Transcript of "The Teenage Girl as Consumer and Communicator"
Seeking to better understand how teen girls spend, socialize and communicate, Euro RSCG
Worldwide PR commissioned a survey by MicroDialogue to a random and representative
sample of 100 teenage girls aged 13 to 18 during November 2009. This white paper presents
the proprietary study’s findings in the context of today’s communications and business worlds
as they are increasingly dominated by social and other digital media. The objective is to
present a picture of how American teenage girls spend money, consume media and socialize
with friends and family.
With the Winter 2010 analysis of this data and insights from
teen girls across the country in hand, Euro RSCG Worldwide
PR will launch The Sisterhood this spring.This agency within
an agency will offer PR and marketing tools and a dedicated
blog that will help brands sell to and influence teenagers, or
at least join the trialogue—multi-way exchanges of ideas and
opinions among consumers and brands, which matter now
more than ever—as authentic players.
As the Great Recession grinds on, marketers and retailers
are pressed to find markets populated with willing-to-spend
consumers. American teenage girls have emerged as one
such market, a demographic heavily motivated by trends1
that wields almost totally discretionary income. The U.S.
Census Bureau reports that the average teen has $2,634 of
annual income from allowance, part-time work and gifts.
That’s in addition to the $5,496 of parental money an
average teen spends each year. All that amounts to more
than $216.3 billion in yearly purchasing power for teen
girls and boys combined.2
These numbers are eye-opening. Teens’ ability to affect a
brand’s bottom line is considerable. But among teens, the
spending habits of girls are drastically different from those
of boys, with girls a more dynamic consumer demographic.
A 2008 market study found, for example,
that both year-over-year (2007 to 2008)
and sequential spending by boys dropped
by 3 percent, whereas spending by girls
was up 6 percent from 2007 but
down 7 percent sequentially.3 This
discrepancy indicates that when it
comes to spending, girls’ peaks
are higher and their troughs
lower; they are inclined to ride
the high tide and mellow in the
ebb of the changing economy.
Does this reflect sensitivity to the
market? An ability to restrain and
moderate spending when times
call for it? A social equilibrium
more given to reaching a tipping
point than that of boys?
Euro RSCG Worldwide PR’s focus on teen girls, including
the November study and this white paper, endeavors to
answer such questions by better understanding the
American teenage girl consumer.
In addition to their purchasing power, this demographic is
also a crucial one because of their engagement with social
media. Teenage girls have been shaped by social media and,
in turn, are shaping its development, particularly at the
synapse points where social media interfaces with shopping.
Since their generation is arguably the first fully wired one,
their habits will determine how relevant markets develop.
Euro RSCG Worldwide’s November 2009 study of social
media revealed that people have come to accept social media
as not just a part of social life but also an enhancement of
it.Tools such as smartphones, SMS, instant messaging,
Twitter and Facebook are no longer used
simply as stand-alone services or devices but
form a social web that is changing how
people think, behave, socialize,
communicate and—of course—spend.
Today’s teenagers, part of the first
generation of people who have never
experienced communication in a
world without the Internet, are
self-taught masters of social
technology and can seamlessly
weave this social media web into
their lives.They include what they
want and need, and ignore, block
or disable what they don’t.
Teenage girls are among the
most widely affected and involved
of today’s social media users.
TEEN GIRLS SEARCH AND SPENDTOPICALLY
The conventional wisdom is that teens spend countless hours lost online, trolling
haphazardly through fields of digital content, often of potentially dubious moral or
educational value. This image of teen media consumption coincides with the popular
notion of trend-addicted teen girls flocking to the latest fad, on Amazon.com or in the
mall, and snapping up goods in a frenzy.
The sober reality is that while teens certainly consume a lot of digital media, they do so in
a purposeful and targeted way, spending a relatively modest amount of their time online.
