Learning curve

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In this era of so-called age compression-with kids growing up faster in their tastes and habits-the shelf life of products created specifically for tweens and teens increasingly gets shorter. While many marketers continue to target these two fast-moving age groups through separate efforts, some youth market experts make the case for appealing to tweens and teens as a single kind of uber-demo.

John Geraci, VP-youth and education research at Harris Interactive, notes that it's difficult to develop a marketing program that pays back if the target is a four-year age segment. Except for niche brands, marketers "can't afford to make products that are that specific," he says. "Media can't be found that targets that specifically. So smart marketers will start to look at the commonalities among the various youth segments and not focus on the differences."

This strategy applies to the mass marketer in particular, Mr. Geraci says.

However, for Paul Kurnit, president of youth marketing specialist KidShop, New York, the idea of compressing tweens and teens "is a tough proposition. You won't be able to message effectively to kids who are six or more years apart. If you try to be all things to all kids, the message will be very watered down, and in the end you won't reach anyone."

This in large part is because "even though they're getting older younger," says Mr. Kurnit, "there is pushback."


Tweens, in other words, are still tweens-and vastly different from their more elusive teenage counterparts, who are identity-seekers, watch less TV and prefer to discover trends without advertising's help, experts say.

Geppetto Group, the New York-based youth ad agency and marketing consultancy of WPP Group, defines tweens as being caught between "the rock of childhood"-where fitting in and rules are still appealing-and "the hard place of adolescence," where carving out a distinct identity becomes the primary activity.

That tweens are fundamentally in transition presents obvious marketing challenges. But for Geppetto Chief Creative Officer Chris McKee, it's an opportunity that he maintains the industry has yet to fully tap.

Instead of truly targeting tweens, he says, many marketers place tweens on the periphery of their strategies, picking them up through kids- or teen-targeted advertising. A direct appeal provides a competitive edge over brands that hope tweens will come along for the ride.

"It really is the age-old argument for doing dedicated marketing to anyone," Mr. McKee says, adding, "I wouldn't sneeze at four years of consumers."

Reebok International isn't snubbing tweens. In 2003, it introduced a sneaker line for tween girls when "giants of the footwear category were ignoring this segment," says Patricia Cho, director-marketing and business development. The line was the exclusive footwear offering in Limited Too's tween fashion catalog, distributed to 4.5 million girls that year.

Introducing the collection as the Reebok Sweets in 2004, Geppetto's TV campaign was set in a candy store. The advertising was meant to appeal to both the facets of tween life by merging the childhood delight of candy with the grown-up lure of fashion.

At MGA Entertainment, CEO Isaac Larian, creator of the popular Bratz dolls, says there's no one "canned marketing approach" to best reach the doll's "tricky" tween girl demographic. While the company's marketing mix includes a lifestyle print campaign in Bauer Publishing's teen-oriented Twist and J-14 this month, Mr. Larian says, "If you manufacture products tailored to these kids' needs, they'll reward you with their pocketbooks."


MGA has announced plans to launch a Bratz pop album in partnership with Universal Music Enterprises. For Pat Lawrence, senior VP at the music purveyor, the opportunity to "start [tweens] early and sell them something they're going to love" is a "win for everyone."

Print advertising for the album will "go very wide," says Mr. Lawrence, running in both tween-oriented and music entertainment magazines. MGA handles creative in-house, and will produce advertising for the album in collaboration with Universal Music Enterprises.

Other brands reach both teens and tweens by developing separate, tailor-made product lines or programs. Viacom-owned The N cable network attracts teens with issues-oriented dramas like "Degrassi: The Next Generation," while tweens tune in for light, comedic fare programmed in early evening time slots, such as "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and "Moesha."

"The cliche is that tweens are fickle and teens are cynical," says Angela Leaney, VP-brand communications at The N, "but you've basically just described the entire population. Our audience wants to be entertained, just as all audiences do." The N, which claims to have the highest concentration of 9-to-17-year-olds in broadcast and basic cable TV, reaches 43 million homes.

In fact, if teens and tweens were represented as two intersecting circles, a considerable overlap of tastes and sensibilities would occur in the middle age ranges. Some marketers have traversed that ground in the sweep of one marketing initiative. The N's 2003 "P. Diddy & the City Sweepstakes," which awarded a shopping spree and meeting with rapper P. Diddy, attracted 250,000 tweens and teens by appealing to the shared aspirations of music and celebrity.

From a programming standpoint, animation can be an entree into both worlds. Cartoon Network's "The Powerpuff Girls" reaches a core on-air audience of girls 6-11, but the Time Warner-owned cable outlet launched the Powerpuff Girls line of consumer products in the snowboard/surfer category, including athlete sponsorships and ads in Wahine and TransWorld Snow. Creative was handled by Jager Di Paola Kemp, Burlington, Vt.

"Teen girls and young women were the first age group to really embrace the Powerpuff Girls as symbolic heroes," says Julie Gibbons, senior director of Cartoon Network Enterprises, "and this acceptance quickly expanded to younger girls of all ages."

Also attractive to both groups is Cartoon Network's animated "Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi," whose characters are based on real-life pop stars. Teens can appreciate the "rock 'n' roll lifestyle," says Ms. Gibbons, while "Young girls may simply enjoy the fun-filled, crazy adventures."

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