Who knows most about young people and their culture? Youth workers, who spend the most time with them, you might say. Wrong.
A more academic response might be: surely it must be the professors of youth culture and youth ministry, whether psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists or educational experts. They have not only spent time with young people but have studied them from texts—and perhaps done research of their own. Wrong again.
A more radical and seemingly unassailable response might be: Well, of course, young people themselves; they are the experts on their lives. From a certain perspective, I sometimes give this answer in class, but overall it too is wrong. A young person certainly is an expert on her life and probably that of her friends, but that is a very small sampling of youth and youth culture.
Who, then, has the whole picture and is most up to date on young people and their constantly changing youth culture? Certainly it is the youth market researchers, paid the most to be experts, to stay up to date—and able to influence as well as to gather information.
Society pays marketers more than youth leaders, more than it pays professors of youth and culture. That’s why they are expected to get it right—up to the moment and into the near future. Huge investments depend upon it. Their predictions and prescriptions are measured and evaluated. They have to get it right—or righter than anyone else. (No one is evaluating youth workers and professors quite that way.)
In general, Marketing and Advertising see themselves as benefiting society. They provide information that aids people in meeting their needs and fulfilling their desires. Books like Jerry Kirkpatrick’s In Defense of Advertising (2007) provide a crisp, rational, theoretical defense on the basis of a consumer’s self-interest.
James B. Twitchell’s AdcultUSA: The Triumph of Advertising in American Culture (1996), Juliet B. Schor’s Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Society(reprint, 2005), and many others offer a more cautionary, if not outright negative, critique of the advertising industry.
Advertising is actually just one piece of marketing. Marketing involves cultural and ethnographical studies, media planning, public relations, pricing, advertising research, distribution, community involvement and customer support. Of all marketing’s features, advertising is its most expensive component. Advertising is so critical, in fact, that the terms marketing and advertising have become almost synonymous.
Market and advertising researchers discovered and began to invest in teenagers in the 1970s. The famous Pepsi ads of the 1980s (viz. Michael Jackson and the Pepsi Generation) illustrate that point. Researchers had discovered that young people tended to stay brand loyal, so Pepsi invested $5 million in Jackson aiming to make Coke drinkers “look old” and a young generation stay Pepsi drinkers for life.
Teen marketing is obviously marketing which targets young people, nationally and globally. Youth in the previous century were anxious to follow the stories of pop stars—musical, movie, and athletic celebrities. Researchers now (midway through the 20-teens) find digital youth wanting, not only to be part of some big story, but to be their own popular story. Digital youth are making themselves famous and even selling their own brands. Marketers and advertisers now have to partner with young people. (See Graham Brown, marketing expert, Youth Marketing Handbook (2011) and The Mobile Youth: Voices of the Mobile Generation (2014).)
Internet descriptions of marketing agencies—for marketers need to advertise themselves—give out free, impressive current data on youth and youth culture, in order to attract huge proprietary contracts with Coke, Pepsi, Adidas, Nike, Gap, MTV and others. (You will find links to such agencies under Resources.) These companies are doing their own research as well and paying big money to put a Coca Cola or Nike logo into a Hollywood movie.
“Children simply lack the capacity to evaluate viral marketing (sent to them personal through email) and likely are, along with their parents, unaware that they are participating in a form of marketing.” (Berkeley Media Studies Group, retrieved 15Aug14.)
Youth marketing, and all marketing, are driven by our need to sustain and to provide for ourselves in technological and consumptive societies. Good marketing is seen as what gets information out to consumers and makes a profit for itself and its clients. It would seem, moreover, that this profit motive needs to be balanced off by determined dedication to the common good, by healthy, holistic growth for all citizens.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
What brings you to this topic? What would you like to gain from it? How much time and energy are you ready to give it?
How important is marketing to our society? What are the distinctions and relationships between youth marketing and marketing in general?
What, in your opinion, are the benefits and the dangers from marketing?
What can education, youth work, and faith-based organizations learn from the strategies of marketing? How specifically would you apply lessons?
What are the possible ethical and religious effects and aspects of marketing in our global and local societies?
What more do you want to see and know about youth marketing?
Economics seems to be what makes the world go round. It provides human sustenance, and it influences individual character, society’s core values, and politics. Marketing is a key factor in our economic life. Keen marketing can bring growth and prosperity to a society.
The profound importance of economics, marketing, and advertising in our lives would seem to obligate moral, if not religious, evaluation. Very few marketing majors or persons in marketing/advertising respond to ultimate ethical questions: Why, and to what extent, do we want to increase spending and profits? What is the end, the final purpose of advertising, and can a faulty end justify crafty means? How carefully does your research examine detrimental possibilities in the healthy development of children and youth?
Because the prosperity and dignity of all citizens is in general agreed upon, the discussion here should be pursued.
The scientific methods and relational communication principles of marketing have much to teach other disciplines and institutions of society.