Peer-prompted conversation heightens teens' awareness

This fall, Allstate Insurance, aided by the Zeno Group, went into high schools in key markets to teach students about safe driving.

This fall, Allstate Insurance, aided by the Zeno Group, went into high schools in key markets to teach students about safe driving. But knowing that teens can be resistant to lecturing, the team tried a new tactic as part of its "Keep The Drive" campaign.

"We identified teen leaders who were most likely to influence the other students and engaged them," says Grant Deady, MD of Zeno's Chicago office.

Although marketing is now even more focused on niche audiences than ever, teens remain an elusive group to target. Despite a number of marketing campaigns with a teen audience in mind, the demographic hasn't gained the same momentum as other groups, such as "mommy bloggers."

"It's a challenging demographic to reach," Deady admits. "Their attention is really fragmented. The most effective program we have is finding out who is their influencer, who are they looking up to, and who has their ear."

Teens listen to teens
With "Keep the Drive," Deady says, the team understood that teens respond well to peers.

With "Keep the Drive," Deady says, the team understood that teens respond well to peers.

"The branding for this campaign is subtle, really effective, and non-invasive," he explains. "Allstate goes to these schools to talk about safe driving and then positions students' own peers as influencers."

This is necessary because even in the digital era, teens don't have a cohesive blogging network, adds Deady.

Teens will more likely be found on interest-oriented blogs, like ones for video games or sports, rather than sites organized simply around being teens. Deady suggests using social media, YouTube, and content sites aimed at teens, such as Seventeen.com. Teens, however, are not very active on Twitter yet.

Brandon Evans, managing partner at Mr. Youth, a youth-oriented word-of-mouth agency, agrees that teens usually don't blog about simply being teens. However, he notes that marketers are starting to notice that teens' influence on buying patterns is growing.

"In a household, especially as technology expands, parents are really looking to their teens to help them with buying decisions and to learn from them," he adds. "Teen years are also a core era when people establish some of their brand preferences."

Moreover, he adds, since they've grown up online, teens are quick to tune out marketing noise.

"They really expect communication to come from peers and they have the resources to do that," Evans points out, referring to social networks.

Star power
Teens with large social networks - offline or online - are typically the ones who marketers like to identify to promote their brands. But since going into high schools and identifying these teens often isn't an option, Deady recommends the use of celebrities to boost their interest. Even this route can prove challenging, however, especially with today's scandal-hungry tabloids.

Teens with large social networks - offline or online - are typically the ones who marketers like to identify to promote their brands. But since going into high schools and identifying these teens often isn't an option, Deady recommends the use of celebrities to boost their interest. Even this route can prove challenging, however, especially with today's scandal-hungry tabloids.

"It's not easy in the teen celebrity world to find someone with a squeaky clean image," he notes.

Amy Shanler, PR director at Staples, says this year the company enlisted pop singer Ciara as a spokesperson for its back-to-school supply drive. In this effort, the company partners with DoSomething.org to encourage kids to donate school supplies to needy teens.

Shanler adds that Ciara's involvement in this campaign took it "from good to great" because it garnered more media attention and reached a larger group of teens.

"Ciara just happened to have a video with Justin Timberlake come out during the campaign," she explains. "So the stars were perfectly aligned."

Ultimately, teens look at marketing relationships similar to the way they view some of their peer relationships, Mr. Youth's Evans notes.

"They know the brands are there to sell them things," he says. "It's just a matter of asking themselves, 'What do they have to offer me?'"

Targeting Teens

Ad Council
Worked with Hager Sharp on an effort that encouraged teen passengers to speak up when friends drive recklessly

Invisalign Teen
Maker of clear, removable braces, worked with Gold PR on a social media push that allowed teens in treatment to share their experience with others

Verizon
With Left Communication, it plans to have a forum where teens can confess their bad experiences of texting while driving

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