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The Tween Machine

She is influential and already knows more about technology than you ever will. And she has marketers in her sway

Photo: Joshua Scott; Prop Styling: Terry Lewis for agentoliver.com

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Her toys have been relegated to the back of the closet. She knows the lyrics to every Katy Perry and One Direction tune. She finds Charlie the Unicorn hysterical, rates articles on Reddit and pens op-eds for AllyKatzz. She likes Frappuccinos, is already getting into yoga, has her legs waxed (at least according to a New York Times story) and wishes her life had a voiceover, à la Gossip Girl.

She wants to be anything but the age she is, always looking toward the future, is ambitious, opinionated, influential—and knows more about technology than you ever will.

She is 9 years old. She is a tween.

The 20 million boys and girls in this country aged 8 to 12 (code name: Generation Z) are the new power players of consumerism. Calculations vary according to the assorted ways tweens are defined (some say they’re 9 to 12, others 10 to 12), but one estimate has kids aged 8 to 12 spending $30 billion of their own money annually and influencing another $150 billion of their parents’ spending.

It’s little wonder that marketers are paying so much attention to them, devoting an estimated $17 billion a year to get in front of their shorter-than-a-tweet attention spans.

With 41 percent of kids 6 to 12 putting Apple’s iPad at the top of their Christmas lists this past season, per Nielsen, this is a group of digital natives who are on the cutting edge not only of technology but also media, trends, brands—and everything in between.

“This is the first time in human history when children are an authority on something important,” contends Don Tapscott, author of Grown Up Digital and Macrowikinomics: New Solutions for a Connected Planet. “Today, the 11-year-old is an authority on this digital revolution, which is changing business, commerce, government, entertainment—every institution in society.”

Decked out in their Hollister hoodies, these littlest consumers increasingly are sitting in the driver’s seat, and taking the rest of us along for the ride.

“Tween” may be a relatively new term, yet everyone reading this was one once. So how did this particular group of pre-teens become so influential, and exactly how are they so different from the generations before them?

“We know for sure that tweens have a different cognitive structure—they need more stimulation,” explains Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist at Golden Gate University and co-author of Gen BuY: How Tweens, Teens and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing Retail. “Things have to be faster and more exciting in order to entice them.”

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