Last Friday a group of us went up to a Tween Mashup sponsored by Ypulse at the Digital Life Convention in New York City. It was basically a group of around a hundred advertisers and marketers who especially work with you and those who would be considered “tweens” (in between being kids and teens) – kids ages 9-14. We served as volunteers for the day, but got to hang out with some execs and very creative people from companies like Neopets, Stardoll (think virtual paper dolls), Nickelodeon, kajeet, MTV, Whyville (one of the largest virtual worlds for tweens), Lego and many, many others. The conference was focused on what tweens want and what is developmentally appropriate for them in terms of websites, technologies, etc. We heard some very interesting presentations, and here are a few nuggets that I gleamed from them:
- Kids age 6-14 spend $60 billion a year – $60 billion(!)
- This will be the first generation to fully grow up with the internet – it is these kids who will be some of the most creative innovators in the future.
- Neopets bases their website and online virtual community on 5 key values for tweens: self-expression, fun, control, social connection and safety.
- Stardoll.com CEO (which has 6 million users around the world) said that it’s most popular with girls because they can go to the site and be a different girl every day – they want to be someone else and this allows them that creative option.
- UGC – it’s all about UGC now on the web. UGC = user-generated content. Tweens, and others of course, want to be able to generate content, be creative and come up with stuff that is instantly published on the web (or in other media). Sites that allow for a high amount of UGC will be much more successful than those that don’t.
- Whyville‘s userbase is about 60-70% girls, and 30-40% boys. The CEO of Whyville was on a panel with the CEOs of Stardoll, Beacon Street Girls and Cartoon Doll Emporium, when someone asked why all of these sites are seemingly just targeting tween girls. Whyville CEO Jim Bauer (interesting SXSW interview here) said that it was because Whyville was a place, perhaps one of the few places, where it’s okay for girls to feel “smart” and where they are told that they can be smart. It is also a place that calls them to be creative (create UGC) and contribute to the community of Whyville. There aren’t a lot of other places that ask young girls to do those things in our existing social structures.
You might be wondering what some future youth ministers were doing at an advertising/marketing conference. For one, it was a great opportunity. Youth pastors are always talking about “those people” / “those damn marketers” who advertise to “our kids”, who produce the brands that they must have – but how many chances do you actually get to meet them? And what I think we found is that they are “people” too – granted, for some, the motivation for money may be greater than others, but many are trying to produce products, experiences, online virtual worlds and communities which are safe, educational and fun (“edutainment” is what some of the online communities try to produce). It was also a time to get some of the most up-to-date research done on tweens that is available. In both the academic and church worlds, we are often quite a few years behind the times, and behind the research that is being done. So, it was exciting to be around people who are researching and producing some very interesting material pertaining to tweens.
Finally, I think some of these people really are in this world for the right reasons. The founder of KiKi Magazine, a magazine for “girls with style and substance,” was there and shared that she decided to put together this magazine because she couldn’t find anything worthwhile for her daughter to read – a daughter who was into fashion, but who also had “substance” – cared about things beyond herself. She wasn’t finding that in Teen Vogue, so she decided to create her own magazine for her daughter and other girls like her. Neopets, as mentioned above, bases their website and products around self-expression, fun, control, social connection and safety. These are developmental needs and desires of tweens that they have found through their research – sure tweens spend $60 billion and Neopets is certainly getting a slice of that pie, but they are also providing some good experiences.
So, while I certainly don’t endorse all the products that were there, nor all marketing techniques, I think it was a unique opportunity to take part in an event like this. And I met some very cool people. And…I saw some iPhones – which didn’t help with the iPhone-envy, but…what can you do?