Tweens: an underrated economic force

The tween demographic kids nine to 14 years of age is a vastly underrated economic block, a new Canadian study suggests....
December 1, 1996

The tween demographic kids nine to 14 years of age is a vastly underrated economic block, a new Canadian study suggests.

The money tweens have in their own pockets amounts to some Cdn$538 each a year or Cdn$1.3 billion from part-time jobs, allowances and gifts. But their direct influence over household decisions (as significant as the purchase of cars and computers and as routine as where the family g’es to eat) is enormous.

The ‘magnifier effect’ of tweens’ influence is profound and, if anything, probably understated, says Jordan Levitin, vice president of Creative Research International in Toronto, which conducted the study for YTV, Canada’s national children’s cable service.

To illustrate his point, Levitin cited a comment made by a tween during the study. When asked if he had a say in family purchases, the tween responded: ‘Of course my parents would ask me what to buy. I’m the one who is in the mall all day.’

‘These tweens are extremely well-informed and very active consumers,’ says Levitin.

The study, consisting of face-to-face interviews conducted last spring with 685 tweens across Canada, also confirms the degree to which electronic media are controlling children’s lives and how quickly this is escalating.

Some 60 percent of tweens live in homes with computers, and 53 percent of all tweens surveyed have access to the Internet, either from home or elsewhere. A similar study, conducted for YTV only nine months earlier, revealed that six percent of tweens had Internet access at home. That figure has now more than doubled to 13 percent.

The study also shows that today’s tweens are maturing faster than other generations of tweens. Almost one quarter of them have a job of some kind and, while taste is still the number one motivator in choice of food (96 percent), 75 percent of the tweens interviewed cited nutritional value as the second most important factor.

Yet, while certain trends emerge from the research, the main characteristic of this age group remains its elusiveness.

‘The tween stage is marked mostly by transition,’ says Levitin. ‘It is the time of life when you enter as a child and leave as a neo-adult. So many things happen during this time. This is when adulthood is formed, when you start to crystallize many of the values that will be formed later and that will define you as an adult.’

It is also the stage in life when many brand preferences are developed. ‘This is when kids are receptive to messages and influences,’ says Levitin. ‘This is when they go through puberty, go to high school and the focus of their lives changes from the influence of family to the influence of peers. They begin moving away from the home and the neighborhood and into the mall.’

For broadcaster YTV, the study confirms the importance of a number of programming modifications, such as having live-action hosts interacting with the audience during programming blocks.

‘A lot of kids are latchkey kids,’ says YTV vice president of marketing Susan Ross. ‘They want to be communicated to one-on-one.’

YTV is also moving quickly to develop a Web site on the Internet. ‘Tweens are looking for electronic services,’ says Ross. ‘We need to be in the electronic world, so when [tweens] go looking for content, they will go looking for us.’

How much say do tweens and parents perceive Tweens have on parents’ purchases?

Tweens’ perception Parents’ perception

Family car 26% 25%

Computer 30% 43%

Computer software 31% 48%

Holiday choices 74% 79%

Which restaurant to eat at 81% 89%

Clothes 90% 93%

Sports or running sh’es 91% 93%

Snack foods 79% 85%

Groceries 51% 61%

Soft drinks 70% 73%

Games or toys 80% 88%

Source: YTV Tween Report Wave II

Tweens and computers

1995 1996

How many tween homes have a computer? 51% 60%

Plans to upgrade/buy a computer? 32% 37%

How many tween homes have Internet access? 6% 13%

How many tweens have Internet access

at home, school and elsewhere? 31% 53%

Tweens’ favorite activity on the computer

Average Males Females

Video games 59% 66% 52%

Homework 18% 13% 23%

E-mail 1.8% 1.9% 1.6%

Surfing the Net 9.3% 10.4% 8.1%

Source: YTV Tween Report Wave II

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