Targeting teenagers has always been regarded as a tough but necessary task by advertisers. Tough because they do not succumb easily to marketing messages. Necessary because they are tomorrow's big spenders.
But clients are recognising that teenagers are valuable. Not only are they tomorrow's consumers, they are also in control of large sums of disposable income today. This spending power is not limited to the pocket money that they carry with them (see panel). It also includes the cash they can request from their parents almost at will.
In addition to directly-controlled or easily-accessed income, there is a realisation among clients that kids often have a decisive say in the purchase of big-ticket items. Parents, not unreasonably, want to keep their families happy. Those born in the 60s baby-boom are often anxious to exhibit a degree of brand-consciousness that their own parents lacked.
And who better to advise them than their streetwise kids.
In a recently-published report, Datamonitor stresses the importance of dividing the under-18 market into coherent sub-groups. In particular, the research firm makes a distinction between 'kids, tweens and teens', which it defines as 'key age segments with individual consumer behaviour characteristics'.
Kids constitute the three- to nine-year-olds age group with 'the ability to pester to influence purchasing decisions - but not to argue rationally,' says Datamonitor. 'At around eight they develop a greater ability to argue using reason, but pestering is still used to influence parents.' Although they are conscious of brands they 'do not display a high level of brand loyalty'.
'Tweenagers', the focus of this piece, are ten- to 13-year-olds. Datamonitor stresses that 'trends in teenage behaviour are being replicated by consumers of ever-younger ages'. This age group is more sophisticated than kids, has a strong sense of self-awareness and is likely to be influenced by peer pressure.
'Tweens' also understand what a brand is and the values it represents.
Since they are gaining a degree of financial autonomy, this makes customer acquisition at this age a key objective for clients and an achievable one.
Michelle Lewin, a consultant at brand strategists The Value Engineers, says: 'Having sat with a group of 12-year-old girls talking about soft-drinks brands, I know that their capacity for marketing thought is astounding. By 13 they are very aware of what marketing does and make choices accordingly. They aren't into rebellion. They are into independence and what they can achieve as individuals.'
The third Datamonitor category, teenagers, refers to 14- to 17-year-olds. They have 'a high degree of consumer sophistication and are suspicious regarding advertising. They are well aware of when they are being targeted and can react adversely to advertisements they see as patronising.' On the whole, brand loyalty is less significant among teenagers than the desire to be in fashion.
One arena where brands play a pivotal role in the life of over-tens is publishing. More than any other medium, magazines provide teens and tweens with the mix of personal and aspirational ingredients they crave - though this is perhaps more true for girls than boys.
In a study by Emap, called Youth Facts 5, magazines beat all other media when judged by criteria such as relevance, difference and accessibility.
Overall, says Emap, young people 'could give more reasons for involvement with magazines than for any other medium'.
For clients seeking to target the tween demographic, there are three major titles: BBC Worldwide's Top of the Pops, Emap Performance's Smash Hits and Attic Futura's TV Hits. The first two are overtly music-based while the third calls itself a teen entertainment title. However, music still acts as the cornerstone of the TV Hits editorial proposition.
These titles are overwhelmingly read by girls, says Lyndsaye Fox, publisher of Top of the Pops magazine. Although the Spice Girls pulled in more male readers for a while, boys tend to focus on magazines linked to hobbies like soccer and computer games. Typical of this is Future's Official PlayStation magazine, which sold 300,459 copies during January to June this year, according to ABC.
TOTP magazine currently sells 389,245 copies per issue says Fox. This makes it the clear leader over Emap's Smash Hits which sells around 250,388, while TV Hits is currently at around 204,805. All three have slipped by 10% to 20% in the past two years. But this is very much the nature of the market. When a pop phenomenon like the Spice Girls comes along, sales rise, only to drop when the fizz disappears. Back in the days of Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue (first time round), a dominant Smash Hits used to sell more than 700,000 copies per issue.
As a general rule, says Fox, the girls who make up the readership of Tween music magazines start out reading younger titles such as Live & Kicking. Later, they move on to baby glossies like Bliss, J17 and Sugar.
While Britney Spears, Billie and S Club 7 are still an important part of the editorial mix in these older titles, the emphasis shifts to fashion, beauty, boys and real-life problems.
Boys, without obvious titles to graduate into, tend to keep on with soccer, PC magazines and anything to do with BMX bikes or wrestling. But as they get older, they supplement their reading with titles that have older target audiences, such as Loaded or music mags.
TOTP's ability to overhaul Smash Hits says a lot for the power of BBC1's long-running TV show. Yet it caters for a very different audience from its screen-based sister product. 'When we launched, we targeted the same demo (circa age 16) as the TV show,' says Fox. 'But by that age the audience's tastes are so diverse it becomes difficult to meet their needs. So we took the decision to go head to head with Smash Hits at the younger end of the teen market.'
