Advertising to Teens: A new definition of ‘upfront’ media

mainstream society and struggling to form an identity of your own. The products teens buy are an outward symbol of this inward battle, therefore the way in which a product's message is communicated is every bit as important as the product...
March 1, 2000

mainstream society and struggling to form an identity of your own. The products teens buy are an outward symbol of this inward battle, therefore the way in which a product’s message is communicated is every bit as important as the product itself. Here’s the scoop from The Loopª on what teens look for in advertising.

It can’t be said enough-teens are extremely savvy about marketing tactics in general and especially so when it comes to efforts directed at them, so it pays to be ‘up front’ with them. From beepers to film to acne medication, our panelists are fully aware that a multitude of companies are vying for their attention. However, their market intelligence goes even further than a general awareness of their importance as consumers; our panelists actually spoke to us about advertising using our own marketing lingo.

‘I love the commercial for disposable underwear for toddlers, although I don’t think I’m Pull-Ups target audience,’ Anne 14.

‘A lot of commercials feature people the age of the target audience. They’ll have catchy music, artsy filming and the right setting,’ James 17.

When it comes to what works in teen ads, our panelists say they identify best with kids their age and also want a breakdown of product features.

‘The Clean & Clear ads always show two best friends and give their backgrounds-how long they’ve known each other, etc. . . It makes you feel like it’s real, and you want to trust the characters. They’re my age,’ Natalie 13.

But just appealing to the psychology and culture of teens is often not enough; you also have to deliver relevant info about the product.

‘I like the commercial with the dwarfs at the amusement park, but I don’t know what they’re selling, so it seems kind of pointless,’ Sam 15.

Executing for teens doesn’t necessarily mean coming from the dark side. Running down our panel’s list of advertising picks and pans, it’s clear that they’re looking for energy, aspiration and sentiment. Feel-good eye candy seemed to win with our panelists.

‘I think commercials that have a fun beat-like the Volkswagen ad with the wipers-are really great because they catch your eye,’ Sara 16.

‘I love Gap Swing and Country ads; I want to be in one,’ Jaime 17.

However, some teens prefer ads that play on their emotions.

‘I really like the MasterCard commercial with the grandma and granddaughter cooking that says `time spent with grandma-priceless,” Lauren 15.

Other commericals that hit the teen mark included ads from Nike, American Express, J. Crew and Levi’s latest ‘Invisible Bodies’ spot. On the flip side, our teens did not find the current Calvin Klein or Sprite ads appealing. Old Navy’s purposely cheesy spots got polarized feedback; some of our panelists enjoyed the outlandish humor, while others found them highly annoying.

‘[Old Navy] ads insult the consumer’s intelligence with their clichéd humor, overacting and obnoxious music,’ Danna 17.

Teens want commercials to reflect their diverse reality without slipping into the trap of tokenism.

‘I really like the Nike commercials because they show all different types of people from both sexes and various races and backgrounds all working out,’ Jennifer 14.

However, one of our more cynical panelists warns marketers that teens can smell lip service a mile away.

‘Kids are smart-they know when advertisers throw in one black girl, one white girl and one Asian guy to be politically correct. It should be real, not some affirmative action kind of thing,’ Jennifer 16.

Using music in advertising can be cool-but don’t try to repurpose well-known songs to sell your product. While our teens generally loved the idea of popular or catchy songs being used in TV spots, they were strongly against the transformation of music for commercial purposes.

‘Changing a classic song for an ad is kind of pathetic-it’s like, hey, maybe these teenagers will buy this product because we used this song that sold 12 billion copies,’ Drew 17.

When asked what kind of car commercial they would create for teens, here’s what some of The Loopª members had to say. . . .

‘I’d show the inside of a car, with all sorts of personal trinkets that reflect a teen personality. Like, I’d have a picture frame stuck on the inside windshield with a snapshot of the car’s exterior the day the teen got it. I’d show a trendy-looking air freshener, CDs, all the buttons on the radio and AC (because teens are interested in that stuff as much as the exterior), furry seats and steering wheel, a sunroof decorated with glowing star stickers, good driving music in the background-anything the ideal teen car would have. And, of course, a really attractive person in the passenger seat along with some more in the back.’ Rachel, 16

‘I would have people in my commercial, but not just one group. Different groups of people using the car in different ways. You have to walk a very careful line . . . you don’t want to focus on a single sector of people, but you don’t want to be cheesy either.’ Aaron, 13

‘I would have a parking lot with 20 cars lined up in different colors. The kind of car would be the same, but the colors would be different. Some could have bumper stickers on the back saying different stuff. Then you hear a bell, and 20 different `types’ of teenagers would get out of the cars.’ Jacklyn, 14

‘In the commercial, I would first play catchy music, a song most popular at the time. To catch the eyes of girls, I’d put in some `hot’ guys with their shirts off riding to, let’s say, the beach. The car stops at a red light and, seconds later, the same car with a bunch of hot girls drives up next to them. They check each other out and some of the girls get in the guys’ car and vice versa. Then both cars drive away.’ Jess, 15

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