In fact, according to Nielsen, teens spend an average of 11 hours and 32 minutes per
month online, well below the average for U.S. adults of 29 hours and 15 minutes.4 The
widespread ownership of mobile platforms such as iPods and
iPhones allows teens to dip in and out of media repeatedly
through the day, including while they’re on the move. According
to a Kaiser Family Foundation study of 8- to 18-year-olds
released in January 2010, 20 percent of their media
consumption occurs on mobile devices, such as cell phones, iPods
or hand-held video game players.5
Our data shows that teenage girls do not indiscriminately
consume media and shop. A full 71 percent of respondents to
the Euro RSCG Worldwide PR survey report that when they go
online, they know what they’re looking for. And what is that?
Friendship and a space to conduct their social relationships.
For teenage girls, social media and social relationships reinforce each other—almost 8 in 10
use social media to keep in touch with friends. Three-quarters say they are in “constant
contact” with friends via text (Nielsen reports that teens send a daily average of 96 text
messages), Facebook, iChat, AIM or other social media sites or services.
The goings-on at school or among their friends dominate these communications. More than
half (51 percent) say they use social networking sites to keep up with school gossip, while
54 percent fear missing out on important gossip or social events if they are not in “constant
communication” with friends.
“Constant communication,” however, does not mean teenage girls are permanently online; they
dip in and out. They surf the Web and use social media with a high degree of focus, making
quick checks of Facebook, sending lightning-fast IM chats and posting short messages across
online social media platforms. They search rather than browse and actively communicate
rather than passively consume.
For teenage girls, social media enables social relationships, which are
conducted, to a significant extent, through the tools of social media.
Qtr 1 Qtr 2 Qtr 3 Qtr 4 Qtr 1 Qtr 2 Qtr 3 Qtr 4 Qtr 1
2007 2007 2007 2007 2008 2008 2008 2008 2009
Number of Calls Sent/Received Number of Billed SMS Sent/Received
286 280 240 238 231 239 203 191
AVERAGE NUMBER OF MONTHLY PHONE CALLS AND TEXTS
U.S. MOBILE TEENS 13-17
SOURCE: The Nielsen Co.
TEEN GIRLS HUNT FOR WHATTHEY WANT
The shopping behavior of teenage girls can be compared with the hunting strategies
of birds of prey, which soar high above the land to spot exactly what they want. They’re
keen-eyed and patient, willing to wait until they see the right item at the right price.
Then they swoop.
They know the parameters of what they want: brand and price. With their budgets
limited to the takings of part-time jobs and allowances, teenage girls look for sales,
with 61 percent saying they tend to wait for items to go on sale before buying them.
In addition, 77 percent say they are more likely to buy on sale than at full price.
But, importantly, low price alone is not the primary consideration.
Almost two-thirds say that if they can find a good brand at a
fair price, they tend to justify costly purchases. And
catching a preferred brand—they are very
loyal to their favorites—at a discount
retailer provides a sense of enjoyment
to 7 out of 10 teen girls.
When it comes to interfacing with a brand about sales and special offers, teen girls prefer to
be the active seeker rather than passive recipient. They show a clear preference for
approaching a brand to find out about sales and special promotions versus having the brand
approach them. Thirty-seven percent say they sign up for e-mail incentives and discounts from
their favorite brands, while 28 percent “browse the Web and subscribe to newsletters” for
coupons and sale updates. Only 19 percent like to become fans of their favorite brands on
Facebook; about three times as many (56 percent) don’t do so.
Teen girl shoppers have clear ideas about what they want and
what it feels like in their hands. They know how to find what they
want and prefer to actively seek it out by approaching brands, not
the other way around. And they’re willing to seek out their
preferences at the right price.
TEEN GIRLS SOCIALIZE IN GROUPS,NOT FLOCKS
When they find a good deal, teen girls want to share it—but
they’re more interested in tipping off a friend than in
broadcasting the information. Almost two-thirds of girls (65
percent) say that when their favorite brand or store has a sale,
they tell their best friend or sister; 57 percent say that when they
find out about a new brand or trend, they share it with a best
friend or sister.
The means by which girls tend to share this information is key.
Just 5 percent use Facebook and 5 percent use IM; factoring in
e-mail and Twitter, only a quarter of teen girls turn to social or
online media to spread the word about shopping and sales. The
overwhelming majority relies on a much more traditional method
of communication: word-of-mouth.
Nearly half the girls we surveyed pass along this
information by text message, and 28 percent do so by
phone, which means that close to 8 out of 10 use a
one-on-one form of communication to spread news
about shopping and discounts.
With girls using SMS, phone and social media to
roughly the same extent when it comes to telling
their friends or sisters about other important
topics—fashion and style, entertainment and even
social events—it’s clear that teen girls operate in
segmented social networks.
While the average teen girl might have more than 100 friends on
Facebook, she focuses on sharing key information with the one or
two people closest to her.
Nov. Nov. Nov. Feb. Sep.
2004 2006 2007 2008 2009
% of teens 12-17 who own cell phones
TEEN CELL-PHONE OWNERSHIP
SOURCE: The Pew Foundation
INTIMACY ISTHE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR
This approach to communication and sharing bespeaks a culture of intimacy in which
important things are communicated only to important people. When it comes to topics that
play a role in their daily life, teen girls prefer to talk to a select few rather than to a mass
of people, and they would rather be in on a conversation than be part of a big group of
onlookers. They don’t broadcast information on Twitter or even Facebook. They almost
adamantly prefer to both receive and disseminate information by conversing with very
Thinking of a teen girl’s intimate circle as exclusionary, however, misses the point. Rather,
the small group formed by two or three girls who think of each other as sisters allows each
to have her say and ensures that each will be heard. Individual identity is not lost, as it can
be in larger groups; on the contrary, it gets highlighted. This intimate group interaction, key
to all aspects of a teenage girl’s life, is better known as sisterhood.
The parallel between how teen girls communicate and how they shop again emerges. Just
as teen girls prefer texting or calling their best friend or sister about sales, trends and
brands rather than broadcasting the information, they also greatly prefer an intimate
dynamic when they shop.
Shopping with just her best friend or sister, a teen girl will spend 23 percent more than
when shopping with two or more friends. Shopping with a boy, she will spend less than half
(43 percent) of what she spends with her close friend or sister. And shopping with her
mother, who provides access to a larger budget and is also a key member of her intimate
circle, she will spend triple the amount she spends with a group of friends.
This connection is about comfort, as well as trust and credibility: When it comes to getting
an honest opinion, teen girls have the same level of trust with their best friends/sisters as
they do with their mothers. And when it comes to shopping, being able to rely on an honest
opinion is what matters to a teen girl.
For the teenage girl, the inner circle is the inner sanctum.
Important interactions, shopping and communication happen
within this circle, where a sense of sisterhood can influence
THE INDIVIDUAL ME
It’s no secret that teens are me-focused. Researchers from University College London
have even found that the brains of teen girls react differently from the brains of adult
women when presented with questions and situations involving other people. “We think
that a teenager’s judgment of what they would do in a given situation is driven by the
simple question: ‘What would I do?’” says UCL brain researcher Sarah-Jayne
Blakemore. “Adults, on the other hand, ask: ‘What would I do, given how I would feel
and given how the people around me would feel as a result of my actions?’” 6
Teens today live in a world structured for such self-centeredness. This has reached a new
level with the advent of cheap mobile communications and social media. Just about every
teen girl has a cell phone, many of which are Web-connected. The MySpace page is hers,
the Facebook profile is hers. So are the cell phone number, the details on her profile page
and the intimate group of friends who get to learn her secrets.
Today’s world has been remade for the female teenager—or so it must seem to the teen
girl. That her approach to personal style agrees with this worldview is only natural.
Almost 6 out of 10 teen girls we surveyed said that maintaining a unique personal style
is important to her—that’s roughly double the number of girls who said they like to
follow the same trends and adopt the same styles as their friends.
For fashion inspiration and to keep up with trends, teen girls look to their own role
models, with 42 percent saying their style is influenced by their favorite movie and TV
stars; just 26 percent are influenced by the style of the popular and “cool” girls at school.
The teen girl sees herself as uniquely defined by her tastes and
preferences, and wants to feel that uniqueness as she spends
ME FOCUS BRINGS GIRLS TO PHYSICAL STORES
The Euro RSCG Worldwide social media study found that this narrowing focus on “me”
and “mine” reflects another important trend: hyperlocalism. The refocusing of digital media
on local communities, local shopping and geography-specific microtrends is returning the
consumer to his or her own world. Whereas in its earlier years the Internet was an
amorphous mass of content with little local specificity, today’s Web is becoming segmented
and focused on local communities.
Teen girls in one sense have primarily encountered
the Main Street of their home cities or towns and in
another sense have only known the incredible power
and specialized reach of social media. They want
access to both the local-specific and the me-focused.
Our survey found that more than half of teen girls
(52 percent) say they typically shop at places near
home. And, contrary to any notions that teens are
super-wired cyber-zombies who point and click for
everything, three-quarters of teen girls say they
prefer to shop in stores so they can touch and feel
the items to determine quality, rather than online.
This need to touch and feel is woven into the wider social experience of shopping. As a social
experience that’s focused on the girl herself, the presentation of brand and store is important.
Nearly half of girls (47 percent) say the music and atmosphere of a store are important
factors in their shopping experience.
There is also a pragmatic barrier to online shopping: 67 percent of teen girls we surveyed don’t
buy online simply because they don’t have a credit card. And 49 percent say that if they had
their own credit card, they would shop more online.
Teen girls like what’s theirs, which means they want to shop in
the places they know best. This focus on what they know brings
them into the physical stores in their local communities.
THE BRAND APPROACH
Teen girls live in a world where they are empowered by a sense of possessing. They own
media and have control over it—a notion that not long ago was unimaginable. They have an
unprecedented ability to acquire their own products and services. Possession structures their
lives: no longer the family-shared land line but the personal cell phone, the Facebook page
and the WiFi-enabled iPod.
By virtue of this all-encompassing sense of possession, they
are annoyed by intrusions into spaces they feel are theirs. After
configuring her Facebook profile, posting the right photos and
moderating responses to messages, the sight of an irrelevant
ad is a blight. Even the right brand advertising in the wrong
place provokes annoyance. And as one brand manager once
observed of teen girls’ response to brands,“Once they’ve been
turned off to it, it’s hard to turn around.”7
News of a bad experience travels, with 72 percent of girls from our survey saying that an
awful experience (like a good experience) with a brand, product or service is worth telling
“lots of people” about.
Teen girls show a clear preference for making the first move in approaching brands—signing
up for specific e-mail alerts rather than receiving newsletters to browse, searching for
favorite brands at a reduced price rather than browsing for alternate brands or accepting
All this means brands face the challenge of how to meet the teen girl. One key is that as the
vanguard of fully acclimated social media users, teen girls are an important part of another
feature of today’s new consumer world: the centrality of marketing-as-discussion. Teen girls, like
other social media-oriented groups, want to talk about the brands that are important to them—
and they want to talk with the brand as they talk about the brand among themselves.
This notion of a three-way conversation, the trialogue, is important. And with teen girls, it must
be translated into a marketing language that suits their tendency to share and discuss with
their intimate circle. The conversation, which often occurs on social media sites like Facebook,
needs to be tailored to fit within the parameters of text messaging, the social/digital
communication of choice for teen girls.
The rise of social cause marketing online also presents an inroad to the teenage girl market.
While few teen girls give money to social causes, 31 percent use online resources to find out
about ways to volunteer for a cause, and about a quarter use these resources to organize people
in benefit of a cause. While the participation numbers are not exceedingly high, a brand’s
association with a social cause is one way to help develop a relationship with teen girls and their
mothers.Teen girls triple their spending when they shop with mom, so a positive brand image
held by both mother and daughter can result in significant benefits for brands.
Teen girls are empowered by owning their own media and communication
devices, and they don’t like any intrusions from brands into that space.
They like to make the first move and be involved in a social-media-based
conversation with their favorite brands. Social causes are one inroad.
THE INTENSE MID-TEENS
On many scores, the mid-teen years (15-16) appear to be the most intense—many of the
distinctive female teen attributes are at their most widespread. Girls are no longer kids but
not yet fully young women. In the midst of a massive life transition, these girls are more
likely than other ages to be casting around for connection and assurance. For example, while
77 percent of the overall teen sample communicate by text with their sister(s)/best friend
daily or several times a day, 84 percent of the 15-year-olds do so.
Mid-teens are the most frequent and avid users of
many technologies. We found that 58 percent overall
phone their sister(s)/best friend daily or several
times a day, versus 74 percent of 15-year-olds. The
same applies to e-mail (24 percent overall versus 47
percent of 15-year-olds). It also applies to usage of
less popular tools: Just 4 percent overall use Flickr
often or always for photo sharing versus 11 percent
of 15-year-olds; 9 percent overall use video chat
often or always versus 16 percent of 15-year-olds.
With Facebook, 42 percent overall communicate
daily or several times a day, versus 63 percent of
15-year-olds. And where a huge 78 percent overall
use social networking sites to keep in touch with
friends, virtually all 15-year-olds do so (95 percent). One big factor driving this intense
usage is fear of missing out on important gossip or social events if they’re not in constant
communication with friends (54 percent overall, 69 percent of 15-year-olds and 70 percent
Both setting and following trends is especially important to this cohort. While around a third
(35 percent) of the overall sample aspire to be a trendsetter whom other girls will admire and
copy, just under half of 15-year-olds (47 percent) feel this way. A very substantial 84 percent
of 15-year-olds wish they could customize/personalize more of their clothing and accessories
versus 59 percent overall. At the same time, 15-year-olds are more likely to say they like
to wear the same styles and trends as their friends (53 percent versus 32 percent overall).
And 74 percent of the 15-year-olds consider themselves stylish/trendy/cool compared with
58 percent overall.
Expensive brands help give them the confidence they seek; more than half of 15-year-olds
(53 percent) feel more important and substantial on a day when they’re wearing brands that
are known to be more expensive versus 37 percent overall.
Sisterhood—by blood or friendship—provides a crucial sense of connection for teen girls, but
especially for those in their mid-teens. While 49 percent of the overall sample thinks no bond is
stronger than that of sisterhood, as many as 69 percent of 15-year-olds believe this. When they
seek brutally honest feedback, two-thirds overall first turn to a sister or best friend versus
84 percent of 15-year-olds. And 72 percent overall say their sister/best friend knows them better
than anyone else, compared with 84 percent of 15-year-olds and 87 percent of 16-year-olds.
Across the sample, 64 percent believe a sister/best friend is the most important relationship
in life, while 74 percent of 15-year-olds believe so. Correspondingly, a high proportion of
75 percent overall tell their sister/best friend secrets and personal information that they don’t
share with anyone else, but the proportion is even higher among 15-year-olds (84 percent) and
16-year-olds (87 percent). When they get exciting news, 71 percent overall share it with their
sister/best friend first versus 79 percent of 15-year-olds. Not surprisingly, while 63 percent
trust their sister/best friend more than anyone in the world, an even higher 79 percent of
15-year-olds feel this way.
Among teen girls, 15 is the pivotal age when teen-ness goes into high gear,
when energy meets confidence and a growing sense of possibilities.
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
FOR BRANDS AND MARKETERS
Boys Want Thrills, Girls Want Relationships
While teen boys seek thrills and spills, teen girls have a more complex agenda in which
relationships play a crucial role. Many activities are driven or supported by their
developing relationships. They use social media to manage and maintain these
relationships in a highly purposeful way. Brands and marketers must ensure they don’t
impinge; to the extent that they’re present, they should be available to facilitate the
Customization and Contests
Brands have an opportunity to bring teen girls into their stores (both online and
physical) by coupling contests and customization. Girls are attracted by the ability to
modify and personalize goods. And to do so as part of a team—with her best friend
and/or sister—provides a social motivation for girls to get involved with brands and
Teen girls buy when they find the correct nexus of brand, price and environment. They
will not compromise on brand. With more time than money, however, they will wait until
they find their brand at their price. To maximize unit sales, stores must offer the right
brands at the right prices—and those must be presented in the right ambience, where a
girl can feel comfortable enough to engage in the social experience of shopping.
Knowing Who Each Teen Girl Is and What She Prefers
Knowing teen girls is about knowing each teen girl. An accurate profile of a teen girl—
her pop culture role models, her favorite bands and her shopping history—makes all the
difference in marketing to her successfully. Social media provides unique opportunities
for girls to compile this information for brands in exchange for access (or alerts) to