Peeling The Onion

Eight hundred billion dollars in global consumer buying influence. Two hundred billion in the U.S. You wouldn't expect those figures to be linked to teenagers. But study after study shows that this is the reality. In my opinion, it earns teens a seat at the table and their due respect as significant players in our marketplace. So, as marketers, how do we reach them and how do we make it stick? Teens are subdivided into more lifestyle groups than just about any other demographic.

Forgive the stereotypes, but think for a moment about your high school years and the cliques you had to navigate: hipster, jock, LGBT, goth… Of course you can say, fundamentally, that a 16 year old is a 16 year old. They are studying the same things in school and having similar life experiences. But is that where it ends? Taking the time to go deeper and explore how they self-identify, who they are and who they want to be can provide you with invaluable information on when, where and how to reach this audience. 



The basics of age and gender are obviously huge factors. Consider the difference between the interests of a 13 year old and a 17 year old. It's like comparing My Little Pony and Twilight. And let’s face it, young boys and girls can seem like two completely different species at times (although I'm not sure we ever grow out of that one). Well that’s just scratching the surface. Recent studies have identified upwards of 11 legitimate audience segments within just the teen universe.

Sure, the hipster may drink the same energy drink as the jock. But put them side by side. Look at their personal style, social activities, interests, the language they use when talking to other kids. It's a tricky combination of needing to be distinctive and special, while simultaneously wanting to fit in and fall in with existing social groups. Don't neglect this in your marketing efforts. Dissect the larger demo to get down to the smaller subgroup. Consider their need for that distinction and acceptance in your campaigns. You will see how even a subtle shift in language, look and feel can dramatically affect their interest in a product. Using authentic images, music, locations and media placements can go a long way in building a genuine brand connection with today's teenagers.

Conversely, it has also been argued that marketing drives teens toward certain social behaviors. If that is the case, we, as marketers, are partially responsible for their association with these same cliques that we use for targeting; thus perpetuating the marketing circle of life.  Teens, trying to pinpoint who they are and looking for ways to connect with others, are going to look to their surroundings for input. Ads are part of those surroundings. So it’s only natural that our work is going to play a role. 

The moral of the story…everyone is selling something. We should be using every available tool to hone in on those specific consumers that may want or need our product; teens included. The marketing landscape is evolving. But it is not lessening. It's been estimated that a person sees anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousands ads per day.

While it’s difficult to nail down the exact figure, I think we can all agree that it isn't suddenly going to drop. We aren't going to wake up one day to find that the playing field has been cleared of all competing messages. If we aren’t precise with our targeting, we are just contributing to the over-saturation of advertising in the market. We become our own worst enemy; making our jobs more difficult and our campaigns more costly. Not for nothing, but it would also serve us well to remember that marketing, in small ways, can play a part in shaping younger generations. And that is a responsibility we should all take seriously.

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