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How To Market Investing to Teens

When Sales Advice Becomes Savings Advice

I learned a lot about public relations at a 1990 seminar where one of Exxon’s marketing experts explained how the company handled the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident. I walked away from PR and marketing that night and never returned; I didn’t have it in me to be a spin doctor. So the marketing magazine sample I received in the mail the other day came as a surprise.

I was about to toss it into the recycling pile when I read the cover headline: “5 Simple Rules for Teen Marketing.” My paranoia forced me to tear the wrapper open. I wanted to learn how retailers plan to target my teen, because that semi-adult has her hands deep inside my wallet.
I expected an article that was similar to the seminar: Slick? Yes. Somewhat oily? You bet. Instead, I read a smart piece that explained simple guidelines for retailers to reach today’s teen market.
The rules are actually ideal for parents, too: Appeal to teens, realize how smart they are, recognize that they have changed from the time you were a teen, take time to help them and take their money before someone else does.
Many retailers may know our children better than we do. They know the way to reach teens is through electronic messages. They know teens can smell a rat at 20 paces, so they try to be as authentic as possible by using younger voices for their adult messages. And they try to treat teens with the respect they crave from any adult who isn’t a parent.
Retailers also know that teen spending money (comprising wages, allowances and gifts) will increase an estimated 3.5 percent every year through 2011. A Harris poll has put annual teen spending well above $100 billion.
Why not sock away part of that cash? Some teens, like some adults, don’t think about what might happen tomorrow, let alone a few years down the road — did anyone dare dream a couple of years ago that it would take a full day’s pay at minimum wage to fill a gas tank today? And banks and investment markets fall far behind many retailers in their appeal to anyone under age 20.
It all leaves a great opening for investment club members to take on the role of teen marketers. Granted, the magazine I received focuses on how to get young people to spend money, but what if investors use its advice for teaching how to save it? Listen to teens, recognize their intelligence, make investing attractive, take time to help them learn about strategies and make sure their money heads to the club before making its way to the mall.
Oh — and don’t forget to entice that teen with an iPod, as every other retailer is using them as lure these days. (Nothing else seems to work.) You have to be slick to win teens away from today’s retail marketing strategies.

Linda Goin is a free-lance writer who focuses on personal finance and visual communications. She completed her college career this year with a graduate degree in American history at age 50.

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