According to Fox, 'the clear brand message of TOTP is music and nothing else, because that's what this age-group is interested in.' This focus provides a useful platform for advertising clients, says Fox, who confirms the view that 'kids are getting older younger. You can see the taste and sophistication in the products they use and wear.'
The significance of the tween market is demonstrated by the way that the advertising content of magazines such as TOTP has shifted, says Fox.
'We used to get most of our ad revenue from music and entertainment brands or retailers. But consumer products now account for 50% of our income.' Ads in the September 2000 issue from Laboratoires Garnier, Always and P&G's Sunny Delight underline this point.
TV Hits publisher Rimi Atwal shares many of Fox's opinions. Her typical reader is a 13-year-old female who depends on a monthly fix of celebrity gossip. 'TV Hits forms a large part of her 'me time' - it's her world and allows her to dream about the day she'll be famous. She has to keep up with the celebrity world.'
With two strong pop titles to compete with, TV Hits has sought to distinguish itself by covering 'everything in the entertainment world that interests teens - pop music, TV, soaps, film, the web.' Atwal's assessment of her core reader underlines the pivotal role that pop plays. 'She's an outgoing, trendy girl who loves pop. Her idol is Britney Spears and she fancies most of the boy bands around.'
This emotional dependency on a chosen magazine is what advertisers want to tap into. Recent clients have included Bodyform, Always and McVitie's Jaffa Cakes. Atwal says teen mags can provide this connection but need to be handled in the right way: 'TV Hits is an extremely effective medium for brands that want to target teens. But our readers are switched on to advertising, which means getting the message across can be very difficult.'
The best creative work combines originality with a genuinely appealing proposition, says Youth Facts 5. It picks out Calvin Klein's toiletries range as a good example. 'cK one's advertising is all about asserting individuality and being independent yet accepting others for who they are.'
Getting under the skin of the readership's interests is an essential element of the marketing approach.
In a September edition of Smash Hits, Our Price did just that by branding the magazine's highly popular lyric cards. Channel 4 promoted its new series Angel (a spin off from the hit series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) with a poster of the star that explained the editorial theme of the show and gave its scheduled start time.
L'Oreal's work with TOTP magazine and pop band Steps is a highly sophisticated version of this approach. In April, when TOTP re-launched as a perfect-bound magazine, L'Oreal agency Universal McCann created a gatefold advertorial in which the three girl members of Steps endorsed the L'Oreal Synergie Pure range's three steps (cleanse, tone and mattify).
Universal McCann's Scott Butler says: 'We wanted to reach this audience and we knew music was a crucial part of their lives. But we had to find an approach that would interact with their lifestyle and make them read more about the product.' The deal was brokered by TOTP, which had the necessary links with the band's management.
Universal McCann was also able to sustain momentum by getting involved with the Steps tour, says Butler. 'We advertised on the big screens at Steps concerts and ran a sampling campaign when they came out of stadia. It is important with this audience to develop a relationship across a range of platforms.'
This integrated approach is clearly front of mind at Emap Performance, which is structured to develop multiple platform 'superbrands', says Emap Performance chief executive Tim Schoonmaker. Out of a large stable of radio, TV and magazine brands, Schoonmaker has set in motion expansion plans for three: Kiss, Q and Smash Hits.
Smash Hits, which has been an iconic brand since the 70s, has recently been developed into a number of new areas. In radio, it is available on Emap's Big City network as a two-hour Sunday afternoon show. Ultimately it will be turned into a three-hour evening show across all Big City stations (in cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle).
Emap has also been active in the TV environment where it has just launched a three-hour show on its music network The Box called Smash Hits You Control.
It has also secured a weekly hour-long slot on Sky One and has a burgeoning web presence.
The goal is to reflect consumer behaviour by positioning Smash Hits as a universal pop brand across a number of access points, says Schoonmaker. However, he stresses that not all versions of the brand will hit the same demographic. 'The magazine appeals to young teenagers. But pop has become a much broader phenomenon in recent years. Our range of services will appeal to consumers from around 12- to 24 years of age,' he explains.
With similar cross-media plans for Kiss, 'a brand that's about having a great night out', and Q, 'a trusted guide to music for 25- to 34-year-olds', Schoonmaker says: 'We have built a nice train set of media opportunities in music. We can now work with advertisers across a combination of media and youth demographics.'
The only other outfit in the tween or teen sector with Emap's cross-media clout is the BBC. While further brand extensions of TOTP on British television are not of any commercial value to clients, Fox says the brand has been singled out for international and cross-media expansion by the corporation's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide.
Already versions of the show have been made for networks in Germany and the US. In Germany, where the show is on market-leading network RTL+, a local language magazine has also been launched by a publisher called Dino. With the UK version of the show in 50 countries and the UK magazine exported to 89, there is clearly scope for international expansion of the brand.
