In some cultures, an adolescent boy is sent off into the jungle
to do combat with lions or tigers or bears (oh my!). Upon
his (hopefully) triumphant return with carcass trophy in hand,
he is awarded the status of manhood and all the perks that
come with it. In our society, that man-child returns home
with his driver's license. Let the games begin.
We accept without hesitation that there will
be a period when boys make the transition to men and girls
flower into womanhood. Adolescence is a time fraught with
both magic and insecurity as kids find their way and figure
out just who they are and who they are supposed to be. Typically
we send them away for four years to let them answer these
questions while exploring the wonders of fraternity initiations
and spring break excursions.
Puberty has been with us for a long time, but
the concept of being a teenager actually is a fairly new idea.
Most cultures throughout history did not build in this transition
period. Young people were expected to shoulder the responsibilities
of their parents early on (remember that Shakespeare's Juliet
was all of thirteen when she tried to hook up with Romeo).
The teen years are a cultural construction we have created
to form a safe harbor for adolescents, a buffer zone to cushion
the rude awakening of maturity.
Our thinking on this subject started to change
in the last century as a youth culture started to coalesce.
The magazine Seventeen, born in 1944, was built on the revelation
that young women didn't want to look just like a junior version
of Mom. Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers became the first pop
group to identify themselves with this new subculture. The
stage was set for teens to rule the world.
And rule it they do. So-called Generation Y
kids (children born between 1977 and 1995) number seventy
million and make up 21 percent of the population. The percentage
of Generation Yers in the total population is expected to
increase at twice the rate of the population until 2010, and
by 2020 this percentage will have reached 32 percent. Generation
Y is an ethnically diverse generation. While minorities make
up 24 percent of baby boomers, they form 34 percent of Generation
Unlike their cynical Gen X predecessors, Gen
Yers tend to be more upbeat about their lives and their prospects.
According to a survey by U.S. News and World Report, alcohol
consumption among high school seniors dropped from 72 percent
in 1980 to 52 percent in 1998. Drug usage, pregnancy, and
homicide rates among teens also are declining. There is a
bit of a renaissance of family and religious values, and sociologists
are predicting a surge in younger marriages and bigger families
as these kids come into their own in a few years. Although
some grownups who have seen one too many tongue piercings
would argue we are on the brink of the apocalypse, these trends
imply that we are actually raising a generation that looks
like more like Eisenhower Republicans who have swapped their
cloth coats for Abercrombie & Fitch lo-rise jeans. Kids
(as always) are hard to figure out, but marketers who try
can be amply rewarded. The future of consumerspace lies in
the hands of its young pioneers.
Once known for discouraging kids from hanging
out in its aisles, 7-Eleven is targeting teens in a big way.
The chain is adding eighty new products and
limited-time exclusives on teen favorites such as Gatorade
and Mountain Dew (a Mountain Dew Code Red Slurpee is in the
works). It already struck gold with such youth faves as Pokemon
cards, scooters, and prepaid cellular phones.
The chain figured out that, whether they're
buying skateboards or junk food, teens are an economic force
to be reckoned with. Collectively, American teens spent $172
billion in 2001-that's a lot of Slurpees. According to Teenage
Research Unlimited, the average teen spends $84 per week,
of which $57 is money he or she actually earns. Learning from
their parents, many young residents of consumerspace have
figured out they don't even need to have cash on hand: 42
percent of teens aged 18 and 19 already have a credit card
in their own name. Another 11 percent say they have access
to a parent's credit card. Debit cards like Splash Plastic
and Smartcreds further encourage teen spending. A market research
firm specializing in this segment has gone so far as to label
teens Skippies-school kids with income and purchasing power.
A lot of this money goes toward "feel-good"
products like cosmetics, posters, and fast food, with the
occasional nose ring thrown in as well. That's not the whole
story, however. Marketers need to understand that teens may
also be participating in more far-reaching purchase decisions,
especially as fewer live in traditional families with parents
who have ample time to do the grocery shopping. One survey
of sixteen- to seventeen-year-old girls found that over a
three-month period a significant proportion of them purchased
staple items such as cereal, frozen meals, cheese, yogurt,
and salad dressing. Marketers are beginning to respond to
these changes. The number of pages devoted to food advertising
in Seventeen magazine increased by 31 percent in one year.
Gen Y kids appear to be materialistic, but they're
hardly an easy sell. They are very savvy about marketing strategies
and are quite aware that advertisers are doing whatever they
can to get them into their franchise. Pandering messages are
a major turnoff. Advertisers need to tread carefully in cynical
waters. Marketers of entrenched brands like Nike, Pepsi, and
Levi Strauss are tearing their hair out over Gen Y consumers.
Image-building campaigns (e.g., Michael Jordan endorsing Nike)
are not as effective as they once were-kids have figured out
that someone's paying these guys to endorse this stuff.
