Marketers turning ‘tween’ into green

Aug 5, 2002  •  Post A Comment

They have influence and money-lots of it-and their very own TVs. Just don’t call them tweens. They hate the name.
The annual buying power of “tweens,” as adult marketers call third-grade-through-middle schoolers, has been variously estimated at between $41 billion and $260 billion, with the latter amount including the money that is spent on them and family purchases that they influence with their opinions.
If you were looking for a discussion about the appropriateness of marketing directly to younger tweens, last week’s fifth annual Targeting Tweens conference in Manhattan, sponsored by the Institute for International Research, was not the place to find it. Instead, there were useful insights and practical tips about everything from “boy colors” (red, green and blue) to the latest tween slang expression for disapproval (“too burka”) to how to get a tween mom, who is likely to be a Gen X “pleaser,” to buy your tween-targeted product. (Assure her, “Your kid will love you for this.”)
The tween years mark the birth of both cool and consumerism. The tween years are the impressionable years when marketers can begin to cultivate both brand loyalty and brand appeal. Marketers know that tweens love TV, the Internet and new products, particularly those aimed right at them. Because tweens are Internet savvy and like interactivity, technophobic parents tend to rely on them for product research on the Web. Media companies such as Starz! and Viacom fully expect their tween networks (Wam! America’s Kidz Network and Nickelodeon, respectively) to feed aging tween viewers up toward their teen- and 20-something-oriented networks, Starz’s Action or Viacom’s MTV.
Just who are they?
There is no general agreement on just who exactly the tweens are. Wam!, the Starz Encore Group 24-7 network dedicated to tweens, for example, programs for an 8- to 16-year-old “psychographic,” said Midge Pierce, Wam!’s VP of programming.
When the network launched nine years ago it was briefly called Starz Tweens, Ms. Pierce said, but the name was quickly discarded. Other names that were rejected included any with the word “kids” as part of the name. That changed only when networks such as Fox Kids and Kids’ WB began attaching the formerly unhip word to hip and edgy graphics. Now kids recognize that “kids” can connote cool too.
“Fox Kids was the very first to get away with it,” said Dave Siegel, president, WonderGroup, a Cincinnati-based youth marketing and research company. “Up till then if you said `kids food’ or `Gap Kids,’ it was the kiss of death, because tweens didn’t want to be associated with babies or kids.”
The leaders in tween programming are Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, most conference participants agreed. “They’re doing edgier programs that the tweens are interested in,” Mr. Siegel said. “They’re wrapping it around with good Internet sites, which the tweens are looking for, [and] good, solid promotions. … It’s not just programming. They’re on products, they’re on clothing. They’re licensing very aggressively.”
Favorite tween programming categories include, in addition to animation and music, nature shows, which bodes well for Discovery’s plan to program NBC Saturday mornings this fall, and surprisingly, news. “Tweens are really into the news, more so than some adults,” Mr. Siegel said. Discovery on NBC, he predicted, “could go very well.”
He divides the tween segment in half: So-called “emerging” tweens are 8 to10 years old. They are highly active and impulsive, rarely analytical, live family-based lives and reject “baby stuff.”
Their older peers are so-called “transitioning” tweens. They are 11 and 12 years old, spend more time alone, tend to be insecure and judgmental, have a “deep intimacy” with a best friend and aspire to the cool and confidence of actual teenagers. Most of all, they resent being talked down to.
Another salient feature of the demographic: Two-thirds of all kids ages 8 to 16 have a TV set in their bedroom. “If you don’t think that they’re watching these shows [like `Sex and the City’], you’re wrong,” Ms. Pierce said. “Another assumption that we make is that kids’ parents are monitoring what they are viewing. Not so.”
Not surprisingly, tweens learn about themselves and their peers, about what’s cool and what’s not, from television. “It’s their medium,” Mr. Siegel said. “It’s their main way to get information. It’s their main way to understand what is acceptable to [other] tweens.”
TV is “where they get most of their information,” said Terence Burke, VP, director of Qualitative Research, Kidsay, a Kansas City, Mo.-based research company that specializes in tracking kid trends.
Today’s hottest tween program is Nick’s “SpongeBob SquarePants,” Mr. Burke said. “It goes across the whole tween market.”
MTV’s “The Osbournes” is another tween favorite, despite its salty language and tougher subject matter. One reason kids watch is that it’s on MTV, which Mr. Burke characterized as an “aspirational” network for the age group.
Tweens like to watch after school the most. “For tween girls, it’s the Zoog Disney shows,” Mr. Burke said, specifying “Lizzie McGuire.” “For younger tween guys, it’s the Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon. It’s `Dragonball Z’ on Cartoon and other anime imports.”
Approximately 11 percent of tweens participate in family shopping, according to one marketer. Cereal manufacturers and fast-meal purveyors have traditionally understood the buying power of tweens, but many other advertising categories have yet to relate to the psychographic or make the pitch.
For boys the pitch should be, “Talking about power, speed, conquering, dominion,” Mr. Burke said. “For girls you’re talking about relationships, closeness. Those are historically things that kids respond to at any age, but tweens especially, because they’re just defining who they are.”