Teens have a love-hate relationship with brands. While they tend to be brand loyal, most say they are savvy enough to know that they are being marketed to, according to a new Teen + Brands study by Viacom's The N channel.
Nearly half (46%) of teens surveyed said they tend to stick with a few of the brands they really like. But, 52% felt, "Brands are created by marketers just to get more money."
The report, created in conjunction with Open Mind Research, New York, and OTX Research, Los Angeles—and based on interviews with 1,000-plus kids 13-19 online, via cell phones and in focus groups in March—revealed Generation Y to be a somewhat schizophrenic generation.
For instance, a third of those polled agreed, "If there were no brands, the world would be better." Yet 29% claim "having cool brands makes me feel cool" and that they are "obsessed with brand names."
It's a complex equation for marketers, said Rahda Subramanyam, vp of research and planning for MTV Networks kids and family group. "This generation is highly aware not just of brands but marketing strategies. Overt marketing techniques are not going to work."
Of the 47 brands tested, Apple's hugely successful iPod digital music player emerged as the brand that is "absolutely essential to teens."
"They respond to brands that reflect their lifestyle and offer innovation, creativity and a high degree of style," said Irma Zandl, principal of The Zandl Group, New York.
Teens consider brands like the iPod to be not only their favorite but also as defining their generation.
Other such trademarks include American Eagle Outfitters, Axe, Baby Phat, Facebook, Google, Hollister Co., MTV, MySpace, Vans and YouTube.
Soft drinks and fast food marketers have done a better job targeting teen boys. Half said the brand of soda matters, with Coca-Cola the most popular; 47% of the boys said fast food brands matter, compared to 41% and 39% of girls, respectively.
"Coca-Cola has a timelessness and we are committed to making it the brand that is the real thing: refreshing, energizing and the best taste in the world," said Katie Bayne, CMO at Coca-Cola North America, Atlanta. "Those simple things are important and true and all work for teens."
Regardless of sex, those who expressed the most intense loyalty were often the same people who would quickly leave one brand for another. Nineteen percent will swap brands due to boredom. One in four will switch if a brand becomes too popular.
"It's typical," said Anastasia Goodstein, founder of teen marketing site Ypulse.com, San Francisco. "Teens are going through a stage in their life where they are figuring out who they are. As they change their own identities multiple times, the brands adjust along with that. They can be completely in an Abercrombie phase and they switch to another group of friends, get into Emo music and are shopping at Hot Topic instead."
TV (per 32% of respondents) and magazine advertising (28%) still proved to be the most influential forms of media. "There is still more trust in a TV commercial or in an edited magazine versus a pop-up ad or the messages you get on MySpace from fake spammy friends," said Goodstein.
Brand names are most important when it comes to computers (64%), shoes (56%), MP3 players (55%), cell phone service (54%) and clothes (53%).
Despite being wired 24/7 with mobile devices and online communities, they feel the word "chill" best describes them (according to 40% of those surveyed). Music most defines them, according to 44% of teens, followed by family (39%) and moral values (38%).
Marketers need to understand today's new teen dynamic, said Subramanyam. For example, "The millennials’ relationship with the parent is completely different. There is no angst. [Parents] can be a best friend."
Brands are so concerned about focusing on influential teens, she said, meanwhile "parents can be the biggest influencer, especially when it comes to big-ticket items."
Kenneth Hein, Brandweek. June 18, 2007
Copyright © 2007 Nielsen Business Media, Inc.. All rights reserved.