Special Issues for Tweens and Teens
The "Tween Market"
One of the most important recent developments in advertising to kids has been the defining of a "tween" market (ages 8 to 12). No longer little children, and not yet teens, tweens are starting to develop their sense of identity and are anxious to cultivate a sophisticated self-image. And marketers are discoveringthere's lots of money to be made by treating tweens like teenagers.
The marketing industry is forcing tweens to grow up quickly. Industry research reveals that children 11 and older don't consider themselves children anymore. The Toy Manufacturers of America have changed their target market from birth to 14, to birth to ten years of age.
A 2000 report from the Federal Trade Commission in theU.S. revealed how Hollywood routinely recruits tweens (some as young as nine) to evaluate its story concepts, commercials, theatrical trailers and rough cuts for R-rated movies.
By treating pre-adolescents as independent, mature consumers, marketers have been very successful in removing the gatekeepers (parents) from the picture—leaving tweens vulnerable to potentially unhealthy messages aboutbody image, sexuality, relationships and violence.
Marketing "cool" to teens
"The entertainment companies ... look at the teen market as part of this massive empire they're colonizing.
(Robert McChesney, The Merchants of Cool, 2000)
Corporations capitalize on the age-old insecurities and self-doubts of teens by making them believe that to be truly cool, you need their product.According to No Logo author Naomi Klein, in the 1990s corporations discovered that the youth market was able and willing to pay top dollar in order to be "cool." The corporations have been chasing the elusive cool factor ever since.
Some companies hire "cool hunters" or "cultural spies" to infiltrate the world of teens and bring back the latest trends. Trying to stay ahead of the next trend can be atricky business however, as cultural critic Douglas Rushkoff explains. "The minute a cool trend is discovered, repackaged, and sold to kids at the mall—it's no longer cool. So the kids turn to something else, and the whole process starts all over again."
Teen anger, activism and attitude have become commodities that marketers co-opt, package and then sell back to teens. It's getting harder totell what came first: youth culture, or the marketed version of youth culture. Does the media reflect today's teens, or are today's teens influenced by media portrayals of young people? It's important that parents discuss these issues with their teens, and challenge the materialistic values promoted in the media.
Body image and advertising
It's difficult for teens to develop healthy attitudestowards sexuality and body image when much of the advertising aimed at them is filled with images of impossibly thin, fit, beautiful and highly sexualized young people. The underlying marketing message is that there is a link between physical beauty and sex appeal—and popularity success, and happiness.
Fashion marketers such as Calvin Klein, Abercrombie & Fitch and Guess use provocativemarketing campaigns featuring young models. These ads are selling more than clothing to teens—they're also selling adult sexuality.
Studies show that while teens received most of their information about sex from the media: magazines, TV, the Web, radio and movies, the majority say their parents shape their sexual decisions most, so it's important that parents talk to their kids about healthysexuality, and about exploitive media images.
Media images can contribute to feelings of body-hatred and self-loathing that can fuel eating problems. While body image has long been considered a female issue, an increasing number of boys now also suffer from eating disorders. A 1998 Health Canada survey on the health of Canadian youth noted that by grade ten, over three-quarters of the girls and one...