As the sun shines a little bit too brilliantly through the window and your silver-plated designer alarm clock blares, you roll out of bed. Being the troubled, sassy, and tired genius teenager that you are, you reach for your Sony laptop and hurriedly cram it into your North Face backpack. You smile at the originality of its buttons and patches that don street smart sayings whose purpose are to differentiate your black bag from all of the other clones that are seen in your school?s hallways. As you stumble out your front door, Diet Coke and Pop-tart in hand, you don?t stop to realize that you are being sucked into a black hole that has made you and teens like yourself the biggest group of consumers in the entire world. Solely during your morning commute, you have been exposed to 115 advertisements, most of which have been targeted toward you. You have become so accustomed to the media and the advertising wallpaper that is plastered all over your world, that you do not take notice of the scams and the tricks that you are about to fall for. Two weeks ago, you faintly remember hearing your mother and father talking about the newest baby boomers, but you had no idea what they were talking about. You figured that they were just reminiscing over their nightly brandy like they normally do. You didn?t know that because the teen population has grown twice as fast as the overall population in the last decade, that you and your peers are the future of the marketing and advertising world. (Zollo 19) As you stare out the tinted window of your best friend?s Volkswagon Jetta, a billboard reminds you of last weekend?s party. You can almost taste the Doritos and the Twix ice cream that they had served. You also clearly remember the hours that you spent looking for an outfit, and how you finally settled on an overpriced DKNY skirt because it showed the label on the front. Because it has become easier and easier over the years to reach the teenage consumer, all sorts of brands are taking advantage of you. Why did you buy that skirt even though the olive color didn?t go with your highlighted reddish hair? Teenagers do not realize the power that the marketing world has gained over their minds. They have been brainwashed into buying and spending money since they were brought into the world by their excited and eager parents. The teen purchasing power has driven marketers and companies into actively pursuing this market (Zollo 303). Teenagers alone spent an overwhelming 540 billion dollars in 1999, which researchers believe is only the beginning for this no-holds-barred group of consumers. Because lately so much pressure and focus has been directed toward the teenage consumer, young adults and their parents must to be careful not to get sucked into the whirlwind of advertising and consuming that has taken over the market today.
Understanding the way that this group of consumers has slowly taken over the world is crucial to being a smart customer while living in this money-driven society. During the years between the Depression and the end of World War One, adolescents were no longer considered children. They had become ?bobby soxers,? teenagers who had a voice and vote in their family?s affairs (Palladino 99). For the first time, they had private social lives and expected higher standards of living for themselves and their families. Due to the sudden need for a social life, the quest for popularity brought a new market designed for teenagers. Teens at this time were determined to be independent. (Palladino 100) The economic prosperity in the post-war world yielded ?personal freedom and enjoyment.? Boys expected a car and a license at age sixteen, and girls demanded the newest makeup and trendy poodle skirts. The war had seemed to teach teenagers the meaning of sacrifice, but engage their appetite for clothing, records and other superficial and tangible comforts. Though marketers were slow to realize the need for specialized teenage markets and advertisements, they eventually caught on. ?Advertisers were beginning to identify and create a specialized teenage market, and they were appealing to the high school student?s age-old desire for independence and separation to do so.? (Palladino 53) Even Seventeen magazine had begun to publish articles on topics such as the fine points of intelligent buying. The task of getting advertisers to create teenage copy, or advertisements made directly to influence teens seemed impossible. ?If advertisers hoped to reach [teenagers], however, they would have to keep teenage tastes in mind. In fact, in the early days, it was [a marketer?s] job to persuade ad agencies to produce specialized teenage copy? (Palladino 105). But soon this undertaking would become the key to success for advertisers and marketers all over the world. Teens had only begun to realize their importance in the marketplace and use their prowess to begin taking over. Peter Zollo, president of Teen Research Unlimited, the first market research firm to specialize exclusively in the teen market, explains the change that occurred in the minds of marketers in the United States,
Even though the importance of the teenage consumer was identified somewhat slowly, they would still become the most amazing buying force that the world had ever seen.
