Understanding Youth: What Works And Doesn’t Work When Researching And Marketing To Young Audiences
This paper, presented at “Reinventing Advertising–the Worldwide Advertising Conference,” addresses how to reach and market to a young audience, who is often more difficult to reach and less expressive than traditional audiences.
The youth consumer segment, although a booming consumer segment, is difficult segment to market to because they are difficult to reach and not as expressive as adults. Given the magnitude of this market segment, this paper addresses various mistakes that are made when marketing to these young consumers. The generation born after 1976 comprises 26% of the population and is termed “Generation Y.” By 2010, this generation will make up 41% of the population and “be coming of age.” They are likely to have a large of an impact on the economy as the Baby Boomer generation. Younger children and teens alike have an enormous influence over parental spending on all items, including home purchases such as television to grocery store items. Teen influence is a repetitive “nagging” and younger children are more tacit in their methods, forcing parents to buy food brands that they are interested in, often those associated with popular media icons.
Generally, marketers and advertisers engage in youth markets with little quantitative research and less rigorous research procedures because there is a common misperception that most kids of similar age are all the same. It can be argued that the youth are often more rational consumers than adults, as they are often called upon by parents to justify their purchases. They also hold a tremendous amount of purchasing power as their opinions are freely and easily spread among friends and to others through the Internet. In this paper, Harris Interactive has identified 6 common mistakes advertisers and marketers have made in dealing with the Generation Y consumer segment. First, there is over reliance on qualitative information. Groups tend to judge all youths on the based on the observation of a few focus groups. It is easy, and inaccurate, for an adult to judge one kid as representative of all kids in general.
Second, many youth oriented research proceeds with poor sampling. Convenience samples, which are typically employed, can differ dramatically from properly weighted samples. This error is similar to that mentioned above with respect to over reliance on a few focus groups.
Third, marketers must communicate with youth in a language that they understand. “Dumbing down” adult language can potentially offend Generation Y or result in miscommunication, yielding detrimental results for the marketer.
Fourth, the teenage group should not be confused with the pre-teen group. Teenagers are typically perceived as “time-starved, overscheduled” consumers of all types of media, with little or no parental involvement. Although this may be somewhat true of teens, it is even less relevant to the pre-teen segment, who are still heavily involved with parents. Therefore, these groups need to be addressed separately.
Fifth, there is a tendency for marketers to concentrate on the “trendsetters” in the crowd and ignore the bulk of the segment. Research shows that there is definite segmentation in this age group, with trendsetters comprising approximately 5-15% of the teen population. Finally, marketers can fail to understand the role of the Internet with respect to Generation Y. Some marketers view the Internet as a new tool, while the youth view it as a basic tool used to address the world. Some generational truths should be adhered to, when dealing with Generation Y. First, consider adopting classic, tried and true advertising positions. Particularly with respect to youth, there are milestone life events that take place for all within a relatively short period of time, first dance, first report card. In contrast major adult milestone events can happen at varying ages in an individual’s life, marriage, birth of a child, etc. “Coolness” is not a primary factor to promote when selling to the young. This generation must obtain the support and buy-in of parents so there must be some additional credible reason for purchase, other than “coolness.” Also, youth should be treated with respect. They are aware that they are being marketed to and are already exhibit such savvy.
Be funny. This consumer segment appreciates the light side of issues.
Stay objective and do not be presumptuous with respect to this generation. They are a critical segment capable of making their own judgments. Be “cohort marketer” rather than a “youth expert.” Consider growing brands over time with the age group.
Research correctly. Base opinions and decisions based on more than a few focus groups. Explore the issue with a range of youth.