Still, because kids are so interested in many
different products and have the resources to obtain them,
the teen market remains an attractive target. Toyota, for
example, created a special marketing unit called Genesis Group
just to reach young adults. Genesis launched its first campaign
to support Toyota's new crop of youth-oriented models like
Marketers view teens as "consumers-in-training"
because brand loyalty often develops during adolescence. A
teenager who is committed to a brand may continue to purchase
it for many years to come. Such loyalty creates a barrier-to-entry
for brands that were not chosen during these pivotal years.
For this reason advertisers sometimes try to "lock in"
adolescent consumers so that in the future they will buy their
brands more or less automatically. As one teen magazine ad
director observed, "We . . . always say it's easier to
start a habit than stop it."
|THE BOTTOM LINE
Teens are alluring targets for "feel-good products,"
but marketers in mainstream categories also may find it
advantageous to cultivate brand loyalty at an early age.
In addition to discretionary items, many teens participate
in grocery shopping and household maintenance. They form
bonds with products that will serve as barriers-to-entry
for rivals who seek their business later in life.
Reaching Kids Where They
Live (and Learn)
The raw materials for a branded reality emanate
from many sources. Marketing propaganda bombards young people
virtually everywhere they turn-including school. Indeed, one
of the most controversial interfaces between marketers and
consumers occurs when companies wrap advertising in the guise
of "educational materials." In some schools third
graders practice math by counting Tootsie Rolls. Others use
reading software sporting the logos of Kmart, Coke, Pepsi,
and Cap'n Crunch cereal. Many firms including Nike, Hershey,
Crayola, Nintendo, and Foot Locker provide free book covers
that happen to be swathed in ads. Almost 40 percent of secondary
schools in the United States start the day with a video feed
from Channel One, which exposes students to commercials in
the classroom in exchange for educational programming. Education
is turning into "aducation."
Youth Is Wasted on the
To paraphrase Dickens, adolescence truly is
both the best of times and the worst of times. Many exciting
changes happen as individuals leave the role of child and
prepare to assume the role of adult. These changes create
a lot of uncertainty about the self, awakening the contradicatory
needs to belong to a secure group while at the same time discovering
one's unique identity. Choices of activities, friends, and
clothes often are crucial to social acceptance. Teens actively
search for cues from their peers and from advertising for
the "right" way to look and behave. That's why advertising
geared to teens typically is action-oriented and depicts a
group of cool teens using the product.
Adolescents have a number of psychological needs,
including experimentation, belonging, independence, responsibility,
and approval from others. Product usage is a significant medium
to express these needs. While it may be news to us, today's
kids largely accept the fact that they are what they buy.
Brands like Nike or retailers like Hot Topic are enthusiastically
adopted by teens to express their developing identities. According
to a study by Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU), teens describe
their generation as motivated primarily by entertainment and
social activity. When asked to choose a statement that characterizes
their peer group, the number-one answer chosen by 50 percent
of respondents was "we're about fun." Not bad work
if you can get it.
It turns out having fun can be hard work. As
the vice president of TRU explained, "Today's teens enjoy
an enormous amount of freedom, both personally and financially.
However, they also know that their world is changing quickly
and that greater responsibility is just around the corner.
Consequently, many young people admit they feel pressure to
squeeze as much fun into their teen years as possible."
This need to multitask may explain why teens' second-place
choice in TRU's survey was the statement "high-tech is
such a (huge) part of our lives." Many teens use technology
like cell phones and pagers to help them organize social calendars
that make their parents' schedules look downright tranquil.
According to research by the Saatchi & Saatchi
advertising agency, there are four themes of conflict common
to all teens:
1. Autonomy Versus Belonging: Teens need
to acquire independence so they try to break away from their
families. On the other hand, they need to attach themselves
to a support structure, such as peers, to avoid feeling alone.
2. Rebellion Versus Conformity: Teens
need to rebel against social standards of appearance and behavior,
yet they still need to fit in and be accepted by others. Cult
products that cultivate a rebellious image are prized for
this reason. Hot Topic caters to this need by selling such
"in your face" items as nipple rings, tongue barbells,
and purple hair dye.
3. Idealism Versus Pragmatism: Teens
tend to view adults as hypocrites, whereas they see themselves
as being sincere. They have to struggle to reconcile their
view of how the world should be with the realities they perceive
4. Narcissism Versus Intimacy: Teens
are often obsessed with their own appearance and needs. On
the other hand, they also feel the desire to connect with
others on a meaningful level.
Global Youth Culture:
It's a Small World After All
Walk down a street in Amsterdam, Buenos Aires,
or Hong Kong and it's easy to have a feeling of déjà
vu. The kids look surprisingly familiar: Nike shoes, Levi's
jeans, Chicago Bulls T-shirts wherever you look. Indeed, the
National Basketball Association is fast becoming the first
truly global sports league. About $500 million of licensed
merchandise is sold outside of the United States in a typical
year. U.S. firms like Nike and Levi Strauss find it easy to
go global because of the special appeal American products
have around the world. They benefit from their strong association
with innovation, rebellion, and a casual lifestyle fueled
by youth idols from Elvis Presley to Kurt Cobain.
