Teens are top credit target

Teens’ phenomenal spending power has made them a hot market for industries from clothing to music to fast food. In the past, much of this spending has been in cash — but in recent years, there has been a definite shift toward the use of debit and credit cards.?

The convergence of this trend with teens’ natural tendency to use more financial services as they age has created massive sales opportunities for companies selling debit and credit cards designed for this age group. The struggling economy — and the increased consumer focus on financial responsibility that it’s effected — have only increased consumer interest in these cards, pushing marketers to find new ways to appeal to finicky teens and their parents.?

“Timing couldn’t be better [for this card] in terms of its purpose and relevance,” says Mike Boush, VP of marketing strategy and new initiatives for Discover Financial Services, which offers a teen-focused debit card called Current. “There are a lot of conversations happening around dinner tables in this country where parents are talking with their kids about managing spending, and a tool like this fits well with that dialog.”?

Susan Menke, a senior financial analyst at research company Mintel, which released its latest Teens and Finance study in January, agrees that it’s a huge market that is growing quickly.?

“Teens are using prepaid debit and gift cards for many different reasons, including as gifts for each other,” she says. “You can also put parental controls on some cards, so they appeal to parents as well.”?

It’s this kid/parent duality that makes marketing such cards difficult. As Menke explains, many credit and debit cards aren’t sold directly to teens because they would need a parent to co-sign for them anyway. At the same time, cards that can win the favor of teens have a much better chance of being requested and used than those that appeal only to adults. To juggle the needs and interests of both parties, marketers often promote their cards through multiple channels and with a variety of messages and offers.?

“We offer both parents and teens the things that they are looking for in a prepaid product,” explains Danny Klein, president and CMO of Plastic Cash International LLC, the creators of MyPlash prepaid cards. “So we do have a dual marketing message, and the perfect storm is to reach parents through messaging on media outlets where they live… and then to have a very deep marketing campaign where teens are engaging with media, so that when parents and teens get together, there is a meeting of the minds.”?

The first touch is often geared towards parents, with teen-focused follow-ups to get the kids on board. Discover’s Current, for example, touts the practicality of the card, as well as its various security features, in its messages to targeted adult Discover customers. “We are not layering on a lot of images targeted to teens,” says Boush. “Marketing is initially to parents because it takes a parent to sign up, but we’ve had the card art designed for younger generations.”?

Creative as simple as teens’ favorite musicians or athletes can go a long way in a marketing campaign because it helps teens see how a card fits into their lives. “The product has to benefit teens and make sense to them, and that’s music and sports,” explains Brian Newberry, CEO of Plastic Cash International. ?

MyPlash takes the idea of connecting directly with teens further, using partnerships with record labels like EMI and various sports stars to embed its cards into teens’ lives. Card users can download ringtones from favorite artists, watch videos and share MyPlash branded content across social media spaces like Facebook. The company also uses the fan databases of its partner celebrities to e-mail teens about MyPlash in the “voice” of that celebrity.?

“We designed MyPlash.com to be a true destination site, and we use our site as a primary hub for basic brand communication,” said Klein.?

Interactive sites like MyPlash.com are great for drawing teens — who live online — to a brand, but even when speaking to adults, as in Current’s case, online remains one of the most successful marketing channels for teen cards. Not only does an online-friendly brand align better with the teen lifestyle, explains Boush, but it’s a convenience issue for parents, who want to be able to control the card from anywhere. Showing that in the marketing messages can help.?

Klein agrees, noting, “Parents these days are sophisticated as well in their lifestyle and design preferences, so they appreciate and notice good branding and messaging too.”?

Much of the messaging associated with straight-to-teen campaigns positions the cards as lifestyle tools, highlighting the promise of financial independence. However, as with messaging directed at parents, sales pitches aimed at teens also focus on learning budgeting and fiscal responsibility. Such an approach may not sound like it fits with the flashy, entertaining style usually associated with teen marketing, but Mintel’s Teens and Finance study indicates that the rational approach works as well with teens as with parents.?

“The data show that teens are very eager to learn more about investing and managing money,” Menke points out.”?

She adds that we can expect to see more cutting-edge, integrated campaigns from teen cards in the near future. “The industry as a whole is going through a lot of changes, and we probably won’t recognize it in 20 years,” she says. “Where the innovation is going to happen is in a lot of the products that reach these kids — pre-paid, gift cads, mobile payments — because they are going to be early adopters and respond well to that type of innovation.” ?


MyPlash speaks directly to teens through its destination site, where videos, music downloads and special merchandise offers from favorite artists and athletes engage teens with the brand. MyPlash banner ads appear on official sites and fansites, and celebrity databases are used to send e-mail blasts to teens. The cards get an extra viral marketing push by making MyPlash branded videos that can be embedded within social networks like Facebook.?

Discover takes a more parent-oriented approach to market its Current card for teens. This direct ?mail piece that dropped in January 2009 emphasizes the parental control allowed by the card. Discover recognizes that teens need to be sold on the card too, so copy includes a listing of the benefits for teens and some examples of the youth-friendly ?card art — which includes skulls and crossbones and colorful paisley patterns. ?

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