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Summer intern for Morgan Stanley wrote their most discussed write-up
July 14, 2009 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Matthew Robson, aged 15 years & 7 months, was asked to describe how he and his friends consume media by the London research branch of Morgan Stanley, where he is a summer work intern. The teenager spent a day on the briefing note, after polling some friends by text message. His write-up impressed the right people (direct link to pdf report). "Without claiming representation or statistical accuracy, his piece provides one of the clearest and most thought provoking insights we have seen. So we published it." After being published, the note had generated five or six times more feedback than the team's usual reports. Lauded by professionals, his claims were met with disagreement from some peers. (via)
posted by filthy light thief (41 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Looking for a younger demographic? How 3 year olds consume media: the new shock report.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:01 PM on July 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


How old was the marketing whiz who dreamed up this stunt?
posted by WPW at 1:05 PM on July 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


Proving once again that the professionals are not so smart and generally have no idea what they're doing. If a 15-year old know-nothing is doing your work, then you know your job is just silly. They should be embarrassed.

Now the ten year olds that go to college and set the curve in their advanced physics class -- that's impressive. A fifteen year old with connections at an investment bank that types up a little research note? Not impressive.
posted by anniecat at 1:09 PM on July 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


the note had generated five or six times more feedback than the team's usual reports.

And you know why? Because it is a topic that everyone has an opinion on.
Pension funds deficits or pork belly futures? Not so much.
posted by sour cream at 1:11 PM on July 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


He was awarded the prestigious placement after his mother met a senior banker while dogwalking.

Whiz kid? No. This is no Doogie Howser, MD. What's up with people trying to manufacture prodigies through positioning rather than, say, really amazing abilities?
posted by anniecat at 1:12 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


By Matthew Robson (Aged 15 yrs & 7 months)
Does Morgan Stanley always put the author's age in the byline like that? I'm guessing not. I'm guessing that's a big part of why this caused such a splash.

What does it say about the financial analysis business that a report from first-hand experience is automatically considered refreshing, exciting, and different?
posted by Western Infidels at 1:19 PM on July 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


You could make a [fascinating/horrible & saccharine] movie out of this.

So many possibilities: If it is a stunt, there's an evil brilliance (and a lot of chutzpah) to it. (The chutzpah lies in the fact that many of your own people are liable to take it seriously, and you never know where that kind of crap will take you.)

If it's not a stunt, then Morgan Stanley's product managers & executive corps need to be repeatedly slapped in the face with a 2-day-old mackerel.

None of the aforesaid is meant to indicate that there's not some truth to what the kid said, or that you shouldn't listen to your interns: There almost certainly is, and you always should. But if you're getting paid high-five-figure and six-figure salaries to make billion-dollar marketing decisions, you should be doing a little more groundwork and putting your own god damned judgement on the line.

People's livelihoods depend on this crap.
posted by lodurr at 1:20 PM on July 14, 2009


It was interesting, got to the point and didn't use buzzwords, lingo or jargon. OF COURSE it got more attention than any other brief.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:21 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


BREAKING NEWS

Kids without jobs don't like to pay for things.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 1:21 PM on July 14, 2009


What's up with people trying to manufacture prodigies through positioning rather than, say, really amazing abilities?

Are you suggesting that same hasn't been going on ever since the creation of social hierarchies?
posted by lodurr at 1:21 PM on July 14, 2009


How old was the marketing whiz who dreamed up this stunt?

His write-up is mostly well-written, from a basic grammar and spelling point-of-view (though he does get confused on the notion of "hard copy," thinking that a downloaded song is a "hard copy" version, vs. the streaming music which you must listen to on your computer). Because of that, and the desire for any insight into misunderstood markets, I'm sure people were excited to read this.

Can anyone write this? Hell yes. But because it's coming from an actual teen-ager, it's somehow more "real" than if adults did a proper poll and gave you statistics and facts with proper percentages.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:22 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Be like boy! Be like boy!
posted by Flashman at 1:33 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh good Lord.

No one is claiming this is some wiz kid who will put others out of a job. The report is interesting precisely because the kid is some young, average John Q. Public.

It is a from-the-horses-mouth account of what people who run companies just don't seem to ever understand about the broader market. People don't want to read when that can hear. People don't want to pay when they can get free. People don't want to make commitments when they can pay installments.

Maybe its a publicity stunt. I prefer to think its a publicity stunt masking something more important: somebody in Morgan Stanley read it and said, "Hell. We're paying for market summaries that tell us precisely what this kid is saying with no training and on minimum wage."

