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
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
grownups is appreciated.
"It's nice to know my opinion is being paid attention to," says
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
"It's a very influential market," says Selina Gruber, president
of Children's Market Research 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 from ages 12-19 will
spend $108 billion of their own money in 2000, along with $47
billion of their family's 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.
Shampoo and clothes makers, among others, are tripping over each
to associate themselves with concert tours of teen-popular acts like
Spears, the Backstreet Boys and Christina Aguilera.
The record industry is letting teens pick the next hits on the
Web via streaming audio, which lets them listen to selections
A linens manufacturer has come out with a separate line of towels
and sheets for teens, advertised on MTV.
And television commercials that used to cater to Generation X
often aim younger now, at Echo Boomers -- those born between 1977
"It's really taken off," says 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 teen marketing mania is evident in the proliferation of
research surveys and in conferences like the one this fall in
Chicago, which participants paid $1,599 to attend.
Pizza Hut hosts "roundtable discussions" with articulate teens
via e-mail to make sure it's on the right track with their tastes. …