Catchy songs, playful testimonials…the perfect combination for marketing to teenagers, right? Times have changed. This often misunderstood market has certain motives and universal turn-offs that should be recognized before beginning a campaign.

Focus on Social Media

The online world is buzzing now, especially with teenagers. According to the Pew Research Center’s American Life and Internet Project, around 95% of all people aged 12-17 are online [1]. To that end, 81% of those teenagers that are online use social media, with 77% using Facebook [1]. Building a base on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is key to reaching teenagers. Often, television advertisements will not reach the same audience. Create an attractive online page that is updated often. The number one turn-off for teenagers is a social media account that is rarely updated (i.e. less than once every couple months). Regular updates build credibility ethos and lead to more hits on your company’s website. Austin Paley, a marketing professional from Blue Fountain Media explains, “According to eMarketer, smartphone user growth has been massive and will continue to grow among teens for the foreseeable future” [2]. In your posts, make sure there are pictures and some humor involved.

For instance, take the Facebook page of Skullcandy, a popular headphone company, as a case study. Skullcandy posts to its page around 2-3 times per week, often more. It uses graphics on almost all of its posts, often with links to its website to purchase a product. One post stands out in particular (see snapshot below). This is a wonderfully worded, yet succinct message that appeals to the average teenager. The accompanying picture showcases the product and thus leads to more consumer confidence in the product. Skullcandy not only creates posts related to its products, it also stays up to date on the latest events pertinent to teenagers. A recent post commented “$20k later…#SB49” with a picture of presumably Richard Sherman from the Seattle Seahawks. While not at all related to headphones, this post creates a sense of humor that teens will pick up on. Thus, the company becomes not only a retailer but also an internet personality that teens are inclined to listen to.


Put Value in Teenagers

Often, marketers–if somewhat accidentally–treat teenagers as people who need information in a simplified fashion. Teenagers can pick up on this instantly and become immediately turned off as a result. As Greg Rudolph, head of Board Blazers described, “Teens are young adults, so treat them as such. Don’t try too hard to be cool” [3]. Making teenagers feel comfortable is key to any campaign. Adolescents want to feel that the product or service being offered has significant applications in their lives, and the most effective way to do so is to act in a way that makes them feel comfortable. Try not to talk in a condescending tone; in other words, treat teenagers the same way as you would an educated, adult market. The more sophisticated you make adolescents feel, the more interested they will be and thus the more likely they will be to purchase your offering.

Nike is one of the most successful companies at this style of marketing. Whether for adult shoes or for teenage shoes, Nike markets with sophistication and respect. In a recent advertisement campaign for “Designed to Move” shoes, Nike released various advertisements detailing the scientific specifications on the shoe’s performance as well as mentions to various activities that could be enhanced, such as exercising. There was no indication of any kind of age difference in the advertisements nor a sense of trying to speak down to a teenager’s level. The brand image Nike tries to maintain, especially with teenagers, is one of a serious, effective brand that can allow anyone to perform like an athlete. Interviews of the various children serve to show a sign of respect and consideration for the opinion of their consumers. Another effective campaign by Nike was its series for the LeBron AirMax shoes. In a television commercial, LeBron is seen running with many children, most teenagers (see the picture below). The sense of equality shown in the picture reveals Nike’s willingness to promote teens to buy their shoes as informed, respected consumers.


Look into Current Trends

Interests and values are constantly changing in the teen market. It is imperative to stay updated on the latest trends, or marketing campaigns will hold no influence over adolescents. First and foremost, the music you select to accompany an advertisement is crucial. You should focus on choosing modern, hit songs that teens will recognize. This will immediately draw interest and craft a familiarity with your offering. Take a look at the “Billboard Top 100” song list to find out the most popular and easily recognized songs. The other aspect of current trends is the choice of a celebrity or ambassador to identify with your product or offering that will be featured in a marketing campaign. Teenagers are no longer influenced by hit rock stars in the late 1900s. Instead, focus on modern celebrities, especially those on YouTube. As Julia Benben, a marketing director at Freetoes explains, “Teens revere the trusted online personalities that they follow in the same way they do the most popular kids in school” [4]. Aside from YouTube, try to target artists from popular songs, professional or collegiate athletes, and television stars.

Of course, most all teens (and I’m presuming hopefully many others as well) know of PSY, the artist who created the hit song “Gangam Style” that is the only YouTube video with over 2 billion views. While many see PSY as simply a hit singer, astute marketers consider him a recognizable and effective brand ambassador. One of the most famous cases of this is with Wonderful Pistachio’s Super Bowl advertisement.

In this video, PSY is seen dancing the same choreography as in his music video yet with pistachios instead of dancers. Instantly, this caught attention of the millions of teens watching the Super Bowl around the world and led to a sense of credibility ethos in that such a respected star on YouTube endorsed this wildly erratic and interesting brand of pistachios. Strategies like these can help any marketer create the perfect campaign.

NOTE: This updated article was adapted from its original version in Small Business Opportunities.