June 19, 2008
How To

Marketing to Tweens: Data, Spending Habits + Dos & Don’ts to Reach This Fickle Age Group

SUMMARY: The buying power of the tween market is estimated at more than $260 billion. If your company wants to reach preadolescents, our latest Special Report is for you.

We interviewed successful tween marketers to compile key information, strategies and dos and don’ts. Includes what tactics are effective to reach this demographic, what the top tween websites are and how to stay out of trouble with COPPA.
If your market includes tweens – preadolescent children who want to be teens but still act like kids – knowing how to get their attention is a critical first step.

The media habits of these 8- to 12-year-olds include TV, radio, magazines and video games – just like the Gen X, Gen Y and Baby Boomers before them. But those choices merely scratch the surface of the media worlds they enter for information.

Tweens – also known as Generation I (as in Internet) – are the first demographic that takes the online world completely for granted. After all, the Internet has always been there for them. Here’s a Special Report based on chats with a host of marketers to discover how to reach out to preadolescents. Why tweens? Well, for one, they control tens of billions of dollars in spending power.

Data About Tweens
Tweens are children who want to be teens but aren’t quite old enough yet. The United States has approximately 20 million tweens. Annually, this demographic spends about $1,442 each, or about $28.4 billion total, of their own cash, according to C&R Research Inc.’s ‘YouthBeat Syndicated Report, Fall Wave 1’ study. But that figure is only the start. Factor in the purchasing power that their parents spend on them, and that jumps to at least $260 billion a year.

How do tweens get their hands on all that cash? Other data from C&R:
o 77% are gifts from people other than parents/guardians
o 57% are gifts from parents/guardians
o 58% are allowances

Here’s what they spend the money on:
o 82% on video games, music, movies, books, videos/DVDs, virtual worlds, etc.
o 57% on food/beverages.
o 42% on toys (games/dolls/collectibles)
o 40% on clothing/shoes/accessories

Even though tweens grew up with the Internet, they don’t spend as much time online as their older siblings. 48% spend less than one hour per day online, compared to 81% of teens, according to a December 2007 study by the Nielsen Company. And, when tweens are online, 70% are gaming.

Now, let’s look at the sites they visit online. Here are C&R Research’s top five tweens’ websites:
1. WebKinz.com
2. YouTube.com
3. MySpace.com
4. Nick.com
5. Disney.com (a tie with Nick.com)

Here are the types of sites they visit:
o 82% entertainment/media sites
o 53% TV channel sites
o 46% music sites
o 36% video-sharing sites
o 20% movie sites
o 15% magazine sites
o 15% sports sites

Tweens do spend some time on social networking sites, such as MySpace and YouTube. But most don’t become seriously entrenched in those sites until the last phase of their tween years.

“We see migration to usage of social networks sites at about ages 11 and 12,” says Jacqueline Lane, VP, TeenEyes Division, C&R Research. “Overall, tweens who are on [these sites] are not really that engaged in it. And, for the most part, they end up on these sites because of older siblings -- wanting to be like a brother or sister.”

Tweens also use mobile phones, according to Nielsen:
o 35% own a mobile phone
o 20% have used text messaging
o 21% have used ring and answer tones

Tweens Evolve into Multitaskers
Past tweens’ brand favorites were influenced by television the most. Now, they have several media entities competing for their time. There’s plenty of evidence that tweens multitask: they’re surfing the Web while watching TV.

For instance, Grunwald Associates’ 2007-08 study, “Kids’ Social Networking,” discovered that 30% of young people ages 9-17 multitask between the Web and TV at least once a day.

Peter Grunwald, President, has watched the change and points out the opportunities for creative programmers and marketers. “They should be developing real-time online environments designed to run while the show is airing. This includes character-specific chat environments, real-time games that pit fans of one character [against] fans of another, real-time polls, etc.”

And here’s a compelling data point from Grunwald’s study: nearly 40% of children age nine to 12 have participated in sponsor-branded interactive activities.

Tweens as ‘Internet Natives’
The first point marketers have to understand about today’s tweens is that they see computers as extensions of themselves, says Kelly Thompson, Associate Director, Strategy & Insights, Space150. “It’s often a situation where the 12-year-old is the tech support person in the family. Technology is really a second language.”

Thompson has worked on marketing to this segment for several well-known brands – most recently launching a tween site for Dairy Queen. The site is concluding a soft launch and has been getting an impressive 10.9 minutes average time spent.

Based on Thompson’s experience, here are three factors that marketers need to consider when focusing on tweens:

-> Factor #1. Tweens are media-savvy

Unlike their Baby Boomer, Gen X and Gen Y predecessors, tweens are digital natives. “These kids are so media-savvy. It’s about engaging and involving them with interactivity – rather than talking *at* them. They can smell when someone is being condescending to them, which represents a brand they do not want to be a part of.”

-> Factor #2. Tweens want to be entertained online

Tweens want a fun interactive online experience that accents their social behaviors in some manner. Think virtual worlds, games, creatures and quizzes – experiences they want to be a part of.

“Kids are always looking for something new, something entertaining,” Thompson says. “They’re seekers. Their online experiences become cultural currency for them to take back and to talk to their friends about.”

