrong. Growing up, I was taught that being gay was wrong, being feminine was wrong, being different was wrong. And I don’t believe that…
Being queer, I’d like to give out help to other gay people… So, I decided I want to be different in the sense that whenever I come out, I want to do it to help others. I’m very, very vocal about it online because that is worth more than money to me.

~ Jake S.

I live in a highly populated Hispanic community with all these stops that are being put up or all these people that are being sent up… [People are] being pulled over and cops these days just assume if you’re Hispanic or Mexican or whatever, they’re like, ‘Okay, well, let me see your… Are you a citizen of the United States?’ It motivates me to kind of speak on behalf of them or speak up for them.

~ Angelina

I’m from a really small hometown, like a really southern part of the United States. [Having empathy] definitely helped me see the people around me, like how they were raised and their values, and I lost a lot of friends because of it…
Basically they would think that maybe I was racist because I’m speaking out about it [police brutality]. It’s scary that there’s a lot of people out there that can’t even go to the store at night without worrying about dying, and there’s people who can get pulled over, and pull a gun out, and maybe because of their skin color or their background they won’t even die…
When something crazy happens—like when Trump does something, or someone dies at the hands of a police officer—during those times I’m probably on social media the most, because I know people are saying crazy things and I want to have my input on it

~ Katlyn

Causes that matter to me? I’m a black activist. I believe in equality of the races and gender equality. I don’t know if that makes me a feminist but I like to think I’m a forward-thinking person, liberal… I donate to causes when I can. I like to buy T-shirts and state my opinions on social media.

~ Myhani

I’m a really big supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement because I don’t like seeing people get hurt just because of who they are. They can’t change who they are. I tweet about it and I post about it on other forms of social media. And me and my friends talk about what we can do to help them.

~ Skylar

However, they are not more likely to purchase a brand that is purpose driven, because many don’t believe that most profit-driven brands can be authentic.

In their own words:

Brands are inauthentic because most of them just speak up about things that are important at the time, whatever is going to bring them the most benefit.

~ Katlyn

I don’t think companies should get involved in these [issues] because they’re supposed to be serving the consumer. And if the consumer has a different idea or political view than the manufacturer or person who’s making the product, it could mean that they may not buy the products, which could harm the company.

~ Jake M.

They’re just trying to please what they think the consumers [want], how they think they feel. So it won’t be their true opinions, and it won’t be meaningful to them or to the consumers.

~ Alexander

No matter the brand, the point of it is just to make money regardless if it’s great quality or not.


Implications for brands:

Be aware of the diversity of today’s teens. They are different from previous generations and expect brands to recognize this. Some brands have, and are taking steps to banish stereotypical portrayals of gender in advertising. Unstereotype Alliance is a collective comprised of Unilever, UN Women, and several of the world’s largest advertising and tech players working together to eradicate outdated stereotypes in advertising. There’s been particular progress in the beauty space, with both CoverGirl and Rimmel London signing seventeen-year-old social media influencers James Charles and Lewys Ball, respectively, as brand ambassadors, recognizing their efforts in shattering gender-based beauty ideals.

Stay off the purpose bandwagon unless you are actively involved in resolving the issue at hand, or if it is intrinsic to who you are. Otherwise, Gen Z will see right through you.

That said, you don’t have to be a purpose-driven brand in order to succeed with them. Offering a high-quality product or service, supported by good customer service with a real human touch, is significantly more important.

You’ve heard it before. When it comes to their relationship with technology, the smartphone owns their world. Most teens indicated that life would be “incomplete,” “out of touch,” and “dull” without it. Their “whole life is on it.”

But while it’s a can’t-live without part of their lives, our respondents also recognized, and in some cases were saddened by, the downsides. They craved the stronger relationships that physical presence would enable and the time to invest in themselves.

In their own words:

If you didn’t have technology, I feel like you could gain things that we’ve lost through technology, like communication skills and being face-to-face with somebody.

~ Anna

It bothers me because it’s like… Because we’re hanging out and it’s kind of like we plan to be together, but you have something in between like spending the time together, where it’s like a wall.

~ Angelina

Without these things, I think my life would be a little different, because I’d be unplugged from the rest of the world, pretty much. But I wish that honestly none of this stuff was ever invented, because things would be so much better without technology. People would actually go out and do things and be more connected with the actual world.

~ Camryn

I think that I’d just be missing out on stuff that, honestly, doesn’t really matter. So I think that I would gain something from that. I would have the opportunity to invest my time in something that could be far more productive, like going to the gym, reading a book, or getting a new hobby that actually improves me.

~ Katlyn

I think I would learn a lot more about myself and what hobbies that I like, and I feel that I would be outside more than staying inside and being a homebody.

~ Nisean

Still others insisted that their smartphone was more additive than distracting. In school, it could be an educational tool. Among friends, it distracts from, but also supports, their social interactions as a source of information and entertainment. By themselves, it becomes an excuse to look and keep busy or a way to connect to their passions.

