In his children’s book “2095,” Jon Scieszka portrays the future as one saturated with three-dimensional, robotic advertisements, accosting passers-by with products and services tailored to their personalities.
While we have not reached such a reality yet, we may eventually. We have certainly witnessed a proliferation of marketing in the past 15 years, particularly with the advent of the Web. Our computers, phones, buses, sidewalks, roadways and clothes are plastered with ads. And now, amid the height of the holiday season, all kinds of advertising beckon consumers to acquire more and more.
Teenagers lie at the center of this ubiquitous advertising. They fit into the latter portion of Generation Y, which, according to a recent publication by USA Today, “outspends all previous generations.” Teens are on the Web more, they spend more time in commercial areas, and they are more likely to buy products with prominent branding, all of which make them attractive targets for the marketing industry.
Joe Spaulding, 18, of Carmel, and Chelsi Leverenz, 17, of Union City, have been both targets and practitioners of marketing. As teens they are consumers, but they’re also officers in DECA, an international association of marketing students, so they know all about targeting an audience.
At a recent DECA gathering in Downtown Indianapolis, Chelsi explained why teens are so attractive to advertisers. “I think a lot of teenagers are at an age where they work and so they have their own money to purchase things that they want. But they’re also still young enough that they can be like, ‘Hey Mom, will you get this for me?’”
Branders and marketing experts know that younger minds can be more easily drawn to exhaustible trends or products with planned obsolescence than more discriminating shoppers. “As a teenager, it’s all about having new things and the coolest things,” Chelsi said.
Joe added that the Baby Boom Generation fuels this obsessive consumption. “The Baby Boomers came and they’re like, ‘We want our kids to have a better life than we had.’ And so I think parents give in to children’s wants – ‘Hey Mom, I need that iPhone.’ It definitely becomes a need.”
Advertisers seek to capitalize on such perceptions and target teens through a variety of media. While ads inserted in television programming and print media have long been staples, the Web offers a plethora of opportunities as well.
The Web has proved to be a productive place to reach out to teens in other ways. Ian Pierpoint, founder and president of the marketing research firm The Sound, emphasized the role of the Web in tapping teens for information. “We try and use techniques that are real, so we do a lot of our research among young people online because young people spend a lot of time online and they’re used to communicating in that way,” he said.
In particular, his firm utilizes the draw of social networking to round up subjects for marketing research. “We use a research tool, which we developed, which is very similar to Facebook. So it looks like Facebook, and you log on and you have your own profiles and you have chat areas and you can do Webcam interviews live. That’s one tool that we use a lot.”
Amy Weisenbach, who until recently worked at Unilever as the brand manager for Axe hair care, also reaches out to young adults through Facebook and other online sites. “We just continue to look for what’s next and what’s the coolest new thing. You know, this year we started using Twitter, so we have someone who’s tweeting on behalf of the brand.
“It’s hard to say what we’ll be doing next ’cause I don’t know that it exists yet,” she continued. “But we’ll be paying really close attention to what college guys are doing, what technologies they’re using, what things they’re interacting with, and then we’ll try to be there in a fun and entertaining and relevant way.”
And certainly, this makes sense. In this last decade, Web usage has exploded as the number of sites has skyrocketed. Now, marketing firms can model teen Web usage behavior to decide the sites on which they will buy ad space. Even more controversial, browser cookies are often captured and stored to allow merchants to personalize marketing efforts.
Teens are not just passive marketing targets, however. Throughout their involvement in DECA, Chelsi and Joe have learned a lot about the many facets of business and often look at ads with a critical eye.
That doesn’t mean they are impervious to an ad’s charms. “For me a lot of TV ads catch my attention. Like during my favorite TV shows, if I see something that catches my eye, then I’m going to definitely remember it and be like, ‘Oh well, I should get that’ or ‘I should go there,’ said Chelsi.
TV isn’t the only lure for her, however. “I’m a big-time subscriber of Seventeen magazine, and so anytime I see an ad in there, I’m like, ‘I should try that product,’ or ‘I should use it because this famous person is using it and it works for them.’ So I think celebrities are also a big thing that people use to market different products.”
For Joe, electronics and humor are the main hooks. “Apple or like the Palm Pre commercials, anything technology. It seems like the technology world is coming up with new and better ways to promote their product in cool ways,” he said.
“Other things that catch my attention I guess would be the humorous ones. I always look for the Super Bowl commercials that make me laugh the hardest. Like this past year’s were awesome.”
Although we have not entered a world with advertising quite like that depicted in “2095,” marketers are find new and different ways to attract consumers, especially teens.
“It’s kind of ridiculous how much stuff is thrown at us,” Joe said. “It’s a lot for a teenager to take in.”
Assistant editors: Meher Ahmad, 18; Olivia Haynes, 18: Jeff Hou, 16; Shelby Helton, 18.
Reporters: Danielle Hensley, 13; Sam Gabovich, 13; Abe Lahr, 13.
Copyright 2009 Y-Press