BOYS vs GIRLS: the gender differences of #inbeTWEENers


Tweens are often termed the ‘inbetweeners’, caught between the kiddie world that’s focused on fantasy/play and the fledgling world of teenagerdom that’s about self expression within the group. Marketers looking to engage with tweens in todays digital environment need to understand that there are huge gender differences between boys and girls aged 8-12. I wrote about these gender differences in a previous post here, but this visual above is a snapshot I created with my fellow planner Paul Gage on the tween gender differences.

Put simply tween girls are all about the social context, playing in co-operation with their friends as they do things online. Once they hit 12-13yrs however, this co-operation turns into competition. We’re seeing the new digital trend of Instagram beauty pageants where girls post selfies and compete with each other as to who’s hot or not. Check out #beautycontest or #beautypageant on Instagram.

 They’re also looking for brands to provide deeper storytelling content online, they’re after detail, flourishes of pastel colours and the ability to create their own branded memories to share with friends.

On the flipside, unsurprisingly, tween boys are about adventure, action, gadgets. They’re visual rather than being verbal focused in their interaction. Their gaming world has trained them to focus on a hero character as the social context is less important. They want brands to be quick and to the point, bold colours and graphics and get excited by symbols of achievement as they compete with their friends in everything. Tween boy world is binary – yes or no and they are extremely single tasked focused. Good to see things don’t change as it’s true guys can’t do two things at once.

 Just a few tips and tricks to think about when looking to design brand experiences for tween boys or girls. Thanks Gagey for the shared insight.

Creating Brand MWE in a selfie obsessed world #brandMWE

I was asked to speak about teens and social media platforms last week at a youth marketing conference in Sydney and here are some of my notes.


Essentially, my talk based around the fact that teens are not longer just creating BRAND ME (their online identity), they are carefully curating BRAND MWE where every Facebook update, Instagram pic, Vine vid, self destructing Snapchat selfie is seeking social approval from the crowd. They have selfie obsessed syndrome. Curating BRAND MWE is less about their own self confidence and more about fear of rejection and isolation in the digital world.

Like it or not, the rise and rise of ‘Selfie culture’ has created a need for teens today to live in a world where they are constantly competing for online validation. How many likes can I accumulate? Talking to a bunch of 15yr olds last week, they feel enormous pressure to post the right pic on Instagram. Fear of judgement? Yes. Fear of isolation? Yes. A Need for peer validation? Absolutely. Their self esteems are taking a massive hit at the moment as they are pressured into ‘joining’ in to the banter that’s happens online. They know that their real self offline is nowhere near as exciting as their online identity, but they’re pressured to often do ‘fake’ check ins to prove their worth.

Unsurprisingly, teens want to be on social platforms that are simple, relatively secret from their parents and super fun. It’s their new oxygen. They’re after self expression, creativity, entertainment, recognition, a place to build their identity and of course connect and chat.

Facebook, although the biggest is on the nose for many influential Aussie teens. It’s not surprising, why would they want to hang out on a place where their aunts, uncles, parents are commenting on every post. It’s become a busy school playground and the cool kids always want to go and hang out in the corner. By end of 2013 mainstream youth will start avoiding FB. 

Instagram parties the new meet up

Instagram is hot for obvious reasons, these kids are obsessed by taking selfies and sharing how hot, sexy, ripped, tough they are with the world. They also use it for entertainment. I recently heard of Instagram themed parties that teens are having so they can ‘own’ that night’s Instagram feed and make their other friends jealous.  Unfortunately this is a generation where many of them are becoming more and more focused on ‘posing’ rather than ‘doing’  stuff. 

Self destructing selfies mean less pressure

 SnapChat is the hottest new photo sharing app that teens are taking up. An app that lets users send quick, SMS-like messages, which can include candid photos or videos that (supposedly) disappear seconds later — “never to be seen again.” Unless you take a screenshot. Once again it’s simple, fun and most adults don’t know about it. They see it as a bit of fun spontaneity, instant gratification. You take a photo (selfie) share it, and once people view it disappears within 10 seconds. One of the reasons why teens love Snapchat is they don’t feel the need to spend hours ‘altering an image’ like they do on Facebook or Instagram. They feel they can be themselves. Many parents are freaking out about Snapchat and the impact it will have on the sexting epidemic.  

6 seconds of Vine Fame

Brand MWE is also built by ‘long photos’, and teens are starting to get into the new app Vine. Posting 6 second vids of them in action. This app taps more into the performing side of teens. It’s no longer 15 secs of fame, it’s been squashed down to 6 seconds of fame. Another example of bite sized nibble content these teens are after.

 Be yourself on Tumblr

Tumblr is quickly becoming the de facto teen social network. It’s all about creativity and self expression without the prying eyes of parents.