Interestingly enough, to me, the report operates on a certain meta-level. The radio used to be important because you found a DJ you liked whom you trusted to play "the right" music. But why bother paying him now when pandora will automate the process using your own favorite artists? Similarly, why pay experts to say what this kid knows from texting his friends? No one wants to watch TV when they can watch Hulu. No one wants to buy CDs when they can download from iTunes. (I'm 25 and have an extensive music collection...but I've never bought a CD). And advertisements function as kitschy art more than actual draws now.

I think there's a Triumph of Common Sense issue at stake here.
posted by jefficator at 1:34 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


filthy light thief, I don't doubt he wrote the report, but its commissioning and/or release to the press is a marketing stunt. I'm certain the reason it got more attention in-house was that it was unusual, but its main value to the company is as marketing, projecting open-mindedness, willingness to learn and so on. The insights in this report are so valuable and unique they have been given to the media for nothing.

I'm not disputing the value of the FPP, it's an interesting story.
posted by WPW at 1:35 PM on July 14, 2009


Yea, this isn't exactly groundbreaking in the finance community. It's a neat gimmick. There are tons of reports out there which covered similar ground with statistical rigor. The CEOs and analysts that generated the 'massive response' were responging to the gimmick. I'm sure they've already gathered plently of scuttlebutt from friends and family teenagers.

News flash: finance can be pretty damn boring. MS decided to spice it up a bit.

All I can say is at least it's better than the coverage of the 'singing analyst'a few years back, about a guy who would leave all of his FLASH BUY SELL! phone messages in little jingles he made up.
posted by FuManchu at 1:44 PM on July 14, 2009


It's just like when George rates the shirts for the advertising man in A Hard Day's Night.

"I wouldn't be seen dead on Twitter. It's dead grotty."

"Grotty?"

"Yeah, grotesque."

"Make a note of that word and give it to Susan. It's quite touching, really. Here's this kid, giving me his utterly valueless opinion, when I know for a fact that within a month he'll be suffering from a violent inferiority complex and loss of status because he isn't tweeting on one of these nasty things! Of course they're grotty, you wretched nit, that's why they were designed! But that's what you'll want."
posted by scody at 1:45 PM on July 14, 2009 [6 favorites]


I've often wondered about the future of capitalism - and it's because of things like this.

It's the [insert country] dream to go and buy the things that make your life complete. It's why, for so long, we lapped up commercials, lusting after the shiny widget and the cute girl draped over it.

Then, some time in the last five or ten years, we seem to have stepped away from that. We've lost out love affair with adverts and dreaming. No Firefox install seems to be complete without adblock, yet we refuse to pay for content either. We want it now and we want it without adverts. It's the same for our TV... we don't want to pay for our service but we use TiVo to skip the ads. And, ultimately, that breaks the capitalist theory.

You can't be capitalist when people are taking your product for free. It doesn't matter if it's downloading media, refusing to pay for the websites you visit by blocking their ads, or skipping the adverts in the water down crap you're watching, complaining about the shitty quality while TiVo makes the guys in the advert dance like bad stop motion animation.

We're all pretending that we're living the capitalist dream, when we're doing exactly the opposite. We're demanding that everything be served to us, for free.

And, more importantly, so are the next generation...

[disclosure of a sort... I don't block ads on the web, but I do block flash. And I'm not arsey about my lost website revenues because my site has no advertising on it. It's not big enough to need it...]

[today's weirdly undirected rant was brought to you by the letter A, the number 3 and the medical affliction earache.]

posted by twine42 at 1:45 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Singing Analyst Podcast
posted by FuManchu at 1:47 PM on July 14, 2009


CNN Money Coverage of Singing Analyst

So yea. Gimmick gets legs. Just the fascination with Wall Street is a bit higher now than back then.
posted by FuManchu at 1:50 PM on July 14, 2009


This reminds me of Marilyn Manson in "Bowling For Columbine" when asked what he might say to the troubled youth of Columbine a couple years after the attack:

"I wouldn't say anything to them. I'd listen to what they had to say."

The youths know the truth.
posted by philip-random at 1:50 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


The youths know a truth, for sure.

So do I.

The M. Manson analogy is a little weird, doncha think? I mean, a bunch of people got gunned down at Columbine and Manson got (absurdly) blamed for it, in part. So he's got a stake. And "the kids" he's listening to are friends of the dead he got wrongly blamed for contributing to the death of.

So, yeah: He's gonna listen. Because maybe he'd like to get a handle on it himself.

In this case, we're just talking about an upper-middle-class high school kid who got randomly asked his opinion by a marketing wonk. It remains unclear to me why anyone should give much of a crap, for so many reasons that ought to be obvious but that to go into would mean actually taking it seriously as research

This was not research. It was a stunt.
posted by lodurr at 1:56 PM on July 14, 2009


I've never heard of interns younger than college age. Is that common in the UK, or anywhere?

