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Teen girls are to media planners what a Lizzie McGuire caper is to the average teen girl: complex, if rewarding. Disney star Lizzie, Sabrina and her bewitching mates on the WB, Teen People and Seventeen notwithstanding, reaching teen girls is not merely a matter of eyeballs. Fact is, it's more about intense, all-too-short attention spans and multiple media options.

In many ways, teen girls are an ideal target group. Foremost for marketers, they're spending machines, accounting for a healthy portion of the $170 billion teens funnel into the economy. And though this demographic is receptive to advertising in traditional places, teen girls also seek out information through alternative media. About 68 percent of girls ages 12 to 15 say they go to TV Web sites to find out more about a show's characters, according to The Taylor Group, a Portsmouth, N.H., firm that researches the youth market. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of the 12- to 15-year-olds play online games related to TV shows, and slightly more than half (55 percent) check out what's going to happen in upcoming episodes.

The Taylor Group's data shows that 59 percent of younger teen girls go online every day, and 49 percent instant message (IM) friends daily. And Gallup reported in January 2002 that 76 percent of girls ages 13 to 17 had e-mailed their friends in the prior week.

“We know teen girls multitask their media,� says Tracy Lanza, a strategist at Powerpact, a Richmond, Va.-based marketing services agency. “And they tend to do so as a tool for socialization rather than entertainment. Girls are online, but they're also on their pagers. They're watching TV, but they're also on the Internet. Because of these patterns, advertisers have to consider cell phones, pagers and other new technologies as part of the media mix.�

The challenge, however, is incorporating the kind of marketing messages that teen girls are willing to accept. Their shorter attention spans favor “pop-up� graphic designs in any medium aimed at those staccato moments of focus. As a result, lines between print, TV, the Web and video games blur. On the influence of the Internet, Morgan Wandell, executive vice president of programming at Channel One, says, “When it comes to traditional media, teen girls today want it interactive and responsive. The most popular features at Channel One are interactive — things that allow girls to express their own voice and influence an outcome.� (Note: Channel One and American Demographics are owned by Primedia.)

Research by New York-based youth consultancy The Zandl Group shows teen girls are actually less interested in magazines today than they were five years ago, even as magazines aimed at the segment proliferate. In 1998, 98 percent of respondents mentioned at least one teen magazine as their favorite, but only 53 percent had a similar response in 2002. Irma Zandl, president of The Zandl Group, sees a shakeout looming. “I think traditional media is overcatering to this market, rather than undercatering,� she says. “The big brands and media outlets are seeing their numbers drop as the media landscape becomes more fragmented.�

Still, advertisers should think twice before channeling dollars away from print and into online initiatives. “Teen girls can't stand advertising delivered by IM,� says Michael Wood, president of Northbrook, Ill.-based Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU). “They see it as invasive. It's one of the reasons they change their e-mail addresses so often. They just don't connect the Internet with advertising.�

Teen girls' penchant for online correspondence is perhaps matched only by their desire for talking on the phone. According to TRU, more than half of girls ages 12 to 19 (54 percent) own a cell phone. Sixty-four percent of 12- to 15-year-old girls talk on the phone every day, reports The Taylor Group. Turning these chatty habits into advertising success — perhaps via text messages, contests and puzzles — is still an uphill battle.

Genevieve Pan, a strategic planner for New York-based consultancy The Geppetto Group, sees text messaging as an important marketing opportunity, once cost and technology barriers are overcome. “If girls are interested in music, they could be alerted about new releases or events through text messages,� says Pan. “Girls want to be on top of the latest information. If it's an area girls are interested in, they'll see it as a bonus, not an intrusion.�

But text message advertising to teens doesn't make sense to some experts. “The cell phone is a hot commodity, but its sole purpose for teen girls is to keep in touch with each other,� says TRU's Wood. “I'm not sure they'd be open to advertising there, which means marketers run the risk of turning teens off.� One way to ensure teen girls don't reject text messaging as an intrusion is to offer free cell phone service in return for ads, suggests Zandl.

Other niche channels are also cropping up. “I think you're going to see more untraditional kinds of advertising out-of-home,� says Carla Lloyd, department chair of advertising at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Communications. “Cinema advertising is a growth area for this market, as is advertising in grocery stores and malls. More teen girls are doing household shopping than ever before, so advertisers will want to intersect with teenage girls where they shop.�

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