Extending to the net
Director-general Greg Dyke's ambition to commercialise the BBC's online presence will clearly have implications for the TOTP brand.
Fox has already orchestrated experiments among her readership with SMS messaging on mobile phones.
Attic Futura does not have the scale of Emap or the BBC, but it has also extended the TV Hits brand into the live arena with the TV Hits Awards, which will be held for the second time at Wembley Arena on October 29.
As well as raising awareness of the brand, Atwal says: 'The Awards allow us to work with key players in the youth market and extend the brand across TV and the net.' Sky One is broadcasting the Awards and Popworld.Com, the new online pop venture from Simon Fuller, creator of S Club 7, is headline sponsor.
As for all media owners, the rise of the net is both a threat and opportunity for teen magazines. Most take the view that the net represents an opportunity to build online communities out of their loyal paper-based readerships.
But the downside is that it also brings them into competition with TV and radio brands that have built up their own strong ties with audiences through their access to star talent.
It also raises a question for advertisers about whether tweens and teens would rather read a magazine or go directly to a star's own web-page.
The Value Engineers' Lewin underlines this point: 'Kids who read music magazines are loyal to the bands and artists featured in them.' The highly personal nature of tween music mags explains why a growth in fashion and cosmetics advertising was possible. It also accounts for the interest from entertainment retailers, snack foods and what Lewin calls: 'Teenage anxiety products that deal with areas such as sanpro, skin problems and education.'
But clients that want tween mags to play a role in encouraging influence on parents will have to find a creative way of doing so. Trying to get them to persuade their parents to buy a particular product is an obvious intrusion - unless it can be done through some form of celebrity endorsement.
TWIX AND TOP OF THE POPS
The core audience for chocolate bar Twix is 16- to 24-year-olds. But Mars recognised that success with nine- to 15-year-olds could help it establish a consumption habit that might help it sustain market share as kids get older.
Twix has a history in music, having previously sponsored ITV's Chart Show. MediaVest's Stephen Fuller says: 'For the current burst, TOTP was identified as a great brand for getting our message across. We needed a vehicle that allowed us to form a three-dimensional relationship with consumers.'
The opportunity MediaVest identified was TOTP's Pop Quiz, a national competition that invited 1500 schools to pit their trivia knowledge against each other. 'Not only did it get us into schools in a big way, it was the sort of interactive platform we were looking for,' says Fuller.
The schools competed at regional and then national level. Although there are no research results, Fuller says the anecdotal evidence from the tie-in has been very positive.
As a rule of thumb, Fuller says: 'You have got to keep talking to this age-group. They are bombarded with so many messages, and trends change so quickly that you have to keep moving.' For many clients, just buying a space in a magazine is not good enough to appeal to this audience. You've got to be innovative and give something back.'
Linking up with a favourite magazine brand is also key to a successful strategy, says Fuller. 'We have had Twix-branded concerts that didn't work very well because they were never going to be as big as the events put on by the established magazines. In the past, we have linked up with TV Hits on a big event and that worked well.'
TOTP has said it will run the quiz again next year, though Twix is not yet signed up as sponsor. The event also has an online link to beeb.com.
For 26 years, Wall's ice cream has been reporting annually on kids' pocket money. This year's findings show:
- UK kids have a combined weekly spend of pounds 73m
- Pocket money is up 29% to pounds 3.10 per week (its highest-ever figure in the Wall's survey)
- Handouts from friends and relatives were up 26% to pounds 1.67 per week
- Average earnings from odd jobs were down from pounds 1.36 per week to pounds 1.20 per week - the second consecutive annual decrease.
- Girls get more than boys (pounds 6.09 compared to pounds 6.08 per week)
- Scots get more pocket money and weekly income. London and the south are bottom in all three income areas.
- Kids are saving less. They continue to spend heavily on ice cream, sweets and chocolate, but mobile phones have appeared on the spending list for the first time.
Source: Wall's Ice Cream
In 'Targeting the Youth Market', Datamonitor cites four reasons why youth spending power in Europe and America is on the up.
- Increased divorce rate means children can play guilty parents off against one another.
- More adults have a career first and children second. This means their income is higher when they have children.
- More dual-income homes means more disposable income.
- Richer parents are spending more time socialising away from their children. To relieve guilt they often increase pocket money levels to compensate for absenteeism.
Pre-Teen Jan-Jun 00
Live & Kicking 1 40,168
It''s Bliss 287,897
Melody Maker 32,206
LEADING ''TWEENAGE'' MAGAZINES
Tweens Jan-Jun 00 Jul-Dec 99 Jan-June 99 Jul-Dec 98
Top of the Pops 389,245 368,700 385,441 437,090
Smash Hits 250,388 241,530 230,764 295,061
TV Hits 204,805 205,372 241,746 269,061
This article was first published on Marketing