YOUTH MARKETING: Down with the kids

Keeping up with teen trends is a tricky business. Hannah Marriott looks at some of the brands that have managed to crack the under-16 market.

<em>Dr Who</em>’s Martha Jones
Dr Who’s Martha Jones

Last year, HBOS’ annual pocket money survey revealed the ‘pocket money pound’ was worth well over £5bn.

But as HBOS prepares to launch its 20th survey, PROs – and the marketing community in general – are finding it increasingly difficult to attract the ­attention of the under-16s. Part of the problem is that this age group is eschewing print media more than any other.

According to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, circulation figures for the teenage lifestyle magazine market dropped by 24.3 per cent in 2006 compared with 2005. Just last month Natmags put up the shutters at Cosmogirl!, following Emap’s announced closure of Smash Hits! and Sneak. Teenagers, it seems, prefer online media.

Top five sites
According to Nielsen//NetRatings, the top five sites with the highest concentration of under-16s in the UK are ­Barbie, MusicJesus, DisneyChannel, Stardoll and EverythingGirl.

Hitwise judges Habbo UK, Sugar Magazine, My Kinda Place, More Magazine and Teen Today as the top five teen specialist sites.

More mainstream sites such as Google, MSN, Yahoo! and AOL also have a following among the teenage market, as do special-interest forums.

According to Entertainment Rights head of PR Simon Avis – who represents brands including Basil Brush, which targets 6 to 12-year-olds – massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs, where hundreds or thousands of people play games against each other online) are a key target, although PR opportunites are usually limited to competition prizes.

‘As they get older and get more into socialising, networking sites such as Bebo, Facebook and My­Space become more important,’ he says.

Faced with this disparate virtual sprawl, agencies have started to develop their own ways of keeping up with the various trends. Taylor Herring’s recently launched digital arm Force 10, for example, has a secret ‘advisory board’ to keep the agency up to date, says MD James Herring.

But Matt Williams – CEO of youth specialist marketing and PR agency Making Waves Communications – advises caution, even when you are sure of your target websites. While these ­social networking sites can create ‘instant credibility’, there are huge potential pitfalls: ‘There’s nothing worse than a brand trying to be cool.’

So what new tactics are brands developing to navigate this minefield?

The trend for user-generated content has led to a rise in the use of teens as ‘ambassadors’ for their campaigns. Lexis youth division SiX works with youth research agency Dubit to recruit under-16s to work as ambassadors (see Campaign).

Anyone recruiting for a teen ambassador campaign should ensure those recruited are genuinely passionate about the product or topic in the first place, says SiX associate director Lucy Freeborn: ‘You can’t pull the wool over their eyes – teens are incredibly opinionated and self-aware – you must be open, honest and transparent.’

Another ruse is for brands to create exclusive content for teens. Taylor Herring created a MySpace page for Dr Who to encourage younger viewers to tune in to the BBC 1 show. The page was written from the perspective of Dr Who sidekick Martha Jones and featured a blog detailing Martha’s unrequited love for the doctor. It provided a parallel storyline for 100,000 readers a week.

Similarly, when Threepipe Junior worked with Umbro on the launch of the England football kit (l) it also created a MySpace page, this time posting interviews with the designers and preview pictures of the new kit. Word was spread by signing up football fan groups as ‘friends’. Umbro also used an MSN tool called Mr Exclusive, which enables young people to sign up to receive exclusive competition prizes.

While online content has a sense of immediacy that appeals to teens, the chance to interact with products makes experiential work important. For kids’ card game outfit Upper Deck Entertainment, much of agency Resonate’s PR strategy was based around a tournament for enthusiasts.

Many brands also work with the National Schools Partnership (NSP) – which, according to chief executive Mark Fawcett, ‘creates relationships between schools and families and brands’. The NSP worked on the launch of Disney’s High School Musical, making use of the fact that dance is a compulsory part of the school curriculum and putting together a pack that PE teachers could use. The company has launched similar initiatives with brands such as Pioneer, introducing DJ-ing into music lessons – which Brave PR used as the basis for a Ministy of Sound campaign targeted at the teen press.

But getting to grips with new tactics is only one hurdle. Marketing in schools is a controversial area and PROs must tread carefully to avoid a reputational fiasco such as Cadbury Schweppes suffered when it offered sports equipment to schools when pupils ate chocolate bars. Other problems include the fact that recruiting under-16s for ­research or as ambassadors can be complicated. Parental consent is needed before interviewing a child aged under 16 and interviewers must be vetted by the Criminal Records Bureau.

It seems this combination of new, specialist tactics and potential pitfalls has put most PR consultancies off even trying to tackle the under-16s market. It surely cannot help that, unlike the CAP (see below), neither the CIPR nor the PRCA have specific guidelines in place.

However, this market does offer huge potential rewards. There is, after all, £5bn out there burning a hole in UK teenagers’ pockets.


The CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) code includes the following guidelines on marketing communications addressed to, targeted at or featuring under-16s:

• Marketing communi­cations should contain nothing that is likely to result in children’s physical, mental or moral harm, including encouraging them to enter strange places or talk to strangers or to copy any practice that might be unsafe for a child

• Marketing communi­cations should not exploit their credulity, loyalty, vulnerability or lack of experience: they should not be made to feel inferior or unpopular for not buying the product

• Marketing communi­cations should not actively encourage them to make a nuisance of themselves to parents or others and should not undermine parental authority or exploit their susceptibility to charitable appeals

• Promotions should contain a prominent closing date and should not exaggerate the value of prizes or the chances of winning them

• Licensed characters and celebrities popular with children should be used with a due sense of responsibility

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