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Sep 14, 2004
Case Study

Reality Marketing Story Part III: 4 Unexpected Lessons of Marketing to Teens and Tweens

SUMMARY: Surprise -- despite all happy Case Studies we've written in the past about using the Web to market to tweens (kids 8-12) and teens, turns out it's a lot harder than expected. In Part III of our ongoing behind-the-scenes Case Study of a campaign in action, you'll learn what's working and what's (really) not. Yes, includes links to Parts I & II as well:
By Contributing Editor Anna Murray

Here's the third installment of our ongoing as-it-happens Case Study on an integrated marketing campaign. (Links below for Parts I & II.)

We've been following the The JammXkids, a new live-action direct-to-DVD movie, and Jeanniey Mullen, whose agency, The Lift Network, is handling the marketing for the launch. This week they revealed what's been working -- and what hasn't...

Lesson #1. Teen and tween enthusiasm does not always translate into adult sales

"We created a site to attract teens and tweens, with a small emphasis on parents," says Mullen. "Our research suggested if we bring kids to the site, they will bring their parents and create a demand." (See links below.)

It's been their biggest challenge to date. "Everything we've done has driven traffic to the site. We see 100% increases week by week. So getting kids interested is not the issue. It's converting traffic to parent buying that's the thing."

The reason? Mullen calls it "Keep your parents in the dark" syndrome. Older kids are embarrassed to like "younger content."

"We've talked to some of our street teams and kids have also emailed us," she says. "Older kids are afraid to ask parents because the cast of the show is younger. They're afraid to seem babyish in front of their parents. Tweens are just afraid to ask parents for anything on the Internet for fear that their parents will quiz them about where they are going and why."

Because of this, they've had to switch their sales focus from kids to parents. "We've built an entire parents' section on the site," she says. "Before, we had 75% of our media efforts focused on kids, and 25% on parents. We've flip-flopped that."

Whether it's print, FSIs, TV, or in-theater ads, all of their messaging is now geared toward parents. "We still showcase the kids in the cast," she says, "but now our messaging is, 'Your kids need this' rather than 'Hey kids, you wanna ask your parents for this?' "

How's it working? In the week since the focus has shifted, "We've seen a 50% increase in sales," Mullen says. In fact, Mary Hart from Entertainment Tonight mentioned the movie on her show during a 15-second spot and six sales came in while she was talking.

Lesson #2. Online media doesn't necessarily work for teens and tweens

Itís certainly not what they expected to find, but teens and tweens have responded to word-of-mouth, not online media.

The marketing for the JammX Kids is in an initial Direct-TV testing phase in one market, Mullen explains. Along with this, "There have been national banners, paid-search nationally and opt-in email nationally, as well as a sweepstakes on the site."

Surprisingly, she said, none of this seemed to make as much of an impact as the viral effect of message boards and chat rooms.

"Kids are clearly not buyers," says Mullen. "They are not going to search engines to type in 'DVD.' " Instead, they're following their favorite celebrities on fan sites.

The JammX Kids, she says, are part "Fame" and part PowerRangers. With their super-hero-like dancing powers, they help other kids with two left feet and low self-confidence.

Many of the cast members have well known careers in their own right on kids' series and in movies. Alyson Stoner (Cheaper by the Dozen), and Bobb'e Thompson (The Tracy Morgan Show) have enthusiastic teen and tween followings.

"As soon as one of the members on the message boards learned that you can see Alyson in another thing, on a DVD, we got an influx of traffic," says Mullen.

"We learned that marketing to this kind of audience is very, very viral," says Mullen. "It's from blogs to the site; that's how kids are getting there. They are driven by what friends are telling them, not what online media is telling them."

At most, she says, online media is a validation of what kids are hearing from their friends.

As for the sweepstakes on the site, "They're very excited, but it's not as effective when your target is an 8-year-old tween because they need their parents' permission to enter," Mullen says.

Lesson #3. Street teams work where media lags

"Who knew?" Mullen exclaims. "It turns out that street teams as the on-ground buzz creators are much more effective than TV spots on Nick."

The idea to use street teams was not obvious at first. They had looked at tried-and-true strategies to market family-entertainment products -- and street teams wasnít one of them. However, since the show involved teen and tween performers, they looked at marketing strategies for the performance space as well. "In performance," says Mullen, "street teams are fairly common."

Street teams were sent out in the same market where the Direct-TV ad was running. The first group, Mullen says, was the "promotional team."

"It was a group of four to six people, of teenagers and young adults," she says. "Their job was to go to places that had a high percentage of kids and families -- water parks, theme parks, Chuck E. Cheeses. They passed out flyers, stickers, tattoos, and yoyos to families or kids in a group."

The second "parent-aged" group went to public venues and talked to people about the videos, performing impromptu focus groups.

With both street teams, Mullen reports, there was good recall of the commercial. "Sixty percent of people said they had seen the commercial or knew of the kids," says Mullen. Both kids and parents could repeat lines from the spot or name cast members.

Most importantly, the street teams collected feedback from parents who hadn't bought the DVD. "They felt it would be a great gift for a birthday or for the holidays," says Mullen. "They said it might be something they would ask a family member to buy for their kids."

"This kind of product -- a direct-to-DVD movie -- is not a planned buy, in contrast to a movie that has gone to DVD." Because parents in the target market perceived the product as a gift, Mullen and the producers decided to hold the launch of the DVD and media rounds until closer to the holidays.

For those considering a street-team strategy, Mullen warns that you canít just send your staff out to do this stuff on a whim -- you could get arrested. Companies that provide street teams in various communities know all the local ordinances and have made special arrangements with venues such as malls and restaurants.

Lesson #4. Evaluate your product for ALL potential markets; you may have missed one

"We had a very small press junket planned in New York," Mullen says. The cast was to appear on ESPN's 'Cold Pizza,' to perform at a Met's game, and to do a taping for the Maury Povich show." In the midst of this, they had the opportunity to do an impromptu performance at Planet Hollywood in Times Square.

"The electricity from the kids' live performance was amazing," says Mullen. "They drew an older segment we hadn't even considered."

After the performance, while the kids were signing autographs and having their pictures taken, "They were swarmed by a bunch of 40-year-old women, all in the dance community or who ran dance studios. They were enamored by the kids' ability to perform at such young ages. They wanted to know more about the DVD so they could share it with their kids to help them perform at that level."

"We'd seen the DVD more as an entertaining show and not so much an inspirational dance movie. We hadn't realized the full potential of this niche market," says Mullen.

Mullen says they are currently investigating ways to reach dance enthusiasts. Her advice: rather than rely on serendipity, investigate all conceivable markets.

Useful links related to this article:

Reality Marketing Story Part I: Upstart Interactive Agency Lands Big Fish TV Client

Reality Marketing Story Part II: Four Lessons on Branding, Logo Creation, and PR

Two books we recommend on marketing to teens & tweens:

The JammXKids site:

Mullen's agency, The Lift Network:

See Also:

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