They like it its celebrity and vertical (politics, music, etc.) outreach and varied post formats. Teens love it for its anonymity of and lighter emphasis on follower counts as compared with Twitter. “Even if your mum is on Tumblr, you don’t have to follow her, since there’s no requirement to use your real name. You don’t even have to know that she’s on the site,” They feel they can disguise themselves more than on Facebook or Instagram, without fear of being stalked.

 So that’s a quick look into the social platforms that teens are using to help curate BRAND MWE. They’ll be on to something new within 2-3 months so I’ll be updating this post. The latest self expression app is Pheed. Word not in on whether that will kick off.

Sprite ‘true self expression’ campaign #spritetrueselves

Really liking this new global Sprite campaign from my old agency BBH NY – originated by Jordan Kraemer a great copywriter i had the pleasure of working with. Taps into a universal truth about global truth, the need for ‘true self expression’ and feeling comfortable in their own skin within the tribe –  THis campaign brings this thought to life, Sprite being the catalyst for this behaviour. They’ve created awesome street art in Prague  technique by camouflage artist Liu Bolin. Nice work Sprite, will definitely cross borders.

‘Status Update Stress’ (SUS) – an emerging issue for global youth

Will Status Update Stress 'SUS' become an epidemic amongst youth?

The past few weeks I’ve been chatting to a handful of UTS uni students about their ‘Facebook’ lives and the pressures they face to constantly ‘craft the right update for their social networks.

As we know FB and other social platforms have brought youth closer together and turbo charged their connections. However, I believe teens & 20 somethings in Australia (and no doubt in other countries) are becomingly increasingly anxious about their status updates and the need to ‘perform’.  The need for peer approval on social networks is a major pressure for teens. Forget sexual performance anxiety, how you interact and update on Facebook/Twitter is far more critical.  Teens are now judged by what and how often they share content, ideas and opinions.

Teens today aren’t sitting by the phone waiting for an admirer to ring, they’re constantly refreshing Facebook on their mobile waiting for someone to ‘like’ a post or pic or better still ‘tag me in a cool pic, cos then I don’t look vain’.

Whilst FB and other social networking platforms have fuelled their self expression, given them a voice and grown their friendship base  so to speak, there’s always a shadow to a new behaviour.

Youth today have begun to suffer from ‘status update stress’ or SUS. On Facebook and now Google + their lives are on show and it is an extremely competitive space where every status update is scrutinised, judged. As these teens put it:

“Constantly trying to make your status update interesting is really hard work..I just want to tell people what I’m up to but now I feel this pressure to always write something cool or witty…”

“Facebook used to be just about checking out party pics, tagging and all you’ve got to be constantly posting cool stuff, otherwise people will think you’re boring and got nothing to say…”

“I often spend 5 minutes thinking about a clever or cool post that will get me noticed on my friends news’s like trying to stand out at school…you gotta stand out on FB by what you say or share…you gotta be ahead of the game…”

There is clearly an undercurrent of anxiousness as teens go about their day thinking about their status updates. Crafting your online identity is hard work, harder work than looking cool it would seem.  If they don’t make the right update they can be cyber bullied or even chastised by their peers. Worse still some teens are reverting to lying on Facebook to try and fit in. This is called the ‘facebook fake’ (lying about checking in at a party and getting found out) and if found out can be social suicide.

I believe many teens are now becoming anxious about how they interact with their social graph, and in some instances (for more introverted kids) fleeing social networking platforms altogether. It will be interesting to see if Google + ‘circles’ overcomes these issues as teens may feel they have less pressure on them as they update within certain ‘circles’ or communities.

The flow on effect of SUS is that many teens may start fleeing social networking platforms and this is an even bigger fear for teens as it means being ‘out of circulation’ and losing their social standing within their tribes.

It will be interesting to see the psychological effect the need for teens to constantly share their lives with the world and the resulting pressures and competitiveness that comes with that, especially as their friendship groups spread beyond their proximity based school, uni or neighbourhood friends.



Teens survive on digital oxygen – Kaiser Generation M2 Study

Digital technology is oxygen for Western teens – they can’t live without it. They now officially spend way more time consuming media than they do at school or sleeping.

The Kaiser Foundation in the USA recently released its latest study of the media consumption habits of 8-18yr olds called Generation M2, n = 2,000 kids aged 8-18. The full presentation is here. There are some really interesting insights and all the numbers support my belief that youth today are living in a state of continuous partial attention based on their dependence on a digital lifestyle.  Some of the US stats which I pulled out from the deck are:


–          8-18yr olds spend 7.5hrs a day consuming media, however due to multitasking they cram 10.45hrs of media exposure into those 7.5hrs.

