Ride the Teen Text Tsunami

May 11, 2010

Supermarkets need to look only at America’s youngest consumers to envision their future embrace of cell phone marketing.

Supermarkets need to look only at America’s youngest consumers to envision their future embrace of cell phone marketing. Industry is on the cusp of a mobile marketing era that will involve every generation, but will likely grow the fastest once today’s teens mature into more responsible buying roles for their households (the family food trip) and control more of the grocery spend.

We’re already seeing more swipe-able bar codes on cell phone screens that deliver instant savings at checkout, and iPhone and Droid apps that help make for smarter shopping, meal assembly, food preparation and price comparisons. This is only the beginning, we believe at The Lempert Report. The cell phone unifies teens wherever they are – walking down the street, at the mall, in mom’s car, pretty much anywhere. CPG and retailers are mapping their next steps create appropriate cell phone connections between teens and their brands.

As well they should. This raises content and access questions, of course. But with appropriate kid- and parent-friendly steps taken, the trade could foster awareness, curiosity, trial and even loyalty to brands and stores. Many clothing retailers live on the teen dollar, so why can’t food and beverage sellers tastefully appeal to them too via cell phones.  Messaging will have to be spot on, or brands and stores won’t earn cool points, and they might even risk a backlash.

A new study from the Pew Research Center documents the teen tsunami in cell phone activity, particularly texting. Among their key findings:

  • 54% of American teens texted daily in September 2009, up from 38% in February 2008.
  • Half send 50 or more text messages a day (1,500 per month), and one-third send 100 or more per day (3,000+ per month), 15% who are texters send 200+ a day (6,000+ per month). Older teen girls age 14 to 17 are most prolific.
  • Text messaging has become the #1 way teens reach their friends. It surpasses face-to-face contact, e-mail, instant messaging and voice calls with the 12 to 17 age group.

The research goes on to detail many aspects of teens’ cell-phone behavior, which parents will find have invaluable insights. Three nuggets relative to brands and stores:

  • 54% of text-using teens have received spam or other unwanted texts.
  • 11% purchase items via their phones.
  • 41% of teens from incomes earning less than $30,000 annually access the Web with their cells, since just 70% of them also have a computer at home vs. 92% from higher-income households.

The Lempert Report doesn’t expect CPG and retailers to have an easier time of connecting with teens than the parents do. But the ones that master cell-phone text messaging ought to gain disproportionately in the coming years.