Magazine Article


Tapping Into Teen Dollars: Little Kids, Big Pockets
In 2005 teens between the ages of 12 and 19 spent a total of $158 billion. Getting a slice of this cash pie is no piece of cake, however. Targeting marketing is challenging enough when you know who you’re


Confirming that the dollars are out there, and more available than ever, vice president of Teenage Research Unlimited, Michael Wood, says that although teens don’t seem to be spending a larger amount of money per year, there has been a shift in how money is spent. “It’s almost as if we can look at the electronics/technology segment as a new area that’s competing for the youth-market dollar, and this never used to be the case,” says Wood.

As for just who is doing the spending, research indicates that it’s the parents who are making purchases on behalf of the kids, especially in terms of the more expensive electronic devices like cameras, cellphones, and iPods. In fact, according to research director for Jupiter Research, Vikram Sehgal, 46 percent of teens who buy online go on with a parent and make purchases using his or her credit card, while 14 percent make a wish list and have their parents or other adults buy the items for them at another time.

That is not, however, to belittle the influence of the teens themselves regarding purchasing decisions. Wood points out that “ultimately, it’s going to be the teen who wants the product and goes out and buys it personally, or convinces his or her parent to buy it. I think the best ambassador that a brand can have is the end user, so if that end user is a teen, you’d better make sure that you’ve got them on your side.”

As a result, a dual marketing campaign is ideal. Firefly, for example, is doing an excellent job of this with its new kid’s mobile phone. The flashy colors and cutesy design are in place to grab children’s attention while advertisements play up the phone’s parental control/safety features. Just below the fun feature descriptions, Firefly calls out to parents: “PIN-protected features and simple management tools mean Firefly phones are just as easy for mobile parents to love.”

To sell a young adult, however, you have to locate and target teen territory. Research indicates that teens not only expect companies to have a presence in their magazines, TV ads, print ads, and radio, but they also require a more customized approach. “Maybe it’s a viral video campaign or some small niche videos that pop-up on sites like YouTube or community-based websites like MySpace—anywhere teens congregate online,” says Wood.

Jupiter Research’s Sehgal came to the same conclusion using attitude profiles purposed to identify and market to the greatest teen influencers. “These ‘alpha teens’ are the forward kids, the trend starters, the ones their friends come to for advice,” says Sehgal. “They are really heavy online users so they use a lot of activities like IMS, and SMS, which is really valuable information for creating an effective way to market to this group of teens.”

And not only is the internet affordable, it offers a plethora of advertising options, the most popular one being search engines that drive teens to different sites, and the least popular being pop-up ads. Other creative marketing approaches that have proven effective with teens include sponsoring a concert series, a competitive sports program, or a fundraiser.

As a final point, both researchers pointed out this particular market’s high appreciation for good customer service. “I think the most important advice is to go to an Apple store, spend about an hour there, and watch what happens,” says Wood. “Watch how they handle customer service, allow consumers to experience the products, display their brands, and educate their customers.” He also suggests that it’s an area that can be used by smaller companies to beat out larger ones since they probably can’t compete on price or product availability. “I think a lot of retailers underestimate the power of the age group,” says Wood.

The Kid-Phone Craze

For kids of all ages, there is at least one phone. PTN spoke to several parents and a representative from Firefly about whether this is a good or bad thing. By manufacturing phones for younger age groups, is the growing adolescent dependency on cellphones being encouraged, or are parents being done a favor?

There are a lot of theories regarding why every kid seems to have a phone these days. “Eight-year-olds want to be 16-year-olds; the little kids want to look cool like the big kids,” says Elizabeth Barbieri, mother of three. Or, according to Heidi Groshelle from Firefly, “Kids today are living highly scheduled lives, and a cellphone is a great way for kids and their parents to take care of schedule changes during the day.” Other reasons include peer pressure and the decreased typical age when children become more social.

Concerning the phone craze, parents seem to have a love/hate relationship with it. Mother-of-two, Marianne Pardal says, “I like knowing where my daughter is so I can be in touch with her and vice-versa, and knowing she has it in case there’s an emergency. But, at the same time, it’s always going off during dinner or at a restaurant; there’s the whole interruption thing.” The phones can also be a major distraction. “Kids could also get in trouble in school if they decide to use it when they aren’t supposed to,” says mother-of-one, Marcela Cretaro.

Firefly’s Groshelle, however, suggests ways the new limited-use phone for kids eliminates some of these concerns. She says the new phones for kids provide parents with peace of mind by allowing them to contact their kids throughout the day and vice-versa while controlling costs and restricting incoming calls. Additionally, “Parents refer to the Firefly phone as a great parenting tool and use it to teach their kids responsibility. For example, they reward their kids by programming extra numbers into the phone, allowing kids to call more friends,” adds Groshelle.