The Double Secret Solution

Teenagers are tricky. They can be fickle, moody, sly and sullen. Teens can also be tricky for marketers. 

Teens are a desirable audience because they are involved in so many consumer transactions. Although their eyes can sometimes be bigger than their wallets they’ve learned the secret of how to convince their parents to buy them the things they want. Then there are the privacy concerns. While not as great as dealing with children, many marketers tread lightly when it comes to teen data – as well they should.

So, let me let you in on a little secret. Actually, a double secret that can solve both of these problems very neatly. 

Before getting there, perhaps a bit more suspense is in order. Finding teens online is no small task but it is critical since teens spend so much time using their smartphones and tablets. Contrary to popular opinion, however, teens are actually pretty aware of online privacy and can be selective — and even misleading — about the information they share about themselves.



This can make targeting them through online and social channels a challenge. According to research from the Pew Internet Project, 60% of teenagers report keeping their Facebook profiles private and 26% say they have used false information to mask their real identities. Teens can also be actively hostile to online ads — especially if they aren’t relevant and in some cases even if they are. Parents also question the relationship between their children and online advertisers, with 46% saying they were “very concerned” about information about their teens being made available to marketers.

So in this environment, how can marketers reach teenagers effectively? The first step is not to target teenagers at all. I realize this is counterintuitive but trying to reach teens using cookies or other identifiers is a crapshoot at best. Typically cookies only allow you to reach about 25% of your intended audience. Layer onto that the 26% of teens who use false information and you start to see the slice of targetable pie getting very thin very quickly.

A better approach is to reach teens where they live and I mean that literally. The best way to reach teens — and perhaps more importantly, the parents of teens — is at home. But how, you ask, can I do this? It’s true that there is no easily targetable list of households with teens, but if you are clever you can build this kind of list on your own and use it for a different approach to reaching your audience.

Targeting teens is one part demographic sleuthing and one part contextual intelligence. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out that a household with two or more bedrooms, two or more cars (especially if one is a station wagon, SUV or minivan) and owners in their 40s is likely to also be the home to teenagers. Great, you say, so you’re Sherlock, now what? 

Now we look at the household (and the others in the neighborhood) from a different perspective. What is the IP address range of that neighborhood? Pairing the publicly available demographic and housing data with IP address ranges gives you a targetable audience that can be reached through online channels. Unlike cookies, which are supposed to be one-to-one but have limited coverage and can be based on (teen inspired) bogus information, targeting the IP address range allows you to “broadcast” to 100% of those online in your target neighborhood.

This approach provides the best reach and an excellent starting point, but context will make it even more effective. For example, trying to reach teens at home on weekday mornings probably isn’t going to work very well. Evenings and weekends are much more sensible. Targeting the right categories of Web sites (such as Rotten Tomatoes for movie reviews in the arts and entertainment category, for example) makes perfect sense while targeting financial sites is likely to be a big loser. Likewise, teens are much more likely to be going online with a smartphone or tablet as opposed to a traditional computer, so targeting against device type can further refine an audience.

Reaching teens where they live is one thing; another good option is to specifically target them where they spend their time out of the home. The IP address range for schools, coffee shops, malls, and movie theaters — can also be used to reach teens. 

Here’s how this whole approach can work in the real world:

  • Demographic signals are used to identify communities likely to include teens
  • Contextual signals are used to select the best day and times, sites categories, locations and device to reach teens
  • Refine and repeat in look-alike communities

Marketing to teens online doesn’t have to be difficult. Applying a holistic “broadcast style” model by using demographics, context and IP address ranges, solves many of the issues associated with finding this audience. The other benefit of this approach is that it isn’t limited to reaching teenagers. It also allows you to reach parents, who have the power of the purse strings over their kids. This is a clean, smart, safe and effective solution for marketing to teens and an approach a growing number of online advertisers are investigating every day.

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