Advertising to Teens: How brands Can Connect with a Generation that’s Always on Their Phones

Ask any parent and they’ll tell you, teens are almost always on their phones. According to a June YouGov survey, 53 percent of teen internet users said they couldn’t go more than a day without their smartphones. The question marketers need to be asking is, “What are teens doing while on their phones?”

To try to figure that out, let’s look at the basic usage numbers and the primary things teens are using their phones for.

(A quick clarification: Some reports call teens Gen Z. Some refer to them as teens. For clarity in this article, we will use the term “teens” for anyone ages 12 to 17.)

Smartphone adoption

The latest report from eMarketer estimates that 79 percent of U.S. teens will use a smartphone this year. That’s comparable to the overall adult population, which is estimated at 77 percent; and slightly less than Millennials, who are at 93.5 percent, due in part to the tendency for younger teens to not have smartphones yet.

Basically, the older the teen, the more likely they are to have, and regularly be on, a smartphone. They’re using social media, apps, games and messaging services. And, important for marketers, they have buying power. From games to clothes to electronics, teens are buying (or getting their parents to buy) a lot of stuff. Here are some tips to get them to pay attention to your advertising and buy your products and services.

Social media usage

The eMarketer report shows that teens are using Facebook less than in previous years. They’re turning to YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and other sites that are less-frequented by older demographics. When asked about their favorite social network, 39 percent of teens said Snapchat and 23 percent said Instagram was their preferred site. Facebook is far behind these two at only 11 percent. This shows a tendency for teens to favor image-based platforms over other social sites.

As for the social site ads, eMarketer states that teens are more likely to click on sponsored posts in apps and on mobile than other demographics, with 46 percent willing to click on an ad. But, 72 percent said they “find the majority of mobile ads not relevant or useful.” The key takeaway for marketers is that ads need to be customized to teens if your product or service is relevant to them. The message and targeting need to be adjusted to clearly show the benefit to the teen.

Make sure to analyze your campaign from the start and adjust bids, messaging and targeting on your ads as you go along. Testing and optimizing your ads will save you money and drive more sales.

And, don’t doubt the online buying power of those who are not yet able to vote. A March 2017 Think With Google survey showed that 68 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds said they’ve bought something online.

Influencer marketing

It turns out, that teens aren’t fans of their favorite celebrities trying to sell them stuff. According to eMarketer, 59 percent of teens said “they don’t like it when brands try to get people they watch online to sell them products.” This flies in the face of what a lot of brands are trying to do, so it’s definitely something to note if this is your target demographic. And if it’s not your target, you may still want to keep it in mind for a few years from now when they’re adults.

What’s next?

The thing that all these surveys agree on is that teens tend to switch their online habits. A lot. The social media platform that is No. 1 today may not be six months from now. They adapt to new technologies and trends and aren’t loyal to any one site. As marketers, we need to continuously monitor where teens are spending their time online and how they prefer ads to be delivered to them. Just because there’s a hot new app, doesn’t mean an influx of ads on that app is going to sit well with teens that liked the feeling of being an early adopter of a new site. It also doesn’t mean the hot new app will have staying power. Keep your eyes on things that may be taking off, but don’t jump in before it’s proven itself.

If teens are your target demographic, be willing to test, to research and to adapt quickly. They’re always on the move so you need to be able to do the same.