At a restaurant with some friends on a dark and boring Friday night, the topic of payment comes up. Your friend Peter, who has his own credit card, says that he will pay if everyone pays him back. As he signs his own name on the check, he doesn?t realize that he is among the twelve percent of teens that have credit cards in their own name and one of the 45 percent of teens that have one in their possession (Parr 65). Jackie, his quirky blonde girlfriend, sits next to him. The money that she hands him to even out the bill is from her personal savings account which is identical to those that two-thirds of her peers hold. Your other friend, Kirsten, begins to talk about what she bought at the mall last week. She spent 40 dollars in total, which is close to the $38.55 that an average teen spends each time that they hit the local shopping center. In 2001, 31.6 million Americans will spend $108 billion of their own money, along with 47 billion of their family?s funds (AP 7H). While normal adults only go ?shopping? 36 times per year, teens go a whopping 56 times on average (Parr 65). The importance of the teenage market is so evident and prominent that it is inevitable that marketers will do anything they can to tap into this flow of money. Today, more than ever, teenagers make their own purchases, borrow money, and apply pressure on their parents to buy certain items; exemplified perfectly when a teen advises their seemingly ignorant parents on which computer to invest in. Households with one or more teens spend ten thousand dollars more per year than those without any (AP 7H). This statistic is due to the influence of the ?advisor? role that teens have assumed regarding household decision-making. Says author Lori Fransisco about this influence, ?With their own hectic schedules to juggle, parents rely on kids to be part of the decision making process. With so much access to information at their fingertips, today?s typical kids are also a lot more knowledgeable about the products on the market, from clothes to technology? (160). Teenagers need to realize that they have become an enormous market that has the power to make or break certain products. The expenditure of 58 dollars per week by teenage girls pales in comparison with the 76 dollars spent by their male counterparts (Zollo 9). This money is most definitely influenced by the advertising world. Two-thirds of teenagers agree with the statement ?good advertising helps me make decisions about what to buy? and ?good ads make me think or feel better about a product or company.? There is undeniably room for improvement though, as only two-fifths of teenagers say that advertisers do a good job of marketing to their age group (Zollo 249). The significance of focusing on teenagers in the marketplace is so intense that marketers abuse their power and begin to take advantage of impressionable minds.
While the marketing world realizes the teen prowess in today?s society, there are many rules that must be followed in order to successfully reach teens and promote a certain product. Teenagers are smart, and tend to understand their strength. ?[Teens] consider themselves immune to the tricks of the advertising trade. Bombarded from birth, they know they are being pitched to and are suspicious. They recognize their own power? (AP 42). In order for teenagers and their families to understand the ways that they can combat the sales pitches thrown at them at a constant basis, they need to understand the ways that advertisers target them. First of all, advertisers know that teenagers hate to have adults condescend upon them. Advertisers know not to talk down to teens and avoid slang. Using slang is dangerous because it is short-lived and can be misinterpreted or misunderstood (Zollo 260). Teens hate products with the word teen or teenage in the name, and prefer to be called young men or women. Room should be left for creativity and imagination as 84 percent of teenagers think it is cool to be smart (Fransisco 120). Psychologist Michael Schudson, believes that teens have a ?floating, unformed sense of who they are.? He also agrees with the fact that they try on several selves for size and are open to all and any suggestions from surrounding people or media. Schudson says, ?[Teens] devour advertising, and may be more susceptible to it while their identities are in flux? (Farrington 6). Teenagers need to be cautious that they form their own identities, away from those that are supplied by the trials of daily life. Teens need to establish themselves without the noise made by the media and their peers. It is common that the most successful advertisements are those in which teens can see themselves. Teen consumers need to be aware of this trap, and know that they cannot be encapsulated by a single advertisement or product (Zollo 262). Teens are avidly influenced by their peers. The most effective advertisement seems to be word of mouth and the direct popularity of certain products in the life of the buyer. Marketers like Kevin Umeh are wising up to the inner thoughts of teenagers. Through his 50,000 interviews with teenagers that his company executes per month, he has learned that ?People have been marketing to teens for years, but treating them like intelligent consumers is a new concept? (AP 7H). Teens need to follow the example of advertisers who have become smarter and more efficient regarding their teenage audience and begin to gain insight on the sales pitches that are directed toward them.
