As the app space has matured, marketers have become savvier about the cost of acquiring loyal customers. There’s one notable exception: those marketers who are targeting tweens and teens. This group is apparently happy to be in constant customer acquisition mode, forever welcoming new customers through the front door while watching them exit through the back. This is Jackie Paper syndrome.
For those of you unfamiliar with Jackie Paper, I suggest you listen to “Puff the Magic Dragon.” In the song, “painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.” That’s what happens every day as hard-won customers age out of services and move on. Somehow, this just doesn’t seem to make sense. Sure, there are some products that are designed for people of certain ages (baby food, Depends, etc.) but apps and social platforms don’t need to be among them, do they?
While the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) does draw a bright line between teens and not quite teens, it seems silly for companies catering to young people not to have a plan for carrying those customers forward into their teen years and beyond. This is a classic example of Jackie Paper syndrome. Once good money has been invested in attracting young consumers, why not create a path forward to maintain those relationships?
This seems to be a sensible approach but one rarely taken. As digital platforms and services become ubiquitous for young and old alike, creating services that comply with COPPA and are open to everyone seems like a pretty obvious idea. What stands in the way of this happening? It isn’t the technology or the ways the technology is used. In the end, it seems to boil down to the odd belief that experiences designed for tweens and teens have no place in the adult world.
While not many adults or older teens are going to sign up for sites or services that are clearly designed for young teens, kids who want to get involved with social are in a quandary. They can either a) stick to kids-only services or b) lie about their ages. If they take the first approach, they’re going to find themselves segregated in the magical land of Honah Lee (another “Puff the Magic Dragon” reference, FYI) that they’ll soon outgrow. If they choose the second approach they’ll find themselves trying to reconcile reality with the fiction the created when they were underage.
Is there a problem with finding yourself in an age-specific realm? Not necessarily. The biggest issue is attempting to transpose that persona once the post-COPPA world becomes a reality. All of the content and connections crafted as a tween fall by the wayside once the COPPA barrier is breached. The result is inconvenience as a new service needs to be identified and a new identity established.
Perhaps this isn’t that big a deal. Perhaps kids under 13 welcome the opportunity to reinvent themselves when they cross the magical threshold into their teen years. Perhaps all of the content and all of those connections lose their meaning overnight. Perhaps, but probably not. Marketers need to rethink their relationships with the tween and early teen set.
There’s nothing to prevent the creation of a social app that’s open to everyone. Such an app – one that provided all of the capabilities that consumers have come to expect from a social platform – could be crafted in a way that is age-agnostic. Taking this approach would allow marketers to treat their relationships with tweens and teens as extensible rather than temporary.
This approach would also allow young people to preserve and expand their online identities from the present into the future. Does this mean all members should be treated identically regardless of their age? Not at all. The fact is people of different ages have different expectations around privacy and the social experience, but those differences can be expressed in a single app rather than discreet ones based on age.
Given the cost of acquiring a customer, and the growing focus on customer lifetime value, falling prey to Jackie Paper syndrome seems a shame. It will also lead to marketers’ tears – like Puff’s green scales – falling like rain.