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The Social Tween

Marketers take aim at kids raised on smartphones and Facebook
  • June 24 2012

Like generations before them, growing girls are still “freaked out” by their changing bodies. What is different for today’s 8-12 year olds is their willingness to discuss that fact with total strangers.

Doing research for Kimberly-Clark’s “U By Kotex” youth-oriented sanitary napkins, digital agency Organic found that today’s tweens were excited to go online and share their experience of their first period with peers, a far cry from the embarrassment felt by earlier generations. “For this age group, there is virtually nothing taboo to have a conversation about in the digital space,” says Anna Banks, VP of strategy at Organic.

Today’s tweens aren’t just digital natives; they don’t know a world without the social and mobile Web. Tweens control an estimated $43 billion in spending power, according to EPM Communications, and marketers that try to reach them will need to have a keen understanding of how these kids interact online.

“We call them mobile mavens,” says Ann Mack, director of trendspotting at JWT, which explored this generation in an April survey called Gen Z: Digital in Their DNA. These tweens, she explains, might not yet own devices themselves, but have had parents passing the smartphone or tablet to to them in the backseat since they were old enough to hold it.

“They treat traditional media in a way that they expect to be interactive,” she says. “There are stories of kids swiping a magazine thinking it will react like an iPad.”

Marketers need to adjust to the new realities of tween habits online, while walking the fine line of opt-in/privacy rules, says Mack. For example, mobile tweens think its natural to share their location via an app. “Everything is going to be about SoLoMo [Social Local Mobile] and this generation won’t even give it a second thought—it’s just how mobile phones work to them.”

For Bellaboo, a natural skin care company that targets tween and teen girls, digital technology is important but peer-to-peer is the real key to marketing success. “We have 16 teen girls called ChatterChicks who are pivotal to our social media and online marketing,” says Snezna Kerekovic, founder of Bellaboo. Tweens look up to what the older girls are doing. “Our mantra is that every 8-year-old girl should start the skin care journey,” she explains.

Getting tweens onto the vegetable-eating journey, however, is tougher. Frozen vegetable leader Birds Eye has begun to engage tweens online through a partnership with Nickelodeon and its hit program iCarly. “We worked with them on a way to put ourselves into the online dialogue and discover what tweens would do if they had a creative hand in enjoying their veggies,” says Chris Treston, senior director of marketing at Birds Eye. The campaign, to be launched in July, will include a contest encouraging kids to come up with wacky meals. The winning ideas will be made into actual Birds Eye products.

“Tweens like to be very creative and a bit rebellious, meaning they love messy fun,” he says.
Still, Mom and Dad remain important parts of a tween’s purchasing life and marketers must keep them in mind when targeting this age group.

“Tweens represent a unique dynamic in that they are old enough to be influenced by the world around them,” says Kyle Cox, president, SheKnows.com. “However, since tweens still rely on their parents for the majority of their purchases, this creates an interesting dynamic. Marketers must make an effort to reach the parents of tweens in order to truly be effective.”

Organic’s Banks agrees, pointing out that U By Kotex also targets moms, who ultimately make the purchase for younger girls:  “It’s about how do I have a conversation with my daughter.”