Not Quite the TV Generation

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They spend $140 billion a year, and have yet to develop firm brand loyalties. What's more, they're not yet making car or mortgage payments, so the majority of their income is discretionary. Teens have become a hot market, but one that marketers sometimes steer clear of, since teens are also notoriously difficult to reach. In this exclusive excerpt from the second edition of Wise Up to Teens, peter zollo, cofounder of Teenage Research Unlimited, examines how teens use radio. The book, due out this month from New Strategist Publications, also includes new material on the Internet, brands, trends, and fads.

Teens invest a lot of time in listening to the radio; about 95 percent of the nation's teens listen to FM radio, averaging more than ten hours each week. When asked which media they believe companies should use to reach them, teens heartily recommend radio. This finding may surprise some advertisers, but it makes sense when you consider what radio offers teens.

To teens, radio means music. Teens' love of music is well documented. Music both separates teens and unites them, providing a soundtrack for their busy lives. Radio programming is almost exclusively comprised, then, of what teens love best. Radio also offers teens a selectivity in music they can't get elsewhere, including even MTV. If a researcher had asked my peers and I what type of music we liked when we were teenagers in the late 1960s, we all would have said "rock," or maybe "soul." Today, teen taste in music is extremely fragmented. Teens might say their favorite music is "trip hop," "rap," "alternative," "metal," "techno," "house," "punk," "reggae," or "R&B." A few would even say "country," "classic rock," or "swing." Radio allows teens to instantly select whatever music they prefer.

When we ask teens about local radio, whether in Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, or Tucson, the discussion often becomes heated. Teens are extremely loyal to particular stations. Especially in small towns, radio connects local teenagers, informing them of coming events such as concerts, sports, school events, and so on. Radio also makes celebrities out of local disc jockeys. And, in most markets, there are typically a few strong teen stations, allowing advertisers to efficiently reach large numbers of teens.

Because of the selectivity of radio, it offers efficiency for reaching different teen segments according to ethnic, gender, and geographic characteristics. Because teens are differentiated by their taste in music, the selectivity of radio allows marketers to use different executions for different radio formats.

A teenager who likes rap probably isn't a metal fan and vice versa. A preference for one type of music often excludes other styles. This difference goes far beyond musical preference. Teen language, fashion, style, activities, friends, and attitudes often correlate with taste in music. Understanding this psychographic segmentation, you can communicate in a relevant and appealing way to teen listeners.

African-American teens are the most efficiently targeted segment with radio, as they gravitate to two formats: rap and R&B (often programmed together on a single urban station). Whereas white teens, in smaller number, also listen to these formats, they greatly prefer alternative and also listen to classic rock and country. Latino teens are the most musically adventurous, liking all of the above-mentioned formats. Those who aren't bilingual often prefer Spanish-language radio.

The other important thing to remember about this medium is that radio accompanies teenagers. It's with them at home, in their cars, on their ways, forging a relationship which is the basis of why teens rate radio so highly.

For marketers who need help navigating the world of teen radio, an organization called Next Generation Radio can point the way. One of its founders, Deb Esayian, who now sits on its board of directors and manages a local station in Connecticut, believes that most brand managers, agency account executives, and even media supervisors understand little about radio and its unique role in a young person's life, nor do they know much about the medium, which she admits is fairly confusing and complicated. So Next Generation Radio, which is funded by teen and young-adult radio stations across the country, guides advertisers through the process of planning, budgeting, and executing youth-targeted radio campaigns. Specifically, what Esayian believes is the single most important fact that brand managers, agencies, and even people in radio don't seem to "get" about teen radio is that it's a reach, not a frequency, vehicle. Radio is highly efficient for reaching teens in big numbers. It's not surprising, then, that teens themselves-in large numbers-advise advertisers to get on the airwaves to reach people their age.

>From Wise Up to Teens: Insights into Marketing and Advertising to >Teenagers (Second Edition), by Peter Zollo, New Strategist Publications, >Ithaca, New York.

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