Talking the Talk To Tweens and Teens

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, May 27, 2010 @ 09:25 AM
For a generation that seems to talk more than any before it, it might seem that tweens and teens don't have any trouble telling each other what's on their mind. But three brands/organizations have tapped into teens inclination to talk to elevate the dialogue around important issues that society often gives the silent treatment. Along the way, these three brands/organizations remind us that talk doesn't just make sense, but it can also make a difference.
  • In a bold move, Kotex bucked the conventions of a category that communicated in whispers, and encouraged girls to shout - about their period! Rather than positioning the brand as a secret protector, the brand gives girls the courage to confide. Instead of romanticizing menstruation, Kotex got real. But perhaps the brand's smartest move was connecting to a cause that is organic (also the name of the agency behind this compelling campaign) to the brand. By giving girls access to frank and helpful information about their periods and other aspects of women's health, Kotex might just inspire a generation of girls to gain the confidence they need to take control, and take care, of their bodies.
  • MTV's Thin Line pro-social initiative shows the brand's willingness to harness its hold on youth to inspire them to not only watch and surf, but to think and act. Through TV ads, dedicated space on their website and even documentaries about topics ranging from sexting to cyber bullying (or digital harassment), the brand engages teens in thoughtful dialogue about all forms of Internet abuse. Like Kotex, MTV speaks about the nuanced issues that really matter to teen (for example, is a significant other checking your voicemails, text messages or email messages, an early indicator of controlling - and potentially dangerous - behavior?), and they do so in a voice that doesn't reprimand or victimize, but that treats teens like agents for change.
  • Finally, nonprofit To Write Love on Her Arms not only talks about a traditionally taboo topic, teen suicide, but, more importantly, lets teens talk to each other. While their message is one of hope, it comes from a voice that seems to understand the real and sometimes rough world that teens are trying to survive. The site's secret: letting teens share their stories and feel like they're really being listened to.

For anyone sending messages to kids, tweens and teens, these brands remind us to not only talk, but to actively work to change the conversation about topics that are truly life and death matters in the lives of today's youth. And they teach us that getting tweens and teens to talk back might be the most important cause of all.

Tags: research, advertisment, Youth, Teens, Kotex, To Write Love on Her Arms, tweens, MTV

How to Speak Facebook: Snark

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, May 25, 2010 @ 04:34 PM
According to YouthBeat data, Facebook is on the rise. In the second half of 2009, the number of kids, tweens and teens on Facebook surpassed that of predecessor, MySpace, for the first time - and we think these numbers will increase until a formidable competitor replaces it.

Much has been made about the way that the latest generation of youth communicate. Just between us BFFs, the way they talk makes me LOL. But as anthropologists and linguists have long understood, the language we use is layered with meaning. And so it is for today's youth's brand of banter...

On the surface, it seems that the shortened speech employed by today's youth shows just how impromptu their elocutions are. It's clear that efficiency competes with eloquence for tweens' and teens' attention. And it also shows that informality rules when it comes to the etiquette of conversation. But if you read between the lines, we think it speaks to a need for insider status that is more important than ever to today's tweens and teens.

In a world where everyone is friends, and all spaces are public, privacy and membership can feel elusive. While Facebook may allow youth to express ideas with unprecedented ease and comfort, it also steals a timeless tool of tween and teen relationship building: the secret.

Enter snark. 

Snark is, by definition, "rudely sarcastic or disrespectful." There's no doubt that sarcasm, wit, and one-upmanship prevail on the homepages of most tweens Thought Bubbleand teens we know. But snark only works when you're talking to a group who gets the joke. Snark isn't often expressed to its target, but to those who agree. And for teens, snark is often a way of sharing with, not shunning, others. Snark is a way to cement connections, as in using the "children" tool to list the names of your unrelated best friends. Or creating groups that require little commitment to join (like "People who don't care if you need a cow to complete your Farmville collection," or "Women who know that a good man is hard to find"). Or simply infusing your status updates with irony...

What does this tell us about tweens and teens besides their Facebook behavior? It tells us that it's more about them than about us. Teen talk isn't trying to taunt us - it's trying to show others they're worthy of those ever-elusive secrets. And while language can certainly exclude, most tweens and teens use language to show that they belong - and that others belong with them.

