If you’re a teen marketer, no doubt you’ve noticed that most teens seem to have their eyes glued to a phone, gaming system, or other device nearly every free minute of the day. The habit has lead to a new stereotype – the teen that isn’t social with anyone he or she is around, preferring to hide behind the barrier of a screen when interacting with others. The stereotype has become so prevalent that teens and other Millennials, ironically, feel left out if they’re not on their phones.
Two recent commercials reference this stereotype to very different effect.
Earlier this year, Chevy produced an ad about a father and his son “who would rather play computer games than go on a camping trip.” The boy reluctantly gets into a truck with his dad, clearly not in any hurry to spend several days in the wilderness without his gaming system. By the end of the ad, he doesn’t miss his device; he’s learned to appreciate the great outdoors and has enjoyed a bonding experience with his father.
And just in time for the holidays, Apple has released an ad featuring a teen boy visiting his family for Christmas. Throughout the spot, he rarely manages to look up from his iPhone to interact with his uncle, grandparents, and cousins. But it turns out all the time he spent staring at the device was to create a video montage of the family gathering, offering the clip, “A Harris Family Holiday,” as his special gift to his relatives.
Apple and Chevy are both courting teen consumers with products that speak to their lifestyles, operating in industries that need youth approval and strive to be “cool.” While neither of these ads is directed at teens, young consumers will likely run across them and their impressions of the brands will be impacted by the way each portrays teens.
Of course, Apple as a phone manufacturer wants to soften the negative stereotype of the disengaged tech user, but its ad also shows great insight into what drives teens. The commercial ultimately portrays teens as creative, caring individuals who have unique talents to offer society; it reflects the way teens see themselves. The Chevy ad leans on the stereotype. It suggests that teens should be pushed to have hobbies and interests approved by adult society (Chevy even calls the spot “Convert”); it reflects the way teens feel they are often seen by adults.
It’s not always easy for marketers to see the world through the same lens (or phone screen) as teens do, but it’s critical not to fall back on stereotypes when considering the teen point of view. Marketers need to look beyond the surface of what is going on (and beyond their assumptions of teen tech use) to understand teens’ real motivations for using technology. Despite adult perceptions of teens being disengaged when using devices, teens themselves see their devices as toolboxes for creativity and connectivity, helping them extend their in-person relationships.