Marketing to the Ultimate Power Consumer
[Series 2: “TWEEN GIRLS”]
“They cannot vote, drive yet or even owned credit cards, but they are especially prized since they spend the most money and marketers are obsessed with them. What they buy and what they get their parents to buy for them add up to the bottom line of products and brands”
By: Justine Castellon
(originally published in 2011 with tweeners Julia Antonina Castellon and Denise Angela Leyco)
When Mattel and Nickelodeon repackaged “Dora the Explorer” into Britney Spears/Lindsay Lohan in a scanty dress and leggings with jewellery and long flowing hair in 2009, the little girl has indeed evolved further. This little-girl-no-more is called a tween and has become one of the most important recent developments in marketing today. She is an amalgam of Hannah Montana and Lizzie Mcguire. She’s 8 to 13 year old who dresses like she just celebrated her sixteenth birthday. She lists Justin Bieber or Taylor Lautner as her love interest in friends’ Slambooks. No longer a little girl, but not yet in her teens, she is starting to develop her sense of identity and is anxious to cultivate a sophisticated self-image. The tween girl is a driving element of popular culture today, just as the teenager was a generation ago. It’s no surprise that marketers are discovering there’s lots of money to be made with them and there are forcing them to grow up quickly.
KIDS NO MORE
The obvious starting point of this article is to question who she is? She is not quite a teen yet but definitely not a child anymore. The definition of tween varies according to different sources. Their age is defined from as wide as 8-14 or 7 to 11 years old and some even define tween not as an age group but as a “state of mind”’. Regardless of the exact age definition, most agree that their age range is roughly the same as pre-teens, that is, between childhood and adolescence. The Hannah Montana’s out there presented the marketing acronym KAGOY (kids are getting older younger).
Yes, she grow fast- as in turbo fast. At her age, she is allowed to meet up with friends and together they go to the mall (or sometimes with parents but allows them to wander around the place unsupervised). Even with her (and her friends’) meagre allowance burning holes in her pocket, she feels empowered and cool. She scans Total Girls magazine but on the last minute she finds it a bit babyish for her taste and decides to pay for Candy Magazine instead because the topics about boys and shopping are hotter. She still makes a quick stop at the toy store but pays particular attention to the latest gizmos and sometimes makes a trip to Starbucks for a cup of latte. She checks the retailers/designers’ merchandise and displays and plans future clothing purchases when shopping with her mother. In short, she now rejects most childlike images and associations, and aspires to be more like a teen.
How did the industries come to know her? When the economy was good decades ago marketers shied away from the youth market. But when the economy went to the crapper, they suddenly took an interest in this entire market segment and formed a new market niche. In the earlier consumer culture, young consumers were grouped into to basic units – the child and adolescent. It was later that the categories of youth became more refined with clearer, more decisive boundaries. The toddler, the pre-schooler, the teen and of course , the tween have become distinct segments defined by consumer-marketing forces. The distinction is remarkable, thus, retailers began sectioning out the tween girl and notched out girlhood as retail category separate from the child and teenager.
HER STYLE BIBLE
The concept of restructuring such retail section for girls was based on observation of some retail buyers that sales were slow when the merchandize were mixed or placed too closely to the infants and children’s section. These young shoppers did not want to wander closely to those sections reaffirming their status as children.
Likewise, they were no longer the smaller version of their older sisters. They have quite different problems in clothes and distinct style range of fashion. “I don’t want to be seen shopping in the children section, besides the styles are so kiddos. I like to shop at Zara, TRF, Forever21 and Top Shops,” said 13 year old Denise. She quickly added “the clothes there are fashionable and hip.”
Today, tween apparel is a billion dollar industry around the globe and considered one of the fastest growing lines in fashion. Typically, they are fashion conscious. “We see ourselves as trendy individuals who listen to pop music.” Denise explains further that they are definitely picky, and at a flash, they change their fashion taste – from rebel look, to rock glam or even Goth. “We just love to experiment. We adore tank tops, low waist-skinny jeans, T-shirts featuring graphics and bold prints, and layers are also popular and cool. It all depends on the mood or occasions.”
Similar to Denise, 10 year old Julia quips “we have more sense of fashion than when we were little girls”. They are both fashion followers and trend setters. They like the feel of dangling earrings, and love anything hip and classy. “We tweeners like to wear a lot of bracelets –our friendship bracelets -having lots of bracelets is very hip and popular (sic). We also like nail polish especially the aqua blue colour and we experiment with glittery makeup and different shades of lip gloss, “she added
Driven by the information bombarded by the media and their environment, they simply follow the latest trend in hairstyle. “ We love long straight hair – even more – with some colorful highlights.” Skincare products scents are also on their wish list together with fashionable eyeglasses to match our outfits. They listed jeans/bag charms, cell phones, and iPods as the popular accessories. “We want trendy, glittery, and personalized bags, shoes and sandals,” says Julia.
Yes, at their age, they are starting to experiment on make-ups and clothes to mask youth, striving to be popular, and of course starting to notice the boy next door or the young dude in the mall. And the concept of parties evolved, “kiddie parties at McDo is uncool!” remarks Julia when the topic falls into this category. She narrates that she and her classmates manipulate their parents for sleepover slumber parties. “That’s totally and absolutely cool! In PJs (pajamas) doing karaoke with Taylor Swift and pillow fight! And we got to sleep late and fill out our Slambooks and gigglers about hunkies.”
