Will Anstee
Aug 24, 2021

Why brands don’t get today’s teens

And why they really should, unless they want to bury their prospects for a generation, according to the CEO of TotallyAwesome.

(Shutterstock)
(Shutterstock)

What does the word ‘influencer’ mean to you? Be honest: you’ve just conjured up a kaleidoscope of painfully posed ‘professional influencer’ Instagrams, all pecs and pouts.

Park that thought. And instead imagine an influencer group so powerful that it shapes up to 94% of all purchase decisions in the household, including where the family eats, travels, dresses, and what technology it buys.

No marketer in their right mind would ignore that influencer impact. Right? Yet they do.

These influencers are teens, and teens have never had so much power over purchasing as they do now.

Alice Almeida, regional head of data, research and insights at TotallyAwesome, sees 87% of teens having influence over what clothes and footwear their parents buy for them. From the same data, 78% influence what their parents buy when it comes to sportswear and equipment and 76% influence what sports to watch, either live or at home.

These stats translate to vast teen influence over purchases and the media exposure of entire households. Yet most marketers misunderstand the teen demographic, or are understandably wary of the marketing minefield that surrounds teenagers, or both.

Being misunderstood, one way or another, is pretty much a defining condition of being a teenager. Ask any teenager. Or any parent. At any point in time.

Mutating media and changing social codes, however, mean today’s teenagers can realistically claim to be more misunderstood than ever. This is partly because the brand communicators talking to them are not from a net-native background, meaning they prioritise TV over TikTok and YouTube.

Tiptoeing through the teen years

The first thing to stress is that even the word ‘teens’ is misleading. The seismic shifts of life firsts and new interests mean everything changes year by year—aspirations, tastes, desires and purchasing patterns. Smart marketing demands segmentation as well as scale, and we target by two-year segments—13 to 15, 16 to 18—because the differences are so huge.

There’s a powerful ethical element too. Which is why there was such outrage when lobbying groups Reset Australia and the Tech Transparency Project found it was possible to use Facebook’s profiling to offer adverts about alcohol and cigarettes to 13- to 17-year-olds. If brands are nervous about talking to teens, they have reason to be.

So why would you?

By 2025, McKinsey estimates Gen Z will make up a quarter of the Asia–Pacific region’s population. Not only that, but they will have huge spending power, with a Bank of America report estimating that “Gen Z’s economic power is the fastest-growing across all cohorts”.

Ignore teens and brands not only risk future marketing failure, but also may lose that connection to the family of today.

Brand benefits

Brands are key to teen identity, but teens don’t learn to love brands the way we did.

Our data reveals that 70% of teens learn about new brands via social media, compared with 58% of millennials. From a break with parental brands at age 11, through fluidity and experimentation from 13, to potential return to top brands, their relationships with brands changes year by year.

Currently 41% of teens are following their favourite brand on social media and 25% will actively recommend a brand they love. Across APAC, teens of different nationalities have their own relationships with brands, according to a McKinsey report, which adds. “In Japan, Gen Zers are more likely to want to fit in rather than be unique; in China, they rely on brands, in large part to define who they are; in Australia, they lean more strongly toward environmental responsibility and sustainability.”

It’s a sophisticated, segmented and ever-shifting section of society. Any marketer whose communication strategy doesn’t take on the challenge of teens is looking to bury their brand for a generation.

Data: The Insights Family, 6 months ending 05/08/21


Will Anstee is CEO of TotallyAwesome.

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