All hail the teen dollar

Associated Press

CHICAGO – Murmurs of excitement rippled through the large hotel conference room when the eight special guest panelists filed in. Empty chairs filled and doorways crowded with onlookers. Cell-phone chats ended abruptly. Spectators leaned forward, eager to catch every word.

These were no ordinary panelists to the officials of clothing companies, food giants, media dot-coms and others attending the marketing conference. They were American teen-agers, articulating the consumer habits of a group projected to spend a staggering $155 billion this year.

So they applauded the answers of these Chicago-area high school students, laughed at every attempted joke and flooded them with questions for an hour: Where do you buy things? What books do you like? What’s your favorite band? Do you prefer TV or the Internet?

For these teens and others, the interest in their world by grown-ups is appreciated.

“It’s nice to know my opinion is being paid attention to,” said Silena Dukes, 16, of Bellwood, Ill., who wasn’t on this panel but is nonetheless a contributor to intensifying market research into what makes teens tick. “It’s pretty cool.”

As Americans’ unprecedented prosperity filters down to the next generation, attracting teens’ business has become a Holy Grail for marketers.

“It’s a very influential market,” said Selina Gruber, president of Children’s Market Research Inc. in New York. “Marketers never really paid that much attention to kids, but now they do because it’s becoming their bread and butter.”

The numbers are compelling enough to make any retailer run out and sponsor a Britney Spears concert.

Teenage Research Unlimited, a market research firm in Northbrook, Ill., projects that the 31.6 million Americans ages 12-19 will spend $108 billion of their own money in 2000, along with $47 billion of their families’ funds.

They also account for a disproportionately large share of consumer spending. Households with one or more teen-agers spend $10,000 more per year than those without any. And with parents working more than ever before, teens have assumed greater influence in household decision-making.

Demographics help explain the latest kowtowing to teen tastes: The teen population has grown twice as fast the overall population in the last decade. They’re also easier to reach than ever via the Internet, the biggest marketing boon since the bulk-mail rate.

This surge in “teen power” won’t last forever. The so-called echo boom, an upswing in births as baby boomers had children of their own, faded in the mid-’90s, but that isn’t stopping companies from retooling their sales pitches and strategies to make this group of mostly minors a major target.

“It’s really taken off,” said Michael Wood, vice president of Teenage Research Unlimited. “What we’ve seen in the past couple of years is that all companies are re-evaluating their positions to see if there’s a teen component they could add.”

The marketing push pays off for teen-agers in more ways than one.

Simon Chermin, 18, of Westwood, Calif., volunteered for a roundtable discussion on video games. He eventually found himself in such demand that he regularly gives feedback to a half-dozen or so companies. “I consider myself a professional respondent,” he said.

He has done focus groups, taste tests, written reports, live panels, phone interviews and even filmed a video of a day in his life, complete with morning shower.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s a great business. And you get paid,” said Chermin, who enjoys the process so much he had decided to make marketing his college major.

Companies pay as much as $100 for two hours of questioning on a panel, less for written reports. Some even fly regular, outspoken contributors to conferences.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A big decision for Boeing’s next CEO: Is it time for a new plane?

As Boeing faces increased competition from Airbus, the company is expected to appoint a new CEO by the end of the year.

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Mukilteo Speedway name change is off to a bumpy start

The city’s initial crack at renaming the main drag got over 1,500 responses. Most want to keep the name.

Two workers walk past a train following a press event at the Lynnwood City Center Link Station on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Trains up and running on Lynnwood Link — but no passengers quite yet

Officials held an event at the Lynnwood station announcing the start of “pre-revenue” service. Passengers still have to wait till August.

Nedra Vranish, left, and Karen Thordarson, right browse colorful glass flowers at Fuse4U during Sorticulture on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
A promenade through Everett’s popular Sorticulture garden festival

Check out a gallery of the festival’s first day.

Left to right, Everett Pride board members Ashley Turner, Bryce Laake, and Kevin Daniels pose for a photo at South Fork Bakery in Everett, Washington on Sunday, May 26, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Second Everett Pride aims for even bigger rainbow of festivities

Organizers estimated about 3,000 people attended the first block party in Everett. This year, they’re aiming for 10,000.

Denise McKenzie, who has been a bartenders at Kuhnle’s Tavern for many years, works behind the bar on Monday, June 17, 2024 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
After 106 years, Kuhnle’s Tavern in Marysville is closing

Come say farewell Sunday from noon to midnight at the historic bar with five beers on tap and a 50-cent pay phone.

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road on Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Long live the Speedway! Mukilteo’s main drag won’t be renamed

The public shot down the mayor’s idea to change the name: 77% voted ‘No’ in an online survey, with 95% opposed on Facebook.

The I-5, Highway 529 and the BNSF railroad bridges cross over Union Slough as the main roadways for north and southbound traffic between Everett and Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Highway 529 squeeze starts now between Everett, Marysville

Following a full closure for a night, starting late Sunday, Highway 529 will slim down to two lanes for months near the Snohomish River Bridge.

Everett
Motorcyclist dies in crash on East Marine View Drive in Everett

Around 8 p.m. Tuesday, a motorcycle and a vehicle crashed into each other at the intersection of 11th street and East Marine View Drive.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Darrington in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Motorcyclist dies in crash on Highway 530

Jeremy Doyle, 46, was riding east near Darrington when he crashed into the side of a car that was turning left.

The Marysville School District office on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Financially insolvent’ Marysville schools to get unprecedented oversight

Superintendent Chris Reykdal will convene a first-of-its-kind Financial Oversight Committee, he wrote in a letter Tuesday.

Woodside Elementary Principal Betty Cobbs on Monday, June 17, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett’s first Black principal retires after 51 years

In her office, Betty Cobbs kept a black-and-white photo of herself at age 5: “I am right there, with dreams of becoming an educator.”

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.