June 2001 Volume 7 Version 4
Tapping Effectively Into Teens & Tweens In
are rushing to tap the fast-growing purchase power of teenage consumers
-- and of "tweens," who are just on the brink of their teen years.
But if ever
the principles of Marketing 101 applied, they are especially crucial
here. Neglect fact-finding, listening, testing and follow-up, and
you'd be better off not even trying to reach this savvy, cynical,
matter how much money you have; if you don't use it to find out
what your target audience wants, they won't care," said Isabel Walcott,
founder/president of e-magazine/catalog SmartGirl.com which targets
12-to-17-year-old girls and conducts market research.
about the huge spending power, the impact of consumer dollars from
this demographic," said Sid Good, president of Good Marketing Inc.
which specializes in kid-focused marketing. "But the reality is,
not only are these young people earning more money and getting more
access to money; there are more choices for them -- more products
or services specifically targeted to them...So you have to be different,
you have to be intrusive. You have to be that much more unique relative
to all the other messages they're getting."
power is indeed impressive.
by U.S. tweens will reach nearly $41 billion in 2005 -- a jump of
33.3% over tween expenditures in the year 2000 -- estimates market
research report company Packaged Facts in its recent report "The
U.S. Tweens Market."
While the population
of 8- to 11-year-old "younger tweens" is expected to decrease over
the next five years, Packaged Facts forecasts that direct spending
by this segment will grow to $14.6 billion by 2005, cumulative growth
of 23.1%. Families will spend $68.5 billion all told on these younger
tweens, up from $55.7 billion in 2000.
For older 12-
to 14-year-old tweens, both population and spending are expected
to grow. Yearly expenditures by these tweens themselves are projected
to reach about $26.4 billion in 2005, up 39.7% from year-2000, says
Packaged Facts. And their families' aggregate spending upon them
is projected to grow 37.1%, to $6.43 billion.
-- the leading edge of "Generation Y," as demographers prefer to
call them -- already constitute a bigger market than the baby boom,
USA Today has reported, citing research firm Yankelovich Partners:
77.6 million born since 1979, versus 76.8 million born between 1946
The 12-19 age
bracket will grow from today's 31 million to a historic high of
35 million by 2010, says market research firm Teenage Research Unlimited.
And teens have an average weekly expendable income of $94, says
the firm; they represented a $122 billion market last year in direct
expenditures, and are expected to spend $141 billion this year.
But those numbers
are just the beginning, said Greg Livingston, executive vice president
of WonderGroup, an advertising, product development and consulting
firm specializing in youth markets. Tweens and teens have an increasing
say in parents' purchases for the entire family as well. This influence
ranges from color and model of vehicle purchased -- "kids know what
cup holders are in it, and which model has a flip-top mobile VCR
unit" -- to family vacations: "Shall we go to the beach or the mountains?"
Add this to
the direct spending on tweens -- as well as their own expenditures
-- and their total spending influence can reach $260 billion, calculates
WonderGroup. For teens it's even higher, said Livingston. Savvy
manufacturers are noting this influence and capitalizing on it,
And then there's
the future: another compelling reason to reach the teens-and-tweens
age groups now.
comprise a large chunk of Burton Snowboards' business -- about one-third
-- the manufacturer also is ramping up efforts toward the 12-and-under
group, which now totals about 8% of its business. Not just because
it's a growth market in itself, with more and more kids getting
into the sport; these kids are potential long-term customers throughout
"It's an opportunity
to start a relationship through the teen years," said David Schriber,
Burton's vice president of marketing. What's more, "there's good
statistical evidence to show that the younger you start [with such
sports], the more avid you remain later in life....It becomes part
of your lifestyle.
"That 8% will
show up again in their 30s and 40s as the only people left still
If you want
to market successfully to teens and tweens, the first thing to understand
is that you DON'T understand the way they see the world.
"As long as
kids are in the process of developing and becoming, they are going
to be driven and influenced by forces and factors that are different
from those affecting adult behavior and decision-making," said Julie
Halpin, CEO of The Geppetto Group, a kid and teen advertising agency.