Steve Goldstein, the vice president of marketing and research at Levi Strauss and Co, sees the impact of the media on teens today; ?These kids are extremely media-savvy. We have to understand what motivates teens and makes them buy? (Parr 65). Today?s media is a huge part of every teenager?s life. Teens will spend a year and a half of their lives watching television commercials (Kilbourne 6). In order to become smarter consumers, teens need to realize that they cannot believe everything they see. Marketers are increasingly coming up with ways to reach teens like never before. Teenagers need to see that they can overlook the fast balls the are constantly thrown at them. Teen power is most apparent in the entertainment industry. Teens obviously love to watch TV and movies, and have extreme impacts on a production. For instance, the movie Titanic earned 1.8 billion dollars worldwide, much of which is due to teenage girls seeing it five or six times because of their idol Leonardo DiCaprio (AP 43). When a teen relaxes in front of the television, they are contributing to the 11.5 hours watched on average per week. Another popular medium, the radio, is listened to on average of 10.3 hours per week (Zollo 89). D Smith notices the importance of advertising through the media when targeting teens, ?Many teens look for situations (in movies or TV) in which they?d like to see themselves. They may choose to copy clothes, language, or other aspects of that situation. Other times they like to create their own look. Teens today are not a flock of sheep, they are very media-savvy (6). Eighty-five percent of teens say that the most effective way to reach them is through the radio. In this case, the inborn teenage love for music shines as an outlet for advertisers. Because increasing numbers of advertisers are selling products over the radio waves, teenagers need to beware and understand this method. Companies will fight to be affiliated with a local or nationwide concert so that their name will be associated with popularity (AP 7H). Also, because today?s teenagers are the first generation that has grown up with computer and internet technology, they are totally comfortable with it. This has proved to be the newest medium used by advertisers to reach their teenage consumers. A massive 19 million teens own computers, and 71 percent use the internet on a constant basis (Parr 65). Teenagers should also beware the advertisements that idolize celebrities. Teens need to remember that just because their favorite musician is shown in an advertisement, that it does not mean that he is using the product or even has any interest in what is being sold. He is doing the commercial because he is getting paid, and the marketers know that his appearance with their product will boost its sales. As teens become gradually more materialistic, they ardently believe that looking good is a key component to being cool and successful (Zollo 122). As they identify themselves with celebrities or people depicted by advertisements, they are selling themselves short and causing harm to their self image. The media is an extremely prevalent source that is tapped by marketers to instill these feelings in teenagers. The more vulnerable they feel, the more likely they are to buy an advertised product.
