June 20, 2013 by

Back in my day, all the cool kids wore alligators on their shirts.

It was an essential indicator of class status. You simply had to have the little Izod Lacoste symbol. No other animal would do. Every kid knew they needed at least one “alligator shirt” to even be on the fringes of fashion acceptance. I remember kids saving their allowances just to have that one, precious shirt. And scoffing at anyone who wore a fake. Really.

The ’80s were all about wealth and status. What you had, what you owned, where you lived—it all defined pecking order in the Teendom. There was even a popular movie, Wall Street, where the main character’s key line was “Greed is good.”

It was so accepted back then, but I think many teens today would be horrified at how much emphasis society once placed on the accumulation of “stuff.” While there will always be some level of status related to wealth, today’s teens see things much differently than we once did.

For them, it’s all about experiences. Experiences they can talk about and share on their social networks.

Marketers know this. Archrival, based in Lincoln, is a leader in youth marketing. Their clients include Red Bull®, Zappos®, and Adidas®. When they build campaigns geared toward teens and young adults, they know that, to be successful, they need to create an opportunity for an experience—hopefully interactive, fun, and visual. And most importantly? Something the participant can share online.

This generation grew up with the entire world at their fingertips. In just a few clicks, they see what all of their friends are doing, but they also learn about the needs in their communities. They can download an app that lets them donate $5 to help hungry children in another part of the world. You will not find a more hard-working group of volunteers than a group of young adults passionate about a cause. Many are introduced to volunteer work through community service requirements, where they can develop a lifelong interest in philanthropy—in time, talent, and finances.

Many young people want to do things that make a difference, especially in helping others. They want to be part of the solution. They want to share pictures and talk about it on their social networks. And, quite frankly, it benefits their online identity, which is extremely important to this group—especially those aware that college recruiters and employers will be looking at their profiles.

It’s easy for parents to forget how committed their children can be. But it can change how we connect with our teens. My own teen expert, my 15-year-old son, agrees. “People want to have interesting stuff to share online,” he says. “That’s what they want to spend their money on, too.” Yeah, it’s nice to have the branded shirt, but it’s also okay to shop at the thrift store if it means more money to spend toward a great trip or even just a fun night out with friends.

Good parenting information to have tucked away if you are trying to “market” something to your teen. Sell them on the experience and the great photos they can share on their Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit accounts. And hey, maybe they’ll let you come along, too.

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