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They watch cable channels designed just for them, they cruise the Net with ease, they know what they want and often times get it. Today's pre- and early adolescents draw from the last birth years of Generation Y and from the start of the Millennials crop. They are America's 'tweens (ages 8 to 14), a population 29 million strong according to the 2000 census, and one desperately sought by marketers. With attitudes, access to information and sophistication well beyond their years and purchasing power to match, these young consumers will spend an average of $1,294 in 2004, estimates, for an aggregate total of $38 billion. Add to this the nearly $126 billion parents will spend on their 'tweens by year-end, a number expected to balloon to $150 billion by 2007, and one grasps the importance and potential of the market.

“Intuitively, these kids are more savvy� than people give them credit for, says Carol Fitzgerald, president of New York-based Buzzback Market Research. Overwhelmingly, 'tweens recognize television commercials for what they are (92 percent), according to Buzzback's fourth-quarter 2003 survey of 524 'tweens. About three-quarters regard billboards and radio spots as paid advertising, and about half recognize promotional mediums such as product placements on television shows.

Just because 'tweens get the business motive behind ads, however, doesn't mean they are averse to them. Of the 'tweens surveyed, 43 percent think advertising is “funny,� 39 percent find it “informative,� and around 35 percent believe it “entertaining� or “interesting.� Despite this generally positive attitude toward advertising, 'tweens are discerning. In fact, a majority of the 'tweens surveyed (52 percent) said they tune-out during television commercials, mainly because the commercials are repeats or are “boring.�

Harnessing the power of celebrity through product placements in television shows and movies seems to succeed where television ads fail. Three-quarters of the 'tweens said that they notice brands used on their favorite shows, while 72 percent admit that seeing a favorite character using a certain brand makes them want to use that brand at least some of the time.

For a specific look at product placement Buzzback asked 'tweens about Fox's perennially powerful reality show American Idol, the results of which highlight the efficacy of placing products in the hands of the popular. About half of the surveyed 'tweens had watched American Idol, and of that number 56 percent recalled watching the music videos and skits in which the crooning contestants used branded products. What's more, even as three-quarters of the group considered the videos advertising, 92 percent stayed to watch them — a retention rate far better than the 48 percent television commercials can claim. Nearly half of the viewers thought the singers actually used the endorsed products; of those who didn't, 95 percent said the endorsements had no negative effect on their impression of the singers or the products.

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