Tween Pop Rules Seriously; Marketing Industry Is Responding to Youth Subgroup's Taste in Music

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 19, 2007 | Go to article overview

Tween Pop Rules Seriously; Marketing Industry Is Responding to Youth Subgroup's Taste in Music


Byline: Jenny Mayo, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Just when you thought teen pop was dead, an album called "High School Musical" has soared up Billboard's charts and become the best-selling album of 2006 with 3.7 million copies sold.

In case you don't have children, don't know a child, or were effectively tuned out for the last 12 months, "HSM" is the soundtrack to the Disney Channel original movie of the same name, a modern-day, less-lustful "Grease" story of two lovebird teens from different cliques.

The TV musical drew in nearly 8 million viewers for its Jan. 20, 2006 premiere, and tens of millions more for rebroadcasts. This mass is likely responsible for the record-breaking success of affiliated products, from the DVD and CD to live concert tickets to books and games.

Oh yeah, and there's a sequel coming out this year.

"HSM" is more than just a runaway album; it's a full-fledged phenomenon.

Don't let the words "high school" in the title fool you, though: "HSM" targets 9- to 14-year-olds and is performed by youngsters not much older.

This here is the realm of the "tween," that "in-between" age - defined variously as between 8 to 12 or 9 to 14 - when youngsters are no longer clutching mom's neck, yet still not ready for MTV spring break.

Whatever the precise age range, as a marketing sub-demo they have come of age: Tween pop (tween anything, really) like totally rules now.

Historically, this youth subgroup has been lumped in with teens and younger and, thus, underserved. Rich Ross, president of Disney Channel Worldwide, says that the word "tween" only popped into the company's lexicon maybe eight years back. Samantha Skey, senior vice president of strategic marketing at Alloy Media + Marketing, a full-service marketing firm specializing in population subsets, didn't see the expression take root until even later.

As media outlets such as cable networks, magazines and Web sites have proliferated and diversified, creating more specialized content, advertisers have also been able to target subgroups like tweens more easily, in turn fueling additional content creation, and so on.

And as Disney and others have discovered, tweens want to be entertained, just like everyone else. They're "looking for more sophisticated content" than kiddie fare, says Mr. Ross.

Leesa Coble, editor in chief of the tween-focused and tween star-festooned Bop and Tiger Beat magazines, agrees: "Everybody wants to feel like an individual and have ownership over something. And especially at that age, everybody wants to have independence. .. To have their own world is very important."

And in the emergence of this semiautonomous tween entertainment market - as in the earlier rise of the teen music market in the baby boom era - there is, naturally, a payoff. You might want to sit down for this: According to Alloy, the tween market has the power to influence a staggering $600 billion in family purchases, and enough allowance money to pay directly for an additional $30 billion.

Producing content for this unique market requires a bit of savvy: Because tweens remain under their parents' thumbs, their entertainment must pass not only the child's cool test, but survive the family's censors.

Thus, the tween product formula is essentially: Fun, wholesome material plus kid appeal plus parental "go" equals "cha-ching."

While "HSM" may be the most visible proof of the equation's jaw-dropping potential, Disney has had other Cinderella stories, from Hilary Duff's "Lizzie McGuire" in the earlier part of the decade to the now-popular Miley Cyrus' (Billy Ray's progeny) "Hannah Montana," a show about a real girl who morphs into a pop sensation at night.

The latter spawned another of 2006's Top 10 best-selling albums and is one of the many releases that helped Disney's music arm peddle more than 10 million records globally last year. …

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