Secrets of Teen Marketing Revealed!

Commentary about business and finance.
Aug. 10 2000 12:17 PM

Secrets of Teen Marketing Revealed!

Of all the mystical powers associated with teen-agers, my favorite is how incredibly media-savvy they are. The Wall Street Journal has been sounding this theme in a current series of articles about marketing to kids, called "Buying Gen Y." (Before I go any further, I'd like to recommend the piece that David Plotz wrote for Slate last year, in which the marketing profession is rightly blamed for constantly stoking the obsession with decoding teen-age-ness. Despite the effectiveness of this assessment, the marketers march ahead.)

Today's topic is teen movies, and the producer of one teen flick tells us that the thing about Gen Y is: "They can tell when they're being marketed to." As an example of the fact that, as the Journal puts it, "the ability to decode marketing messages is like a birthright," teens reveal that they can tell a good movie trailer from a bad one, and tend to shy away from actually going to see the movies that look bad. They can also discern, simply by decoding the marketing messages, that American Beauty and American Pie are different sorts of films aimed at different sorts of audiences. Another teen points out that Hollywood movies can be superficial and deal in stereotypes, which is a mistake because "our generation is very diverse." This is an insight, because as everyone knows, all previous generations have consisted entirely of middle-aged, white marketing executives.

Turns out that a key factor to this new generation's startling savvy is that Internet thing, which you may not be familiar with if you aren't a teen-ager yourself. "The Internet allows [teen-agers] to rely on each other for movie information," the Journal reports. This, too, is an insight: When I was a teen-ager, for instance, there was no comparable way for me to obtain movie-related information from the roughly 2,000 other teen-agers at my high school. The Internet really does change everything.

I really don't mean to pick on the Journal, whose marketing coverage is generally excellent. And certainly the paper's current Gen Y musings are no more superficial than anyone else's. (A recent Fortune piece found it "surprising" that today's teens say they want to build loving families when they grow up, and further reported that teens' friends are important to them and that they "don't want to be consumed with work." As opposed to what? Prior groups of 17-year-olds who were indifferent to their peers and aspired to put in long hours at a meaningless job and cheat on their spouses some day?)

Obviously it's true that teen-agers have different tastes and respond to different messages than non-teen-agers do. And certainly I don't doubt that teen-agers know when they're being marketed to. But really, at this point, is there anyone alive who can't tell when they're being marketed to? If awareness of marketing negated consumption, the American economy would grind to a halt immediately. Teen-agers don't like to be marketed to, they know it's happening all the time, and yet they keep on buying things that are made for and marketed to them. That doesn't make teen-agers different from practically every American who is old enough to spend money; it makes them precisely the same.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The First Case of Ebola in America Has Been Diagnosed in Dallas

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The Supreme Court, Throughout Its History, Has Been a Massive Disappointment

Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister

Damned Spot

Now Stare. Don’t Stop.

The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 5:19 PM Social Outcasts Republican candidates are retreating from debates on abortion, gay marriage, and contraception.
  Business
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
  Life
Education
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 4:45 PM Steven Soderbergh Is Doing Some Next-Level Work on The Knick
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 5:47 PM California Gov. Vetoes Bill Requiring Warrant for Police Surveillance Drones
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.