Multinational marketers know that their best
chances to succeed in foreign markets lie in identifying consumer
segments that share a common worldview. Other than affluent
business travelers, the best candidates are young people whose
tastes in music and fashion are strongly influenced by MTV
and other media that broadcast many of the same images to
multiple countries. Viewers of MTV Europe in Rome or Zurich
can check out the same "buzz clips" as their counterparts
in London or Luxembourg.
We are witnessing the rise of a global youth
culture, fueled by the Internet and communications networks
like MTV, that transcends national borders. Even rave parties
are going global. Companies with names like BringItOn! Travel
(motto: "On the beach 'til 7 P.M. In the clubs 'til 9
A.M.) and Hiptrips.com specialize in "Adventure Travel
Party Scene" packages that unite ravers from many countries
in the common pursuit of ecstasy.
It seems that kids are the same everywhere.
The New World Teen Study surveyed over 27,000 teenagers in
forty-four countries and identified six values segments that
characterize young people from Cairo to Caracas. The results
of this massive segmentation exercise have been used by companies
like Coca-Cola and Royal Phillips Electronics to develop ads
that appeal to youth around the world.
|THE BOTTOM LINE
Young consumers are not a monolithic market segment any
more than their older Gen X counterparts were. Some subgroups
hold highly traditional values and are achievement-oriented.
Only a minority conform to the extreme sports and body-piercing
stereotype. Marketing strategies targeted to youth must
recognize this diversity and develop a portfolio of brand
personalities that align with the unique profiles of different
Marketing: The New Esperanto
Hip-hop dancing is all the rage among China's
youth, who refer to the style as jiew, or street dancing.
The emulation of a musical genre that originated on the other
side of the world underscores the popularity of American culture
in China, despite the two nations' rocky political ties and
the misgivings many Chinese feel toward U.S. military power.
If plugged-in kids around the world belong to
the same club, its secret password is musical. MTV provides
the codebook that lets young pioneers speak to one another.
Our research that compared MTV videos in the United States
and Europe found many similarities in content (though the
American releases tended to contain more overt references
to drugs and weapons). These videos are about much more than
entertainment. They provide a window into different music-oriented
youth subcultures, each with its own "code" that
includes acceptable clothing styles, cars, body ideals, and
As kids open these windows, they crack the code
by absorbing reams of information about how to consume. When
we showed videos from a range of musical genres (e.g., rock,
alternative, hip-hop) to kids with the sound turned off, they
still were able to tell us with great accuracy what messages
the videos were transmitting. These clips literally serve
as "training videos" in that they teach kids how
to belong to a certain subculture. That helps to explain the
co-optation of the music video grammar by companies hoping
to embed their brands into the lesson. The deliberate usage
of "MTV-style" editing by companies like Nike makes
it more likely that kids will absorb the message because the
commercial is more like a real music video than a conventional
ad. Similar strategies are employed by advertising organizations
such as College Television Network (now owned by MTV Networks)
that beam hip messages directly to college dorm rooms and
Music is one of several types of "social
glue" that hold kids together. They form allegiances
based upon taste cultures as a way to bolster still-tentative
self-concepts and to clearly mark group boundaries. The need
for acceptance remains as acute as for previous generations.
In a survey of 2,000 teens conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited,
only 11 percent of respondents view themselves as "popular."
In the old days, we called them cliques-groups
of kids who had similar interests and who often made membership
desirable because they mostly focused on keeping others out
of the inner circle. Today, organized youth gangs are more
powerful; they dominate many urban high schools, and their
reach is steadily expanding beyond their origins in New York,
Chicago, and Los Angeles. Young people around the country
proclaim their allegiance to a gang, often by the display
of its colors (red for Bloods, blue for Crips). This boundary
marking is so pervasive that recently Michelin came under
fire in California for its new "Scorcher" tires
that feature yellow, red, or blue treads. A San Francisco
supervisor says, "These colored tires may appeal to gangs
who will use red and blue skid marks to mark their turf and
insult rival gangs."
Now some analysts find it useful to think in
terms of even larger cliques or youth tribes that unite kids
by means of shared interests or values rather than geographic
proximity or a shared interest in criminal activity. Although
these tribes are often unstable and short-lived, at least
for a time members identify with others through shared emotions,
moral beliefs, styles of life, and, of course, the products
they jointly consume as part of their tribal affiliation.
In France, a tribe of in-line roller skaters
holds gatherings of as many as 15,000 young people who congregate
to affirm their shared interest. There are specialized Web
sites for members of the skating tribe to meet for chatting
and to exchange information about the latest skate models
and looks. Within this tribe there are subdivisions such as
fitness skaters versus stunt skaters, but all members share
a connection to the overarching activity.
