Dance, Teen Evolution

If you think it's tough for marketers to engage teens, you need to chat with inspirational speaker Judson Laipply. Nearly every week for the past decade, Judson has made his living getting up in front of teenage audiences seeking to inspire them with nothing more than his words.

Well ... his words and some serious dance moves.

Judson is the creator and star of "The Evolution of Dance" (TEOD), a high-energy mash-up of dance moves from the past 60 years. First performed in 2001 as a way to convey to audiences that life is change, TEOD gained unfathomable notoriety in 2006 when some Pomperaug High School students in Connecticut convinced Judson to put his performance up on a relatively new site by the name of YouTube.

The rest, as they say, is history. TEOD stands as the sixth most-viewed video in YouTube history, and Judson, in his iconic Orange Crush t-shirt, became known as "The Evolution of Dance Guy." His speaking opportunities grew, he wrote a book (Might As Well Dance), and he became a permanent part of Internet pop culture (Exhibit A: Weezer's video for "Pork and Beans").

Along the way, Judson never stopped speaking to teens. In chatting with him recently, I was struck by how three key insights he's gleaned may be able to help marketers seeking to reach, inspire, and motivate the fickle teen audience.

Insight #1: Teens Are the Media

When Judson first started doing TEOD in 2001, few teens had cellphones. When TEOD broke big on YouTube in 2006, about one-third of his audiences had cellphones with cameras. Today, not a performance to teen audiences goes by without a sea of smartphones lifted high to shoot video of Judson's routine.

Smart marketers are beginning to take full of advantage of the teenarazzi with campaigns that encourage and, sometimes, even reward teens for creating product-related videos. JC Penney, had a whole back-to-school campaign built to inspire teens to create their own "haul videos" (videos of their shopping purchases) that were posted to the JCP teen website. The campaign increased visibility of the brand and the teens involved -- a win-win for both sides.

Insight #2: Teens Are IT

You know what Judson sees bringing teens and adults together more than ever? Technology. But it's not through social networking -- it's as IT support. Judson regularly spies technologically challenged teachers publicly enlisting the help of students to assist with all manner of laptops, smartphones and apps.

The resulting shifting of teacher/student roles undoubtedly has ramifications in the classroom as well as the marketplace. Tech marketers may well be wise to consider creative, bottom-up marketing strategies as, from Judson's perspective, it appears that if you win the teens over with technology, they will soon train their elders for you.

Insight #3: Teens Still Need Guidance

Judson's father, a teacher himself of some 30 years, said of the teacher/student relationship, "Teachers can be friendly with students but you cannot be their friend. There has to be a line and structure in place."

In a world where everyone is a "friend" on Facebook and teens are the "Geek Squad" for their teachers, Judson sees a lot of pressure on adults to "be cool" with students. What Judson hears from his teen audiences, however, is that they still need and want adult guidance. They may act like they have all of the digital answers, but the truth is that they don't always realize the ramifications of their digital actions.

As marketers, this means that we can never forget that the teens are making their way through one of the most challenging parts of life. Their personalities and tastes -- just like dance -- are constantly evolving. And if we can avoid mistaking their tech knowledge for wisdom, we may just be able to entertain, engage, and motivate them as much as Judson has these past 10 years.

Tags: technology, teens
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2 comments about "Dance, Teen Evolution ".
  1. Clint Dixon from Sem Advance , October 14, 2010 at 1:28 p.m.

    Hate to say this but knowing how to work a cell or digital appliance of any type is not IT......you insult the 1,000s of Comp Sci geeks running around. There is a reason the college grad IT guy earns $50,000.00++ and teens don't...knowing how to type incoherently with two thumbs is not a trait employers are looking to pay for....knowing how to program the cell they text on is worth paying for....

  2. Jeffrey Rohrs from ExactTarget , October 14, 2010 at 3:18 p.m.

    Clint, I completely agree with you. However, what Judson has observed is that teens have become their teachers' teachers when it comes to technology--especially mobile technology.

    This is not to say that teens have the skills of a capable IT professional. It is to say, however, that in the absence of such a professional the early adopters--teens--are becoming a de facto support mechanism for their elders. My intent is not to say that this is good or bad, just that it is something those who market to teens should take into consideration.