Tweens are a $260 billion market in the US - but hardly any marketers are emailing them. Here's what you need to know:
The bad news is it's not an easy demographic to market to.
Tweens, kids caught in the middle between the childhood and teen years, live in a bewildering state of confusion (remember junior high?) Unsure of whether they're almost-teens or still-barely- kids, they act both ways. Your creative has to walk a tightrope.
Add to that mix the US's restrictive Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) -- which states that Web sites must obtain parental consent before collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from children under 13 -- and you've got a real mess when it comes to email campaigns.
The good news is these complications mean that most companies haven't figured the rules of engagement yet.
So if you do get into the market, you won't find a whole lot of competition. Plus, there are two nifty loopholes emailers can take advantage of...
- Tween demographic basics - The email newsletter loophole - The viral email loophole - Top 7 Do's and Don'ts When Emailing Tweens - 5 useful links (including creative samples)
-> Tween demographic basics
o What's a tween?
There are roughly 19.5 million tweens in the US today.
Though we heard definitions of tweens as everything from ages 7 - 14, the most common range is more like 8-12.
This range depends on a number of factors: girls mature more quickly than boys, so they enter the difficult tween years earlier (say around 8), while boys may not reach the same stage for another year or two.
Where they fall in the family also dictates whether they are truly a tween: a 9-year-old girl with older siblings can see the cool, teen-like things she has to look forward to, while a 9-year-old who is the oldest, with two younger sibs, is still entrenched in childhood;
o How much buying power do tweens have?
According to the marketing handbook, 'The Great Tween Buying Machine' (link below), tweens have more buying power than any other demographic under 21 because they have more of their own money than younger kids do, and they influence their parent's purchasing decisions (through the powerful 'nag factor') more than independent older teens do.
We're talking hundreds of billions of dollars. Here's the annual breakdown (1999 figures):
$10 billion tweens spending their own money $176 billion parents buying things specifically for tweens $74 billion parents' buying influenced by tween's opinions ---- $260 billion annually
o Tweens and the Internet
According to Grunwald Associates data, close to 80% of tweens are currently online. They connect from both home and school.
(By the way: preliminary Grunwald data suggests quite a few kids feel that user experience at schools is slower than expected and does not live up to hype.)
A huge split exists between the "haves" and "have-nots" -- tweens from higher income families are more likely to check their email at home, whereas kids from lower income families mainly have access at school and are therefore more restricted in when and how they get online.
Tweens use the Internet for social interaction and communication, seeing it as a way of "getting out of the house." It's escape without a driver's license.
They love instant messaging and may have as many as 40 or 50 other kids on their IM list.
-> The email newsletter loophole
An exception to the COPPA rules exists for newsletters: If you're sending periodic email newsletters to children, all you have to do is notify the parent and that's enough.
However, you can't do anything else with the child's data or email them anything but the newsletter.
Announcements of sweeps or sales, then, would be out of the question -- unless, of course, you send it under the guise of the newsletter.
The Cartoon Network capitalizes on tweens' love of communication by inviting them to join an online community. Once the tween has joined, the parent is sent an email permission slip (link to sample of parental permission letter below).
It's a negative option, so the parent doesn't need to respond.
The permission slip states, "If you do not cancel your child's registration within 48 hours, we will use your child's e-mail address for the purpose of sending our online newsletter(s) from time to time."
Kids receive ToonFlash, an enewsletter that gives updates on new games, TV shows, exclusive "insider information," and sweepstakes. It comes out about once a month.
For kids who win the sweepstakes, a parent needs to fill out a permission form offline and mail it in. Otherwise, says Denise Tayloe, CEO of Privo, "You may spend $50,000 running a contest, everybody registers, and if you don't take the next step to get parental permission, you have to delete all the info on the kids that you collected."
-> The viral email loophole
You can get around COPPA rules by giving kids their own tools to communicate with each other (which they love, anyway).
"Kids are very responsive to anything that gives them a perception of independence or control," says Paul Metz of KidzEyes. "They like things that they can choose for themselves or manipulate by themselves."
Funny blurbs, interesting cursors, or anything that lets kids interact with friends works well.
Nick.com allows kids to send a goofy personalized letter to friends from "summer camp." (Camp options include "Camp Pink Eye," "Arachnid Acres," and "Camp Bed Bug.")
The friend gets an email with a link to the letter, which in turn has links back to Nick.com at both the bottom and top of the page, along with a "create your own" button (link to sample below).
The Cartoon Network also makes the most of the viral marketing power of kids by enticing them to forward games or send e- greetings. When a game is forwarded, the friend gets an email headed up with, "From the Cartoon Network Grapevine."
The message reads: Have you heard about what's happening at CartoonNetwork.com? Your friend Anne Holland wants you to get the scoop by checking out this page [link]. Now that the word is out, feel free to pass the news along to more of your friends. We look forward to seeing you there!
-> Top 7 Do's and Don'ts When Emailing Tweens
Acknowledge that they are growing up and making decisions. They want to feel that you are talking to them as an equal. But remember that they exist in an awkward in-between place, and you need to walk a fine line when it comes to your message:
#1. Target kids or tweens, but not both.
While tweens are testing the boundaries of independence, they sometimes still need the reassurance that kids need-- but they won't take well to being targeted as kids in a public way.
"If you're talking to tweens in a place where it's public and they're getting their message among friends, then you want to appeal to their independent, mature side," says Carrie Heinonen, independent ideation facilitator and former Marketing Manager, Quaker Oats.
Don't refer to the fact that they can't make up their own minds about things in the household. Highlight how your product helps them achieve control.
If it's a kid-oriented product, don't try to wrap it in something else to make it appealing to tweens. "Tweens will self-select to interact with the product if they're feeling kidlike at home," Heinonen says.
#2. Make it funny.
KidzEyes, a C&R Research online research panel of kids, recently asked what companies could do to get kids to pay attention. Humor was the number one thing kids say they are looking for online.
#3. Avoid hype.
This was number 2 in the KidzEyes panel. "It's not about being gimmicky or using slang," says Paul Metz, VP, C&R Research. "It's about telling the truth."
Don't over-promise, like saying, "Hey kids, buy this product and you'll be the coolest kid on the block." They'll see right through you.
#4. Don't plug nonconformity.
Community and "fitting in" is important to tweens. Whereas for a teenager, it might be kind of cool to be "out on the fringe," that's scary for a tween.
Show your product in a social setting that projects group unity.
#5. Play down the "icky" factor.
An ad on TV may be totally kid-targeted, but online, you're more likely to be reaching kids and their parents. Therefore, be kid- targeted but mom-friendly.
In other words, if your product is gooey or has other elements Mom might consider unsavory, don't overdo it.
#6. Fantasy/reality combination, or "lighthearted reality."
Teens are firmly rooted in reality, kids in fantasy. For tweens, the whole fantasy/reality combination is most appealing.
Think of tween-oriented shows like "Saved by the Bell," "Teen Witch," or "Boy Meets World."
"They're real kids but living more or less in fantasy world. They're not dealing with the darker realities of life," says Heinonen.
#7. Consider different messages to boys versus girls
Boys want to demonstrate mastery.
Boys are all about gaming and winning. Give them games and tools to interact with each other: the ability to email game scores to each other, challenge a friend to a game, show how high up they can get their names on a high-score page.
Girls want to know how other people perceive their world.
More interested in fitting in and being popular, girls want to see polls of what's important to others, have the chance to vote on their favorite model, find idols to emulate.
Tell them trends in fashion and anything else that helps them wear the right thing, like the right people, talk to the right group at school.
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