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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Gregarious teens: Marketers' dream

This really dates me, but I remember poring over the Sears Catalog to develop my holiday wish list. Now, of course, wishes are sown in IMs, phones text messages, emails, and blogs, the Seattle Times reports. What parents and many kids don't realize - but marketers certainly do - is that a lot of the viral advertising going on in cyberspace originates with corporations. "Rather than wait for cool teens to pick the next 'hot' T-shirt (or shoes or new musician or even deodorant), companies are increasingly targeting gregarious teens as underground spokespeople, paid in free products, discounts and cutting-edge cachet. The goal is what's called "real life product-placement" - getting a popular teenager to wear/use one's product so that it will take off in his/her peer group and then - via physical events and cyberspace - spread to other peer groups. It brings new, infinitely broader, meaning to "word of mouth." For example, Procter & Gamble's viral marketing unit is called, and it "boasts 200,000 'of the most influential teens in the US'," according to the Times. What we all, especially the teenagers we love, need to be aware of is that - because IMs, phone-texting, etc., are so integral to teens' social lives - viral marketing is more influential than TV ads or catalogs ever were. It can actually affect their social standing and sense of self. That's the message of the critics of "stealth advertising," and they provide a healthy counter-balance to this powerful phenomenon. The Seattle Times article would be a great resource for any family or classroom discussion aimed at developing critical thinking.


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