Branding Fuels Marketers' Youth Focus

NEW YORK — Why are marketers so enamored with youth?

Children, as a percentage of the overall population, are at a 100-year low. But what about the spending power of youth? They collectively spend $198 billion yearly, or $3,400 per person, double the amount of a generation ago. They also influence family and friends. Yet they don't compare with the marketer's Holy Grail, women, who account for 51 percent of the population and 80 percent of spending.

The answer lies in branding, said John Geraci, vice president of youth research at Harris Interactive and a panel speaker yesterday at the ad:tech New York 2004 conference.

Youths begin recognizing brands at 12 and form preferences at 14, he said.

“Your brand affinity starts in the early years,” Geraci told attendees. “They don't really change [in the later years].”

Marketers know that children and teens wield an influence on others that dwarfs their spending power. Harris research found that youth influence is three to 10 times that of direct spending. About one in three consumer dollars spent nationwide is either spent by or influenced by someone younger than 18.

“Pay attention to products they buy [and the] TV shows they watch,” Geraci said. “We're seeing a deluge of ads directed to youth.”

Of equal significance is how well equipped youth are in handling media. Proliferating channels have confounded adults, but not teens. They control the media environment.

“Households have moved from being adult-centric to being child-centric,” he said. “We've become youth-obsessed.”

College students, the upper end of the youth market, are as important as the rest of this market. More than half of college students made an online purchase in the past month, said Samantha Skey, senior vice president of convergent marketing at Alloy Media & Marketing, New York.

Internet-connected college students ages 18-30 in a typical year spent a total of $11.056 billion on online purchases. That was a finding from the Alloy-commissioned 360 Youth/Harris Interactive College Explorer 2003 study.

College students always research before buying online. And they always look for a deal, Skey said.

“They want to be the one who got the best deal, and that's always a buzzable topic,” she said. “If you win one, you win many. They live in a very communal environment. They're now influencing dorms and sororities.”

College students want to be offered breaks or privileges based on their financial position. Marketers also should make them feel like they are being taken seriously as consumers. And they should be allowed to sample products before purchasing.

“College students, in general, need to be appreciated as consumers,” Skey said. “They also like to be rewarded.”

This demographic heavily influences its peers. Alloy found 31 percent of college students consumed energy drinks because friends did. The comparable figures for hairstyling products and tooth whiteners are 31 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

“The No. 1 reason to see movies or TV shows is because your friend suggested it,” Skey said.

College students spend more money on traveling than on any other entertainment activity. They are predicted this year to spend $2.2 billion on airfare and $400 million on cruises. One in seven college students traveled during spring break.

“Wrap yourself around the campus schedule,” Skey said.

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