As you and your friends leave the restaurant after paying the bill, you all return to your house. Your room, which is covered with posters of the latest music phenoms and your all time favorite movies, is the favorite hangout of your ?clique.? You have the best flat screen television and an endless array of DVDs that you all love to crash in front of while snacking on Gummi bears and Sour Patch kids. The only problem is, your little brother left all his Star Wars stuff all over your floor when he was playing in there yesterday. Your friends laugh at you, and you feel totally embarrassed because the stuff that was left in your room depicts a person that is not cool at all. You vow to beat up your brother because he made your friends look down upon you, and scarred your perfectly cool and popular reputation. Deciphering the concept of cool has become a huge driving factor behind all research regarding what teens buy. Whether a brand or a certain product is dubbed ?cool? or not can make or break its success. According to surveys, two thirds of teens associate quality with being cool, and 47 % say a brand is cool only if it is made for their age group. 24% say if ?cool? friends use it, it passes the test. Gene Delvecchio, president of Youth Marketing Consultancy, says of perennially cool brands, ?All of these brands satisfy a timeless emotional need and dress it up in a current trend or fad? (Ebenkamp 36). MTV, a very successful company that is geared toward teenagers ?taps into rebellion and angst; themes that have long been part of a teen?s heart and soul- and combines them with programs that are of the moment? (Ebenkamp 36). Marketers also try extremely hard to pinpoint the sources of trends and how they evolve. In general, they have found that the best way to spot trends is to observe teenagers and go where they go. 47% of trends are said to originate from peers, which is a dead giveaway to how trends develop (Zollo 110). Another shocking fact is that twenty percent of teens consider themselves to be trendsetters. (Zollo 113). Brand choice and brand loyalty are other factors studied by marketers so that they can better understand what teens buy. A teen?s willingness to buy or campaign to their parents for certain brands is has a direct relationship with the importance of brand choice in the product?s category (Zollo 35). Teens are more likely to stay with one brand in terms of intimate products, such as tampons or personal hygiene products. When it comes to clothing, teens are more likely to buy what they like, no matter the brand. ?Teens also tend to regard brands within the fashion category as the coolest because their importance to teens transcends their status as consumer products? (Zollo 35). For teenagers, the importance of having ?cool things? or being viewed as cool is one of the most important aspects of their daily lives. Slowly but obviously becoming a more money and looks oriented society, fifty-two percent of teens say that being good looking is what makes a person cool. What teenagers buy reflects what they think of themselves and how they wish others to perceive them. Teens also see the act of buying as one of independence and conformity at the same time (Zollo 22). Teenagers must learn to look beyond all of this materialism, and not judge themselves or others by what they own or how ?cool? they are. Teenagers can not get caught up in the media?s picture of what is socially acceptable. In today?s world, teenagers have to be themselves, and put a conscious effort into not conforming to society and what their peers deem ?worthy.? Teens need to realize that being good looking and popular are not the most important things in life. They need to look past the fa?ade and image set forth by the media and advertising and see themselves and what they buy for its their worth.
Another aspect of the advertising and media in today?s society that must be considered and examined is its adverse effects on the mental and inadvertently the physical health of teenagers. Just imagine, after a long summer vacation full of lots of free time for relaxing, you have gained 15 pounds. You can no longer fit into your Mavi jeans or your designer Juicy top that you were planning to wear on your first day of school. You become depressed, gaze up at your Britney Spears poster and decide that you aren?t going to eat for a while. Poof?an eating disorder develops due what image the media sets forth as normal. According to Kilbourne, author of ?Selling Addictions,? ?Advertising clearly has played a role in creating the current national obsession with excessive thinness for women? (7). Diana Liu, a high school student affirms this theory by saying, ?[Some girls] are totally influenced by TV and magazines. Not only is their self image changed, but their self-worth also drops. They think they are not as important and special if they don?t look like so and so (1/21/01). However, some teens, such as Greta Ackerman, a teen who has grown up in New York City. She is mentally stronger than this and says, ?I try not to let ads that intentionally portray the closest thing to perfection out there as the ?norm? dictate how I feel about myself. Ads distort truth to portray the ideal that everyone wants to be, not the truth that everyone wakes up to? (1/21/01). A child psychologist, Carol Moog shows concern for the adolescents in today?s society. She say that ?teens are more vulnerable every year, as the ability of parents to be around and provide a mature presence at home is eroded by the economic picture?advertising is growing in power because too often, nothing much else of value is happening in the kid?s lives (Farrington 6). Another teenage voice states that, ?I do think one thing commercials try to do is make you feel self-concious, they want you to worry about zits and clean pores, about your hair being shiny enough, about how muscular you are, and how much you weigh. They push at me, and bring it all up in my mind? (Farrington 7). Teenagers need to understand that the truth that advertisements throw at you is not reality.