"If you are a marketer, you can't assume that a teenager will look
at your product with the same eyes as an adult."
metaphor is to think about ethnic marketing, she said. "If someone
is going to market something in the Outback of Australia, you wouldn't
presume to run the same commercial as you would on 'E.R.' (in the
US). You would go study the market and culture, to understand what
One way to understand
teen/tween culture is to study the normal developmental stages of
kids moving from childhood to adulthood. Because teens' and tweens'
minds are in a different stage of development from those of younger
kids and adults, they will perceive messages and priorities differently.
psychologist Jean Piaget observed and categorized such stages of
development. They are referenced in the book "The Great Tween Buying
Machine: Marketing to Today's Tweens" scheduled for release by WonderGroup
"We feel they
still hold true today," said Livingston.
Kids from birth
to age two are in the "sensory motor intelligence" stage, where
they start to link symbols with products. In this phase, he said,
"you basically talk to the mom" when marketing.
progress into the "pre-operational thought" stage, in which "everything
is fairly egocentric: how it relates to me. They don't have any
capability for abstract thought." So, marketers would do well to
keep their message slapstick and straightforward, focusing on a
single aspect of the product or service. "They can't make imaginative
leaps in communication."
aged about eight to 12, you move into the "concrete operations"
can classify and prioritize. They have the capability for logic,
for understanding...why something may be better or more valuable."
These tweens may be able to outwit younger kids at trading games
such as Pokemon because they understand this concept of value.
very peer oriented, but they're really still not totally conceptual,"
said Livingston. "They can't make big, abstract leaps. If you put
a blue ball (in a magazine ad) and said, 'This can be your world
if you wear this cologne; you'll be in a state of euphoria,' they
wouldn't get any of that."
categorizes eight-to-10-year-olds as "emerging tweens" and 11-to-12-year-olds
as "transitioning teens."
is where they've developed stronger logical capabilities and start
to look toward teens and young adults -- but they don't really want
to be one yet...They'll look to teens for cues, but they still like
being a kid, too."
the teenage years, kids tend to become egocentric again -- but in
an inner-perspective way, Livingston said. They live in their bedrooms,
coming out to socialize once in awhile. "They go to a level of friendships
different from tweens...The teenagers go into a bonding relationship,
while tween friendships are mostly focused on fun. With teenagers,
fun also is a big part -- but there's also the whole sharing of
experience, of the challenges of turning into an adult."
work of childhood is "to learn the rules of the human race,..trying
to figure out how to coexist with these creatures," said Halpin.
Then, when people
reach their teens and have most of that figured out, "I put my attention
on developing me -- and how is that different from the clan? Teens'
development work is about the search for identity."
have a foot in both worlds, and that's why tween behavior is so
seemingly contradictory," said Halpin. "We call the tween years
'between a rock and a hard place': between the rock of childhood
-- the certainty and familiarity -- and the hard place of becoming
an adolescent, the unknown, the risk taking.
"For those reasons,
marketing approaches must differ with each target group.
"The older kids
-- teens for instance -- respond much better to understatement,"
she said. "The younger ones love hyperbole -- big exploding mountains.
discovered marketing as a cool, under-the-radar thing only they
know about. So you can construct (your marketing approach) that
way, as opposed to a big prime-time marketing campaign that doesn't
feel like it's just for them."
to young kids, "it has to be fun; there has to be a 'wow,'" said
Good. "When you move to teens and tweens, clearly these elements
still need to be in place -- but in a different way. They are making
their own decisions, almost defiantly so. They're clearly brand
conscious, but not necessarily brand loyal. Therefore, it's important
for marketers to constantly reinforce and remind this consumer group
why their product or service is of value -- and worth using again."
developmental stages have remained fairly timeless, the past few
decades have seen huge upheavals in the social, economic and family
backdrops which also affect the way they see the world.
young people live in a truly multicultural and global world, said
Livingston. "When you do an ad for teens and tweens, they expect
it to be multicultural, even if their particular social group is
not. They do see themselves in that world."
they're a generally wealthier group than previous generations. "Obviously
we're going through some correction of this at the moment -- but
historically as these kids have grown up, it's been a prosperous
world. They're very optimistic as opposed to the Gen-Xers (those
born between 1965 and 1978). Being rich is actually one of the things
they think about."
Tied in with
the wealthier economic model is the spending influence teens and
tweens have on today's families, Livingston said. There are several
sociological reasons for this.
First of all,
one-third of all U.S. kids live in a single-parent household. Another
one-third live in households with two working parents. And between
parents' jobs and kids' activities, both are under an incredible
This has served
as catalyst for a cultural change in which kids participate much
more in family decision-making than in previous generations, Livingston
"When I was
a kid, my parents would say, 'Let's all hop into the car and go
to Ponderosa.' Today you say, 'Do you kids want to go to Burger
King, McDonalds et cetera' and the kids make the decision."
he said, play often is purchased rather than developed imaginatively.