The challenge of tribal marketing is to link
one's product to the needs of a group as a whole. In-line
skating, for example, provides manufacturers with an opportunity
to strengthen the tribal bond by selling ritual artifacts
(as described in Chapter 1) such as shoes, key chains, belts
and hats, backpacks, and T-shirts to members. Although many
brands of skates are available, including K2, Razors, Oxygen,
Tecnica, and Nike, the original Rollerblade product retains
cult status within the tribe. Companies like Tatoo, the pager
arm of France Telecom, build upon tribal bonds by sponsoring
skating events as well as hosting a Web site dedicated to
the activity. Some companies like Pawn, Senate, and USD have
targeted just a section of the tribe known as stunt skaters
that have their own special dress codes and rituals.
In the United States, a similar tribe is built
around skateboarding. California-based shoe manufacturer Vans
is most closely identified with this movement, and the company
aggressively seeks opportunities to cement this linkage. Instead
of relying on mass-media advertising, Vans sponsors activities,
produces documentary films, and even builds skateboard parks
to celebrate the outlaw nature of the sport-and in the process
promote its specialized shoes.
The New World Teen Study described earlier reminds
us that while most adolescents are actively seeking an identity,
the way they go about this is not necessarily the same. Many
group identities gel around some form of symbolism, whether
music (followers of neo-Grateful Dead groups like Phish),
clothing (think "Valley Girls"), or sports. For
example, the Bad Blue Boys (BBB) is a tribe of young male
Australian soccer fans from the western suburbs of Sydney
who (to put it kindly) exhibit aggressive and homophobic tendencies.
Their nationalistic identity is supported and driven by their
obsession with soccer.
Closer to home, an American sneaker company
called And 1 appeals to members of a basketball tribe that
sets admission standards based on the ability to blow by a
defender on the court. The company carefully cultivates a
trash-talking, street image (distributing shirts with slogans
like "I'm sorry. I thought you could play"), and
it recruits street players to match its renegade brand image.
This group, known as the Entertainers Tour, puts on shows
of hoops and music at playgrounds and appears in And 1's TV
advertising. Footage from the events was blended with some
unreleased rap music to produce a videotape that was handed
out at playgrounds, parks, and clubs by street teams to spread
the word about this upstart company.
Made in Japan
The tribal phenomenon is most pronounced in
Japan, where teenagers invent, adopt, and discard fads with
lightning speed. Teen rebellion is a new phenomenon in Japan,
a country known for rigid conformity and constant pressure
to achieve. Now more and more teenagers seem to be making
up for lost time. The dropout rate among students in junior
and senior high school increased by 20 percent in a two-year
period. More than 50 percent of girls have had intercourse
by their senior year of high school.
Teenage girls in Japan exhibit what science
fiction writer William Gibson calls "techno-cultural
suppleness"-a willingness to grab something new and use
it for their own ends-matched by no other group on earth.
According to one estimate, cell phones sit in the purses and
pockets of about 95 percent of all Japanese teenage girls.
Unlike American phones, these devices are connected constantly
to the Internet and plug these girls into a massive network.
Index, a Tokyo software start-up company, offers a Net-phone
service called God of Love. For about $1.40 per month, users
can tap the birth date of a potential mate into their phones
and receive a computerized prediction of the relationship's
Japanese youth are very style-conscious, and
at any time there are prominent tribes, each with very well
defined looks and rules. A popular tribe for Japanese girls
a few years ago was called the "Gals," easily recognized
by their bleached yellow hair, salon-tanned skin, chalk-white
lipstick, and seven-inch platform heels. Other groups included
the Sports Clique (low-heeled Air Mocs and Gap clothing) and
the Back-Harajuku Group (baggy sweatshirts, colorful jeans,
sneakers, and long scarves).
To try to win the loyalty of young consumers
in Japan, a group of big companies including Toyota, Matsushita,
and Asahi Breweries formed a marketing alliance. They are
introducing a range of products, from beer to refrigerators,
all with the same brand name of Will (yes, Will). About thirty
Will products are now on sale in Japan. Asahi Breweries' Will
Smooth Beer nearly tripled its sales targets in the three
months after launch. Matsushita's Will laptop was a disappointment,
but its retro refrigerator offering did so well the company
added a mini Will fridge and vacuum cleaner. The jury is still
out on this ambitious project; critics are not sure the plan
"Will" work because some of the companies are handicapped
by traditional images that don't play well with their young
Whether it does or not, this effort highlights
the potential payoffs of using a constellation approach (as
described in Chapter 2) to create a "lifestyle package"
targeted to a specific lifestyle segment or tribe. Indeed,
in the United States some major corporations are figuring
out the value of teaming with very dissimilar players to develop
youth-based products. For example, Nike and Polaroid have
formed a partnership that lets teens personalize their sneakers
by inserting pictures they take with the I-Zone camera directly
into the shoes. Toyota is teaming with fashionable surf wear
maker Roxy to create a surf-friendly version of its Echo sedan
for the young female market, complete with water-resistant,
neoprene-covered seats, a Yakima roof rack, and wet-gear storage
bins. If this lifestyle strategy works, Toyota plans to roll
out a male-oriented sport wagon or pickup linked to the trendy
|THE BOTTOM LINE
Marketers can connect with Gen Y consumers by teaming
up with other companies to offer a lifestyle package of
products specially designed to cater to young lifestyles.