-> Factor #3. Tweens’ development is complicated

With the help of today’s more democratic parenting style, tweens have more choices how to spend their time, so they want their time to be valued. “They are a complicated segment developmentally to connect with in a relevant and authentic way. So, that’s the mindset we take when focusing on tweens.”

-> Top 7 Dos and Don’ts for Tweens Marketing

Tweens know they want to enjoy their time no matter what they do. This makes it hard for marketers to get their heads around addressing this demographic.

Here are seven dos and don’ts:

#1: Target with a tween sensibility

Tweens are testing the boundaries of independence. They still need the reassurance that children require, but they won’t respond well to being targeted as children in a public way.

That’s why it’s crucial to avoid referring to the fact that they can’t make up their own minds about issues in the household. Highlight how your product helps them achieve control. If it’s a child-oriented product, don’t try to make it appealing to all tweens by misrepresentation.

#2: Combine online and offline

Grunwald’s research points out that the possibilities for multichannel marketing to the multitasking tweens is growing. Here are three examples of ways to combine your online marketing with promotions in the offline world:

- Street teams that hand out flyers at events that tweens attend
- Direct mail where the primary call to action is a dedicated website for tweens
- Ads on TV shows that are popular with tweens

#3: Make them laugh

For five years, C&R Research has found that humor is the No. 1 aspect tweens value in an online experience; they love to laugh.

Boring them or missing their hot buttons can have strong repercussions, says Space150’s Thompson. “They might try your brand out and say, ‘That’s not for me.’ And, that is the real challenge here. You want that experience to be rich enough and engaging enough for them to come back to.”

#4: Avoid nonconformity

Community and “fitting in” is critical for tweens. While teens might enjoy being out on the fringe, tweens won’t find a break from the crowd to be a characteristic of coolness. Instead, they’ll see individuality as something negative and even scary. Show your product in a social setting that projects group unity.

In fact, being comfortable is at the heart of tweens’ sites, such as the one Dairy Queen has created. “It’s about providing an experience that’s both compelling and appropriate for their age,” Thompson says.

#5: Downplay the “ick” factor

A commercial on TV may be totally kid-targeted, but online, you’re 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: Blend fantasy & reality

Teens are rooted in reality; kids love fantasy. For tweens, a fantasy/reality combination is most appealing. Think of tween-oriented shows, such as ‘High School Musical,’ ‘The Suite Life of Zack & Cody’ and ‘Bindi, the Jungle Girl.’

Better yet: look at what the No. 1 tweens’ site, Webkinz.com, has done by combining their plush animal dolls with their website. Talk about interactivity. Webkinz.com is the Holy Grail of where reality and fantasy merge in the tween mindset.

#7: Deliver different messages to boys and girls

Boys want to demonstrate mastery. They’re all about gaming and winning. Give them games and tools to interact with one another. Those might include the ability to email game scores, challenge a friend to a game, show how high up they can get their names on a high-score page.

Girls, on the other hand, want to know how others perceive their world. They’re much 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 and find idols to emulate. Show them trends in fashion and anything else that helps them wear the right thing, like the right people and talk to the right group at school.

#8: Avoid email campaigns

Emailing tweens is generally an unsuccessful marketing approach. Plus, you need to follow laws about children very closely (more on that in the next section).

“Newsletter marketing is not an effective tactic for tweens at all. It’s the interactivity stuff that really wins,” says Parry Aftab, Executive Director, WiredSafety, an online child privacy authority.

COPPA Overview: Follow the Law
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) mandates that websites must obtain parental consent before collecting, using or disclosing personal information from children under 13. COPPA applies to individually identifiable information about a child that is collected online.

This includes:
o Full name
o Home address
o Email address
o Telephone number
o Any other information that would allow someone to identify or contact the child

According to COPPA’s website, it also covers other types of information – for example, hobbies, interests and “information collected through cookies or other types of tracking mechanisms – when they are tied to individually identifiable information.”

The legal landscape gets a bit more complicated when it comes to tweens. For example, Texas Attorney General’s Office settled in March 2008 with TheDollPalace.com that tested COPPA’s restrictions. Mainly, the final agreement mandated that the company had to make sure “all information displayed or collected on their websites is age appropriate based on the average users of those sites.”

“COPPA never said anything about [appropriateness],” says Aftab. “If the attorney generals at the state level are now working with COPPA in a new way, you are going to see a lot of different [legal] applications.”

Therefore, make sure that you stay in touch with your company’s legal counsel to watch for potential state-by-state developments.

Denise Tayloe, President, Privo, a privacy management website, adds: “Social networks are under extreme pressure by 49 state attorneys general to figure out how to protect or separate kids and adults, and this is leading to discussions of age and identity verification and parental consent.”

If you decide you want to email tweens, make sure you follow the COPPA guidelines closely. These include a mandate to get a parent’s email address, send a confirmation message and allow for a chance to opt out the child from your database.

Another tip: in the email, make clear what content is for which gender or create defined-content areas for boys and girls so they can easily go to their specific areas of interest.

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples from Tweens Campaigns

Past Sherpa articles on tweens:
Tweens: A Force to be Reckoned With: Changing Consumption Habits of 8-12 Year-Olds:

Email Marketing to Tweens: COPPA Loopholes, Demographics, Creative Samples”

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


COPPA Privacy Law Blog:

Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARUE):

C&R Research:

Grunwald Associates LLC:

Nielsen Company:


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