Tags: MySpace, Youth, Teens, tweens, Facebook, speaking

Stardoll: Starter Style for Tweens and Teens

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, May 20, 2010 @ 12:13 PM
For teens coming of age in the middle or tail end of a recession, shopping isn't quite what it used to be. While not all teens have seen their spending money sliced, many teens who rely on part-time or summer jobs have had to take a backseat to more qualified (and available) adults. YouthBeat data shows that most parents opted not to cut their teens' allowance in 2009, despite their own financial sacrifices, but with teens' day to day costs rising, this group is definitely feeling the pinch. In fact, tweens and teens in our YouthBeat panel told us that they were concerned about the economy more than any other social issue - including the environment. Stardoll

So when the going gets tough, where do tweens and teens go? Online. Not only is it "free," (at least from teens' perspective), but it offers a chance to trade-out offline activities with cheaper, more customized versions that can save both time and money. Has going to the movies gotten too expensive? Save money on gas and stream a video right from home. In need of a new game? Check out the free options online first (which over 50% of kids, tweens and teens report doing in the second half of 2009).

And if you're a girl who absolutely needs a new pair of shoes, you can feed your fix with one easy click.

Maybe you can't have that designer bag in real life, but your MeDoll can. Remodeling your room might not be in your parents' budget, but one visit to Stardoll's design store and you can not only pick out a couch and a lamp, but can create a unique pattern that's perfect for your pad's curtains. (Parents Beware: your daughters might care about curtains a lot more after a visit to Stardolls...And, watch out for the impact on your budget the next time you want to re-do her oh-so conventional offline room!) You might not be able to afford tix to see Avril Lavigne, but your MeDoll can be friends with her MeDoll. And if you fantasize about a trip to France, you can purchase scenery that puts the Eiffel Tower outside your virtual window.

For tweens and teens who are beginning or deep into experimenting with their identities, Stardoll makes taking a fashion risk a bit less risky. If you feel like a Fallen Angel one day and Baby Phat the next, you can find what you're looking for in Starplaza. But the difference: money goes much further in these online worlds than it does in the offline world. So for a tween or teen who might aspire to designer duds, but can't quite come up with the cash, Stardolls is the perfect way to start a couture collection.

The only catch - it's make believe. So you can't wear that outfit outside your home, and the only one to get the skinny on your skinny jeans are the friends who have also transitioned from the real world to this virtual one. But tweens and teens don't seem to mind.

One tween we talked to described Stardolls as, "A super-fun place I never get bored [of] because there is so much to do." According to her dad, "she has a pretty nice condo in her Stardoll world."

Will these brands ever make more from their sale of virtual goods than their sale of real ones? Probably not. The feel of real matters too much. But perhaps it's a way for them to gain favor with a potential audience before it's truly their time. And want to know if that forward-reaching style will pay off next season? Produce it online first and see what happens! But whether Stardoll is a game changer or not, it's certainly a place that makes an impression on its users. And we think it's worth a peek...Don't be surprised if you find yourself hooked.

Tags: Teens, shopping, fashion, tweens, money, Stardoll

Join YouthBeat at the What Teen's Want conference in NYC!

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, May 11, 2010 @ 01:00 PM
Hear the voice of YouthBeat, Amy Henry, speak at the What Teen's Want conference in New York on May 13th at 12:30 pm! We would love to see you at our booth - which will be up and running for the duration of the conference (May 12-13th).

In "GET A CYBER LIFE: UNDERSTANDING THE NEW SOCIAL LIVES OF TODAY'S TEENS," you can find out more about everything affecting What Teens Wantthe way teens socialize today - from virtual play grounds to Facebook "official" to Twitter tracking your every move. The social lives of teens have never been simple, but for today's connected teens, some of the timeless trials of these years are made even more complex in a world where everyone appears to be a friend and everybody knows your screen name. In this presentation, Amy will provide you with a look at what's changed - and just as importantly - what's stayed the same in the social lives of today's 13 - 18 year olds. You'll get insight on the most relevant developmental theories related to teens and their social lives, and we'll show how their most current behaviors signal shifts in the rituals that shape their everyday lives. Finally, we'll tell you what this means for brands who want to better meet their needs and fit into this often misunderstood group.

To register for What Teen's Want and hear Amy in person visit:

Tags: parents, conference, Teens, speaking

YouthBeat at the Youth & Family Mega Marketing conference in Chicago!

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, May 10, 2010 @ 10:51 AM

Don’t miss Amy Henry speaking with kid boutique agency, C3, at the Youth and Family Mega Marketing conference in Chicago on May 12th! Swing by the YouthBeat booth and meet us in person…We’ll be there May 11 - 12th.

