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How Has Marketing To Teenagers Changed In A Generation?

As a single father who raised two teenagers, I’m under no illusion about the influence that a child can have on the purchase decisions of parents. While money was often tight, I always seemed to find funds for the next purchase – albeit a constructive hobby, some latest fashion, or the next smartphone. My children didn’t abuse this… but there was a lot of pressure nonetheless.

Teenagers are a crucial demographic for companies for several reasons:

  • Brand Loyalty: The teenage years are when individuals develop brand preferences that can last into adulthood. Establishing brand recognition and loyalty with this age group can lead to long-term customer retention.
  • Purchasing Power: Today, teens exert a significant influence on household spending. They often sway their family’s purchases, including technology, vacations, and dining choices.
  • Early Adopters: Teens are likelier to be early adopters of technology and trends, which can be pivotal in making a product viral.
  • Market Size and Spending Growth: The global teen population represents a substantial market segment with increasing spending power as they enter the workforce and become independent consumers.
  • Influence on Peer Purchases: Teens influence each other’s purchasing decisions, with peer recommendations often carrying more weight than traditional advertising.
  • Immediate and Future Market: By capturing the teen market, companies tap into their current spending and position themselves for future gains as teens’ spending power increases.

Technology has significantly transformed teenage consumer behavior and purchasing patterns in several ways compared to a generation ago. Here are some bullet points highlighting these changes:

This Generation

  • Increased daily internet use from 92% of teens in 2014-15 to 97% today.
  • The percentage of online teens almost constantly has doubled from 24% to 46%.
  • Social media platforms like TikTok have become significant influencers in teen life.
  • High smartphone ownership, with 97% of young people owning one.
  • Online shopping offers greater variety and access to global trends.
  • Peer pressure and trends are amplified through social media exposure.
  • More significant emotional investment in social media.
  • Despite a trend toward fiscal responsibility, with 8 out of 10 teens considering themselves money-wise, there’s still a high interest in unaffordable items.

Last Generation

  • Less exposure to internet marketing and online peer influence.
  • Teens purchased based on in-store promotions, peer recommendations, and traditional advertising.
  • Marketing was limited mainly by physical availability in local stores and malls.
  • More reliant on parental guidance for purchase decisions.
  • Communication about products through word-of-mouth (WOM) and direct observation.

Statistics and studies reflect that technology has given teens more autonomy and information in their purchasing choices while exposing them to a continuous stream of targeted advertising and peer influence. This has created a consumer group that is both more informed and more susceptible to the pressures of online marketing and social trends. The increased time spent online and the emotional investment in social media also impact teen well-being and consumer behavior.

Ethical Marketing To Teenagers

If you want to watch a movie illustrating how marketing impacts teenagers, even inadvertently, look no further than Big Vape on Netflix. The mass adoption of Juul’s vaping devices spread like wildfire among teenagers, both enriching and bewildering the company that was eventually destroyed by it.

  • Respect Privacy: Ensure compliance with data protection laws.
  • Avoid Overexposure: Be mindful of the potential for digital burnout and negative psychological impacts, avoiding overly aggressive marketing tactics.
  • Content Appropriateness: Ensure all content is appropriate for the teenage demographic and does not promote harmful behaviors.
  • Transparency: Be transparent about the commercial intent of content and disclose partnerships and endorsements.
  • Monitor Impact: Regularly assess the impact of social media marketing on teen behavior, particularly concerning health and well-being.
  • Educate Parents: Parents will research the purchase decisions they often make on behalf of teenagers, so incorporating content targeting their parents is critical.
  • Ethical Considerations: Consider the broader ethical implications of marketing to teenagers, who may be more impressionable and vulnerable to peer pressure.

Companies must balance marketing opportunities with a commitment to ethical marketing to effectively engage with the teenage demographic while promoting positive consumer experiences. Companies targeting teenage consumers can leverage technology’s impact strategically while ensuring they engage in responsible marketing practices. Companies should take the following precautions:

  • Engage on Popular Platforms: Utilize social media platforms favored by teenagers, like TikTok, for marketing campaigns.
  • Influencer Marketing: Collaborate with teen influencers who can authentically promote products to their peers.
  • Mobile-First Strategy: Design marketing campaigns optimized for smartphones, as many teenagers use them as their primary internet devices.
  • Content Marketing: Create engaging content that adds value beyond the product, such as tutorials, lifestyle tips, and entertainment related to product use.
  • Personalization: Use data analytics to personalize marketing messages based on individual preferences and behaviors.
  • Interactive Campaigns: Develop interactive campaigns encouraging participation, such as contests, to build engagement and brand loyalty.
  • Foster Community: Build brand communities where teens can interact, share their experiences, and feel a sense of belonging.
  • Promote Responsible Spending: Align with the pragmatic values of Generation Z (GenZ) by encouraging responsible spending and offering budget-friendly options.

Teenager Marketing Regulations

There are several regulations on marketing to teenagers, and there has been political pressure to pass more stringent rules in light of increasing online activity and data privacy concerns.

  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA): Many people refer to this legislation but it actually does not regulate teenagers, only children under 13 years of age. Regulations targeting marketing to teenagers is less straightforward and are often a mix of broader consumer protection laws, industry self-regulation, and emerging legislation aimed at digital privacy and online safety.
  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): In the European Union, GDPR provides stringent data protection and privacy guidelines for all individuals, including special considerations for minors.
  • Truth in Advertising Laws: These laws, prevalent in many countries, require that advertisements be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence.
  • FTC Guidelines: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the U.S. provides guidelines for online advertising that ensure disclosures are clear and conspicuous to not deceive consumers, including teens.
  • Online and Social Media Platforms’ Policies: Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok have their policies regarding advertising to minors, which often include restrictions on certain types of content and the requirement for ads to be appropriate and relevant for a teenage audience.
  • Industry Self-Regulation: Various industries have their own set of self-regulatory principles for marketing. For instance, the food and beverage industry has specific guidelines for marketing to children and teens.

The landscape is evolving as technology advances and becomes more intertwined with the daily lives of teenagers. Companies must stay informed about these regulations and the political climate to ensure compliance and ethical marketing practices. There’s more pressure on politicians to pass additional regulatory safeguards, so self-regulation is for all companies where teenagers are influenced by marketing.

  • Data Privacy and Security: With the rise of identity theft and data breaches, there is ongoing debate about strengthening laws to protect the personal information of all consumers, especially minors.
  • Influencer Marketing: The increasing influence of social media personalities has led to calls for clearer guidelines and disclosures regarding sponsored content and endorsements.
  • Health-Related Products: Marketing products like e-cigarettes, junk food, or supplements to teenagers is under scrutiny, with advocacy for tighter regulations to prevent misleading health claims.
  • Digital Well-being: There is growing concern about the amount of time children spend online and the potential for digital addiction, leading to discussions about regulating the digital economy to promote well-being.
  • Algorithmic Transparency: The role of algorithms in promoting content to teenagers is a concern, with some policymakers calling for more transparency and oversight to prevent manipulative practices.

Marketing to teenagers is a complex strategy, incorporating regulations, ethics, parental rights, and social pressures. As marketers, we must balance all of these considerations when targeting teenagers… and stay vigilant to ensure we are truly providing value and enriching the lives of teenagers without manipulating them.

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is CMO of OpenINSIGHTS and the founder of the Martech Zone. Douglas has helped dozens of successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to assist companies in implementing and automating their sales and marketing strategies. Douglas is an internationally recognized digital transformation and MarTech expert and speaker. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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