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The youth market

Updated Thursday, 16th March 2006

Companies like Reebok spend a lot of time and effort targeting young people. Learn about the tactics they use to win over the youth market in this article based on OU course material

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boys playing guitar Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: BBC

In economic terms, children and young people are an important and influential consumer group. With the rise in manufacturing industries and the mass production of goods after the Second World War, young people came to be seen in marketing terms as a specific group with a disposable income. The ‘teenager’ was part of a generation with a distinct style, expressed by spending lots of money on records, clothes and entertainment.

More recently, we’ve heard about the ‘child market’ and the commercial practices used to reach the under twelve age group. Market researchers follow the social trends that affect the buying habits of children and young people. Their findings directly influence manufacturers and advertisers.

An example of market research in action is the recent use of the term ‘tweenage’, or ‘tweens’, to refer to older children or young teenagers between the ages of nine and thirteen. Market researchers Datamonitor indicate that the spending power of tweens in the UK is rising faster than that of any other group.

You can tell that tweens are big spenders because large stores such as Boots and Woolworths have ranges of products such as cosmetics, CDs and magazines specifically targeted at them. Datamonitor, however, assert that the spending power of tweens goes further, to more expensive purchases such as cosmetic surgery, laptops, hand-held computers and mobile phones.

The importance of children and young people as consumers increases dramatically if account is taken of their influence on their parents’ spending. You may have heard of ‘pester power’, when children skilfully wear down parental resistance!

Manufacturers and advertisers see children and teenagers as:

  • a primary market in their own right
  • an influential market, given their influence on parental household purchases
  • a market for the future of all nations
  • a particular demographic segment
  • a specific life-style segment according to the same criteria as their parents

Media savvy minors
Media is seen by some as a driving force for children’s liberation. For example, rap music, talk shows and cable television – along with the internet – could be seen as one of the great creative explosions of modern culture. It could be argued that this explosion represents a growing challenge to centralized adult control. Computer games, for example, are primarily aimed at the youth market.

Popular music (particularly dance music) is increasingly generated by digital technology, via sampling, editing and other software. The increasing accessibility of this technology is enabling young people to play a more active role as cultural producers. More and more teenagers have home computers in their bedrooms that can be used to create music, manipulate images or edit video to a relatively professional standard.

Children’s growing access to media is generating concern about their exposure to material hitherto confined to adults. Video, satellite TV and the internet are technologies frequently used by young people. However they are difficult for governments to control centrally.

The advent of video technology made it possible to copy and circulate moving images to a much greater extent than had ever previously been the case. It also made it possible to view it, not in a public space to which access can be controlled, but in the private space of the home. Most children have seen material on video which they’re not legally allowed to obtain.

boy listening to music Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: BBC

Tapping the youth market
Manufacturers and advertising agencies have devised specialised strategies to tap into the lucrative child and youth markets. An example of this is the story of Levi’s Sta-Prest jeans.

At the beginning of 1999, Levi’s prospects looked bleak. Its share was falling in an already declining jeans market, sales levels were down and Levi’s price premium was steadily eroding. Levi’s own research confirmed its core customers (16–24 year olds) weren’t wearing denim the way they used to. Traditional five-pocket just weren’t 'cool' any more.

Levi’s research also found that unaided awareness of the brand had started to fall. More importantly, purchase intention scores, a good indication of the future, were also declining. "We needed an earthquake" was how one internal document described the situation.

The brand needed a rethink and switching the emphasis to a new product was the agreed way forward. Levi’s decided on a range called Sta-Prest and set about defining a new brand attitude that was more upbeat and positive than that of the 501’s world of lone heroes.

The Sta-Prest look was much cleaner and smarter and very distinctive. It had been developed in the US in 1963 when revolutionary technology was used to apply a permanent crease to the garments. In 1999, Levi’s reintroduced this process to provide a unique selling proposition for the brand. Levi’s knew that if the brand was to be successful it would have to regain the respect of its customer heartland.

Sta-Prest was a product that a new generation could own entirely for themselves. Levi’s advertising agency made a conscious effort to break away from the conventions of youth advertising, avoiding the use of conventionally good-looking heroes acting in a cool and rebellious way. They even went to the extreme of using a yellow puppet as one of the main characters.

The primary objective of the media strategy was to create a 'social currency' for target buyers by taking an integrated approach across media, which neither Levi’s nor its competitors had previously exploited. A first for any major youth brand, the campaign was launched through a series of unbranded emails aimed at opinion leaders across Europe. It was designed to create intrigue and a cult among the target market.

Although the ‘Flat Eric’ pan-European drive was a low cost campaign, it achieved remarkable cut-through, even by Levi’s standards. There was a 181 per cent increase in Sta-Prest awareness in the UK, 100% in Germany and 66% in Spain.

(Taken from Marketing Week’s Book of the Night, Centaur Communications Ltd.)

The famous Sony Walkman was produced because Akio Morita, Sony’s Chairman, foresaw a market for young people;

I knew from my own experience at home that young people cannot seem to live without music. … I remembered one time when my daughter, Naoko, came home she ran upstairs before even greeting her mother and first put a cassette in her stereo. I ordered our engineers to take one of our small cassette recorders, strip out the recording circuit and the speaker, and replace them with a stereo amplifier. ...It seemed nobody liked the idea... I even dictated the selling price to suit a young person’s pocketbook, even before we made the first machine.

Finding fresh blood
The Youth market is worldwide. Population size and growth rate are clearly going to be important indicators of market potential. However, age distribution is also important because it can indicate the types of product for which there will be demand.

In countries with high population growth rates there will be a relatively young population – most emerging countries are in this category. In contrast, the birth rate in most European countries is so low that populations are aging and static or falling. As this happens, projections show an increase in the proportion of elderly people in these countries. By contrast the new youth markets are the emerging countries of the world, and it is on these countries that youth marketing will be focussed.

About this article

This article is based on extracts taken from Open University courses: Childhood (U212), Marketing in a Complex World (B825), and Managing Performance and Change (B700).




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