"2001 was a tough year for young people because of Sept. 11 and the slowing economy. But overall, they are an extremely optimistic group. They feel empowered, and they are eager to get on with the next phase of their lives," says Michael Wood, VP of Teenage Research Unlimited, Northbrook, Ill. Teen spending in 2001, he estimates, was flat to incrementally higher than the $155 billion the nation's 31 million 12-to-19-year-olds spent in 2000.
"As a country, we were told to get back to business after the attack," Mr. Wood says. "But teens beat us to that. Their lives really were not affected that much: They had to get back to school and back to their schedule. Certainly, Sept. 11 brought their history class to life. Teens followed it closely on the news, but by November, their lives were back to normal."
MAKING SENSE OF SEPT. 11
Katrillion Media's Katrillion.com and its 18-member news staff attempted to make sense of Sept. 11 for their teen-age audience, says CEO Karen Eisenbud. "We took a good, honest approach and presented the news in a way that was not frightening. We were careful not to point any fingers of blame."
Page views of Katrillion's news stories about the attacks soared from Sept. 11 to the end of October, at the expense of entertainment-oriented features, Ms. Eisenbud says. But by November, entertainment stories were again generating the most interest. Postings to the site's message boards after Sept. 11 and through October focused heavily on the attacks, but began returning to normal in November.
Viacom's Nickelodeon, which says its core audience is 2-to-11-year-olds, and Walt Disney Co.'s Radio Disney, focusing on 6-to-11-year-olds, made no major changes in their schedules after the tragedy and served as safe havens for young people. Cyma Zarghami, Nickelodeon's exec VP-general manager, says parents told her cable network that it "was someplace that we could go where we didn't think that television would be interrupted by images that we didn't necessarily want our kids to see. ... how many times, as adults, did we want to see those buildings go down? I think it was probably pretty devastating for the kids who saw it."
Many Radio Disney affiliates did run on Oct. 7 a 30-minute public service special featuring ABC-TV news anchor Peter Jennings and a panel of kids, counselors and celebrities discussing the events of Sept. 11.
At the Disney Channel, "The events of Sept. 11 prompted us to review every single episode in our entire library," says Rich Ross, general manager and exec VP-programming and production. "We launched a campaign called `Express Yourself' to talk about the issue. ... The public service spots focus on communication ... diversity ... and optimism, which is the core Disney brand image."
Sesame Workshop, which today premieres a new season of "Sesame Street" on the Public Broadcasting Service, is including story lines relating to Sept. 11 events, addressing issues of fear, loss, bullies and inclusion. "With children facing issues unlike any other time, the familiarity of the Muppets makes the hardest lessons the easiest to understand," says Michael Loman, executive producer.
As far as post-Sept. 11 ad spending, the youth market has been relatively unscathed, says Jim Perry, senior VP-sales at Nickelodeon. "The kids market is more insulated from the recession and 9/11. We're not tied to travel and other industries that have been hurt."
MARKET WAS ALREADY SOFT
But even without Sept. 11, "The youth market has been less than stellar," says John Wagner, assistant media director and lead kids buyer for Bcom3 Group's Starcom USA, Chicago. The terrorist attacks didn't have much of an impact on the already soft kids market because there were no programming changes on the TV outlets that cater to young people.
The recession, however, is weighing on the youth market because, in the absence of a hit toy in the last few years, it's more reliant on such general categories as package goods, cereals and restaurants, Mr. Wagner says. Those categories have contracted because of the economic slump and consolidations such as General Mills with Pillsbury Co. and Kraft Foods with Nabisco.
"There really hasn't been a hit toy on the last few years along the lines of a Cabbage Patch doll or the Ninja Turtles," Mr. Wagner says, adding that ad spending by leading toymakers Mattel and Hasbro has been slower in the last two years. "It is a buyer's [market] for advertisers in the youth market."
A turnaround in the youth market depends largely on a recovery in the general economy, Mr. Wagner says.
As far as post-Sept. 11 ad messages, youth marketers shouldn't attempt to exploit their audiences' newfound sense of patriotism, says Julie Halpin, CEO of Geppetto Group, the New York-based youth agency of WPP Group. "Teens have very strong B.S. meters. It's important that marketers are not perceived as opportunistic."
Post-Sept. 11 ad messages that remind teens "they are a part of a group with shared values" may resonate more than ads that speak to a teen's individuality, she says.
Tweens have been less affected than their older counterparts because the Sept. 11 attack "is not as much a part of their conscious world," Ms. Halpin says. Even less affected are kids, "who are not terribly aware that there has been a dramatic change. Their parents are more concerned and more cautious," says the agency CEO.
Ms. Halpin notes that it's the parents who buy the products in the kids segment. Familiar brands-such as General Mills' Cheerios, Gerber Products Co.'s food lines and Procter & Gamble's Co.'s Pampers-prosper in uncertain times. "It will be a difficult time to launch a new product."
Focus groups conducted in the Northeast, Midwest and West Coast two months after the Sept. 11 attack detected a gung-ho spirit among 6-to-8-year-old boys, says Selina Guber, president of Children's Market Services Worldwide, New York. A recurring theme among them was "We will get him," referring to Osama bin Laden.
fear factor present
The 9-to-11-year-old boys sounded less combative but said they were interested in joining the military or fire or police departments. Girls of that age expressed fear and had no lust for combat. Ms. Guber says children generally are reluctant to fly but would make an exception for a trip to Disneyland or Walt Disney World.
The recession is having more of an impact on the toy market than Sept. 11 has, says Chris Byrne, editor of the Toy Report newsletter. "Retailers don't want to get stuck carrying toys they can't sell these days. There will be much more dependence on familiar brands."
Two toy lines that have sold briskly since Sept. 11, Mr. Byrne says, are Hasbro's GI Joe and Mattel unit Fisher-Price's Rescue Heroes action figures such as firefighters, police officers and construction workers. Chris Pardi, marketing director for Fisher-Price, says sales of the action figures rose 20% after Sept. 11. The latest indications of any Sept. 11 influence should come next week at the industry's annual American International Toy Fair.
Whether they're selling toys, videogames, clothing or music, the smart youth marketers are using multidimensional media platforms, says Matthew Diamond, chairman-CEO of Alloy, a New York-based media and marketing services company that targets teens. "Don't rely on a single channel," he says. Kids are inundated with marketing messages on their cell phones, TV, magazines and the Internet."
Marketers need to think of ways of interacting with young, dynamic audiences from a variety of platforms. Mr. Diamond advises: "Let them help dictate the message through viral marketing."