Forget the Parents: HP Plans to Target Teenagers Instead

Back-to-School Campaign Will Shift to New Media

By Published on .

Guess what makes teens happy?

Cash ranked first, of course, in an annual survey of the demographic from Charles Schwab, but close behind, at No. 2, was a computer.

And that makes Hewlett-Packard Co. happy.

So this year, the PC marketer is changing its back-to-school marketing strategy, forgoing the traditional plan of print-heavy Sunday circular buys and direct-TV ads chock full of price and value propaganda that appeals mainly to parents.
Mom may have more money, but kids have a lot of sway when it comes to tech purchases.
Mom may have more money, but kids have a lot of sway when it comes to tech purchases.
Instead, HP plans to use mostly online and viral media and messaging to reach teens with a hip and humorous attitude. "The Society for Parental Mind Control" campaign is tailored mainly for them, although it does include a nod to the 'rents, who control the family wallet on major purchases.

Computer in the shopping cart
Today, back-to-school shopping means more than stocking up on pencils and sturdy shoes. Some 62% of colleges require a computer for incoming freshmen, and while public high schools can't mandate PC ownership, scores of studies show that teens with computers at home perform better academically than those without.

And when it comes to purchasing one, the younger members of the family have a lot of sway. "Kids particularly influence tech purchases. Just ask any parent who's bought their teenager a non-iPod MP3 player and had to hear, 'Mo-om, I won't be seen with that. I hate it, it's ugly and it's not an iPod,'" said analyst (and parent to two pre-teens) Roger Kay, Endpoint Technologies Associates. "It's such an old story, but kids are the arbiters of cool."

A recent Consumer Electronics Association study showed teens spend $350, or half of their annual discretionary budgets, on consumer electronics and influence parents to spend more: Adults with children spend $500 more on electronics annually than those without them. This year nearly two-thirds of parents surveyed said their children will influence at least half of the items purchased for back to school, according to BigResearch.

The real audience
"We wanted to address the teenagers, who are certainly key recommenders for computers, and the parents, who are the predominant buyers of computers," said David Roman, HP VP-worldwide marketing for the personal-systems group. "It's not what HP used to do for back to school." While there is some print and direct TV included in the campaign, Mr. Roman said they "are really more of a support."

HP, which has worked hard to lift its cool quotient, is using extension campaigns such as "Mind Control" to maintain it. HP has already steered marketing toward teens, appealing to them with its "Hands" branding effort that includes rapper Jay-Z and champion snowboarder Shaun White. That marketing has been key in lifting HP to the top of worldwide-computer-market-share list. It eclipsed Dell last year and holds an 18% share to Dell's 15% in the second quarter, according to Gartner.

"Talking to kids is not easy. It can seem condescending, and humor is difficult with kids too," Mr. Roman said. However, he said he believes HP's agency, McCann-Erickson Worldwide, San Francisco, got the desired teen tone right in this work, making it both funny and topical.
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