OK Boomer

March 2021

There’s no question that the effects of lockdown are felt by everyone, but one particular group where these changes have had a truly seismic impact is young teenagers. Rewinding to the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of talk about a ‘new normal’ since then, people seem to have accepted that for many, the ‘new normal’ will actually just be ‘normal’.

Less so for young people…

With so much of their lives being switched off such as school, sports, recreation and social interaction outside of their immediate family, the once gradual ‘switching on’ of their digital lives has been accelerated exponentially. Yes, everyone it seems is getting more screen time, but young people are experiencing more digital ‘firsts’ as they push for freedom online. Parents weary from another day of juggling home-schooling and work have become more receptive to their requests. Screen time will reduce again as the world re-opens, but these new digital habits will not vanish, giving way to the idea that the ‘new normal’ may not be a myth for everyone.

The effect of Covid and lockdown on teenager’s lifestyles, media habits and mental health has been put under the spotlight, and yet they are an audience that brands often overlook. This could be because it is increasingly difficult to communicate with them effectively while remaining compliant with ever-tightening privacy laws, or because talking to them without coming across as tone deaf can spark a withering response that may be hard to bounce back from.

However, driving brand loyalty amongst the younger generation can be incredibly valuable and create brand love that’s cemented at a young age and pays off in loyalty for decades to come.

But it’s not just about looking forward, according to Kid Martech specialists, Super Awesome, young teens (aged 13-15) are ‘old enough to cultivate their own opinions and spending power, but young enough to be reliant on parental budgets‘ they have ‘less direct spending power than 16-18’s (but) more influence over the top ten areas of family expenditure (estimated to be over $61bn in the US alone).

Nine out of ten 13-15yr olds will influence what takeaway the family chooses, what groceries are bought and what they watch on ‘movie night’ yet brands will often assume that they simply aspire to be like their older counterparts and will follow whatever is deemed ‘cool’ by older teens. Now more than ever this is a mindset that ignores a group with different passions, interests, beliefs and consumption habits to their older peers. Worse still, simply dropping them in the Generation Z cohort is a fast track to that ‘tone deaf’ label mentioned earlier (more of the in a moment).

How can we improve?

Be Relevant

Of particular interest in the young teen audience is the meteoric rise of Roblox where over half of US kids spend significantly more time than they do in TikTok or YouTube. Warner recently used Roblox to promote their Wonder Woman 1984 movie with ‘The Themyscira Experience’ where players were able to explore Wonder Woman’s home world and complete quests to earn gear inspired by the character. They then proceeded to take their interest further when Warner Music made a significant investment in the platform.

Be Authentic

Authenticity is an important part of any brand’s identity that wishes to resonate with younger teens. It’s important to note that businesses should not drop their standards or find themselves treated with scepticism.

The impact of increased access to the digital environment is training the youngest age groups to see through a polished exterior and call out brands who don’t treat serious social issues with the respect they deserve.

Nike were widely praised for their work with Colin Kaepernick, while Kendall Jenner is still being trolled three years after her Pepsi ad that trivialised the BLM movement.

Be Compliant

Young people’s privacy laws vary from country to country (GDPR-K, COPPA, CCPA etc.), and it can be a daunting task to try and navigate this environment safely for both the audience and the brand. However, the task is not insurmountable. The data is available and insightful (just captured in a way that is entirely safe for the audience) and the value from correct execution can play out in both the short and the long term. WPP partnered with Super Awesome last year to smooth this process for clients and allow kid safe interactions with brands.