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Think. Discuss. Act. Teen Marketing

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Review: The Quality of Cool. Today’s Teens are Mercurial and Media-Wise

S. Reese. (July, 1997). “The Quality of Cool. Today’s Teens are Mercurial and Media-Wise. You Can Sell Them, but Never Tell Them, What’s Hip and Must-Have.” Marketing Tools.

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Marketing and advertising firms are paying more and more attention to what teenagers think is cool, and they are spending big money on research to find out why.

This article cites research from Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU), an Illinois-based research agency which conducts yearly comprehensive surveys of teenagers and sells their information to marketers. Companies are making quite an effort to find out what is “cool” to the teenage market segment. TRU estimates that teenagers, who boast a proportionately large amount of disposable income, spent about $103 billion of their own money in 1996. Marketers are eager to tap into the teenage buying population, particularly since the number of teenagers is expected to rise until 2010. Marketers also seek to win teenagers’ brand loyalty because they are tomorrow’s adult consumers.

Marketing to teenagers is challenging, because they are sophisticated consumers who are “skilled at deciphering and disarming marketing messages.” Trends among teens change quickly, and marketers must “trend surf” to stay current.

How does one market to teenagers? Be honest with them, says TRU president Peter Zollo, and make sure your product is good. Image is important, but quality is crucial to gaining credibility with the teen consumer. Whiton Paine, president of the market research firm Kid To Kid, says:

‘You have to be up front and honest with them, and respect what they believe is important. You can’t take it over and try to manipulate it. Remember, you are a marketer, and you only join their world by invitation. You have to play by the rules of that world, or you’re not going to be there for long.’

Marketers go to tremendous lengths to position their product as “cool.” TRU president Zollo explains, ” ‘Cool has a lot to do with fulfilling the same fundamental teen needs it always has. Fitting in and belonging are still the key teen motivations.’ ” Marketers know how to utilize these needs-particularly important to the appearance-obsessed teen-through clothing, shoes, makeup, and hair products.

The article describes the successful attempts of 7-11 stores to position its Slurpee as “cool” by updating its image: it affiliated with MTV and touted trendy teens, TV personalities, and top athletes in its ads. ” ‘We’re clearly committed to the teen audience,’ ” says Victor Copello, president of Promotional Resources.

Market researchers acknowledge the importance of listening to teens, instead of assuming teen preferences. Marketers seek the “trendsetting” teenagers to test out how a product will be received. It is also important to talk to teens respectfully, since “teens will always hope to be perceived as a little older than they really are.” Above all, it is crucial to keep up with teen trends and update marketing strategies as times and fads change.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Does this article confirm or contradict your observations of and experiences with teenagers? In what ways?
  2. To what extent do you think teenagers sense that they are being “targeted” by marketers, and to what extent do they buy into the marketing?
  3. How do you think their exposure to marketing and advertising has changed the way teenagers view their own world, the adult world, and church?
  4. How would teenagers you know define “cool”? How does it affect their decision to buy a product?
  5. How does the quote from Whiton Paine reflect the relationship of youth workers to teenagers? In what ways is the youth worker’s position similar to the marketer’s? How is it different?
  6. What techniques and approaches do marketers use that youth workers should be practicing?


  1. Marketers are motivated by profit, whereas youth workers are motivated by love. However, youth workers need to pay attention to what marketers are learning about teenagers, in order to use that information to effectively reach and care for teenagers.
  2. Today’s media-wise teens are very perceptive about who is sincere, who is just after their money, what is quality, and what is just image. Youth workers ought to recognize this conditioning as a factor that can make teenagers open and responsive.

Faith Kaufman
© 2018 CYS

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