For any tween girl, hosting the perfect slumber party is at the top of the list of things to do or the most frequently done parties. Her parents start to let go of their child for the “big” birthday and consent to sleep-over parties (with conditions) as part of the child’s milestone. “It depends on friends she will be hanging out with. If they’re someone I knew and trusted, I allowed her but I made sure I bring her and fetch her from our house to friends’ place,” said Lawrence.
While they’re too young for boy talks, this is being whispered in closed-door discussions with friends. Similar to Hermione Granger in Harry Potter Year 2, this stage is the awkward moment with boys. She is starting to shed away the Tomboy image and sees Ron Weasley differently. No longer the old buddy or bike partner after school. The common interests, caring and trust which started in their pre-tween era changed. She feels uncomfortable about sharing certain things and her friendship may go through some growing pains and her parents set new rules about her activities with him. Her relationship with her former boy best friend since she was a toddler changed a little. She talked to her girl friends about personal stuff like getting her period, clothes and girly stuff. But reserve the bike, computer games and geek stuff to her old buddy. The close proximity adjusted too. Holding hands becomes awkward – and started to notice him differently way beyond the afternoon bikes and Playstation tournaments. Do not mistake this as a budding romance. Her love interest isn’t the old buddy next door but the fictional hunks Jacob Black, Edward Cullen, Stefan and Damon Salvatore. Both Julia and Denise cleverly remark “they’re totally hot!” When proved further on their choice, Denise quips “Jacob’s abs is hot but Stefan face is hotter.”
Therefore, when you plan to launch a new product for tweens and want a windfall audience, consider a hunky and hot male party host or endorser. Remember, while Bella Swan plays the center stage of the Twilight Saga, tween girls flock the theatres and movie houses because of Jacob Black and Edward Cullen.
Since she is a child of the Information Age, she most likely grew up with computers, internet access and mobile phones. This age group is technologically adept, eager to connect and explore – in short she is totally wired. While social net dominators – Facebook, MySpace and Twitter avoid reaching out kid under age 13- it is inevitable that this age group are joining the bandwagon of social media space with their parents’ consents. “I allowed my daughter Julia to have Facebook accounts on certain conditions – no boys in the list of friends and I control the settings,” said Carlos.
For those tweens whose parents prohibit them to joint the social net dominators they have a growing number of options Everloop, Togetherville and the relaunch of Imbee. These are the few social spaces that allow closed networks for tweens to interact with known friends and family around topics from music to art to science. But everywhere we turn, product developers are talking about social networking sites for tweens – it’s like they are the new “It” girl at the party. Along with hundreds of games they can build their own ‘spheres’ that let them express themselves creatively, connect with other tweens , and virtually support non-profit sites.
It was noted too that cell phone ownership is about to get as ubiquitous social network memberships. “Not just cell phones that can do text and call. I prefer a phone that allows me to download my favourite music and interact with my virtual communities and the blogosphere,” shares Julia.
Stan Pugsley in the article Digital Marketing and the Tweens explains, “they are all about the discovery – the latest viral sensation that is being buzzed about at school. . . and adoption rates are as short as one hour if they sense that their friends have moved on to a new technology.” What does all of this mean for the marketer seeking engagement with tweens? Pugsley explains further that if a campaign worked last year, it is time to scrap it and come up with something fresh. “Give them the impression they are discovering, not being forced into a pre-defined journey. Interact with them in their space, but realize that space will change frequently.”
THE POWER OF HER PURSE
They cannot vote, or drive yet or even owned credit cards, but they are especially prized since they spend the most money and marketers are obsessed with them. What they buy and what they get their parents to buy for them adds up to the bottom line of products and brands. The power of the tweens resides not only in the fact that marketers have identified them, but also that they are a real demographic with identifiable behaviour.
They have money for several reasons. Today, families have fewer children than they used to and therefore spend more on each individual child; the rise of the working mothers who spend more on their children; and grandparents are living longer; relatives and godparents, having few grandchildren, are inclined to spend lavishly on them.
It was no surprise that marketing and media, regard them as a “a hidden gold mine,” suddenly became interested in them and speaking directly to them. Young girls, who previously had been ignored, became drivers of popular culture.
The kiddo and wholesome Dora image may have been compromised. Did Mattel really turn Dora the Explorer into a grown up girl emphasizing her long and shapely legs? What happened to the endearing tomboy with bowl-cut hairdo that kids and parents grew to love? Both Mattel and Nickelodeon announced that the preschooler Dora isn’t going anywhere. They recognized the potential of the market and added a new line for tween. That status – trumpeted by the marketing industry may seek to push its limits – to the next level – by identifying five-year-old girls as “pre-tweens” in the hope of creating a new marketing niche.
Other Marketing to the Power of the Purse Consumer Series:
WHAT WOMEN WANT? [Series 1: “30 SOMETHINGS”]
TWEENING THE GIRL POWER [Series 2: “TWEEN GIRLS”]
THE WISE WOMEN [Series 3: “THE GOLDEN AGE”]
BESTIES & SELFIES [Series 4: “TEEN GIRLS”]
GENERATION Y NOT [Series 5: “20 SOMETHING”]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Justine Castellon is an independent brand strategist, a business writer and founder of The Market Place 2.1 and Company. She provides creative thinking and interpretation of consumer and market insights. You may reach her Justine.firstname.lastname@example.org | Follow her at www.twitter.com/marketplace21