The constellation branding approach will work especially
well with this age cohort, which is accustomed to thinking
about products in terms of groupings linked to a youth
Connecting in Consumerspace
Some futurists believe that we'll soon reach
a point where each of us is wired and online all of the time.
We'll be issued a username and password at birth, and a computer
device will be implanted in our bodies to keep us connected
to the Web. That hasn't quite happened yet (though a primitive
form of this technology already is being used to track wayward
pets). But consider the service now offered by a Swiss company
called Skim: Each user is issued a six-digit number that he
or she wears on jackets and backpacks sold by the company.
When you see someone on the street or in a club you'd like
to get to know better, you go to skim.com, type in the person's
number, and send him or her a message. Talk about wearing
your heart on your sleeve. . . .
If our future is a wired one, the young pioneers
of consumerspace are definitely at the vanguard. Adolescence
is a time to reach out to others-but tentatively. A thriving
Internet subculture has developed among many teens to serve
this purpose. The Net is the preferred method of communication
for many young people because its anonymity makes it easier
to talk to people of the opposite sex or of different ethnic
and racial groups.
For teens, consumerspace is very much a virtual
place. According to Teenage Research Unlimited, more than
80 percent of teenagers have Internet access, whether at home,
school, work, a friend's home, or the library. In ancient
times (i.e., before the Internet), kids would be parked in
front of the TV all day watching Gilligan's Island reruns.
Today, they're much more likely to be banging away at a computer
keyboard, instant messaging to buddies around the world. Young
people are among the most enthusiastic Web surfers. For many,
this activity has replaced the old-fashioned fun of watching
the tube or hanging out at the mall.
This virtual space will continue to grow because
the younger members of Generation Y are more tech savvy than
any kids in history. A July 1999 survey by ISP Global Internet
found two-thirds of children under the age of eleven first
used a computer before they were five years old, while less
than a quarter of those over eleven did so. Jupiter Media
Metrix estimates that there will be 26.9 million active Web
surfers under the age of twelve by 2005.
According to one market research firm, 62 percent
of teenagers log on from home for at least four hours a week.
They spend most of their online time doing research, sending
and reading e-mail, playing games, or checking out things
to buy. Teens are expected to spend $1.2 billion online at
hip sites like Alloy.com and Bolt.com. To counteract parents'
concerns about security issues, some start-ups such as icanbuy,
Rocketcash, and Doughnet are creating "digital wallets"
that let Mom and Dad set up an account and limit the sites
at which money can be spent.
A study of almost 4,000 young respondents conducted
by Harris Interactive found that e-commerce spending among
online teens and young adults currently constitutes 13 percent
of their total spending--a figure that is more than four times
the rate of e-commerce spending among all adults. What are
teens buying? Of teens who make purchases online, 57 percent
have bought CDs/cassettes, 38 percent have bought concert
or sports tickets, 34 percent bought books and magazines,
32 percent ordered clothing, and 9 percent ordered cell phones
or pagers. As these sites get more sophisticated, they need
to keep in mind that kids value their surfing time as a social
experience in addition to its shopping value. Dot-com companies
need to work on building in some fun and adventure to lure
kids away from the mall. As one thirteen-year-old shopper
put it, "The Net kinds of takes away the whole experience-the
hunt, the get, and the buy. Web shopping is just too perfect!
You type in `gray cords' and there they are. It's not fun.
The fun is in the hunt."
Fantasies in Consumerspace
That comment is a reminder that kids are doing
more than shopping online. They also are avid participants
in virtual gaming sites as well as online communities forged
around themes or characters (more on this in Chapter 6). On
any given night, up to 50,000 people can be found roaming
around a fantasyland in cyberspace called EverQuest. This
is a "massively multiplayer game" that combines
the stunning graphics of advanced gaming with the social scene
of a chat room. And teens commune with each other about shared
fantasies by establishing virtual communities devoted to fantasy
characters. For example, anime sites like those devoted to
Sailor Moon attract teens from around the world. Here are
a few to check out:
The Web also provides a forum for experimentation
that appeals to teens grappling with identity issues. Researchers
report that teens value privacy when surfing the Web because
they view it as a way to express their individuality-that's
why it's common for them to have multiple e-mail accounts,
each with a different "personality." Indeed, many
teens are using the Web to experiment with different identities.