Youth and Family   Mega

In Concerned, Connected & Plugged In, Amy will discuss the latest findings from our year-long YouthBeat survey and our Virtual Panel of kids, tweens and teens from across the country. You’ll learn: 

  • How today's youth see social: from connecting one on one to keeping up with causes
  • How dialogue has gone digital
  • How to get in touch with kids, tweens and teens with messages about your brand and program

C3 will follow up with how they use these insights to…

  • Continually keep its foundational learning around today’s youth and their families fresh and up-to-date
  • Innovate new products and services that are targeted at the youth and family market
  • Ensure marketing strategies are on-target with today’s youth and their families

To register for Youth and Family Mega Marketing and hear Amy in person visit:

Tags: conference, family, Youth, speaking

Teens on Alert: What Google Tells Us About How We See Teens

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, May 05, 2010 @ 02:25 PM
Perhaps it's fitting that this blog entry on teens begins with an SAT word (on the creators' worst days): Ephebiphobia.

"Fear of teens."

It's likely that you don't suffer from this real phobia - and it's also highly unlikely that you know someone who does. Anthropologists and psychologists often discuss Ephebiphobia as a social ill versus an individual malady. Many assert that society has it out for teens...But in a world that caters to kids and treats tweens and teens as valued consumers, is this still the case?

If you happen to receive Google Alerts for anything "teen," you would probably say yes. On a given day, I receive 6 to 10 emails with a list of headlines from blogs, sites, and minor and major newspapers across the country that talk about teens. My last update featured 28 such headlines. Here's what the headlines included:

• 1 on teen prostitution
• 5 on teens being attacked or assaulted or killed
• 1 on teen suicide
• 6 on teens being sexually harassed or harassing others
• 7 on teens charged with crimes
• 1 on an injured teen
• 4 on legislation or programs to prevent risky teen behaviors
• 1 on teens turning a concert (see Bieber Fever) into a mob scene
• 1 on American Idol
• And we can't ignore the one post on Molly Ringwald.

Just look at the Wordle for this email I received from Google Alerts to get a clear picture of what's going on...

Teen Wordle

It seems clear to us that these academics are on to something. Most of the news out there seems to involve teens at risk, taking risks and putting others at risk.

Why is this? Well, let's be honest...Teens do engage in risky behavior. And we know that the part of their brain in charge of rational decision-making is underdeveloped - even into the late teen years. And the unfortunate thing is that many teens are at risk. Their growing independence makes them feel like they are powerful and in control, but often, they are not as much as they might think.

And teens can be a little intimidating. They seem to speak a different language than adults - if they bother to speak to us at all. They travel in packs and can take over and transform a social space by their mere presence. They have a developmental imperative to test (and sometimes break) the rules...So that means they sometimes disregard ours. And their ability to eagerly adopt the latest trends only to discard them a short time later reminds us how far behind we sometimes are. And no matter how much you know about youth culture, you might still get anxious about shopping for your favorite teen's birthday present. (I do.)

But when we talk to teens, we see and hear a very different story of their lives - and one that seems to be told less frequently. The teens we talk to take risks and sometimes use poor judgment. They worry about their future (with teens becoming increasingly less optimistic). But they are also increasingly involved and interested in volunteering. They laugh at shows that we understand - like Family Guy. And they frequently cite parents as the people they admire most.

Most importantly, most teens we talk to are looking to be understood as individuals, and not to be seen as a group to be feared. Even the most angst-ridden teen will admit that they wouldn't mind some positive acknowledgment from the adult world. And for brands, showing the sunnier side of teens is a risk worth taking.

What does that mean? Use your brand's social spaces to showcase teen altruism and inventiveness. Cast for your ads from the real (albeit aspirational) world of teens. Consider products that help teens make smart decisions rather than fuel the notion that they're not interested in taking care of themselves. And finally, create teen experience that feels productive, constructive and even exclusive, but not subversive.

Tags: parents, mom, family, Youth, Teens

Kids, It’s All You This Mother’s Day

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, May 03, 2010 @ 02:18 PM
As if kids don't have enough pressure on them, most moms are putting one more responsibility on their shoulders: Mother's Day gifts.

If you're like most of the moms in our Mother's Day survey, you won't be expecting much of your husband or significant other this Sunday. Only 4% of the 600 moms surveyed said they expect something from their partner.

Instead, moms prefer gifts that come straight from their kids. At the top of most moms' lists: anything handmade. These high-tech kids will need to get into some traditional arts and crafts - and fast!

Father and Son

 For many moms, especially moms of older kids (9-12), they prefer a Calgon moment that really takes them away - giving them a break from their duties as a "mom". 22% said they would prefer a day off, while 15% are hoping for a trip.

What should kids avoid? Flowers! Only 6% of these moms prefer plants, perhaps because they're cliché, or maybe because there's something a bit depressing about seeing the symbols of your love wilt in a few days!

And do moms think kids will come through? Nearly 70% of the respondents expect their children to do something, but 20% weren't confident that they will follow-through.

So at the end of the day - even her big day - moms value appreciation above all else. And good news for kids: this is something they can afford to give.

Tags: parents, mom, family, Youth, Teens, holiday