Teen-Think tested and true

'Whenever I go to a store to purchase something, the employees always watch me as if I am going to steal something. It makes me feel really uncomfortable. They do not realize that I have money to spend!' Nick, age 17...
April 1, 1999

‘Whenever I go to a store to purchase something, the employees always watch me as if I am going to steal something. It makes me feel really uncomfortable. They do not realize that I have money to spend!’ Nick, age 17

This seems to be a feeling shared by

many teens ages 12 to 17. Ironically, teens spend more money than many of these adult employees. It is estimated that there are 23 million teens in the U.S. who spend nearly US$100 billion annually-more than $4,000 each. Teens are not only buyers, but consumers, influencers and trendsetters.

At Channel One Network, a provider of news and information to America’s teens, we have many resources to keep us informed about news, social issues and other topics that teens want to learn about. At the same time, we know how creative teens are, and how eager they are to voice their opinions. As a result, we started an ongoing dialogue with teens called Big Thinkª. It keeps us up-to-date on teen trends, issues, lifestyles, attitudes, desires and beliefs. Consisting of informal focus groups with teens (conducted weekly in our offices in key markets throughout the country), it allows us to gain ‘instant’ insight on advertising, promotions, merchandising, packaging and new product ideas. A room full of adults can create teen-oriented material, but if teens don’t like it, it won’t succeed.

When creating a teen-targeted


Make it simple and easy: If they don’t understand what they have to do, they will not enter. Teens often say that too much time is focused on prizes, and in some cases, by the time the commercial is over, they have no idea how to enter. Also, some advertisers do not leave their 800# on the screen long enough for them to write it down. Whenever possible, use vanity numbers, as they are easier to remember.

Offer unique prizing: Offer things they can’t buy on their own. We were putting together a promotion with a movie company, and there were many exciting possibilities mentioned as prizes. The Big Think group felt that the best prize would be clothing worn by the actor in this popular teen movie. It was a huge success because it was something nobody else would have.

Multiple prizing: Teens never think they will win the grand prize. A clothing company suggested a promotion featuring a great grand prize, but no secondary prizing. Big Think teens suggested taking some value away

from the grand prize to offer multiple secondary prizes instead-it makes the chances of winning greater.

Prove fulfillment: Most people don’t think they will win-teens are no different. They always comment that seeing winners’ names or pictures confirms that someone actually won.

Provide instant gratification: Teens say they feel tricked when a contest is supposed to be an instant win, but the prize takes months to arrive.

Use hip language: Use words specifically geared towards a teen audience. A candy company presented materials that used words that the teens felt were too sophisticated. Some commented that they would need a dictionary to help them understand what the advertiser was trying to say.

When creating your next

teen-targeted commercial, use…

Humor: Funny characters, scenarios and actions are a few examples of popular aspects of commercials among teens. Why? Simply because it makes them laugh.

Honesty: Don’t deceive them; they will

remember it forever. When teens were asked what products they don’t like, many cited those that didn’t perform the way they claimed to.

Clarity: Make sure they get the message. At the end of a commercial for a clothing manufacturer, teens commented negatively because they had no idea what was being sold to them.

Hip music: Music tastes and trends are always changing. The first comment heard after presenting a rough cut of a commercial is usually music-related. If they do not like the music, they will not like the commercial.

Originality: Catch their attention; they see lots of commercials. Black-and-white, quick cuts and animation are some top style choices suggested by teens.

Do not talk down to them: A snack food company presented storyboards describing a teen-targeted product as ‘Itty-Bitty.’ The teens felt the company was talking to young children.

Talent they can relate to: The talent used in an HBA spot was an extremely straight-arrow/perfect-looking male. Teens commented that nobody looks like that, therefore the product was not for them.

Up-to-date lingo: Teens laughed at an ad that had the word ‘phat’ in it, saying the word was out-dated. It positioned the product negatively because the writers were not keeping up with the current teen lingo (Hint: the word ‘cool’ has always been cool).

Multiple airings: A pool of commercials is recommended. When teens see the same commercial air too many times, they tend to get sick of it.

You need to do your homework before developing teen commercials and promotions. Teens pick their friends very carefully, and stick by them through thick and thin-same thing with brands. They tend to be choosy first-time buyers, but they will stay with a product they like. If you don’t target them correctly and let them know they are important, you may miss out on a relationship that could last a lifetime!

Lara Chait is director of marketing at Channel One Network and founder of the Big Think program.

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