All serious entrepreneurs, business-owners, and brand marketers know not to invest lightly in teenagers when it comes to advertising. According to some sources, the current generation of teenagers—Gen Z—is worth upwards of $40 billion in yearly purchasing power. Since teenagers offer such a wide margin for profit, all companies must take advertising to teenagers seriously. Otherwise, they’re missing out on a major opportunity for fostering brand loyalty. And, recently, social media has provided the answer.
There are a handful of social media platforms that have proven to be incredibly effective in reaching Gen Z—and even the younger half of Millennials. Snapchat and Instagram are two, but Facebook is still a valid platform, and the newest social media fad, TikTok, is another great opportunity to reach teens on social media.
Regardless of the platform, the fact is almost 90% of teenagers use some form of social media to shop and educate themselves about the latest products on the market. Taking this into consideration, marketers have begun utilizing social media influencers to market to teenage consumers. Influencers pose with products on their private or public accounts, which teens willingly follow. The popularity of this strategy is largely due to the fact that television and radio advertisements have lost their potency to reach young buyers, and because ads that aren’t skippable generally receive negative feedback from teenagers. Instead, teens much prefer learning about goods and services via other young peoples’ profiles—even if they know the influencer is being sponsored!
The down side is that, while social media platforms do give marketers an opportunity to harness teenage interests, the popular marketing trends on these apps actually hurt teenage mental health and self-esteem.
While utilizing influencers and social media is a profitable marketing maneuver, advertisers have a primary obligation to promote positive health trends in the current generation of teenagers. Not harmful ones. Luckily, I have 5 awesome ways marketers can take advantage of social media to build brand loyalty among teenagers without adding to the harmful side effects of social media platforms!
Before explaining how, though, all marketers need to understand why the current paradigm is so harmful.
During our teenage years, our brains are at a very specific stage of development that makes us incredibly impressionable. Thus, teen consumers are much more likely to internalize the messages they see on advertisements and sponsorships on social media. While a good way to convince teens to buy a product, this approach actually hurts teens in a serious way. Namely, it affects their mental health.
Think about it. Even before we had social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, being a teenager was tough. Teens have more to deal with today than ever before. On top of navigating the high school social ladder, facing today’s increased academic pressures, and satisfying overzealous helicopter parents, modern teens have to display a public persona online at all times. It’s enough to drive teens crazy—and, unfortunately, it does. The increased pressure they feel is having a significant impact in teen mental health and happiness.
Of course, there is an argument in support of these platforms; it’s true that the easy access granted by apps like Instagram and Snapchat make it easier for teens to connect with their peers than ever before, but there’s also a major downside. With teenagers forced to constantly display a “cool” lifestyle on all variety of social media apps, there’s a general agreement that teens are comparing themselves to their peers too often and creating harmful judgments of themselves and others.
To support this claim, research proves that consistent use of social media platforms actually harms self-esteem and increases mental illnesses like anxiety and depression in teenagers. By comparing profile views and photo likes, teenagers put too much stress on themselves to live the “right” way. With their peers always watching them, teens feel like they’re constantly on trial, and it has a massive impact on their overall happiness and health.
What does marketing have to do with this?
Good question. If social media use is the issue at hand, what part does marketing play in the reproduction of these negative trends? The answer will only come by taking a look at the role modern influencers play in the social media advertising paradigm.
More than a quarter of modern teenagers follow influencer profiles to form their thoughts on consumer products. Teenagers feel that—even though they know influencers are sponsored—the quasi-celebrities are more transparent about what they’re advertising, and that they’re more like “average” people. Despite this belief, influencers and advertisers fill teenage feeds with unrealistic images that show goods and services in the most positive light possible, and this fake display disguised as “real” does a lot of damage to teens’ mental health and self-esteem.
These kinds of posts are based on teenagers comparing themselves to the models and influencers they see on social media. These ads promote the idea that teenagers must buy specific products to be “normal,” and that it’s paramount to “fit in,” no matter what the cost. This unattainable standard creates the same kind of stress teenagers face when they’re asked to get a 100% ACT score, be the “perfect” size, or act the “right” way. Namely, they rely on teaching teenagers there’s a proper way of existing, even if its contrary to their own wants and desires.
Using influencers and provocative imagery to appeal to teens on social media like this is an incredibly harmful way to advertise, and marketers should avoid it whenever possible. Luckily, there are multiple ways to effectively promote brand loyalty to teenagers via social media without contributing to the negative aspects I just mentioned. Here are my 5 top tips for advertising to teenagers on social media in a positive, moral way!
Honesty is the Best Policy
Every good ad campaign is already honest about the product it’s promoting, but ads can still be overrun with imagery and themes that add to the negative aspects of social media advertising. Teenagers are extremely suggestible and will try as hard as they can to reproduce what they see in the media. Especially on social media! This is why it’s important for advertisements to be centered around the brand’s actual purpose, instead of relying on associated imagery to create an impact on teens.
