Gary Pope
8 mins

Years ago I read that George Bernard Shaw once said (allegedly), “Youth is wasted on the young”. It stayed with me. In my opinion, he was wrong back then and remains that way today.  And that’s probably a good thing.

We often think of the teenager becoming a thing post the Second World War - and culturally it did of course. Although first recognised as a specific demographic in the 1920’s, the term itself only came to be formally recognised with the 1945 book “The Teen-Age Bill of Rights" by Grace Palladino. All a bit revolutionary at the time but perhaps a little quaint in our age of Gen A, and Gen Z.

Youth culture has always been ground zero for societal change. From the revolutionary 1960’s through the emergence of subcultures in the 1970’s and 80’s toward the forward-looking 90’s and now, the global perspectives of the 21st Century. These kids have always been in the driving seat, and humanity absolutely needs that. It might even be Darwinian. But our teens today face more challenges than perhaps any other generation. The world is in the toilet, and these are the people who will have to get us out of it. And they might just pull it off…but enough introspection, let’s talk about what they’ll want to buy whilst performing this humanity-saving task of toilet salvation.

We’ve all been a teen, some of us have them dwelling in our houses, or have had them in the past only to return momentarily to collect cash or batch-cooked meals. It’s important at this point to understand that psychology doesn't change. The world around us evolves but human nature stays the same, so I’m not sure I’ll be serving more than a little reassurance here, but in our work and research with Teens at KI, we’ve come to understand the ‘Seven Key Considerations’ that these young people make when choosing consumer products.

  1. Authenticity: Yes, the A word. Products need to be unique and a little edgy. Teens value authenticity and originality in licensed products. They are drawn to brands and franchises that offer unique and genuine experiences rather than generic or cookie-cutter merchandise.
  1. Personalisation: Teens appreciate products that allow them to express their individuality. The type of customisable and personalised merchandise that has become available with digital technology plays right into the heart of this need.
  1. Quality: Price is important but teens also value quality and durability in their licensed products. They’re not about to chance their hard-earned reputation on rubbish and will invest heavily if they care. An emotional attachment drives value. Obvs.
  1. Relevance: The influence of current trends and pop culture is sometimes hard to predict, and as with everything in licensing, relevance is what matters. Always. Fashion, music and what’s happening on the socials are key to keep a keen eye on. Easy to say, really hard to do.
  1. Sustainability: Licensed products that are produced ethically, sustainably, and with a commitment to social responsibility are increasingly valued by Gen A and Z. Or so they say.
  1. Interactivity: What we might call “added value.” Teens are drawn to products that offer interactive and engaging experiences. These could include merch tied to video games, augmented reality apps, LBE, or immersive storytelling experiences that allow them to actively participate and interact with the franchise. Physical engagement is still the best way to create a fan for life. Always has been, and always will be.
  1. Exclusivity: Exclusive and limited-edition merchandise that offers a sense of uniqueness plays right to their burgeoning need to be seen as individuals. Social noise about limited drops drives chatter.

With the exception of the technological aspects listed above, I don’t know if any of these are really any different from what you or I might have said had someone asked us in our halcyon days. I don’t think so. Time passes, trees grow but the nature of the human being doesn’t evolve so fast.

Before the concept of ‘teenager’ emerged, young people were often considered either children or adults, without a distinct category in between. Now, they are an entire market segment all to themselves. They are at the sharp end of the most pervasive, prevalent, and, in some ways, progressive media the world has ever known. And this always-on, multi-platform, buy-it-now, fragmented tinderbox of a commercial in which they are a significant source of revenue, is unbelievably fragmented. 

It is utter nonsense to build it and expect them to come. You need to give them exactly what they want, where they want it, when they want it, at a price they will pay and a quality they will accept. 

So, 700 words later what does this all mean? It’s the same as it ever was. You need to know exactly who they are, what they want and how much they’re willing to pay. 


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