Teen Market

The  teen  market refers  to a representative group of the  population made  up  of girls and  boys aged 14 to 18 years. Tradition has it that  the  teenager was born of the 1950s rockers and beatniks. However, increasingly America  began  referring to adolescent youth aged 14 to 18 as teenagers. From  its inception, the term  teenager has  been  a marketing buzzword embraced by advertisers and  manufacturers to reflect a group of newly economically viable adolescents.


The  concept of teenagers can be traced  back to the late 19th  century. The  difference between adulthood and childhood was made  notable during the 1890s  with the  rise in legislation surrounding youth, such  as the  Illinois  Juvenile  Court Act and  other government policies  designed to contain delinquent youth. The  idea was that  those  now defined  as teenagers were more  mature than children, but not as mature as adults.

The  1910s  saw a growth in cross-media promotion of movie  stars  and  musicians. Those same celebrities were found to influence the styles of the time. Commercial  media has represented and influenced the lives of American women since the late 1870s,  when  the housewife was found to be the model  consumer. Young women, or teenagers, were found to be brand loyal and  influenced by advertisements and  peers. Advertisers and  manufacturers were finding  new ways to influence  the  purchase of goods,  not  just  in the  short term,  but  in creating a lifelong symbiotic relationship between the teen  and the brand.

Hollywood movies and popular music  profoundly shaped the American beauty industry. Hollywood producers offered  young  women exactly what  they wanted. The  visuals  exposed were premarital sexual  encounters, drinking, and  a handful of other nontraditional female activities such  as nude swimming.

Movie and  musical stars  influenced purchasing decisions. For example,  studies showed that  high  school and  college  students attended the  movies  at least once   per  week.  Therefore, media   consumption  was  highest  among  teenagers  who  were  free  from  the  full-time workforce and  of  social  and  economic responsibilities.

Post–World War I

World  War  I saw the  shipment of young  men  overseas  to the  front  lines. Young girls were no longer  enthralled by the idea of finding  a husband and making a life for themselves within the home. Young women entered the workforce to help with the war effort. After World  War I, life changed considerably—women had entered the workforce and  a new democratic American family was being  built. Teenagers started to venture out  into  the  world  chaperon-free. As a result  of this  freedom, teens  developed social  networks, peer  groups, and  their  own  flavor  of popular culture different from  younger siblings  and  adults. It was during the  post–World War I years that music, movies, and advertising campaigns were directed at youth groups.


By the  1920s,  a separate youth culture had  emerged with  its own  fashion, language,  and  behavior. Youth was extended through government policies  and  the acceptance into  college.  Attending high  school became the  rule  rather than the exception. With more time spent  outside the home with like-minded peers, female youth were positioned as a special  group in society and, as such, were entitled to their  own forms  of media  and  activities. The  Roaring  Twenties produced the first teenage fashion styles pronounced through music  and  movies:  the  flapper,  a gal about town  known for  her  bobbed hair,  short skirts,  makeup, and  svelte  look. The  1920s  flapper trend became associated with the selling of soft drinks (mainly Coca-Cola), perfumes, movies,  music, and  dancing. It was  also  associated with a particular nonchalant behavior and  an  uninhibited sexuality.  By 1923,  female teen styles were being observed, recreated, and displayed in media forms—movies, magazines, radio, advertising, and the music  industry. Teens received money  from part-time jobs  and  indulgent parents to  support their  new  teen  consumerism (and  materialism), and  were different from  the  rest of the  adult  or child  population. They were able to drape  themselves in trendy clothing and enjoy extravagant social activities.


The  Great  Depression brought the  idea of a teenage lifestyle to a halt. With  the focus  on financial  crisis, teenagers found themselves without income from  part-time  jobs  or  parents. Government policies  requiring children to  stay  in  school until  the  age of 16 helped further a teen  culture outside the  home. While  major changes in the teen  lifestyle occurred, the term  teenager was itself coined.

World  War II And The  1940s

World  War II saw a mass  exodus of teenage boys to the  front  lines. Female  teens and  their  mothers were left to pick up  the  financial  burden and  enter  the  workforce  yet again.  The  government policies  in place  requiring youth to remain in school became relaxed  to accommodate their  entrance into  positions previously held  by their  older  male  counterparts. By the  1940s,  the  teenager had  arrived  as a new stage in life; teens  were still dependent on parents, but  were yet a part  of a teen  market that  situated them  as special  and different.

