Nailing down moonbeams

U.S. creative director Jeff York ponders the hard-to-pin-down teen demographic...
October 1, 1998

U.S. creative director Jeff York ponders the hard-to-pin-down teen demographic

When Oscar Hammerstein II wrote about Maria in The Sound of Music, he described her as a cloud. Impossible to pin down. He could’ve been describing today’s teenager, as well.

As a creative director who has had a lot of experience in the youth market, I can tell you that the task of marketing to teens is a rather daunting one. So, here is a good place to start. Research. How sacrilegious-a creative actually endorsing research! But it’s true. And a necessity if you’re going to find the teen consumer today. Read on.

My agency, J. Walter Thompson/Chicago, just pitched a piece of business with a heavy skew toward teenagers. How did we figure out how to reach the `90s teen? Well, we started with sources like Gallup, Simmons and MRI. They helped us gather facts. There are a lot of things teens are into and some amazing numbers behind them. And clients, as everyone knows, love facts! So if you’ve got numbers, use them.

The numbers show that today’s teens are into a lot of things. It’s ‘Hells-A-Poppin’ in pop culture out there. A hundred TV channels. Thousands of videos at Blockbuster. The Internet. Magazines. Urban Outfitters. Extreme sports. Rap. Hip-hop. Rock. Country. Even swing music is big with teens! Teens are into a vast array of experiences. And teen consumerism is huge. In the ever-growing video game market alone, a whopping 72% of households with teens own a video game system. That’s second only to the number of households with TV sets and VCRs.

One of the interesting things we found out when we did our teen study was that a plethora of media is needed to reach them these days. One way simply won’t suffice. Broadcast and print messages are still big, but so are other media like radio, in-store materials, promotions, the Internet and direct sales. If teens are watching TV these days, they’re probably watching cable. But teen TV viewing is down-from three hours a week on average to just under two. It’s a brave new world with a lot of new things holding their interests.

Teens will always want to do ‘their own thing.’ Always have, always will. When you market to teens, make the messages theirs. They like exclusivity. And they’ll thank you for it-by forking over their dough. Companies like MTV understand teen marketing. Others who do too will thrive. Why are such odd brands as Adidas or Mountain Dew now big with teens? Niche marketing. Nike, for one, may have lost some ground due to the fact that it’s perceived by teens as their ‘parents’ brand’ and not enough as ‘theirs.’

The bottom line is the more you know about your target, the more you can use. Especially with teenagers. Find out what rocks their world. And remember, no teen is going to give corporate America the time of day unless we tell them what’s in it for them. How do you solve a problem like teen marketing? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down? Easy. Learn everything you can about the cloud.

Jeff York is group creative director at J. Walter Thompson/Chicago.

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