One of the articles mentions it was a "two-week placement," which makes me think that it was some kind of Junior Junior Executive Day Camp or something, but it still makes me wonder. I mean, what kind of experience does a 15-year-old have (other than "my friends say pop-up ads are annoying") that would translate well into business? Would a teenager do this for networking purposes, to look good on college apps, or because Morgan Stanley really is totally fascinating? Do you have to adhere to the dress code, or can you get away with Hollister sweats?

His age sets off my stuntometer big time, but I'm curious if underage interns really do exist.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:01 PM on July 14, 2009


Are you suggesting that same hasn't been going on ever since the creation of social hierarchies?

I don't know if I'm understanding what you mean (I'm no Whiz Kid, heh heh). I just think precocious kids who can do multivariate calculus at 6 are pretty amazing (if not sort of a sideshow). That's a whiz kid. The ones who write a decent research note blathering on about how their peers utilize technology? Not impressive.

Now, Little Man Tate? That was a good movie.
posted by anniecat at 2:05 PM on July 14, 2009


though he does get confused on the notion of "hard copy," thinking that a downloaded song is a "hard copy" version, vs. the streaming music which you must listen to on your computer

He put "hard copy" in scare quotes. I don't think he's confused; I think he's suggesting that a file sitting on one's hard drive carries the same sense of permanence today that an actual hard copy did twenty years ago.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:07 PM on July 14, 2009


Metroid Baby: never heard of any; second or third year at university would be more common, at least at my firm.

Some of this was interesting, much of it trite: there are ads on TV, teenagers don't like that. (There are people who do like ads? Also, what about BBC, which is two of the free to air channels, and has no ads).

The 'teens don't use Twitter' was interesting; the 'an MP3 file on your computer counts as a hard copy' was interesting (obviously, to me a hard copy is something on physical media, but I see his point and I think we might move in that direction - where any kind of ownership = hard copy).

The rest of it? Kids don't buy newspapers? They sure didn't 20 years ago when I was his age, and we didn't even have the internets.

It was OK, but generalises from his wealthy London friends to all UK teenagers, so isn't necessarily valid.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:11 PM on July 14, 2009


I've never heard of interns younger than college age. Is that common in the UK, or anywhere?

It's pretty common for 15 year olds to spend a week or two weeks doing "work experience". It's normally a case of going to some local company or to your dad's place of work and pretending to be a grown up. It's supposed to give you an idea of what you want to do for a living.

At my school they used to time it so that the 15 year olds were on work experience while the 16 year olds were doing their exams.
posted by twine42 at 2:15 PM on July 14, 2009


though he does get confused on the notion of "hard copy," thinking that a downloaded song is a "hard copy" version, vs. the streaming music which you must listen to on your computer

He put "hard copy" in scare quotes. I don't think he's confused; I think he's suggesting that a file sitting on one's hard drive carries the same sense of permanence today that an actual hard copy did twenty years ago.


Absolutely. I'm 21 (six years is a big difference these days with regard to this stuff) and this is exactly how I think.
posted by spitefulcrow at 2:26 PM on July 14, 2009


My analysis of where 15 year olds get their media?

Anywhere they can.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:03 PM on July 14, 2009


Yesterday: Investment banks should be condemned for relying on explanations that defy common sense and information that is difficult to understand!

Today: Investment banks should be condemned for relying on straightforward explanations and information that a 15-year-old can understand!
posted by brain_drain at 3:10 PM on July 14, 2009


Well, the thing about the internet is...

"As a girl, I know I can account for every single one of my female friends when I say that..."

Girl!?
*sharp head turn*
*gaze into internet depths*
*reluctant pause*

....that it is often vulnerable to marketing stunts.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:48 PM on July 14, 2009


Anecdotes are not data

American teenagers are not British teenagers

Small groups of personally known teenagers are not large groups of teenagers from various geographical locations

War is not peace

Smurfs are not present in the latest Harry Potter movie.

If any one of the above were true, life would be very, very different.
posted by Sparx at 4:09 PM on July 14, 2009


"Smurfs are not present in the latest Harry Potter movie."

Midnight showings across the U.S. tonight. I sure as hell hope you are right. The man had told me there would be no Ewoks in the Empire Strikes Back. Dude, was I in for a shock.
posted by Xoebe at 4:18 PM on July 14, 2009


I'd argue a 15 year and 7 month old kid with work placement at Morgan Stanley isn't quite as representative as most kids aged 15 years and 7 months.

I mean, most of my peers didn't get work placement at investment banks till we were exactly 16, but we were a pretty dull-witted bunch. Mostly just maths whizzes really.
posted by davemee at 4:44 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


You can't be capitalist when people are taking your product for free. It doesn't matter if it's downloading media, refusing to pay for the websites you visit by blocking their ads, or skipping the adverts in the water down crap you're watching, complaining about the shitty quality while TiVo makes the guys in the advert dance like bad stop motion animation.