More than half have more than one screen name or e-mail address.
Nearly a quarter of this multimonikered group keep at least
one name secret so they can go online without being recognized
by friends. And, 24 percent of teens who use e-mail, instant
messaging (IM), or chat rooms pretend to be someone else.
Instant Messaging, Instant
To promote its Kit Kat candy bar to youth in
the United Kingdom, Nestlé sent text messages to the
cell phones of 6,000 consumers aged 18 to 25. These alerted
them when ads for the candy would air and invited them to
take a quiz about the ad that would in turn enter them into
a drawing to win a month's supply of Kit Kats (about 94 percent
of British youth have cell phones with wireless messaging
capability). This technique, known as short-messaging system
marketing (SMS), is becoming a popular way to reach customers
in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe.
New technologies provide exciting ways to communicate
with kids in consumerspace, who are entering consumerspace
via their phones as well as their computers. Young consumers
view a cell phone as a necessity, not a luxury. It's their
primary means of staying connected with others. But a cell
phone is not just a means of communication. It is an accessory,
a fashion statement, an instant messenger, a toy, a social
prop. It is a symbol of independence second only to the car,
many teenagers say, and an extension of their personality.
Phone manufacturers are scrambling to provide
what kids want. The companies have their sights set on young
people for good reason: Since only 38 percent of American
teenagers have cell phones, the market has plenty of room
for growth. Some firms are retooling existing phone models,
adding features like an FM radio or even access to AOL Instant
Messenger. Others, like Wildseed, are designing fashionable
phones for teenagers from the ground up. Its models have "smart
skins"-replaceable taco shell-shaped faceplates with
computer chips that allow teenagers to change functions as
well as the phone's appearance. There are graffiti-splattered
faceplates for skateboarders, for example, that come with
edgy urban ringer tones and gritty icons. Similarly, market
leader Nokia has a line of what it calls "expression"
phones, which have spawned secondary products like customized
faceplates, add-on lights, and downloadable ringer tones.
The cell phone is a key access point that enables
kids around the world to tune in to marketing messages. This
medium's potential trajectory is huge as wireless penetration
steadily increases. Consider a novel marketing campaign to
promote a musical group that doesn't really exist, conducted
in spring of 2002 by EMI Group PLC in Singapore. The music
company gave fans of Gorillaz, a popular rock group consisting
of four cartoon characters, the opportunity to exchange text
messages over their mobile phones with the band member of
their choice. Each member has a distinctive look and personality,
and after a favorite character was selected, its cartoon face
was sent to the recipient's mobile phone. Kids who shared
the mobile numbers of their friends won stickers, posters,
and a free CD-ROM.
These phone numbers are, of course, a potential
gold mine for EMI, as they'll allow the company to communicate
with music fans at will. EMI chose Gorillaz because its fan
base is young, hip, and devoted. As the company's managing
director observed, "For a very cool band like Gorillaz,
the last thing you want to do is go mainstream." That
explains why the text messages used in the promotion were
distinctly anticorporate: A typical one read, "Greedy
record company wants me 2 tell U 2 buy Gorillaz album. Record
people suck. Buy or don't buy, up to you."
EMI's foray into cell phone marketing makes
sense because its young market is at the leading edge of M-commerce,
promotional messages transmitted over mobile phones and other
mobile devices such as personal digital assistants (PDAs).
Right now, M-commerce is far more prevalent in Europe and
Asia-the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company estimates
one million text messages are sent every day in that country
alone. The United States has the second-largest installed
base of cell phone users (130 million; China has 148 million),
but only 46 percent of the U.S. population had cell phones
in 2001, compared with 82.5 percent in the United Kingdom
and 75.3 percent for all of Europe according to the Yankee
Group. They estimate mobile phone penetration by 2006 to be
66.9 percent in the United States, 91.6 percent in the United
Kingdom, and 76.1 percent in Japan.
|THE BOTTOM LINE
Young consumers are more technology-savvy than any previous
generation. They network electronically as a way to affirm
their connections with other kids and with the companies
they value. American kids increasingly will learn about
relevant products via such formats as mobile messaging,
already a potent communications medium in Europe and Asia.
Slowly but surely, M-commerce is making its
way to the United States. Even the MTV Music Video Awards
now include a wireless advertising campaign to promote the
event. Millions of consumers who use such networks as AT&T
Wireless and Sprint will get messages urging them to tune
in. Accelerating usage will open the door for M-commerce advertising
campaigns like those now being conducted in other countries.
One study predicts that despite the slow start, about 90 million
Americans will be participating in M-commerce by 2007, generating
more than $50 billion in revenues. Wireless connections to
consumerspace will be a prerequisite to being cool, to which
our attention now turns.