"You'll buy a Little Tikes castle to put in the backyard instead
of making one, so you can begin play instantly."
Can Do With This Information
The trick is
to apply these insights to your marketing strategy.
approach, said Halpin, is to provide a balance between the timeless
and the timely.
refers to the internal developmental issues that all kids are going
through around the world. Kids in this country, in Asia, kids a
hundred years ago and a hundred years from now are all wrestling
with learning to express themselves and create relationships. That's
"But it's not
just that. It's balancing with the timely -- the culture around
them -- being relevant and current...There must be a balance between
the inside-work of development and the outside-work of culture --
because if the kids think you are out of step, they are not interested."
one reason for the Harry Potter books' success may lie in its presentation
of timeless developmental issues such as fitting in with peers and
testing of friendship loyalties -- packaged in a way that's new,
current, imaginative and fun.
But while timeliness
is crucial, said Halpin, putting all your eggs in the fad basket
is very risky. "Cool" trends come and go quickly, and most companies
can't react that quickly with their marketing strategies.
"The power is
in finding that emotional connection...If the brand connects fundamentally
to kids, you can ride the waves of 'cool' or 'uncool' more easily."
to the ups and downs of a good-friend relationship, she said. For
example if a teen has formed such a relationship with a clothing
retailer, and then a new season's designs seem uncool, "I will forgive
it if that brand usually comes through for me: 'It's all right,
I'll see what else they've got.'"
of that relationship lies in understanding teens' and tweens' developmental
need to define themselves as separate -- and then offer your product
or service in a way that's tailored just for them. If it's perceived
as something for the general masses, kids just won't care, said
music has been one of the most powerful part of a teen's life --
because it is so just-for-them. It baffles their parents...and we
know from developmental psychology that they have to begin to separate
from their parents. Things like music and fashion are places to
MTV is another
example, said Good. "Young people embraced it as their own...It
was intrusive, provocative, and broke the rules. Young people saw
it as a channel just for them."
a developmental imperative," Halpin said. "They're not being difficult,
just growing up. It's very powerful for marketers to understand
One brand which
has done a good job honing this approach is Delia's, she said. The
firm sells tween girls' clothing and accessories via its Web site,
retail stores and a direct-mail catalog.
"Think of what
it means if something comes in the mail to me and I'm 12 years old.
It means the world knows I exist. It's an extremely empowering experience."
The catalog design -- which combines product displays with poetry
and other readings -- is "just-for-me" as well, Halpin said, because
these are activities that tween girls can enjoy together.
Her advice to
direct-mail marketers: "Make it more than mail. Make it some sort
of activity with an inside-club feeling. Then, these things become
precious to them."
Again, it takes
balance to establish that just-for-you image, said Good. While avoiding
hard-sells and patronizing approaches, you must also be provocative
and intrusive. "You've got to shake things up a little bit, in-your-face,
kind of break the rules....You're not only establishing a point
of difference from other products and services, but also from different
& Fitch is doing a great job of this with its catalog, he said --
combining provocative approaches with magazine-style content that
ensures it will be kept around longer than a traditional merchandise-only
catalog. Benetton's billboard ads are another example: "Traditional
advertising (media), but clearly they've pushed the envelope."
good follow-up are crucial building blocks with these target groups,
Good said. This holds true not only in truthful marketing of products
and in customer service after the sale, but in data collection.
Teens and tweens,
with their Internet and consumer savvy, understand that providing
data to marketers can yield a payback in tailored products and services,
said Good. "They see an ultimate benefit, as long as they 've understood
very clearly up-front what the information is being used for, and
all the specifics."
are more trusting as consumers, teens and tweens are "a fairly cynical
group, so it's important not to give them a reason to be more cynical...Once
you've lost the trust -- especially with this demographic -- it's
very difficult to get it back."
In fact brand
loyalties are much more easily lost with teens and tweens than with
adults, said Good. "Because there's a greater interest in exploring
new things and trying to be different -- and expressing themselves
in a different way -- there's also openness and acceptance to trying
new products and services."
the issue of peer group loyalties, which can throw unexpected twists
into the most seamless of marketing plans.
"First and foremost,
peer group influence plays a significant role in what kids buy,
use and prefer...The (brand) loyalties go out the window if for
whatever reason, your peer group decides something is new, different,
better," said Good.
