Round-table: Targeting Tweens
03 July 2012
Almost more than any other age group, tweens (8-12 year olds) are saturated with media and images each day from a variety of platforms. Given the sheer volume of brands and brand images cast out into the populous, it can be difficult to create standout and grasp the attention of a tween.
Martina Lacey (ML) sat down with four different stakeholders: August media holdings executive director and chief creative officer Ken Anderson (KA); Advertising Association head of corporate communications Ian Barber (IB); Spil Games international sales director Michael Bayston (MB) and Kantar Media – TGI director Ashley Brown (AB) to get their opinions on how to better understand this target audience and communicate with them in a meaningful and authentic way.
ML: Why do we think that marketing to tweens continues to be a challenge?
IB: Politically, we have an assumption that the industry is overly aggressive when it comes to marketing to children. An issue we have found that might be more relevant to this discussion is peer-to-peer marketing, an issue that was prompted by a piece of activity by Weetabix which paid children to wear Weetabix t-shirts on activity days. We’re also getting a reasonable amount of pressure around content within a game and whether children realise that these are ads. Of course, they don’t. But I think the pertinent question is social media and the engagement of kids with social media and how that is problematic when it comes to kids. It basically resides around whether you think marketing is problematic or not when it comes to interacting with kids.
ML: What do you think are the rules of engagement when you go to market?
MB: At Spil Games, which is an online gaming network and secondly, and more important, we’re a social gaming network, we regard the safety of any users of our social networks who wish to sign up in order to have a profile hugely important. In the context of advertising what we are doing is brand integration whether it be in advergames, or around sponsorship games, and context is our watchword really. We have an entire team called the Community Management Team. Because we’re a global provider of an entertainment service, we have 36 different nationalities working within this team, it’s important that the environment in which our tweens are playing is safe and localised.
ML: How does this apply to how a content provider operates?
KA: Because we’re largely dealing with television content, it’s actually not as contentious because we aren’t doing product placements; we’re focusing on animated content. There are lots of restrictions in terms of content provision and whether you’re an advertiser or not, so that’s a fairly explicit and clear relationship between the content that’s being produced and consumers.
ML: Do we know the types of media being used by the tweens?
AB: I think the biggest mistake in terms of saying well “tweens, what are they into, what do they like?” is that you can’t say that all 8-12 year olds are the same. I think that’s a mistake that a lot of agencies and advertisers make. Within the media sphere, the internet plays a major part. However, TV still resonates incredibly well with younger audiences, as do magazines. Some will use the internet largely for homework, others will use it for wider browsing, but they are ultimately interacting with media in very different ways.
ML: Let’s talk about the importance of peer-to-peer influence with this age group? How important is it to tweens what their friends are doing?
MB: It’s absolutely important, there’s no two ways about it. We socially enabled our platforms probably about two years ago and we’re now in an extraordinary situation where we have an audience of 100 million kids and tweens globally of which about 45 million are girls and the remaining 56 million are older tween boys. We have found that those who are registered and are using it as a social gaming network are three times more engaged in all the content we have and also with their friends. At age 8-plus, they’re exploring their individuality and independence. It’s obviously different for girls than it is for boys. Girls are looking to create, they’re looking to share, almost to explore their future life. Dressing up games, quiz games and fashion games, for example, are all very hot. With boys, it’s about being in a peer group, about being seen well in the face of your friends who you’re competing with online. For them, the key things are racing and action games where it’s all about learning a new skill and just demonstrating that you’re better than your friend at it really.
ML: You obviously engage with the tweens, but is it just as important to get closer to their parents. Is the trick to market to the parents and appeal to the kids?
IB: What we have found through the Bailey Review process is a number of brands have said to us that the way they market to kids is coming through very strongly in terms of how parents perceive their brands. So when you’re looking particularly at family brands, it becomes even more important where the buying decision isn’t with the child but with the mother or the father. It seems like it could also be partly to do with the noise that surrounds it.
AB: With parents, the perception is that there is both good and bad when it comes to advertising to kids. If you market your brand in a nice way, then we’ll like you, but if you market in a somewhat shabby way, then we will not. It all really depends on individual brands.
IB: There are very easy to recall examples of that. Chocolate at children’s eye level in supermarkets goes down very badly with parents. And brands that do it, or indeed retailers that do it, will get a reaction from those parents. Sometimes it’s category specific so it doesn’t matter how you market, it’s what you’re marketing that the parent will have an issue with and high fat sugar food is one of those areas where you get pretty polarised views around whether that should be allowed to happen at all and there’s some pretty emotional argument, there isn’t too much rational thinking in a number of ways. There are a number of media owners now which interestingly have a food policy. It’s something you’d expect a media owner to have. But someone like Disney, won’t license its characters out unless food meets certain nutritional criteria because they know that parents are taking judgments on their brands based on how they’re marketing.
ML: Tweens is a demographic which is trying to be grown up without being grown up, perhaps trying to be cool as well. How do you satisfy that while trying to be educational?
MB: We don’t, for example, have a section on our site saying educational games, obviously not. Some of the most successful games we have on our sites are educational because of the age group of our users. One of which is called Sarah’s Cooking Class, which is now a franchise of games, we’re up to 35-38 games. And as the name suggests it’s a very simple game where users learn about different recipes from around the world that they can get involved with. There are various educational steps within the game where players put different ingredients together to make the recipe, and there is an obvious synergy between something like Sarah’s Cooking Class and numerous brands, for example brands that have created domestic appliances or anything that would relate to toy makers around cooking. When it comes to relationships that we make between brands and a particular game or the environment in which it was played, we would ensure that the brand was very careful about the messages that it puts out there because we know that there would be an obvious clash. If we are not careful it could result in not only a backlash from the parents, but there would also be an instant backlash from the users themselves, because of course we are a social network, and therefore every game, and every single game page has comments attached to it. We can see instantly how our users are reacting to what is on the site.
ML: How important is it for a brand to go and seek these tweens, is the onus on these brand owners to find these demographics, or in your experience would you find the 8-12 year olds brand savvy enough to go and seek our brands as ones that they want to interact with?
KA: I think that an 8 year old is very different from a 12 year old, and the change in children from 8 12 is tremendous. I also think that there are those children who are extremely savvy about brands and to the point where they could almost be classed as obsessive. Within these segment you will find that there are kids who could not really care about brands, they are very functional and they just want whatever they get given by their parents Then there are also those children who are extraordinarily aware of brands. The issue with the brands is how do you want to be seen when engaging with these children? And that is when it gets interesting. Do you want to be seen as hunting out kids to buy your products, targeting in such a way that is seen as rapacious and aggressive or do you want to be seen as integrated into what they are already doing day to day?