Posted by: Chris | July 13, 2007

Marketing to Teens

Gen Y

I truly enjoyed Marie Tupot’ post on Brand Noise this morning entitled “What’s up with Gen Y?” The article somewhat debunks the mysteriousness that has been imputed upon today’s teenagers. If you have read my profile (or if you know me personally), you know that I am currently a high school English teacher. I suppose this gives me opportunities to observe Gen Y more than your every day agency or corporate marketer. This is not to say I’m an expert on Gen Y, but obviously, I have had a lot of face time with them. While indeed, I am insatiably interested in this particular group (why can’t there be a marketing firm in Tulsa focused on targeting teens??), I agree with Tupot that they are “not much different than previous generations,” but over the past 10½ years of direct work with members of this generation (8 years as a teacher, 2½ years as a youth pastor), I have noticed the following differences:

1. Gen Y is more computer literate than previous generations

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But I include this point to denote the difference between being computer literate and techno-savvy. I don’t mean to disagree with Tupot on this point; I’m merely pointing out a semantic difference. To wit, there is a misconception that this generation is more techno-savvy than boomers, busters, etc. However, the technology of today comes as a result of the same curiosity and affinity previous generations had for technological and scientific growth. If anything, Gen Y is a tad more complacent (dare I say, lazy) with regard to technology. The accessibility of technological advances attenuates the sense of urgency to grow in this area. The urgency that remains is simply to make money off of the advances currently in place. I think that most people mean to say that Gen Y is more “computer literate” than previous generations, and this is due only to the fact that computers are such a commodity these days. An appropriate analogy would be to observe the days before radio. People were interested in music before the radio became a household item. It was not as though people lacked “music-savvy.” The proliferation of radio technology simply made it easier for people to exercise their music interests. People became more “radio-literate.”

2. Gen Y is more earth conscious than previous generations

As with computer literacy, the green mindset teens have today is simply a result of accessibility. Information about pollution and its effects on the earth and on the health and well-being of future generations is more readily available than it was even just a couple of decades ago. To today’s teens, concepts of recycling, conservation, reduction of pollutants, etc. are nothing mysterious (nor are they optional, as they are with previous generations): they are just common sense. Their question is, why wouldn’t a person recycle, conserve, etc.

3. Gen Y is more consumeristic.

Can’t really get mad at them though. Again, it comes down to accessibility. How easy have we (previous generations) made it for everyone (especially the “computer literate”) to buy? “Dot-com,” the mantra of the 90’s and 2K’s, is by definition all about money. E-Bay, Amazon, online shopping, etc., etc., etc., make it impossible to avoid seeing how beautiful it is to spend money.

4. Gen Y is more connected.

If I could choose one item from this list that is truly a product of Gen Y and not just a result of previous generations, it would be this. Gen Y has done an incredible job of taking it upon themselves to network. And believe me, as one who is looking to change careers with hardly a network whatsoever, this is a very reputable pursuit. Continuing in the tradition of this post of not providing any statistics (hey, I just want to write-I’m not submitting an thesis here), I will simply leave it at this: a lot of teenagers use social networking services. Teens divulge more about themselves and research more about each other than ever before. And because these services make it so easy to meet new people, teenagers are more interested in breaking out of traditional people-groups (a.k.a. “cliques”) than ever before. Again, a laudable endeavor.

So there it is, my observations as a teacher/marketer (hopeful) on how teens differ from, well, everybody else. I would love to hear other differences you have observed in teenagers. And a challenge to these 4 assertions is always welcome. Next time: the similarities between teens and previous generations.

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