"Kids at this
stage define themselves by their surroundings -- what they use,
what they wear -- and there's a huge influence in how that's perceived
by others as well."
people also expect -- even demand -- constant innovation in products
and messages, Good said.
tweens' ability to be a consumer clearly builds on what they've
learned and experienced as youngsters. Give the frame of reference
kids have with the toy industry, for example...If you go out and
collect everything in the Barbie line in the year 2000, (kids know)
the brand continues but new products are introduced in 2001. There's
a built-in expectation for even basic products that they're going
to change on an ongoing basis."
who knows kids, knows there's nothing worse than trying to be cool
and failing," said Halpin. So how to maintain the balance of timeless/timely
and keep up with what's cool -- when it's always changing?
and listen, said marketers. And keep listening.
"The main thing
is to ask them what they want, and try and make that for them,"
said Walcott of SmartGirl.com. "That's really the only way to do
it. People who try to do something other than that, are just going
her firm has been doing research on 12-to-17-year-old girls for
four-and-a-half years -- and could consider itself an expert, said
Walcott -- "There's only one way to be sure: to ask them what they
want...Every decision we've made, we've made by asking the girls
instead of assuming."
On the plus
side, said Halpin, kids love to be heard. On the minus side, "sometimes
that means hearing things we don't want to hear. But it's important
to listen to what they say, even when you don't like it."
listening methods include advisory panels, online polls, more informal
setups such as mall walk-arounds, and -- yes -- focus groups, albeit
with a few different twists than for adults. A multifaceted listening
approach may be best.
Good said he's
observed that the companies successfully targeting teens/tweens
almost always use advisory panels or some sort of continuous advisory
group "just to make sure they're current and on target as far as
issues and content they're addressing."
With his own
clients, "we don't do anything unless we go through an advisory
panel process. They don't make decisions for these businesses, but
they raise red flags. We're very good at making assumptions on what
we think is best -- but nothing beats talking to the kids directly."
This talk can
be done in person or online. "The Internet has created a wonderful
medium for very quick and easy ways to reach out to specific target
audiences, to get feedback on any type of business. They don't necessarily
need to be sitting in the room."
If they are
"sitting in the room" -- in focus groups -- researchers should know
how teen/tween group dynamics may differ from those of adults.
caution that if you use focus groups for these young consumers,
they're likely to be swayed by one or two especially vocal members.
"One person may state an opinion and everyone agrees," said Halpin.
With online research, "there's no peer influence factor."
kids -- such as tweens -- the Geppetto Group uses groups comprised
of "friendship pairs" rather than a bunch of strangers, said Halpin.
That increases the comfort level for those participating, and they're
more likely to express themselves.
the group dynamic has its advantages, depending on the product or
"There are companies
who do chats, where the interaction of the respondents is just as
valuable as the content of their messages. I think that's also the
case for focus groups, or groups done in person...because peer pressure
and influence does play a significant role. You can usually get
a sense of how a young person feels about this on a personal level,
but how that might be influenced by the positive or negative reinforcement
also help researchers identify "lead players," said Good: young
people who are especially proactive and take leadership roles in
their peer groups. "Those are the ones establishing the pace and
setting the bar" -- and they're very valuable on advisory panels.
feedback from teens and tweens, you also must listen "with different
ears" than with adults, said Halpin.
and kids are talking, you need to pay attention just as much to
what they're not saying, as to what they're saying."
you're pitching new product ideas to some kids and they respond,
"That's weird." Your first assumption would be that they didn't
"But a good
moderator would have the follow-up question: 'Is that good weird
or bad weird?' It could be the highest compliment! You can't just
take what you hear at face value; you really have to know how to
get under the surface."
said Good, you need to make sure you know exactly what kids are
responding to. "It might be the way the product looks, the people
in the ad, what they're wearing, the music: There are so many different
things that do in fact impact the ultimate takeaway that the teen
or tween has."
To spot teen/tween
trends "at the beginning of the growth curve," said Halpin, her
firm often recommends cultural observation techniques such as "mall
directly talking to kids, "you watch, you observe: what they're
wearing, what they're carrying, what they're looking at in stores,
how they're behaving with one another. We have a lot of trend-spotters
out there watching."
the beginning of that curve is crucial to the timely, "cool" part
of a marketing strategy, she said -- with the fast-evolving preferences
of this demographic.
of just going on what they say, is that by the time they know what
is 'cool' and are telling that to you, it's probably too late to
do anything about it."
with such up-to-the minute issues -- and depending on the product
or service you're marketing -- "it's important to gauge how far
out you need to be in terms of print ads, TV ads or what-have-you,"
said Good. "Ultimately, depending on how much the market might change,
... this may impact your choice of when and where you're delivering
will depend on products, services and timing.But
here are some issues to keep in mind.
is especially useful with teens and tweens, since they've practically
grown up with it. But be aware of differences.
to use the Internet for chat," said Good. "Boys tend to skew a bit
more toward game and activity play.
