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How-To: Tips for Targeting Tweens

Say hello to Miley Cyrus

Tweens, aged 8-12, grew up with computer and internet access, making them different from previous generations of pre-teens. One-third possess a mobile phone.

And while they are physically still children, socially they are beginning to explore what it means to be a teenager — a state they think is typified by freedoms they lack.

In 2003, 33.3 million teens inhabited the US (32.5 million in Europe). Their discretionary spending power (allowances, gifts, earnings from odd jobs) totaled $42.3 billion and was projected to increase by 1.7 percent year over year.

Here are tips for targeting them.

Know what Drives Tweens

Part of targeting tweens is knowing what motivates them to purchase. Personal and social motivations can be comprised in four strong inclinations:

  • The need to belong
  • The desire for power
  • More freedom from parents (but not too much. That parents approve of their choices is still important to them)
  • The desire to have fun — sensory stimulation is crucial to a product's success

Advertising to Tweens

These six positions, based on a 2001 study by The Geppetto Group, can pave the way for a well-received tween campaign:

1. "Getting it." Tweens see advertising as a chance to explore new identities. They want to feel grown-up, and they want to feel like they understand what the commercial is telling them. (If they don't "get it," they blame the ad, not themselves.) Humor is a useful tool for the "getting it" approach.

2. "Fantasy vs. Reality." Tweens are less rooted in fantasy than younger children. Fantasy icons, like Disney's animated princesses, begin to represent the child they've grown past. Girls start pursuing role models more rooted in "real life," like Disney's Hannah Montana (a fictional character played by actress Miley Cyrus).

3. "Taste of Teen Life." Give them slices of teen life and behavior — but avoid the raunchy, cynical or rebellious side of teenhood. (It often makes them uncomfortable.) Pursue motifs of freedom and self assurance: teens "look better, act better, cope better, and feel better" — a message marketers can leverage, according to The Great Teen Buying Machine.

4. "Don't Hide the Product!" Tweens judge a product by its looks. Is it something they want to identify with? How will they look when using it? How will others see them? Show them what you're selling, demonstrate what it tastes like and how it will bring them closer to their goals.

5. "Music and Other Senses." The music used in a marketing execution is crucial to how a teen decides a brand or product is for them. Is it music their friends are listening to or that their icons are endorsing? (Disney exploits the latter by turning its tween icons, such as Vanessa Hudgens or Hilary Duff, into music stars.)

Don't neglect other senses, either: part of exploring their new identities is finding things that make a tween feel good. Make use of bright colors and fun textures — something Stardoll tries doing with its online collection of paper dolls. The company recently formed a relationship with designer Vivienne Tam, where tweens can purchase virtual clothing from her Spring 2008 line and even dress her.

For a brick-and-mortar example of sensory tween marketing, visit Limited Too. The environment is colorful, the clothing displays are tween-height, the music reeks of pop culture, and it's also mom-friendly. (Remember: parental approval is still important to tweens.)

6. "Love, Tween-Style." Tweens are beginning to humor the idea of romance, but aren't ready to deal with the steamy aspects of a relationship. It's okay to show tween boys and girls together and sharing something they both like, but keep the sexual implications low-key.

Testing the Execution, Keeping Up with Moving Trends

Test your work on tweens before launching. They like being asked about their opinions, especially what they like and why, and they'll be truthful if you ask how an ad can be improved.

To give marketers up-to-date context on tweens, youth media firm Ypulse launched Ypulse Research. Ypulse also conducts annual youth conferences that include tween and teen panelists.

Tips from this How-To were gleaned from The Great Tween Buying Machine: Marketing to Today's Tweens by Dave Siegel, Tim Coffey and Greg Livingston.


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