Tweens reclaim their popular status in consumer outreach

The spending power and influence of tweens is not a new concept to consumer marketers.

The spending power and influence of tweens is not a new concept to consumer marketers. It is, however, reemerging as companies attempt to reach the group beyond traditional marketing without running into legal issues associated with teen-and-up platforms such as Facebook.

In April, JC Penney announced the upcoming launch of "tween" line Uproar for back-to-school. In March, Unilever released a survey quantifying tween confidence in association with a deodorant marketing effort geared toward moms.

In addition, Kmart, in an effort to connect with its audience on a deeper level, is expanding its relationship with Selena Gomez, the face of last year's ad campaign, with the creation of a product line for the actress and singer.

"We expect that will be a tremendous proof point to tweens that we understand them," says Kmart CMO Mark Snyder. "It's a real growth opportunity and a longer-reaching strategy of growing a customer base for life."

Snyder explains that reaching tweens directly via a controlled online environment is just as effective as communicating with Kmart's core target for most products, which is moms.

The brand is creating an online community where consumers shop in a virtual Kmart, upload photos of themselves, and create avatars wearing the store's brands.

"Juniors are playing in a different area on the web from tweens, who need to be part of a much more controlled experience," adds Snyder. "It's about appropriate content and engagement."

Gaining traction
This marketing activity has contributed to an increase in budget allocated for PR activities, particularly with celebrity brands. "There's a greater validation for what we're doing outside the context of traditional marketing," notes Snyder.

Marian Salzman, president of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, similarly notes that the agency's new Sisterhood practice, which focuses on teens and tweens, has helped it gain new project work, as well as traction among its peers in advertising.

As with Kmart, the work involves communicating with tweens via a controlled space such as its Forsistersby sisters.com blog, which will feature an increasing number of product reviews written by interns, she explains.

"As a marketer, I'm looking to talk to them on rational and emotional levels," says Salzman. "We won't go out and recruit them. They must come in via the kind of reviews and blogs we're creating."

Jason Yim, CEO of youth marketing agency Trigger, agrees that engaging tweens requires a controlled space, such as a gaming site where a tween can build wish lists, engage in online competition, and, in some cases, gain incentives toward a paid subscription.

"We develop some way to tap into the benefits of social, but must still be COPPA-compliant (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act) and wary of protecting the audience," he says.

These platforms not only tap into the market's competitive nature, notes Yim, but also enable direct-to-tween communications, as opposed to targeting the audience indirectly through parents.

"That connection to the cash seems simpler," he says. "That's contributing to everyone wanting to market directly to tweens."

Johnson & Johnson's Clean & Clear brand is also going directly to tweens to build brand loyalty, thus moving beyond its traditional means of partnering with organizations that develop curriculum in schools.

"In terms of building the brand, going to girls directly is the approach," says Clean & Clear product director Rick Ely.

However, part of the short-term strategy is to place discounts and promotions on the brand's new Facebook page to target moms, who are most influential with regard to the "less cool" acne products, he explains.

Cause, one of many relatively new tween interests that marketers must cautiously and strategically incorporate into their plans, will play a role in the brand's next tween-centric campaign.

"To capture the market in the long term, we're doing the same amount of marketing, but the difference is how we're going about it," says Ely. "Now it's a combination of PR, digital, and some traditional ad buys." l

What is a tween?:

There is no consistent definition among communications pros as to what the term "tween" covers

For the purposes of marketing, age ranges that constitute a tween vary from 8 to 12, 9 to 13, 9 to 14, and 10 to 13

Tweens live online, like to compete, are influenced by older teenagers, and are particularly interested in cause efforts

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