Also, the advertisements that portray cigarette smoking and drinking have a huge effect on children and teenagers. Alcohol, tobacco and drugs are the most heavily advertised products in the nation, spending over two billion dollars a year to reach out to people (Kilbourne 5). Usually to no avail, the government tries to counter this force, by spending one million dollars per year on public service announcements and pamphlets informing people of the dangers of smoking (Kilbourne 5). Because sexuality is used to promote these adult activities, it reaches out to adolescents who are exploring and trying to understand their sexuality. This has had such an effect that it has provoked the uprising of girl?s smoking under the age of eleven, the group who have become the largest new smokers in the country (Kilbourne 4). Kilbourne states that ?It seems safe to say that advertising played an important role in creating a climate in which cigarette smoking by [teens] was seen as normal, acceptable and even desirable, thereby encouraging more [teens] to smoke? (5). She also states that ?alcohol and cigarette advertising do [portray an environment] in which dangerous attitudes toward alcohol and cigarettes are presented as normal appropriate and innocuous? (6). It is obvious that teens are being effected by the advertising into buying products and adopt habits that they would normally not think of. Not only do adolescents very seriously relate themselves to advertisements and the media, but they think that in order to be ?cool? they must assume the roles of the characters portrayed in the advertisements. Since the group of teenage consumers is gargantuan, teens are targeted in all markets. The areas that are forbidden to them, such as smoking and drinking have a special appeal. Teens are extremely impatient, and love to buy products that make them feel sophisticated and older. On average, adolescents aged 12-14 want to be 18, and 15-19 year olds want to be 20 (AP 42). This statistic shows that teenagers will do almost anything to make themselves feel grown-up, even if it means breaking laws or rules that have been set forth for them to follow. Eight out of ten adults agree that today?s marketing and advertising worlds exploit kids by convincing them to buy things that are bad for them or that they don?t need (McGee 52). Teenagers need to realize that they are being taken advantage of so that they can make more educated purchases and feel better about their status as consumers. They cannot let themselves be told what to do or how to look by advertisements. Teenagers need to establish their own identity and be able to make purchases without the influence of the advertising traps or the peer pressure that surrounds them.
You sit on your plush Urban Outfitters couch and flip through a fashion magazine. You find that you are suddenly able to spot the schemes and traps that have been created to catch your attention and lure you into buying a certain product. You have learned how to become a better consumer, and will be more cautious when judging yourself and others by what they buy or own. You know that just because advertising depicts a certain truth that it does not necessarily portray the real world. While three fourths of teenagers agree that good advertising can be really humorous, and confess to watching the Superbowl in order to see the newest commercials, they are slowly becoming more aware of the world around them and the scams that are thrown at them on a daily basis (Zollo 250). Teens need to increasingly learn the ways that the marketing world ensnares them and learn how to combat the pressure placed upon them. No other group of consumers cares more about what their purchases say about who they are, and identify themselves with their material possessions (AP 42). Adolescents need to learn that they are not encapsulated by any possession or image that they associate themselves with. Each is unique and special, no matter what they own or how ?cool? they are among their peers. The growth of the teenage market has become so enormous that it is natural for the advertisers and marketers to try to take their part of the 540 billion dollars spent annually by this influencial group of unaware children. ?Why do companies want to pin kids down? Call it a Youth Quake, call it teen power. Whatever, for the first time since the baby boom, kid culture is king?.it?s all about pop culture, and pop culture is all about buying!? (AP 42). There are many reasons that justify the importance of targeting a teenage audience. The teens have discretionary spending power, and spend a lot of their family?s money. They are the world?s future consumers and are influenced easily as they are searching for an identity. Their population is growing by the minute; at the moment they make up eleven percent of the people of the world (AP 42). Teenagers need to learn to stop buying on impulse and start making conscious decisions about their purchases. Because so much pressure has been placed upon teenagers and their families to make perhaps superfluous purchases, they need to become more aware of the advertising and marketing tornado that encircles their lives at all times. Teenagers need to understand that they are targeted in order to be able to refuse the countless offers and deals being made available to them. So next time you sport your new Nike sneakers or reach for your Sprite, think about what influenced you when you decided to make that purchase. If you become more aware of what is going on around you, you will be able to make decisions that truly reflect who you are.