By: Dorothy Giobbe Children's marketer offers advice to newspapers sp.
CONTRARY TO COMMON assumptions about the young reader market, children and teens are avid consumers and newspapers that make concentrated efforts to reach them will benefit from their buying power and influence in household purchasing decisions. That's the message delivered by Carol Green Long, president of Children's Creative Marketing in North York, Ontario, Canada, at the recent International Newspaper Marketing Association conference in Phoenix. Long defined the children's audience as 4 to 12 years of age and the teen audience as 12 to 19. In Canada and the United States, the average weekly income for girls in the children's group is $7.66, and $8.87 for boys. In other countries, boys and girls in this group have an average weekly income of $3.00. Also here and in Canada, this group influenced household purchases an average of $161 billion, Long said. She added that because the birth rate has been rising for the past few years, the size of this group will not decline for another ten years or so. "These children are savvy, they're sophisticated, they're aware, they're idealistic, they like to belong . . . they are your current and your future readers and customers . . . ." Long said. "You cannot sell only to their parents as the gate-keepers for the children," she added. "It's the kids who make purchasing decisions, and they make them differently from the adults." While this group is thought of as somewhat fickle because they are willing to try new products, "they will be loyal and supportive of a marketer, including a newspaper, that consistently delivers what they want," Long said. In 1992 in the United States and Canada, the teen market spent an average of $62 per week, mostly on entertainment. "This group lives at home and works part-time. Often they have an allowance," Long said. They make many of the household purchasing decisions because often they have two working parents that are not around. "The group thinks no one asks them what they think, and if they do, they don't really listen," Long said. Globally, this group is very similar to each other, she added. In all cultures, they will try sex, try on new identities, and seek approval from their peers. They are computer-literate and better traveled than their parents. Long repeated the commonly accepted notion that people who begin reading newspapers at a young age tend to continue to do so as they age. "With few exceptions, younger readers think that newspapers are not fun, or interesting," she said. While many younger readers prefer the comics and sports sections, very few say that their favorite section of the newspaper is the "kid's page." The youth market is frustrated "because newspapers aren't providing what they want and newspapers are frustrated because they don't know what to provide," Long said.
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INMA members sent Long samples of their youth market products and she reviewed the youth products with a group of target market experts. The group judged the products according to certain parameters. Questions, she said, included: "Does the editorial cover the issues of the target audience? How do layout, color, graphics reflect their style, and how much reader interaction is there? Does the product handle advertising in a manner that is satisfactory to advertisers and the audience?" The results from 29 entries indicated that all of the products fell into three distinct categories. The first approach is a single page, black and white, similar in layout and graphics to the regular paper. It usually is produced once a week, and covers local news. "We felt that these pages lacked an energy, didn't really answer what the audience needed or wanted and did not impart that commitment by the paper to that audience," Long said. One exception in the category was the Boston Globe's Student News page, which had "good graphics and a lot of reader-supplied material," Long said. The second category was composed of products with one or two pages with a mix of color and black and white, contemporary graphics, lots of illustrations, global news affecting kids, reader-written editorials and letters, and some interactive phone services. Products in this category also provided a safety factor for kids, Long said. In polls, when a newspaper publishes the names or addresses of kids, "you're leaving them open to . . . somebody contacting them that you don't want to contact them." A good example in this category, Long said, is the Indianapolis Star-Tribune, which has two separate pages and one supplement, all covering different ages. The products had good color, graphics and ads that are appropriate for the section. The third category was a separate supplement. "We liked this the best," Long said, "because usually, it indicated a commitment by the paper to the audience, through all the elements." Products in this category included "lots of color, attractive graphs and layout, great interaction with contests, phone polls and letters, lots of parent/teacher involvement, a mix of advertorial and ads, 'Kid's Clubs' and product offers, and a synergy with the mother paper." Newspapers contemplating a young reader section should follow the criteria in the third category, Long said. She also suggested that the supplement include pictures of other kids of all ethnic backgrounds, with sensitivity to different age groups. The supplement also should involve the parents and grandparents. Newspaper should set up an advisory panel composed of a pediatrician, a psychologist and a teacher. They can help answer questions and letters to the editor and offer strategic guidance for young people. "This is not a difficult audience to reach," Long said. Newspapers should develop products with consultants and avoid "thinking of what you did as a kid or a teen . . . . These kids and teens have changed too much." National newspaper chains should consider a single youth product that each paper in the chain could customize to their own markets and offer to national advertisers. National child and family advertisers like newspapers, Long said, but they are impeded by the lack of a national buy.