When teens would rather be anywhere but home with the folks, the Web is the next best thing to a set of car keys. To define the perfect virtual teen hangout, KidScreen asked New York-based The Geppetto Group to find out what teens value on the Net, and how it fits into their lives. Geppetto turned to The Loop, its on-line panel of U.S. teens ages 13 to 19, for some answers.
Only a handful of the 50-plus kids we contacted said they regularly go to teen-targeted sites on the Internet. The reason for this collective avoidance is summed up nicely by one panelist: ‘I don’t visit any Web sites especially for teens, because I think most of the time they’re made by adults who don’t understand teens.’ Gideon, 14, says teen-specific sites ‘are very corny and I think I’m old enough to visit an adult Web site.’
So, what are teens checking out in their on-line forays? They’re hitting J. Crew (www.jcrew.com) and Abercrombie & Fitch (www.abercrombie.com) for clothes, link to the Dawson’s Creek site (www.dawsons-
creek.com) for more info on James Van Der Beek or Katie Holmes, and check out rising actor Ryan Phillippe at the Cruel Intentions movie site (www.cruelintentions.com). Today’s teens are also surfing for movie times and addresses of local clubs, but do they think of these as teen sites? Nah.
In terms of digital design, teens say many sites leave a lot to be desired. Girls ‘stay away from all the teenybopper graphics, pink with flowers and bubble letters, and cheesy `70s girl power stuff.’ Boys had a lot to say about both the pros and cons of the ‘ever-present Japanese animation characters.’
Two teen-targeted Web sites that our panelists rate as consistently cool are MTV’ssite (www.mtv.com), which teens say features particularly cool graphics, and react.com, a funky on-line teen magazine that’s a four-year Net veteran. The secret behind the success of these sites is variety. Says one respondent: ‘Teens in different parts of the country and from different backgrounds enjoy different things. These disparities are apparent in these Web sites.’
Also attracting teen eyeballs on the Net are music sites-both band-based home pages and music mags like musicboulevard.com. Favored individual artist sites feature punk bands like US Bombs and Rancid, as well as tamer talent such as Ani DiFranco, Sarah McLachlan, Beastie Boys, Indigo Girls and The Dave Matthews Band. Robert, age 15, says, ‘I like bands that aren’t really popular, and [the Web is] a good way for us `unique’ people to be able to relate to people that we normally can’t.’ Band pages offer current news, bios, CD release info, chatrooms and real audio, allowing teens to listen to rare music cuts and previously unreleased songs on-line. So much for all that fancy off-line stereo equipment!
Fashion sites are a favorite Net category among the girls we polled. ‘Personally, I have been known to buy things on impulse, [only to] realize how much I dislike them after leaving the store,’ says one teen. ‘Fashion and clothing store Web sites allow me to preview the clothes, and [give me] ample opportunity to think about what to buy.’
While girls are shopping on-line, guys are thinking sports. In addition to checking out team scores, some guys we talked to say they enjoy surfing for wrestling news. Ricardo, 14, says, ‘I know it’s fake, but it’s entertaining. [The Web] tells me what’s going to happen on the next show or what I missed in the last show.’ Another fan told us, ‘I am most interested in wrestling stars. I would give their particular names, but I doubt you would know of them.’ Hey, you think we don’t know Diamond Dallas?
When we asked teens what they would put on a Web site, some fun suggestions included places to put pictures of themselves, free graphics, downloadable audio files, quotes from movies and songs and activity listings for weekends, school holidays and summer vacations. Another perennial favorite that found its way into every teen’s Web design were video games.
On a more serious note, our panel also wanted to include info on teen-related health issues, such as HIV and contraceptives, drinking and drugs, dealing with parental divorce and eating disorders.
What teens said:
‘Web sites are a great way to plan ahead for concerts for the summer because you find out about them much sooner than you would by listening to the radio.’ Rachel, 18, Massachusetts
‘Typical teen sites basically talk about peer pressure, which I believe is not a hard issue to deal with. I would talk about music and relationships.’ Karl, 14, Pennsylvania
‘I’d like to be able to read fun facts that don’t matter, but I can feel cool knowing.’ Sarah, 16, Massachusetts
‘I’d like off-the-wall stuff that gives people options for wallpaper for their computers, like stars or Abercrombie models.’ Mia, 19, Minnesota
‘I’d like to hear about rewarding stuff that kids can get involved in.’ Kate, 17, Virginia
Rachel Geller is chief strategic officer and founding partner of The Geppetto Group, a full-service kid and teen advertising agency. The Loop, a nationwide panel of trendsetting kids and teens in the U.S., is a proprietary tool that enables The Geppetto Group and its clients to monitor the fast-track world of today’s youth.