If the events of the past few weeks are any indication, 2017 promises to be a year of change that marketers will need to closely observe to remain on the pulse of culture. Teens themselves will be at the center of the action, both spurring on certain evolutions and serving as a key demographic in determining which changes stick and which are merely fads.
1. VR Everywhere
2017 will be the year VR explodes, and teens will be the group that decides if the medium lives or dies. As the number of headset options has expanded to include versions at all price ranges, the one missing piece has been compelling content. But that will change this year; marketers have embraced the medium with unique experiences that give consumers a sample of VR, and entertainment companies are increasingly developing VR content and events.
For example, Fox and the Big Ten Network are targeting college football fans with games aired in VR, and VR series Invisible from renowned director Doug Liman is gaining wider distribution. It will be up to teens to determine if VR soars or becomes the next 3D TV. As true digital natives, teens are certainly open to new technologies, but even they are skeptical about the prospect of VR transforming our entertainment landscape.
As a 16-year-old guy told us in qualitative research, “VR is cool because it is a new, futuristic technology that can vastly improve the experience of gaming, social media, and video consumption.” But his enthusiasm was tempered by a 17-year-old girl who noted, “Virtual reality just seems like an entertainment thing that's fun occasionally,” suggesting it won’t become an integral part of her day-to-day media habit.
2. Movie Theaters, Reinvented
It wasn’t that long ago that you would look to the mall or the movie theater to find teens hanging out after school or on weekends. But as teens’ interests and expectations from shopping and movie-going changed, the institutions didn’t. After slumping numbers, the movie theater industry, like retail complexes, realized they need a makeover. While theaters have stepped up their game when it comes to concessions, they’re only now taking a closer look at content.
It’s not only boutique theaters like Syndicated in Brooklyn (which hosts a weekly Walking Dead viewing party) that are looking to nontraditional sources to pad their screening schedules. Netflix and iPic inked a deal in which the theater chain will premiere 10 of the streaming service’s original films the same day they are released online.
In another unique arrangement, IMAX will be screening the first two episodes of ABC’s forthcoming superhero series, Marvel’s The Inhumans, for two weeks leading up to the show’s launch on TV. These are just the first steps in an effort for theaters to regain the attention of young consumers. By bringing the content that teens love back to screens, movie theaters may once again become a cool place for young people to hang out.
3. Eastern Wellness With A Western Spin
We’ve hit peak juicing, so it’s a time to move on from kale-packed beverages to the next wave in wellness. The supplement industry is getting a youthful revamp thanks to emergingvitamin brands, as well as an infusion of Eastern herbalism that is feeling increasingly commonplace in Western culture. Current hot spots not only offer the next iteration of healthy beverages (think mushroom tonics) but also powders and protein mix-ins that take one’s smoothie routine to the next level. It might sound like a much trendier version of GNC, and it is, with most brands offering instagrammable packaging that reflects a hip, modern style and a product inside that offers ancient wellness that addresses young people’s interest in feeling their best.
4. Embrace eSports
ESports combine two things teens love: social media-style videos of everyday people doing funny and amazing things and video games. Considering that, it should come as no surprise that our research has found that 79% of Gen Zs have watched others play video games online--and now they can do so on TV, too. TBS began airing an ELeague series this year, and we may soon see Blizzard’s new Overwatch League — a national eSports league structured much like a traditional sports league with city-based teams that compete against each other — land a TV deal. Just as teens, and teen boys in particular, embrace the sport of gaming, so, too, should advertisers who have been gifted a new platform on which to reach this elusive audience.
5. Teens Get Very Political
Following the U.S. election, many Americans realized that the country has become highly politically divided. Whereas most adults witness this political divide, teens live it. For many, school is their first introduction to cultural diversity, and the election has put a microscope on personal differences. Students and teachers alike are grappling with the impact of the election, what it means for them and their friends directly. Politics, which has generally felt far removed from teens’ daily lives, suddenly feels very personal to them.
They’re even seeing it affect favorite celebrities, who have spoken up about their views and experiences following the election results. These circumstances will push teens beyond merely having an interest in politics, as 66% do, to becoming politically active. As a result, brands and marketers will need to consider not only how they can reflect this new mindset in their products and campaigns but also how they can directly help teens’ reach their goals of making a difference in the world.