"In light of
that, marketers must be very focused, in how and where they advertise
(online). And, because it's so segmented, it's also very important
that advertising be a bit more intrusive and interactive, and much
more compelling. If not, it's easy to walk away."
also has become very important for reaching teens and tweens, he
said -- at concerts, sporting events, movies, and even in school
curricula. And many mainstream magazines have launched teen versions
with good success.
If you're looking
at TV as a medium, be aware that kids don't see network versus cable
in the same way as adults. While today's adults grew up seeing cable
TV as something "in addition to" network TV, "from the kids' point
of view, cable IS TV. So the networks are no different from the
channels you can get on other parts of the system...It's very important
that TV advertising be focused on where the kids are."
Radio may emerge
as a new national medium for reaching kids as well, said Good --
with the coming advent of XM Satellite Radio Inc. Starting this
fall, XM plans to inaugurate its coast-to-coast, digital-quality
satellite radio service, with up to 100 channels of music, news,
talk, sports, comedy and children's programming. "They'll be doing
to radio what cable did to TV," he said.
marketer, first off, should test the material," said Walcott. But,
she said, not many do. "For some reason they feel totally fine spending
$300,000 printing things and sending them to girls -- but they don't
want to spend $10,000 asking the girls which of these six designs
would make them open the envelope." Online polls could accomplish
this very speedily and cost-effectively, she said.
mail advice: "Make sure the person they're marketing to, actually
is interested in the product they're offering." Sometimes direct
marketers are so concerned with getting many names, said Walcott,
that they don't find out what their targets really want. "You might
do better to have fewer names, but more accurately targeted campaigns."
Say you have
a mailing list to a group of girls and you'd like to send them something
once a month. "They'll look forward to getting it from you, if they
know every time they open that thing it'll be something cool --
chocolate, shoes, stuff they need for school. But if you start putting
in no-name-brand pantyhose or five-cents-off coupons for no-name-brand
hairspray -- if you train them to think the stuff you send them
is garbage -- they'll stop opening it.
seen girls complain about the most, is when ads come to them for
things they're not interested in."
At one time,
said Good, direct marketers saw newsletters as a wonderful way to
dialogue and stay in contact with teens and tweens. But they've
discovered this reality: Once you say you're going to start, you've
got to follow through consistently -- and that's especially challenging
with this group.
deliver,..it's got to be worth reading, fun, consistent in message,
product and content. It's got to be just as much a reflection of
your products or services as the actual product or service itself."
What's more, today's teens and tweens are just as time-challenged
as adults, he said, and may not have time for newsletter reading.
said, marketers are using newer choices such as event marketing,
which can reach a more targeted audience and don't require such
a long-term focus of energy.
If kids are
more involved today in influencing family decisions, what part do
parents play in the kids' decisions? Do you ever market to parents
to reach teens and tweens?
are some legal, security and privacy issues. For example, by law
marketers cannot ask a child under age 12 for his/her name, address
or e-mail address. And even when using legally obtained lists, direct
marketers must be careful not to get too specific, said Lisa Woodhart,
irector of corporate development for AccuData America. "We don't
want to do anything to make people feel uncomfortable with the information
we do have." (SEE RELATED STORY ON SECURITY/PRIVACY)
also must consider who holds the purse strings.
most people don't market to the parents," said Livingston of WonderGroup.
"The teens made the decision whether to drink Mountain Dew or Sprite,
what clothes they're going to wear. Parents may work with them on
the amount of spending, or veto certain choices that are outside
of acceptable range to them. But in the teen years they (the kids)
are the primary decision makers."
he said, it's "a whole different ball game." In most cases, you
still can talk directly to the tween -- "but with the understanding
that there is going to be a parent approval. And in this case it's
much more stringent than with teenagers."
we try to influence young people how to make good choices and good
decisions," said Good.
"We would like
to think that an implied foundation exists, provided by parental
influence from years past."
with teens and tweens, this is one of their first opportunities
to make decisions on their own."