Every generation has its teen idols. Baby Boomers had Elvis and Frankie Avalon. Gen X had Kirk Cameron and Jason Bateman. The oldest Millennials had the New Kids on the Block.
These examples have a common thread: most of them are white males who were sold mostly to a female audience. The performers had minimal voice in their careers and material. Some of them were auditioned to play a role, and producers and managers controlled the image they projected.
Boy bands haven’t gone away, but over the last few years the spectrum of teen talent has widened. Why? And what does it mean for marketers?
Here’s a look at trends in teen talent and the opportunities they’ve created for businesses.
Greater gender and ethnic diversity
Teens are used to being in a “majority minority” generation. They also embrace the “Lean In” ethos of females being empowered to do anything males can do (and vice versa). Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift became stars in their teens, taking charge of their careers and public image. Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley did the same in acting. In sports, Mo’ne Davis is one of the best-known teen athletes.
The days of all-white representation are gone, too. Most popular teen shows on TV—from Pretty Little Liars to The Flash to Teen Wolf—have an ethnically diverse cast.
As you look to look for teen talent or spokespersons for your marketing campaigns, pay attention to how you cast people from diverse backgrounds. Check with your community of customers and test storyboards or creative to ensure that people don’t find it gender- or racially-biased. Using audience intelligence is a lot cheaper than dealing with a failed campaign or fixing a PR problem later on.
Much more acceptance of all sexual orientations and gender identities
Historically, it was expected that teen talent present themselves publicly as heterosexual. It was unusual to encounter openly gay, lesbian or transgender entertainers. This is changing. In an age of LGBTQ acceptance, more teens use social media to express support of, and even claim membership in, the community.
This year alone, the star of Disney Channel’s Girl Meets World used Twitter to share that she’s “queer”; a Hunger Games actress announced that she’s bisexual; and a Teen Wolf star came out as gay. Meanwhile, Jaden Smith has just been hired as the new face of the Louis Vuitton women’s collection.
When hiring talent for your brand, encourage them to be their authentic selves. Somebody who’s open and honest comes across as being more relatable. And don’t assume that your brand can only be for men (e.g., athletic equipment) or women (e.g., a fashion line). A two-way dialogue with your customers can tell you more accurately who’s really buying your brand, and how it’s being used by customers on the cutting edge.
An emphasis on talent, not just looks
Good looks and coolness are still factors in becoming a celebrity today, but teens expect something more. Think of the singers who have broken out on YouTube—a growing list that includes Justin Bieber, Tori Kelly and Shawn Mendes. Their careers launched by being heard by millions over the loud din of voices. Today, teen talent isn’t limited to singers and actors. There are teen comics, activists, scientists, beauty and fashion experts, even a “teen medium” who just turned 20.
When you’re looking for a spokesperson, seek somebody who has a great talent that ties into your brand, and can use his or her authority to influence your target audience. To ensure success, talk to your customers to test awareness, likeability and fit of these performers with your brand.
As you look to cast spokespeople, brand evangelists and influencers, make sure you’re reflecting the full diversity of today’s teens. The changing face of teen talent is a reflection of the evolving face of teen customers. The companies that fail to engage teen customers for insight are at risk of looking trapped in the ’50s, in one of those old-school teen beach movies, and seeing their campaigns fail as a result.