The Youth Market

“Coveted $150 Billion Dollar Youth Market.” That's what they call it in the media. A coveted group of kids and young people that corporations are targeting with their messages and their marketing.

Just what is the “Youth Market?” The term youth to me means someone young – a kid. It seems like it is defined differently for purposes of marketing. I’ve seen it described as anyone between the age of 13 and 25. Others delay the start until age 17.

At what point in a youth’s development does the need to have “stuff” – $150B of it a year – kick into gear? I mean is there some “materialism gene” heretofore undiscovered that switches on at age 13? My two-year-old grandson has been visiting for the last three weeks and I can tell you his wants are pretty basic. He mostly focuses on cookies, milk, juice, and affection with the occasional episode of Sesame Street.

As a marketer, it is easy for me to point a complicit finger at our profession. For example:

  • The food processors have marketing conferences where they teach food and beverage processors how to “tune into the kids market and the best segue into the youth market.”
  • Musicians are paid millions to promote products in their videos to kids.
  • Soda manufacturers are making their products interactive in order to market to the young.
  • Media and marketing firms hire psychologists to “help explore the teen market’s consumer power, media, psyche and world.”
  • Advertisers realize the “strong influence kids have upon their parents due to the guilt parents often struggle with due to busier schedules.”
  • Kids are exposed to 150 minutes of advertising a day. “Sharp marketers capitalize on and advance the trend.”

Who are the companies that “covet” this market? A small, partial list reads like a corporate Who’s Who. Adidas, AT&T, Ben & Jerry's, Campbell Soup, Disney, ESPN, Estee Lauder, Frito-Lay, Gillette, H.J. Heinz, Hewlett Packard, JC Penney, Kellogg, Kraft, LifeSavers, Neutrogena, Nike, Nokia, Pillsbury, Quaker Oats, Revlon, Sears, Seventeen, Showtime, Teen, Timberland and YM.

I have a theory of what happens to kids moving from needing cookies, milk and affection to “needing” to spend $150B year on stuff. Maslow identified five areas of needs in humans that focus on:

  • Physiological Needs
  • Safety Needs
  • Needs of Love, Affection and Belongingness
  • Needs for Esteem
  • Needs for Self-Actualization

The need for self-actualization – which Maslow describes as a person’s need to be and do that which the person was “born to do” – does not activate until all the other needs are met. He believed that if a person is hungry, unsafe, not loved, not accepted, and lacking self-esteem and self respect it is impossible for a person to do what “they were born to do.”

I believe much of the youth culture hasn’t had their first four needs met and therefore cannot transition into the life they were born to live? I believe parents are losing influence over their children because they have allowed and encouraged materialism to take the place of love, affection, a sense of belonging, and respect.

We have let the market educate our youth. Marketers know how to capture attention and push products that our children believe will take the place of something that is missing – quite often something they can’t describe – only feel.

And, the result is a “Coveted $150 Billion Dollar Youth Market” made up of “kids” looking for “stuff” to fill the hole.

What do you think? Is anyone else irritated by this focus on marketing stuff to kids? Are we helpless in making a change to this trend? Do kids “need” all this “stuff?” Or, have they been manipulated by marketing into believing they need it.

Or, is it as I fear, they are using “stuff” to try and fill the other actual needs that have not been met by the adults in their lives?

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