P&G proposes piling on the peer pressure

Teenagers are a difficult market to reach, but their herd instincts make them a lucrative catch. P&G now wants them to recruit each other. By Sonoo Singh

Procter & Gamble (P&G) is planning an assault on the US teen market, using teenage girls themselves as its strike force. The packaged goods giant, which produces everything from Cover Girl cosmetics to Pampers nappies, is hoping that the 13to 18-year-olds will not only buy its brands but also sell them to their peers.

P&G’s strategy is to recruit young people to spread the word about new product launches (MW last week). The company has set up a US division called Tremor, which will give an estimated 200,000 teenagers information about products prior to launch in the form of mailed coupons and brochures. The mailouts will ask the recipients to talk to friends about the products.

P&G’s attempt to get a foothold in the transitory, cynical and unpredictable teenage market is nothing new. In the UK, the number of 11to 14-year-olds has been rising, and reached 3.1 million last year (Mintel). Cosmetics company Avon has announced plans to recruit teenage girls to join its army of “Avon ladies” (MW August 16, 2001).

Lara Wilkins, group publisher of teen magazines Sugar, Elle Girl and TV Hits, says: “P&G has its finger on the pulse with Tremor. Children these days are quite media savvy and our research into this market tells us that teenagers feel the need to be targeted directly.”

In recent years, both P&G and Unilever have tried – not particularly successfully – to initiate a dialogue with teenagers, through websites positioned as lifestyle brands for 12to 17-year-olds. Unilever’s site, Wowgo, ceased trading just months after its much-hyped launch two years ago, following funding problems (MW November 16, 2000). P&G’s Swizzle.co.uk closed down after it ended its partnership with US-based Excite@home, in the wake of a dispute over the regulation of content in chatrooms (MW January 18, 2001).

Dave Lawrence, planning director of children’s promotional agency Logistix Kids, says: “In principle, I think it is a great idea to target a group that is increasingly cynical about traditional advertising. This group has a stronger commitment towards anything in which peer pressure is involved.”

Lawrence adds that, because young teenagers lack the confidence to make brand choices, they adopt trends en masse. P&G therefore seems to be going in the right direction to capture the market’s herd instincts.

The classic strategy of finding a brand icon, with which teenagers can identify, to generate loyalty is becoming harder. A recent success was the Boots’ launch of a cosmetics range, Glitter Babes, aimed at fiveto 13-year-olds. The brand was marketed through Boots’ first TV sponsorship deal, with Sabrina the Teenage Witch (MW September 28, 2000).

Hit TV show Pop Idol has produced another teenage icon. Top of the Pops and It’s Hot publisher Alfie Lewis says: “After the Spice Girls era, teenagers did not have many icons to peg their dreams on. Gareth Gates, from Pop Idol, has united teenagers across the board, however. He has reignited the teen sector, including the magazines industry.”

BBC Magazines is publishing three standalone Gareth Gates magazines this year, in an attempt to ride on the singer’s success. However, as an illustration of the quick turnover of teen stars, Pepsi’s partnership deal with Gates only lasts for a year – once the contract expires, no doubt Pepsi will be straight on to the next disposable icon.

P&G insists that, while increased sales are the underlying motivation behind Tremor, it is not the only driving force. A US spokeswoman says: “With Tremor, we are giving teenagers a chance to create a buzz around our brands. We have a commitment to teenagers who are hungry for new ideas and we are exposing them to those new ideas.”

P&G does seem to be counting on teenagers’ altruism, and some observers are not convinced that, without the prospect of remuneration, young people will be inclined to talk to their peers about specific products and brands. However, experts think P&G is being clever. Marketing Store senior planner Edward Homes says: “Something like Tremor can provide P&G with a powerful network for feedback; teenagers will only be loyal to a brand that has an aspirational relevance or a resonance with the individual.”

Though P&G has no immediate plans to launch the scheme globally, rivals will be keeping a close eye on whether Tremor wins over a promiscuous audience and tempts more young buyers to its products.

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