We're all pretending that we're living the capitalist dream, when we're doing exactly the opposite. We're demanding that everything be served to us, for free.

And, more importantly, so are the next generation...


And that is why I have some hope for the future.
posted by vicx at 4:59 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd argue a 15 year and 7 month old kid with work placement at Morgan Stanley isn't quite as representative as most kids aged 15 years and 7 months.

Very true, although I thought he was pretty much close to how many of my peers consume media.

Also, re: the interning thing: it really depends on the people and what they're interested in. For instance, NIH allows summer interns that are at least 16 when the program begins.
posted by majikstreet at 5:53 PM on July 14, 2009


It's the [insert country] dream to go and buy the things that make your life complete. It's why, for so long, we lapped up commercials, lusting after the shiny widget and the cute girl draped over it.
Then, some time in the last five or ten years, we seem to have stepped away from that. We've lost out love affair with adverts and dreaming. No Firefox install seems to be complete without adblock, yet we refuse to pay for content either. We want it now and we want it without adverts. It's the same for our TV... we don't want to pay for our service but we use TiVo to skip the ads. And, ultimately, that breaks the capitalist theory.


People didn't change, technology did. We've never liked advertising --- you grandma's book club was making bestseller out of a jeremiad about nefarious Madison avenue types in 1957 (The Hidden Persuaders, by Vance Packard). It was just that in the past, the creation of content for a mass audience meant you had to have the money to buy either a printing press or a broadcast license and a big fat antenna. And the consumption of content therefore required spending money, or listening to advertising. We didn't enjoy it, for the most part, we merely put up with it as a necessary nuisance. But then the internet came along, and all of a sudden you could share content for practically free. And so nobody ever wanted to pay for anything ever again*, except access to the internet itself. We don't like music any less, or porn any more, than our grandparents did. But now we can freely and anonymously consume as much of either as we like. And so we do.

People seem to have this huge post hoc ergo propter hoc attitude about culture v. technology, e.g., that people changed, therefore tech was created to serve their changed desires.... Personally, I am firmly of the opinion that tech changes culture and not the other way around....

*Caution: Sweeping generalization.
posted by Diablevert at 6:29 PM on July 14, 2009


I was an intern at 14 but that is because I was insanely ambitious at 14 and basically talked local cable stations into letting me intern there.
posted by Maias at 7:52 PM on July 14, 2009


Matthew Robson is a bona fide slacker compared to Adam Hildreth, who formed his own yoof marketing agency, Dubit, at the age of 14.

I once sat in on a conference in which blue chip marketing execs hung on his every word, so fearful were they that they no longer understood the yoof of today. It wasn't that he was a marketing guru (although - hats off to him, he's clearly a good businessman), but because he had authentic access to the yoof.

Anyway, all of this is quite amusing, because proportionally, yoof spend in Western Europe and North America is not nearly as important as what the over 50s spend. And how many creatives do you meet who are nearer 60 than 15?
posted by MuffinMan at 11:57 PM on July 14, 2009


It was an interesting article, and pretty much what I knew (yay - I'm still down with the kids), but it missed a couple of crucial points.

The reason that kids that age have pay-as-you-go mobiles is because they exist within a cash economy. If you can't go to the shop and buy either it, or a voucher for it, then it's not going to work. This is really obvious, but everyone seems to miss it. If you're 15 and in the UK, you've got a cash card or cash.

I bet that iTunes is a lot more popular with this demographic than the kid said, and I bet it's purely because you can buy iTunes cards from the shop.

There is an emphasis on the consumption of media, but it misses a vital point. Media is consumed by the group, not by individuals in that group. This is why file sharing is so important. It's not about stealing music - It's about watching and listening to the same things as your friends. The reason the iPhone isn't more popular with this demographic isn't cost - It's because you can't bluetooth files between each other.

OT, but while I'm on this...
If I were microsoft, I'd do a couple of things ...

- I'd allow a greater number of things to be purchased with microsoft points than you can currently. If you can put it on a zune, then you should be able to buy it with MSP. I'd also license out MS.Points to other suppliers.
- I'd add something to my IM client that allows Folder Synch style sharing of files.
posted by seanyboy at 12:55 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


- I'd wait until Apple solves it and copy that.
posted by fleacircus at 1:45 AM on July 15, 2009


I mean, most of my peers didn't get work placement at investment banks till we were exactly 16, but we were a pretty dull-witted bunch. Mostly just maths whizzes really.

Yeah, but your mommy didn't get you your first widdle big boy internship, while she was out dogwalking in your fancy neighborhood. At least I hope not.
posted by anniecat at 10:47 AM on July 15, 2009


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