Marketing to Teens? Four Things You Need to Know

Teens walking

By Tricia McKinnon

Move over millennials here comes Generation Z.  Born between 1996 and 2010 Generation Z is expected to eclipse millennials in spending power.  While Baby Boomers grew up in the age of television Generation Z is the first generation to truly grow up in a digital world.

The iPhone came out in 2007 when the oldest of Generation Z were just 11 years old.  Smartphones and online video games are the norm for a generation that will not remember a time when technology was not a core part of their lives.  In addition to technology, Starbucks, diversity and Snapchat are a few of the many characteristics that define this important generation.

I can’t leave home without my smartphone

When older generations were growing up they would look forward to learning how to drive.  In the digital age Generation Z ranks getting their first cell phone as their third favourite milestone after graduating high school and getting their license. 

Figuring out what age to give a child their first smartphone is something parents in older generations never had to think about.  Children are getting phones at younger and younger ages.  Members of Generation Z have phones in elementary school.  On average teens between the ages of 13-17 get their first phone at the age of 12 versus 18-24 year olds who got their first phone at the age of 16 and older millennials aged 25-34 had their first phone at the age of 20. Of course, for members of some of the older generations having a phone in elementary school was not even a milestone they could look forward to.

It is likely no surprise that smartphone use is higher than television usage among Generation Z. Among various tech. devices smartphones have the highest usage rate with teens at 78%.  Laptops come in second at 69% and television takes third place at a 68% usage rate.

When teens are online, 71% of teens spend more than three hours per day watching videos. Versus 52% and 51% of teens respectively who spend the same amount of time in messaging apps and social networking.

I will meet you at Starbucks

Without having to invest in expensive categories such as housing teens spend most of their money on food.  According to a Piper Jaffray survey food is the number one category that teens spend on (22% of purchases). Clot­­­­­hing is a close second at 20% of purchases. Expenditures by teens on food has continued to increase in recent years.

When determining where to eat teens are not fans of full service restaurants instead they value quick service restaurants at a rate of two times to one.  Starbucks is the most popular restaurant among average income teens followed by Chick-fil-A and then McDonald’s.  Starbucks has claimed the top restaurant spot for teens in Piper Jaffray’s fall survey for the past six years.  Starbucks’ popular mobile app, ability to create great spaces for socializing and focus on social causes contribute to its success within this demographic.

I am both multicultural and civic minded

Generation Z is the largest and most ethnically diverse population in the US.  48% of this generation is not Caucasian. Generation Z is interested in standing up for the causes they believe in and making the world a better place.  As a result they believe that there should be gender, racial and income equality.   They also believe that work-life balance is important.  Brands that invest in social causes are popular within this cohort.

I love Snapchat

According to Piper Jaffray Snapchat is the favourite social media platform among teens (47% said it is their favourite) followed by Instagram (24%), then Facebook (9%).  Teens like Snapchat and Instagram because of the visual nature of the platforms.   Despite all of Facebook’s efforts to stay relevant, it is losing younger users.  In 2018 eMarketer estimates that the number of Facebook users 11 and under in the US will drop by 9.3%. The number of users between the ages of 12-17 is also expected to decline by 5.6%.  Of the teens and tweens that do use Facebook they are not as engaged.  Facebook does not have the same “cool” factor as other social media apps. Facebook is also seen as being a digital record keeper but teens are less interested in having a public record of their life online.

With teens spending their formative years online paying attention to their habits provides insight into the platforms and types of content that will be popular in the future.


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Tricia McKinnon