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The quest for tweens

Mar 18, 2002  •  Post A Comment

When it comes to TV advertising, tweens matter. Kids between the ages of 9 and 14 account for an estimated $36 billion a year in sales, according to research by Marvin Goldberg, professor of marketing at Smeal College of Business Administration at Penn State University.
And tweens like commercials. More than 50 percent of those surveyed who told researchers that money was not important to them also said they usually watch commercials on TV instead of skipping over them with the remote control. Of those who admitted to liking money, nearly 70 percent said they never miss the commercials, Mr. Goldberg’s research reports.
Virtually every broadcast network is focused on ways to get this audience to watch its programming, but it’s not always easy.
“Everyone wants to service that tween market because they see lots of disposable income, but you can’t do it if you don’t understand what kids want,” said Joy Tashjian, president of Joy Tashjian Marketing Group and head of international for Mainframe Entertainment.
If you’re looking for consensus on what reaches this age group, you’re unlikely to find it among network tween gurus.
The WB, for instance, dominates the Saturday morning tween field, according to Nielsen Media Research season-to-date ratings. And the network’s doing it with programming created for younger children. The top three shows are “Pokemon,” “X-Men: Evolution” and “Jackie Chan”-all animated adventure series. However, Donna Friedman, executive VP for Kids’ WB, is quick to say that adventure alone isn’t enough. To succeed with the tween age group, programming has to have two other characteristics: “humor and heart,” she said.
Rachel Geller, founding partner of the The Geppetto Group, a New York advertising agency that specializes in markets that reach kids, said that it is never a mistake to aim young.
“The myth is that there is a tremendous downside to showing kids’ stuff to tweens. We think that’s wrong. If you show tweens things that they aren’t ready for, they’ll just say, `It’s stupid,’ and turn it off. We tell clients it’s safer to aim [young] and hope for `trickle-up.”’
Programming for tweens doesn’t have to be sexy or edgy, Kids’ WB’s Ms. Friedman said, noting that her network claims an overall 2.92 share of tweens as opposed to teen-oriented MTV, which gets an average 0.62 share.
But edgy can work, as can gross and funny, said Cyma Zarghami, executive VP and general manager of Nickelodeon. “We offer programming that is kid-like. They trust that we know them and speak on their behalf.”
That means music-Britney Spears is a frequent Nick guest. “Britney epitomizes what a tween girl wants to be,” Ms. Zarghami said.
Nick also offers lots of comedy and animation. The network’s most popular shows among tweens include both. Among those are “The Fairly Odd Parents,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “As Told By Ginger,” the story of a young girl’s trials and tribulations as she approaches teenhood.
Disney claims “Lizzie McGuire,” a coming-of-age comedy-adventure, as its most watched series. The show appears on both ABC and The Disney Channel and is seen by more than one-third of all U.S. tweens in an average month, according to Nielsen. “Lizzie” has spawned everything from clothing to lunchmeats to a feature film set for a summer 2003 release.
Rich Ross, president of entertainment for Disney Channel, said “Lizzie” was the result of lots of focus groups, which concluded that tweens like reality stories that reflect what’s happening in their lives. “They’re halfway between stuffed animals and dating. Their parents ask them what they’re going to major in in college one minute and the next minute won’t let them go to the arcade. Their problems are universal, and that’s what makes this programming work as well as it does.”
High-quality animation is another key to entertaining this generation, said Bill Jenkins, VP of development for Nelvana, because of their extensive experience with computer games. “We look at this tween audience as sophisticated, hip and extremely media savvy,” he said. “They have far greater exposure to animation than any previous generation, are much warmer toward it and demand a lot from it.”
Nelvana is about to introduce a new series aimed at tweens called “Clone High,” the story of a band of evil scientists who have extracted the DNA from some of history’s most celebrated personalities, including Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, JFK and Joan of Arc. The characters are cloned teens who face the pressures of modern life while attempting to live up to the legacy of their genes’ exceptional donors. The series is scheduled to air on MTV this fall.
NBC is taking a different path. The network entered into a three-year programming partnership with Discovery Networks U.S., and will begin airing content created by Discovery Kids during its Saturday morning block in the fourth quarter.
The approach in this time block will be toward recognizing that 8- and 9-year-olds are focused developmentally on what is going on outside their small world of home, family and school, said Ken Ripley, VP, Discovery Kids and Digital Networks.
“We love the position that we will have on Saturday morning because we will look so different from anything else out there.” he said.