In Pursuit of Cool
Attaining the status of cool is the holy grail
when marketing to youth. It's an elusive concept that has
defined cultural icons from James Dean to Puff Daddy. It seems
so easy: Create a cool product and kids will flock to your
brand in droves. But there's a nasty paradox afoot: If you
have to work at being cool, by definition you're not. Kids
have super-sensitive BS detectors that go off at the slightest
sign someone is just trying too hard.
Coolness can be thought of as a set of shared
meanings (language, values, self-presentation, etc.) within
a peer group that signal affiliation with a desirable lifestyle
or clique. The desire to be cool seems to be fairly universal,
though obviously the path to coolness varies across people
and time. As we've seen, certain types of dress, musical tastes,
etc., are used as props to support an uncertain self and provide
validation. The emulation of admired groups, what youth scholar
Marcel Danesi calls signifying osmosis, makes it more likely
that a sycophant will be admitted into the exclusive club.
By adopting group-endorsed behaviors and lifestyles, kids
signify an affiliation that anchors individual identity to
a larger community.
Some colleagues and I asked young people in the United States
and the Netherlands to write essays about what is "cool"
and "uncool." We found that being cool has several
meanings, though there are a lot of similarities between the
two cultures when kids use this term. Some of the common dimensions
include having charisma, being in control, and being a bit
aloof. And many of the respondents agreed that being cool
is a moving target: The harder you try to be cool, the more
uncool you are. Some of their actual responses are listed
- "Cool means being relaxed, to nonchalantly be the
boss of every situation, and to radiate that." (Dutch
- "Cool is the perception from others that you've got
`something' which is macho, trendy, hip, etc." (Dutch
- "Cool has something stand-offish, and at the same
time, attractive." (Dutch male)
"Being different, but not too different. Doing your
own thing, and standing out, without looking desperate while
you're doing it." (American male)
- "When you are sitting on a terrace in summer, you
see those machos walk by, you know, with their mobile [phones]
and their sunglasses. I always think, `Oh please, come back
to earth!' These guys only want to impress. That is just
so uncool." (Dutch female)
- "When a person thinks he is cool, he is absolutely
uncool." (Dutch female)
- "To be cool we have to make sure we measure up to
it. We have to create an identity for ourselves that mirrors
what we see in magazines, on TV, and with what we hear on
our stereos." (American male)
Chewing the Phat: Cool Hunters and the Teen
Attaining coolness is a matter of survival in the jungle
of social acceptance. Kids have a lot to gain by staying on
top of what's cool and a lot to lose by getting lost in this
jungle. They stay tuned to what's "phat" and what's
not by watching MTV and carefully observing the trendsetters
who seem to have it figured out (much as their parents faithfully
tuned in to American Bandstand or Soul Train). Some even surf
to virtual nightclubs to spy on the partyers whom the bouncer
let in at such sites as thewomb.com and digitalclubnetwork.com.
It's hard enough for kids to navigate this jungle. Think
about the marketer who has the bad fortune to be over thirty!
That's why many firms are aggressively ramping up their efforts
to connect with kids on their own terms and collect marketing
intelligence on the streets and in cyberspace. Staying on
top of emerging ways to be cool is big, big business:
- Mountain Dew executives try to connect with cool kids
one person at a time by handing out beverage samples at
surfing, skateboard, and snowboard tournaments. A top marketing
executive explains, "There's a Pavlovian connection
between the brand and the exhilarating experience."
By this logic, "Doing the Dew" isn't a rush just
because of the caffeine and sugar. It comes to be associated
with the hip places where the soft drink is consumed.
- Just before Arista Records released a new CD from Babyface,
the company flashed 10,000 e-mails to kids on fan lists.
The e-mail gave them a chance to buy the album before it
hit stores, and recipients were encouraged to join the "Arista
Army" and also to send the message to others. The strategy
worked: 62 percent of the e-mails were passed along to others
and the "Army" quickly grew from 600 Gen Yers
to a brigade of more than 20,000.
Still other youth-oriented companies tap into cool icons,
particularly celebrities with an urban, street-smart image
like tennis star Venus Williams or rapper Ja Rule. The Wall
Street Journal reported in August 2001 that Reebok's sales
of basketball and tennis shoes increased by more than 50 percent
by tapping youth-oriented celebrities to tout its products.
Tracking a Moving Target
Research firms are coming up with innovative ways to tap
the desires of teens, many of whom don't respond well to traditional
survey techniques. Sometimes respondents are given a video
camera and are asked to record a "typical" day at
school-along with play-by-play commentary to help interpret
what's going on. Greenfield Consulting Group uses what it
calls the "teen-as-creative-director" technique.
The firm gives teens camcorders and asks them to complete
a two-part creative assignment that will be judged by their
peers. A typical task is to create a video collage of the
"coolest/hippest/whateverest" things they can find
and write a song/poem/story that describes what "cool/hip"
is all about. After the teens complete their assignments,
they present their work to each other at a focus group facility,
judge the work collectively, and award prizes of $250 each
to the creators of the best video and song/poem/story.