In fact, being transparent is often the best decision an advertiser can make! Relying entirely on provocative imagery to sell a product isn’t only harmful, it’s often negatively perceived by consumers—especially teens who crave respect from their adult counterparts. They can tell when they’re being fed a lie, and they won’t react kindly. Besides, brand loyalty has been proven to increase the more transparent a brand is! So why not give it a go?
For an example of what this might look like, look no further than the company Clearasil. The hilarious Droga 5 ad campaign took honesty to a whole new level by admitting that the company actually didn’t understand teens! It did, however, understand their concerns when it came to acne. This strategy made it clear to teens that Clearasil wasn’t trying to trick teens into buying their product, but actually wanted to help them. It was a clever, honest advertisement that didn’t contribute to the harmful side of teenage advertising.
Understand Teen Values
Gen Z is shaping up to be more socially and politically active than any previous generation, with a liberal streak that rivals even that of the previous generation, Millennials. Carbon emissions, government involvement, gender equality, race representation, and climate change are all hot topics for Gen Z. These are all excellent opportunities for advertisers, who can use these social issues to orient their company’s mission to match teenagers’ values.
Rather than relying on harmful images of social norms to reach the teenage market, your brand can emphasize social just issues and liberal political agendas to reach teen consumers. By proving to teenagers that you care about the same global issues, you’re not only adding to positive social change, but you soften the tension between yourself and teen buyers!
Charities, outreach programs, and humanitarian organizations are all awesome ways to show teenagers your brand doesn’t just match with their values, but actively contributes to creating a better world! It’s a double win.
Before implementing this tip, it might not be a bad idea to review brand purpose marketing. In brand purpose marketing, a company shows its customers that it cares about more than just money by donating to a charity or creating an outreach program. Remember the Budweiser Super Bowl ad from 2018? The one where Budweiser showed its breweries being transformed into water packaging plants and providing relief to disaster victims? Yeah, that’s a pretty prime example. By straying away from typical alcohol advertisement tropes, Bud showed consumers all across the country how the company stand for more than just beer.
Another awesome example of brand purpose marketing comes from Dove soap. In order to help debunk body shaming and self esteem issues in young women, Dove started the Dove Self Esteem Project, which uses Dove’s profits to support body positivity and provide resources for struggling women.
Both of these examples not only create a sense of brand loyalty between customers and consumers, but they make lasting contributions to critical societal issues. To utilize this in social media, you might consider creating a post that focuses on your product, but then including a link to a charity you support in your photo caption or profile biography. Then teens can see you and your brand are interested in making a positive social impact, and not purely focused on turning a profit. It’s also a great way to take advantage of my fourth and final tip…
Give Teens a Choice
When teens feel like they don’t have a choice, two things can happen. One, they might lash out and rebel just to prove their independence. Or two, they could make an impulsive and harmful decision. Often, they both happen, and either way, the results are negative. This is why it’s important to make teens feel like they’re making their own decisions in life, and it’s the same in advertising!
If you bombard teens on social media with irrelevant ads, they’ll most likely react negatively. They’ll be annoyed that their feed is clogged up with unnecessary spam, and any chance of building brand loyalty might as well be tossed out the window. Instead, you should find a way to convince teens to explore your product willingly!
It’s easy to do this by using my previous points about honesty, brand purpose marketing, and appealing to teenage values. If a teenager sees your sponsored post about a humanitarian effort they’re passionate about, then sees an easy link to follow, they’ll be more likely to check out your page! And, best of all, they’ll be doing it by choice. This will make them feel like you aren’t just a brand trying to use them for profit, but a resource they can use to accomplish their own personal goals. If you can make teens excited and willing to explore your brand, you’ve won most of the battle.
It’s no secret that social media is one of the most important resources advertisers have when it comes to reaching the teenage demographic and increasing brand loyalty. Unfortunately, modern marketing practice is having a negative effect on teenage consumers, and advertisers should do anything they can to avoid contributing to this trend. Fortunately, it’s simple for brands to be transparent and accommodate teen interests and passions to promote not only brand loyalty, but positive social change!
I hope you’ve found these tips and resources helpful, and that you’ll use them as you move forward with all your marketing endeavors. Remember, teenagers are incredibly easy to influence, and as a marketer, you have unmatched power when it comes to what they see, hear, and internalize every day. It’s up to you to raise the next healthy, happy generation of teenagers, and it starts with what you’re putting on social media.
About the Author
Eric M. Earle is the founder of Tutor Portland. He used to struggle with mathematics, but in his early twenties, studied math intensely and began to pass on his knowledge. Demand for his tutoring services led to the creation of Tutor Portland—which focuses on improving students’ math grades to better their college acceptance rates.