In their own words:

A lot of the older generation, they feel like my generation is too attached to their cell phone, and I really don’t feel like there’s a problem with it. I know a lot of older people, they’re not really in tune with technology, and they don’t understand what technology can do, so in the classrooms, I remember I would have teachers who didn’t want us to use our phones at all, and then we had some teachers that actually let us use our phones to look up stuff and actually incorporate in classrooms. They need to do that. I don’t really find it invasive at all.

~ Jhonte

I really only use it if I have nothing else to do. Nothing to do and nobody to talk to. I scroll and scroll… If I know I’m about to go somewhere and I’m not about to know anyone, I’ll probably bring my phone because you don’t want to just be awkward in the corner staring. I feel like everybody is staring at me so I’m like I got to have something to look down at… Half the time I’m not even reading what’s on the screen. I just need to look like I’m doing something.

~ Katlyn

Like when I was [in] Europe, I would have hated to not have my phone, because there was so many pictures I wanted to have taken of me that it would have really sucked if I didn’t have my phone. All those memories, because I’m definitely going to [get] those printed out and put up somewhere. I think it’s really important to get stuff off your phone and onto some paper, or something.

~ Katlyn

Implications for brands:

Don’t be too quick to judge. What looks antisocial to older generations is another way to be social for them. Brands can help facilitate these live social sessions. For example, the popularity of augmented reality app Pokemon Go saw people hunting for Pokemon creatures in real-life environments on their smartphones, with their friends.

Do more to understand not just what teens are doing on their phones, but with them. Create tools or work with other partners that empower them to explore and exploit their passions. Coca-Cola partnered with, a lip-syncing and video-sharing app with a core audience between the ages of 13 and 24, for its Share a Coke and a Song campaign. Users shot videos of themselves sharing a Coke with friends or family.

Remember that they are true digital natives who don’t appreciate being interrupted. Annoying advertising can be skipped, and the next best piece of content is a simple tap, click, or swipe away. Your communication needs to be compelling enough to be sought out.

Today’s teens grew up watching Millennials take on massive amounts of debt to pursue a college degree, only to be greeted by sky-high rental prices and dismal career prospects. Millennials moved home after graduation and are now notorious for delaying major life events like marriage and having children, often due to financial stress. When we asked today’s teens about their visions for the future, they described low-risk lives of financial stability, and do things now to set themselves on that path.

In their own words:

I guess just it being my own money and knowing that I worked for it and I think about more when I spend, if I shop and it’s a $30 shirt or something, it’s like, ‘Okay, do I really want to spend that much money for this thing?

~ Angelina

I want to become a CPA. I’m really good at math, and they make a pretty decent amount of money… They say money doesn’t buy happiness, and I do think that’s the truth. Because if you’re not happy with yourself, nothing’s going to make you happy. But I do think that it makes things easier, if you don’t have to worry about bills and all these other things.

~ Anna

Implications for brands:

Today’s teens expect more for their money. They’re skeptical of advertising and tech savvy enough to see through marketing BS. When asked for reasons why they like the brands they do, they pointed to functional product benefits. While we don’t recommend losing the emotional story, today’s teens may need to be given the practical reasons to choose one brand over another.

Maybe it was Millennials who championed the art of borrowing (e.g., Rent the Runway), but it’s teenagers today who are demanding it across verticals. Brands that offer access will win out over those that offer ownership. The simple reason: accessibility has less risk than ownership. Consider the following ways to allow them to try before they buy:

  • Subscriptions like Spotify allow consumers to pay month-by-month so the product can continue to prove its value to gain reuse.
  • Personalized trial boxes like Ipsy give consumers a sampling of things they may like, bringing the Sephora experience home.
  • Make buying and returning easy, with free shipping. If it arrives and doesn’t fit, last, or work as expected, teens need to know they can send it back for free and without hassle.
  • Of course, there are some purchases that can’t be sampled. For these, consider ways that virtual reality could give prospective buyers a sense for what’s to come, as IKEA did with its virtual showroom.

Have we cracked today’s teens? We hardly think so. Do we know what it takes to reach and engage them? We have some ideas. To truly understand them, we encourage brands and marketers to go out and have real conversations with people, as opposed to relying too heavily on generalizations. Instead of interpreting some ambiguous data point, spend time with them and ask them.

BSSP is one of the largest independent agencies on the West Coast. Adweek named BSSP Small Agency of the Decade, and Outside magazine recognized the agency by naming it one of the Best Places to Work in America. For further information, please contact Patrick Kiss at or visit

The mindswarms community provides people all over the world a platform to easily share authentic opinions and experiences through self-recorded videos to impact the creation of some of the world’s most innovative products and brands.


Special thanks to the people who shared their personal stories and insights with us as part of this mindswarms study.