One company sends researchers to spend the night with respondents
so they can observe them up close and personal. During the
evening they talk about important stuff like their skin-care
routines but then in the morning the interviewer watches to
see what teens actually do in the bathroom while primping
before school. When the Leo Burnett advertising agency was
revamping Heinz ketchup's image to make it cool, the account
research team took teens to dinner to see how they actually
used the condiment. These meals opened their eyes; new ads
focus on teens' need for control by showing ketchup smothering
fries "until they can't breathe" and touting new
uses for ketchup on pizza, grilled cheese, and potato chips.
Cool Hunters: Now Lukewarm?
The quest for cool has also spawned a cottage industry of
cool hunters who scour the streets to report on emerging trends.
Some of these amateur anthropologists rely upon a network
of "correspondents" who periodically report back
from the field. They are a bit like cool Tupperware Ladies
(or is that an oxymoron?) who rely upon personal contacts
and intuition to spot opportunities. Correspondents typically
supply headquarters with videotaped interviews of cutting-edge
kids spouting off on topics from spirituality to blue jeans,
then these random bits of data are used to craft a cultural
scouting report that is sold to clients like Nike and Coca-Cola.
This methodology was itself a fashion statement for several
years within the marketing research community, a fad that
had sex appeal if not staying power. The bloom is largely
off the rose now because in hindsight the track records are
disappointing. Relatively few new product successes have emerged
from cool hunters. There are several possible reasons for
this lackluster performance:
- By definition the real trendsetters don't like to be tracked
or emulated and may be reluctant to share their insights
with the masses.
- A quarterly report on emerging fads was not compiled quickly
enough to really keep up with a fickle market.
- The insights largely were journalistic rather than scientific,
relying upon the skill of the cool hunter to assimilate
idiosyncratic feedback from multiple sources.
The principle behind cool hunting is still solid: Locate
market leaders and create a conduit to share their opinions
with product developers. However, more systematic, ongoing,
and rigorous approaches are needed. Most likely these will
be in the form of online research applications that allow
a large network of respondents to provide visual feedback
in real time. These interfaces can either be created specifically
to track young people's product preferences, or, alternatively,
analysts can mine existing Web sites where kids vent about
products to track the ebb and flow of the ocean of style.
Bolt knows what teens want-and why shouldn't it? About 95
percent of the site's content is written by teens themselves.
The youth Web site is striving to maintain its lead as the
place to reach Net-surfing teens between fifteen and eighteen
years of age. With over 700,000 registered users, the majority
clocking in at least once a week, Bolt has proved to offer
the kind of personalized portal attractive to teens and those
making the transition to collegiate surfer.
Bolt's real attraction is the teen-created content. Concrete
Media, Bolt's parent company, while responsible for editorial
decisions and page design, has a hands-off policy that allows
the teen community to police what appears on the site. Teens
are free to comment on opinion polls and news events, and
even to submit entries unacceptable to their school newspaper
editors. Subjects range from the latest music video to wrestling
to concern over AIDS.
Trying to connect with kids is not exactly a new idea. After
all, many local department stores have sponsored teen panels
for years. What has changed is the ability to reach out to
young consumers in electronic formats. Pizza Hut, for example,
conducts roundtable discussions though e-mail with teens to
make sure it is satisfying their tastes. Just to be sure,
Pizza Hut sometimes invites some of them back to its own boardroom
to have lunch with company executives.
More recently, an 800-pound gorilla named Procter & Gamble
developed its own teen community Web sites, tremor.com and
toejam.com, to help identify young opinion leaders. The Tremor
site is for market research and for recruiting teens and pre-teens
for word of mouth campaigns. Tremor last year ran a pilot
program with AOL Time Warner's WB network where teen panelists
reviewed a script for Dawson's Creek before the show aired.
Toejam (unpleasant connotations aside, this is an acronym
for "teens openly expressing just about me") lets
members preview new products and critique ads before they
are widely distributed.
|THE BOTTOM LINE
Cool kids are the innovators of the youth market. Track
their ever-changing preferences quickly and reliably,
and stay ahead of the new product development curve. Use
a collection of techniques including ethnographic work
("live with the natives"), online surveys, and
simple observation of street culture to triangulate the
direction of these trends.
We are grateful to Michael R. Solomon and
AMACOM Books for granting aef.com permission to post this
excerpt. For further details, go to amacombooks.org.
Excerpted from Conquering Consumerspace:
Marketing Strategies for a Branded World by Michael R. Solomon.
Copyright 2003 Michael R. Solomon. Published by AMACOM Books,
a division of American Management Association, New York, NY.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Michael R. Solomon, AMACOM
Copyright © 2003 Michael R. Solomon. All rights reserved.