MTV conducted an "ethnographic study" of its teenage audience in the late 1990s. The process consisted of spending some time with MTV fans and learning about their personal needs and concerns, with the goal of revitalizing the channel's slide in viewer rates.
Todd Cunningham, senior vice-president of strategy and planning for MTV, explained the project: "We go through their music collections. We go to nightclubs with them. We shut the door in their bedrooms and talk to them about issues that they feel are really important to them."
Nearly two decades after MTV's bold experiment, the combined annual income of US teens exceeds $90 billion, and the total annual teen market spending is $258.7 billion. Fully 95% of the more than 26 million US teens are online, and three in four access the Internet on mobile phones, tablets, and other mobile devices, which both facilitate connection to their own teen culture and are difficult to penetrate by the outside world.
Marketing to teens can therefore be tough. A product might be the handiest tool or the most practical service... yet, if teens cannot make it a symbol of their values, it won't appeal to them.
If a marketing effort at teens is to succeed, it must tap into three valuable areas of teen culture.
Teens value peer connectedness. According to a 2015 report from Pew Research Center, 71% of teens age 13-17 use Facebook, 52% use Instagram, and 41% use Snapchat. Some 81% of teen girls consider their friends and peers a source for their buying decision-making.
Teens place a great deal of trust in their friends, and if you want to be a brand choice for them, you need to become a part of their peer-preference system. But you could be easily ostracized if you do not meet their expectations. For example, according to a report from Mintel, 10-15-year-olds are worried that they could be shunned by their peers if they are not active enough across the most popular social media networks.