TRU electronically surveyed thousands of kids in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, and learned that teens love The Swan. The height teenage girls would like to be is five-seven, and they’d like their boyfriends to be six-two. They aspire to be “curvy,” not skinny, and their fantasy career is pop singer. Personality choice? Smart and funny, the new cool. Paris Hilton aside, their #1 idols are Beyoncé and Andy Roddick. Metaphorically, they want the DVD extras.
“They’re wired and dangerous,” said Wood, noting that it’s no secret teens are into videotaping (“feed the red dot”), text messaging, cell phone cameras, and porn. Sixty-six percent of teens are online, but only 40% have high-speed connection. Fifty percent have cellphones, which are used by 90% of teens as a clock. Wood said that 47% of teens surveyed had text-messaged or IM’d in the week prior to the conference (probably to TRU). An interesting fact about the power of the teen network is that, back in April when Burger King first came up with the idea for its Subservient Chicken online campaign, it sent the chicken to only 20 teens and since then the site has been visited by 15-20 million people.
So, Paris. What is it about the heiress that teens find so appealing? She’s fun and amusing. They know she’s marketing herself so they don’t have to take her seriously. She polarizes teens, Wood said. She’s grown up on video, just as teens have with their parents dragging out the camcorder for their every burp and birthday. She makes mistakes, like they do, and survives, like they have to. In their teen fantasy world, Hilton is a best friend, a girlfriend, a rival. She’s really rich, and their opinion of her didn’t change after One Night in Paris surfaced. (After all, they’d like to make their own. Paris is an “influencer.”)
We stayed for the day, through panels on gaming (teen boys rank video games #1 in importance over TV and DVDs), sportswear, and alternative marketing (e.g., paying teens to infiltrate high schools and malls to hawk “cool” products). When our interest flagged, which wasn’t often, we took note of the banner hanging on the wall at the back of the stage, the banner that listed every conceivable teen topic, interest, or thought a teenager might have during the course of a day: magazines, texting, techno, values, chillin’, hook-up, rock, boyfriends, college, party, digital, movies, boarding, player, sports, fashion, slacker, peer pressure, hip hop, freedom, sleep, hot, iPod, humor, MP3s, concerts, idealistic, makeup, fun, whatever, glam, emo, girlfriends, peace, internet, MTV, trends, homework, school spirit, streaming, shopping, anime, IM, DVDs, angst, hater, jobs, pop, tests, download, reality, CDs, R&B, cell. Hmm, no blogging. And we wince at the thought of some 40-year-old CEO using the word “chillin’.”
We ended up feeling assaulted, and very very sorry for teenagers. They don’t stand a chance against all this minute scrutinizing, examining, analyzing, dissecting, departmentalizing, cross-referencing, manipulating. They’re going to buy the jeans, ride the skateboards, eat the burritos, use the deodorants, play the games they’re told to. It’s insidious. And ingenious.