–          11-14yr olds have the highest media exposure at a staggering 11.53hrs a day (8-10yr olds media exposure is 7.51hrs a day)

–          African American and Hispanic youth have the highest media exposure with 13hrs a day compared to Anglo American youth with 8.36hrs a day.

–          56% multitask while doing homework on at least 4 devices


–          TV is still king, 4.29hrs a day spent on TV content (59% live TV, 12% DVD, 12% mobile, 9% online)

–          Per day 10-14yr olds spend 5hrs on TV, 2hrs 20mins on a computer online, 1hr 46mins listening to music and 1hr 25mins gaming.

–          70% of 8-18yr olds have a TV in their bedrooms

–          67% of households have the TV on during mealtime

–          8-18yr  olds spend 33mins a day talking on their mobiles, 17mins playing games, 17mins listening to music and 15mins engaging with content (49mins consuming media on their mobiles)

–          33% of teens have web access in their bedroom lairs

–          25% of their time online is spent social networking, 19% playing games and 16% on video sites

–          8-18yr olds spend 2.5hrs a day on music, 29% of that time on ipod, 23% on a computer and 12% on a cell

–          Consumption of print media has dropped from 43mins in 2004, to 38mins in ‘09

–          Only 33% of families have media consumption rules

Influencer Interview: Amanda Mooney talks Youth, Brand Engagement & Social media


Snr Social Media Planner Amanda Mooney

I haven’t done an Influencer Interview in a while so I thought I’d touch base with a great social media planner who I follower on Twitter – Amanda Mooney from Edelman Digital in Chicago. She’s got some amazing insight into how young people today are interacting with brands and social technology. Here are 5 key thoughts I’ve pulled out of the interview:

1. Kids ‘master media’ in under 4yrs so brands will have to continue to evolve their media/creative strategies

2. Youth today are both Entreprenuerial and Defiant.

3. Brands which fuel youth passion points invariably win

4. Forget campaigns, create sustainable means of engagement by earning the right to be in the conversation

5. Help young people belong and be significant (echoing the words of Graham Brown from Mobile Youth).

You can follow amanda on Twitter or check out her blog

How would you describe American youth in a sentence or word right now?
Can I have two? We’re not waiting for anyone’s approval at the moment. There’s a new sense of entrepreneurism and a sense of defiance that’s touching otherwise “ordinary” young people with nothing more than a bit of talent or ideas about the world and a good Wi-Fi connection.
How do you think social media platforms have changed the way brands ‘engage’ with today’s youth? Any learnings from your experience?
There’s an entire generation growing up now that never has to call your 1-800 number for customer care or to file a complaint. It’s never been so easy for us to take action if we have an issue or a question that needs to be addressed. According to a Kaiser Foundation report, children are also now growing up spending more time creating and consuming media per day than they’re spending in school: 7.5 hours. They’re spending more time than most marketers spend in their full time jobs. Consider the adage that it takes 10,000 hours to master a craft and kids can “master” media and communications in under four years. Brands have to realize how smart we are about media and their messages.
Which youth brands are ‘getting it right’ when it comes to engaging youth and why? Any brands that really are struggling?
I’m only 24 and very much still starting out in the industry but in my opinion, the brands that are really struggling at the moment are investing millions in flash and trash campaigns and spending a huge amount of effort to buy up “impressions” rather than changing their businesses at the core to address what’s happening in our world and how we’d like to engage with brands moving forward. It’s not enough to simply throw up the image of a celebrity next to your product and start asking for our last few bucks when rent’s due or pushing for our last bits of attention. At a time when unemployment for 18-29 year olds in the US is currently around 37%, the highest in three decades for our age group, you have to consider that the cost of one banner campaign on a major network could help a young person start their business, fund their entire education, provide a service that fuels a cause they’re passionate about. I can’t believe what’s being wasted on purely promotional copy, taglines, creative, product shots, paid celebrity tweets. Pay those celebrities to be a sounding board for your community and provide perspective and access! I know what it’s like to come from a family that lives paycheck to paycheck, what it’s like to pay for my own education and be in my first few years out of school while the economy’s still in a giant mess and I’ll say that one of the things I love most about our industry is the possibility of giant global brands using the vast resources at their disposal to help fuel the passions or needs of their customers.
Graham Brown from Mobile Youth has a great quote that’s stuck with me. He says, and I believe, we want very simply for brands to play two roles before we’ll be open to hearing your marketing message… “Help us belong and help us feel significant.”
Want to “get it right”? Take a second and check out the projects on and think about how you can partner with these brilliant young creatives to support their projects and establish a partnership that fuels your own brand as well. Get in touch with Amanda Rose (@amanda on Twitter) and partner up with Twestival, have a chat with Abby Falik of Global Citizen Year or Charles Best of DonorsChoose or check out CauseCast and SocialVibe to see how your marketing efforts can help us give back to the causes we care about. Instead of interrupting our playlists on MySpace, use media on the homepage of MySpace Music to help promote fresh, young bands in the community. Check out Jane McGonigal’s talk at TED on the possibility of leveraging our favorite outlets for play to reinforce a deep sense of citizenship and figure out how your own products can serve a greater good in our lives. Have a chat with all of the great people like @richardatdell who make it possible for us to get personalized service, when we need it, on our own terms and figure out how you can put this into practice in your own organization.
Are you seeing any new youth subcultures or tribes emerging which marketers should pay attention to?
I was particularly taken by two bits of information recently. The average age of a first-time mom in the US is now 25-years-old and according to Census projections, the “traditional American family,” married with children, is now the minority. You have a generation of new moms who grew up digital,  are in their first years out as young adults,  who may or may not have the support of a traditional household structure. They also increasingly live further away from their parents as well. For many of them, their online community is a vital space to find information and support.
I’m also reading everything I possibly can about youth in China as well. At 500 million strong by 2015, I wouldn’t call them a subculture by any means, but marketers should invest considerable time and energy to understand the subcultures that exist within the youth population in China. It’s an unprecedented time of change, connection and youth empowerment. I particularly love NeochaEDGE for a daily perspective on brilliant young creatives in China.
What have you learnt about ‘global youth culture’ in your travels/experiences? Is there even such a thing as global youth culture?
First, I’ll say that most of my experience to date has been largely observational online and has come from research as well but I’m desperately interested in moving overseas to experience and study youth culture in other parts of the world.
Overall, I think that we’re all excited by the sense that we have a collective power and the possibility of connection on a global scale, but it would be a mistake to lump us all together. For perspective on the sheer size of global youth, consider that, according to the CIA World Factbook, the average age of the world’s population is 29. Youth engagement can certainly ladder up to a point of global connection in a powerful way but make no mistake, your efforts have to find local relevancy.
3 tips for connecting with youth?
1.       Listen to us and figure out how you can earn the right to fit into our lives before you spend hours in a boardroom thinking about how you can push a message or product to us. Look at all of the resources in your network- your connections, your media, your power of voice, the access you may have to partners… and find a way to make them work for us, not just your own marketing objectives.
2.       Get out of a campaign mindset and budgeting structure and create sustainable means of engaging us. Certainly there can be key periods that spike engagement but you can’t just float in and out of our lives whenever it’s convenient.
3.       To reiterate Graham Brown’s point, “Help us belong and help us feel significant.”
What’s the most important piece of advice you give clients you work with when they come to you looking to use social media platforms as part of their marketing mix?
Social media can’t just be part of your marketing mix. It will and very much should, shift your organization at its core. R&D, customer service, CSR… what’s happening in the space is fundamentally changing our lives as consumers and it will fundamentally change your business as well. 
What do brands need to know about you and your friends in terms of wanting to have a conversation with you?
Don’t talk down to us. Don’t assume that you immediately have the right to be included in our conversation. You have to earn that. Don’t, don’t assume that you naturally *get* us. There’s nothing worse than that. Be honest. Expect us to respectfully disagree or point out when something’s not right. Understand that pushback from us isn’t definitive, necessarily negative or final. It’s a dare.. a dare to listen to what we’re telling you, good or bad, and honestly use it to make your brand better.
Also, I love this tweet from @leeclowsbeard. “Most people don’t have enough time to interact with their kids, let alone your brand. Respect that.” The same goes for us.
Your favorite blogs or brands and why?
Ahhh that’s a long list. But here are a few that I love because the writers are brilliant and I can always trust these sites for regular inspiration in my work:
·         PSFK
·         Three Billion
·         AfriGadget
·         Ruby Pseudo
·         Enovate
·         Mobile Youth
·         Kitsune Noir
·         NeochaEDGE
·         Design Mind
·         Jonathan Harris’ Today
·         The Selby
·         Wooster Collective
·         Alain de Botton on Twitter
·         Future Perfect
·         Dazed Digital

Converse Domaination – cultural relevance using Google adwords

This is the first really interesting use of Google Adwords by a youth brand I’ve seen. Converse created Domaination a peer to peer branding campaign using Google Adwords. It’s all about riding the stream of hyper cultural youth events and being there for the audience and starting conversations. Check out  for shortcuts to all their little conversation starters. Very cool. It’s about Converse creating broader cultural conversations and the brand remaining relevant to American teens by being useful and entertaining.  Well done Converse.