Tech, teens challenge marketers in new ways

April 23, 2001


This is a time of radical change for interactive marketers, a time as challenging and filled with complexities as, say, adolescence.

Thinking we might be at the “adolescent” stage of the Internet revolution, I decided to call Elissa Moses, an expert on both teen marketing and technology; I wanted to see if there might be some parallels between the evolution of the Internet and those troubled teenage years. Teens, like today’s interactive marketers, face changes every day, and perhaps understanding them would provide insight and lessons for today’s hard-pressed technology marketers—or, at least, some comfort.

Moses is senior vice president and director of global consumer and market intelligence for Royal Philips Electronics NV, and author of The $100 Billion Allowance: Assessing the Global Teen Market, a book based on the New World Teen Study underwritten by New York ad agency D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. Moses previously worked with the agency and drove the study, which included 34,000 quantitative interviews with teens in 44 countries.

The teen-controlledspending across the countries Moses and her colleagues surveyed totals more than $100 billion annually. The top markets for teen spending are the United States ($27 billion), India ($16 billion) and Brazil ($15 billion), followed by Japan ($7 billion), Germany ($6 billion), Argentina ($5 billion) and the United Kingdom ($ 4 billion). There’s lots of gold out there in the teen market, and technology-based marketing techniques are just one of the ways to tap into it. Plus, teens are major influencers of household technology purchases. Teens often know more about technology than their parents and can become primary reasons for buying leading-edge consumer technology, something European and Japanese cell phone makers and service providers understand.

Strange how symbiotic the relationship is between technology and global youth culture. Indeed, the Internet and the spread of global consumer electronics enables a common global youth culture. Computer screens, cell phone screens, television screens and electronic game screens have all contributed to this phenomenon.

“Technology is really the driving force in terms of defining youth culture today,” Moses says. “Teens themselves are nearly as fixated on technology today as they were on the causes of bygone years. With every generation there tends to be a focus—a challenge, an issue. Today’s global youth is centered around technology.

“Unlike previous generations, where kids had tension with their parents or they had political tension, the real tension for today’s generation is the speed of change and the thrill of opportunity that comes with that change as well as the challenge and the anxiety about keeping ahead of the curve,” Moses says.

Marketing to the teen audience starts with a basic marketing principle: “Get to know your audience.”

“Infiltrate them,” Moses says. “If you’re Ford Motor Co., go on a road trip with them. Understand how they feel, what they care about (and) what motivates them so that you can create offerings which really benefit them.”

Moses reminded me that those teenage times, just like recessionary times, are filled with uncertainty. There are immutable aspects of that life stage that have more to do with biology than they do with culture and, like an economic downturn, there are things you can control and things you can’t. You have to learn to live with and manage through the ambiguity without getting distracted.

Certain things are true of teenagers and business cycles today, as they were 100 years ago and will be true 100 years in the future. One of the nice aspects of adolescence is that it ends with time. We gain greater experience as we age and our maturity leads tobetter decisionmaking and better choices. The same is happening today with interactive marketing: Growing more mature doesn’t preclude the Internet from being one of the most powerful channels for reaching and connecting with our customers.

Moses coaches marketers to understand teen values and to remember that teens understand marketing and will see through thin veneers.

“You’ve got to really design products and services that meet their needs and speak to them in their language,” she says. At the same time, she points out, “This target is making brand choices that could last for the next 50 or 60 years.”

To today’s teens, the Internet is the way they communicate—fast, furious and multitasking. These teens will grow into adults, and they will reshape the way we gain information and transact business.

“Technology and youth are the two most fascinating topics for a marketer,” Moses says. “That’s why I’m centered right between them. Technology and young people are both about the future.

“If you’re forward thinking and full of dreams, if you want to see what’s possible in the world and you want to help create what’s possible, then dealing with young people and dealing with technology is a magic formula.”

There’s no question it’s tougher to be a marketer today that it was 12 months ago. Yet something about the enthusiasm and excitement surrounding teen marketing reminds me that business cycles, like teenage years, pass with time.

Michael Krauss is a partner with DiamondCluster International in Chicago.
He can be reached at





 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners