All Teens Are Alike. Except When They’re Not.

Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? Not just the physical changes, emerging sexuality, and slow but steady move towards independence; I’m referring to the development of cognitive functions, ethical frameworks, and self-directed behaviour. It’s okay if you don’t recall this so well because I don’t, either. I was too busy trying to fit in at school while figuring out what to do after graduation.

Students designed by Piotrek Chuchla from the Noun Project
Students designed by Piotrek Chuchla from the Noun Project


Tips and tricks for marketing products to teens abound in western society. This is a lucrative market to target, after all. But what if you want to convey a different kind of message? What if you’re dealing with a health, social, or environmental issue? What if your goal is to have an effect on behaviour, and you want young people to hear what you have to say?

I have some good news and some bad news. Let’s start with the bad news: this is no easy feat. As parents know all too well, getting tweens and teens to listen is an uphill battle. The good news is that we can be strategic about how we target them. How? By further segmenting them by age.


Early Adolescence

At 10 to 14 years of age, children focus on the present and near future. This means that using messaging that emphasizes the long-term hazards of risky behaviour is likely to be pointless to this group. Instead, use the theme of learning from mistakes. After all, this is the age at which young people realize that their parents are not perfect and begin to identify their own faults. This is a great time to reinforce the notion that making poor choices isn’t the end of the world because we have the capacity to make better choices the next time around. Often a story-based approach works best if kids feel they can relate to the experience.


Middle Adolescence

15- and 16-year-olds use moral reasoning to develop a conscience – even if it doesn’t always look that way from the outside. Parents are often ignored as authorities on virtually all topics, but alternatively this means that teens look elsewhere for role models. Make sure that the voice delivering your message sounds nothing like a parent. Consider using a celebrity spokesperson to gain the attention of young people. If that isn’t possible, feature someone adolescents can identify with. Peer groups are critical at this age!


Late Adolescence

Those 17 to 21 years of age are able to more clearly think through ideas without emotional instability getting in the way as often. This suggests that a factual approach can get the message across, especially if you appeal to older teens’ ability to make independent decisions. At this age, a greater concern for others, paired with increased goal setting and follow-through, implies that young adults can be empowered to have a positive impact on the world. Since they’re learning how to take pride in their work, they can be motivated to take on a cause to gain a sense of accomplishment.


Have you seen good examples of this type of micro-segmentation in messaging? Or maybe a very bad example?

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