The Retail Stimulus Package: Teens and Social Media

3/18/2009 03:41:00 PM


When I was a sophomore in high school, I fell in love for the first time.


Although the object of my affection, a pair of jeans, was priced far beyond my limited budget and despite the fact that even after trying on several different sizes they still somehow didn’t fit quite right, I saved three months of babysitting money to buy those jeans; I’d recently seen the same pair worn by the most popular girl in my class and believed that if I had them, I too, might magically become cool.


Understanding the Opportunity:


Of course I had placed far too much stake in the ownership of those jeans -- but for marketers trying to reach a teenage audience, it's important to note that my belief, that ownership of a specific item was directly connected to my ascent in the adolescent social hierarchy, is in fact the rule, rather than the exception, for this highly desirable consumer demographic.  


My story took place fifteen years ago but today, while teens are equally prone to imitation, this highly connected group has many channels beyond their high school cafeterias for keeping tabs on the latest trends and their peers’ consumption habits. Given that the US teen market is expected to swell to 208.7 billion [1] dollars by 2011, marketers have every reason to seize upon the opportunity to extend an engaging offer just when their target teen buyer is looking to make a purchase.

In addition, with 74% of Internet users aged 12-17 engaged in social networking and nearly half of them logging in twice daily[2], savvy marketing professionals will look to social networks to attract teenage consumers. After all, those social network status updates and social network profiles teens love to look at are full of information on their peers’ likes, dislikes and purchase intentions, making social networks an excellent venue for discovering new products and services as “friends” link to things that interest them, and spread the word virally.

And, with social networking becoming increasingly mainstream, teens will become that much more likely to turn to their contacts and networks, choosing peer opinions versus expert opinions.

How Google Can Help:

The Content Network: You can easily reach social teens by using Google’s Ad Planner to target social sites on Google’s Content Network by category or user demographic . Better still, instead of negotiating multiple placements, with our Content Network you can target 48 of the top 100 social sites including MySpace and 8 of the most popular applications on Facebook.

Because we value your investment and want to help you maximize its effectiveness, we’ve also developed some great tools to help you do just that:

  • Demographic Bidding . Control how frequently certain age and gender groups see your ad by adjusting how much you're willing to pay for them. 
  • Language/Geo-Targeting: Pick where in the world your ad will appear by region, country, postal code, or language. 
  • Ad Scheduling: Control what time of day your ads appear so you reach potential customers exactly when they're online. 
  • Site and Category Exclusion: Use our tools to prevent your ads from appearing on specific sites, categories and pages. 


Social Search:


I recently read an excellent article on the value of social search. The premise of this article was that in addition to using content to reach social teens, if you have social features on your own website or are aware of third party sites where your brand is reviewed, you then have the opportunity to reach teen social media users across multiple touch-points and engage them with your brand by directing users to your social media content, using keyword-targeted search campaigns.


Make Your Site Social:


If you haven't seen our free new tool, Google Friend Connect, I strongly recommend checking it out. Consider upping your audience’s level of engagement with your website by using engaging social features that are easy to add to your site - no programming skills needed. 


Sticky Messaging:  

Focus on the Offline World: Teens are very aware of the world around them and naturally turn to online to seek information about the offline world. Both multi-channel and pureplay retailers can capitalize on this trend by keeping ad text themed to upcoming events. 

From March through June, you'll want to consider targeting the following seasonal events that are apt to pique teens' interests: St. Patrick's Day, prom season, spring break, spring skiing and snowboarding, bikini/summer clothing season, Easter, graduation, Cinco De Mayo, Mother's Day, Father's Day, NHL peak season, NCAA tournament, NBA playoffs, summer jobs and camps, BBQs, Memorial Day Weekend, camping, summer vacations and "staycations", and final exam period. 


Lighten up: Teenagers also relate to humor, silliness, and irreverence, and since teens are frequent media multi-tuskers they are often bombarded by media messages. To cut through the noise and reach this group, you may want to appeal to their silly side to ensure you stand out from the crowd.  


Find your Niche: Known for constantly changing their tastes and seeking out novel products, teens are fickle. Businesses can use this knowledge to their advantage in discovering large, lucrative niches by orienting themselves toward a particular teen lifestyle – gothic, hipster, urban, and so forth. With niche teen retailers like Aeropostale Inc. and Hot Topic beating analysts’ estimates, we are seeing that differentiated teen retailers are continuing to achieve results even in the midst of a recession. If you are looking to benefit from this trend in your own business, you may want to highlight your brand’s point of differentiation and showcase your newest products in your messaging.


Looking for a hot new trend? Believe it or not, it's modest dress. Whether it’s more of a fiscal or moral shift, understated girls’ clothing may indeed be making a comeback. When consumer insights firm BIGresearch polled 5,000 consumers last fall, 64 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, ”Fashions for young people have gotten too provocative.” As teens shift toward wanting to be more comfortable and more covered, brands should be rising to meet these needs.


Keep it Real: Today’s teenagers share an inveterate cynicism about corporate messages - to reach them, keep your messaging honest and sincere. If you followed the recent news about Bike Hero being fake, it’s a great reminder that teens have extremely fine-tuned internal lie detectors. For brands trying to reach teens, the key factor is, and has always been, sincerity.


Do Good:  A national telephone survey released this February by the Federal Way-based charity World Vision found that more teens volunteer to support a charitable cause — 56 percent — than have a part-time job, at 39 percent. Today’s socially conscious teens are well aware of global warming, the importance of recycling, carbon offsets and our global footprint. They respond well to companies that share in their quest to leave the world a better place - so craft your messaging accordingly.  




[1] “The Teens Market in the US” report from Packaged Facts.

[2] eMarketer; Social Networks: Five Consumer Trends for 2009.