In September 1944,  Seventeen  magazine was launched as a publication marketed  to the teenage girl. This  service magazine was designed to offer the teenage girl a place to find her  own style and  identity and  most  importantly to spend her share of the $750 million  in teen spending capacity. Teenage girls were virtually an untapped market. Seventeen launched the ad campaign about Teena, a girl with an allowance, a self-conscious personality, a trendsetter and  a trend follower.  Teena was savvy. Teena was the average girl who needed to be catered to through magazine advertisements and  informed of where  to find the  latest  teenage girl trends within  her budget.

The  1940s  also represented a period of character-building novels  that  advised teenage girls on how to act, how to set and achieve their long-term goals, and how to keep  a healthy, open  family atmosphere to earn  more  leisure  and  dating  time. The  high  school girl was more  independent and  interested in finding  her  own way to adulthood. She relied  on the  teen  market as a place of inspiration and  of friendship, taking  all she could  from magazines such  as Seventeen.

The teen market of the 1920s and 1930s focused on upper-class young women, while the  1940s  expanded the  definition of the  teen  marketplace to be more  inclusive.  Items  designed for  the  upper class  were  becoming basic  essentials for the  1940s  teenage girl. Seventeen, for example,  capitalized on  white  middle-class youth, but by the late 1940s the teen market started shifting to represent working-class teenagers with little intention to follow the character stories  and complacent middle-class young  women of the early 1940s.


The  1950s  continue to  represent the  quintessential teenage era.  The  symbols that identify the teen market are the 1950s generation: American Bandstand, poodle skirts,  letter  sweaters. Rock  ’n’ roll dominated record players,  radio  stations, and concert stages.  Elvis Presley’s  hip  thrusts sent  female  teens  into  a frenzied  state of buying  Elvis paraphernalia, including concert tickets  and  posters. Their teen magazines were focused on pop idols like Elvis and Frank  Sinatra, offering  pinup posters for their  bedrooms. The  magazines wrote  on how  to get a boyfriend like Elvis, the characteristics that Elvis sought from his girlfriends and alongside these pages  on  Elvis’s life were  the  products that  could  assist  girls in meeting Elvis’s expectations.

In addition, television became dominant in the  family home. With  teen  programs  such  as American Bandstand and  The Mickey Mouse Club dominating the set, advertisers consistently aimed  products to the teenage girl. Bobby-soxers, as they were often  called, often  associated the new teen market with white, middleclass  ideals,  but  the  new  rock  ’n’ roll  music  also  broadened the  definition of the  teen  market to  include advertising to  both black  and  white  working-class teens.

1960s to  Today

Not  much has changed in the  teen  market since  the  1960s—white, middle-class youth still dominate the teen  market. The  magazines have become more  focused on beauty  and advertising and on the possibility of finding  a heterosexual partner through the  purchase of the  right  products. Teenagers today  are  younger than ever. Their entrance into  a teen  society  has  been  dropped to the  age of 9. This new generation of youth aged 8 to 12 makes  up a new marketing segment called tweens. Research has  found that  the  money  afforded to teenage and  tween  girls is spent  on  the  beauty  industry—cosmetics, hair  dye,  fashion, perfumes and fragrances, skin  care,  and  hygiene  products. The  majority of the  pages  of teen magazines focus  on  beauty;  television shows  for  teenage girls  create  dialogue about shopping and  the  commercials within  television programs distinctly focus on beauty  efforts for girls.

Critiques of Emphasis on Beautification

Throughout  history, the   teen market has been  met with criticism and  a host  of  media effects   research  has   focused on  its  negative  aspects. While some   researchers  believe   the teen   market is  a  place  where girls   build   their   individuality and create an identity for themselves, others have  studied the effects  of  media  consumption on  body  satisfaction and  self-esteem. Media  effects  research assumes that  exposure to  the  American beauty industry through popular culture has the ability to mentally and physically morph one’s ideals, beliefs, behavior, and language, ultimately leading  to a homogeneous group of female  teens.  The  teen  market is dominated by high-gloss images  of fashion trends and thin  young  models. Researchers believe these  images reinforce the traditional tropes of a patriarchal society.

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