Tantalizing Teen Trends
by Alf Nucifora
There seems to be an inversely proportional relationship between
our prodigious knowledge of the Boomer sector and our appalling
ignorance of the Gen Y, teenager set. Yet the teen market represents
enormous, untapped potential even for those companies that market
products not traditionally associated with the category. A recent
report, "Youth Truths" published by the Detroit-based
ad firm, Campbell-Ewald, sheds revealing insight into the motivation
and behavior of this easily misunderstood group.
Who Are They?
Born during the period 1976-1994, the Gen Y's, 78,000,000 strong,
now comprise 30% of the US population, a group larger than the Boomers
and twice the size of the Gen X sector. It's in the "sliced
and diced" subsets that the information really gets interesting.
According to industry trade publication, Advertising Age,
"marketers traditionally defined kids as ages 6 to 12...Today,
there are at least six recognized youth segments: ages 0-2, 3-5,
6-8, 9-12, 13-15 and 16-18."
Most marketers carry a distinct bias with respect to kids' buying
habits and motivations. Some project Gen X behavior to the Y's,
an obvious mistake since the personality of either group could not
be more distinctive or different from the other. Worse still, many
marketers tend to "project back" or interpret current
teen behavior based on the filter of their own experiences when
they were that age (with all of the forgetfulness and revisionism
that accompanies the aging process). In reality," the interests
of each (teen) age group are now in flux" notes Advertising
Age. "A tween, a youngster between ages 9 and 12, will
have markedly different interests today, than a tween had just a
few years ago." A number of factors are at the root of this
acceleration process including "access to influences and information,
working mothers and the speed with which trends move across the
The Unifying Elements
They're being called the "next greatest generation" primarily
because they share many of the attributes of the World War II generation.
As Youth Truths points out, they're idealistic. 95% indicate
that spending time volunteering or helping people is very or somewhat
important (Yankelovich). 50% actively participate in volunteer work
in their communities (Ifuse).
They're also patriotic. 79% consider themselves to be such, according
to Campbell-Ewald's Youth Research. In fact, 68% say they would
be willing to make a personal sacrifice for their country. Their
patriotism, however, is not the flag waving type of their parents
and grandparents. As Arthur Mitchell, Director of Strategic Planning
for Campbell-Ewald notes "theirs comes from a nuanced appreciation
of the US for the unique freedoms it offers
freedom to be
who and what you want to be
a place where even a Dennis Rodman
can live happily ever after."
They take their education seriously, which makes sense given their
intuitive understanding that their futures will be tied to an education-dependent
information society and not an industrial economy. As such, 87%
want to go to university or college (Yankelovich). They also possess
a stronger moral compass than their parents. "Trustworthiness,"
"determination" and "honor" are of great importance
to this group, understandable, given their constant exposure to
the frailties and ills of today's society with its 60+% divorce
rate and a political ruling system that rewards and encourages hypocrisy
Optimism also prevails. Although they fear being left behind, 87%
are still optimistic about their future (Campbell-Ewald Youth Research.)
In the 9-17 age group, 69% view owning their own business as a sign
of success. (versus 34% for adults.) This is a generation that firmly
believes that it can have it all from personal happiness to career
advancement to material success.
These are marketing-savvy folk. Don't forget they've been exposed
to media saturation. They know the marketer's tricks. Therefore,
they don't have the patience to waste time with a product or message
that claims to be something that its not. And if in doubt, they
can easily go to the web to validate the claim and verify the truth.
But even though they know they're being marketed to, they're accepting
of the fact as long as the marketer tells them the truth. What they
value more than anything else is authenticity. While they view advertising
as fake, that's OK as long as it's fun. What's more, 71% agree that
advertising is still the best way to learn about new products (Yankelovich).
Yet when it's all said and done, we cannot forget that they're
irrational, passionate and hormonal to boot. They
know it too. 76% of the 9-17 age group tell us that "they are
in no hurry to grow up" (Yankelovich). The problem is that
teens are being given more adult responsibility particularly in
households where both parents work. This can encompass buying the
groceries as well as voicing an influential opinion on the next
auto purchase for the family. For parents and for marketers, there
must be a realization that their (teens) opinion must be taken seriously.
The marketing lesson to be gleaned from the data and trend information
is a simple one
get to know this generation now and not when
it's too late, particularly if you don't market "of the moment"
products such as music, cosmetics and fashion. Gen Y's will have
long memories. Loyalty to person or product will therefore be one
of the defining elements of their personality and ultimately their