The Never-Ending Teen Ad Target

The Never-Ending Teen Ad Target

You’d think that a person with little to no income, spotty transportation, and minimum wage employment would not be at the top of the list for advertisers. And you’d be wrong. The reason? The American teenager. This trend-setting, image-conscious, mall-wandering, and tech-savvy consumer has long been a major target demographic for brands and the advertisers they rely on.

What precisely our teens are being targeted with has changed over time.  

Decades ago, it was the cigarette.

When credit cards became mainstream, they were pushed with free t-shirts on college campuses.

When social media made “influencers” of us all, beauty products and multilevel marketing initiatives took center stage.

And now, apparently, history has repeated itself.

For the last twenty years, teenage use of tobacco has been dropping. 

Then, earlier this year, the Center for Disease Control published an alarming statistic: in a twelve-month period, the number of teenagers using tobacco skyrocketed by 38%.

The culprit? E-Cigarettes. The high tech “smokeless” product uses vapor to deliver the hit its consumers crave. Adding to its youthful appeal is a menu of various flavors and a cutting-edge brand that feels more like the packaging you’d expect from the latest gadget than a tobacco product.

The main company behind the product, Juul, claims to be taking steps to keep the products from the hands of teenagers, including secret shopper operations, age verification technology, and pulling back on “youthful” flavors. But if history is any indicator, when teenagers are forced to choose between social cache and logistical hurdles, they’ll tackle the hurdles with glee.

There’s more to the battle over your teen’s wallet (and lungs) than rules. Stimulation will always be desired, and peer pressure is certainly at play. But so is the power of marketing.

Marketers spend millions of dollars seeking to understand what motivates, triggers, and incentives consumers to purchase products. According to the Truth Campaign, Juul’s secret sauce was discovered by a tobacco exec in the 1970’s who identified that “teenagers like sweet products.”

Are teens really that easy to target? Yes and no. There’s a silver lining to the cynicism teenagers are famous for. And it’s this: educating our kids about the efforts marketers go to pressure them to buy can harness their cynicism for good. Your message as a parent: “You are not a pawn.”

Educating our kids about the lengths brands go to grab their attention is a powerful first step in helping them establish a safeguard against the exploitative marketing practices they’ll most certainly face.

And don’t worry: you are not alone in this fight. A number of impressive initiatives are on a mission to educate teens about the marketing attempts they face. We had the thrill of featuring the Truth Campaign on our episode, You Are the Target. Their discoveries (and opposition tactics) are worth your time.

Looking for something more light-hearted? Have a look at how the Ad Men are hawking their peanut butter hot dogs in this sketch:

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