In the ’90s film “Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead,”a teenage character portrayed by Christina Applegate lies about her age to land a fashion gig at a company that makes school uniforms. (Spoiler alert!) She ultimately saves the company, and her boss is praised for having hired a teen to get the youth perspective. What once was a Hollywood fantasy has become reality.
Youth experts continually remind marketers and advertisers that teens want to feel a part of their favorite brands, co-creating and contributing to their success. Teens want to see themselves reflected in the brands they buy and use. In response, many brands have opened their doors, recruiting their biggest fans as street teams (such as Mountain Dew’s often cited DEWmocracy campaign), using real fans in ads (as in Apple’s latest campaign), and, of course, inviting consumer input via social media. But recently, some brands are taking it to the next level, identifying influential teens and inviting them into the fold as employees and consultants. After all, who better to deliver what teens are into than teens themselves?
This back-to-school season, teens will be able to shop a fledgling fashion line from 13-year-old designer Isabella Rose Taylor carried at Nordstrom. Taylor was bitten by the fashion design bug at age 9 and began making clothes for her friends on commission. Soon after, she was making her debut at New York Fashion Week and caught the attention of the department store. Nordstrom may be lauded for taking a risk on an unknown designer, but the strategy of employing a teen isn’t such a leap of faith.
Another 13-year-old, Mike the Ruler, is also taking the fashion world by storm. His Instagram account, which has nearly 10K followers, has caught the attention of brands ranging from Supreme to Opening Ceremony. They welcome him with open arms, giving him a level of access unusual for a teenage fashion fan. He has built a name for himself in the streetwear community, and brands are eager to listen to the young influencer and to see what he’ll post next.
The list of young entrepreneurs goes on and on, with news media and blogs telling their stories. Expect that list to keep growing. A recent Gallup poll finds that 42% of kids in grades 5 through 12 plan to start their own business, and 38% expect to invent something that will change the world.
The teens noted above are typical teens with a strong entrepreneurial drive that many of their generation share. They believe in their ideas, have the Internet to explore and refine those ideas, and get encouragement and mentorship from adults (and brands) to help them learn real-world skills to complement their creative visions.
These teens take themselves seriously, and brands and youth marketers that do the same can capitalize by learning from the most influential people in their generation: teens themselves. Finding the teen tastemakers and entrepreneurs in your category and giving them a real role to play in your business will not only give you a more accurate youth perspective, but also spare you from facing them as competition.