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The first decade of the 21st century is behind us, and along with it are innumerable changes that affect the way we live now (a world that is post-9/11, post-Internet boom, post-Internet-bust, post-Facebook and the first African-American president in office). All of these and many more changes in the ways we connect, entertain ourselves, and even how we eat have made the day-to-day lives of today’s kids, tweens and teens different than in the past, and have made marketers, program developers, and innovators respond to today’s youth in very different ways. We’ve captured a few of the key shifts that have changed the youth market in the past decade.

  1. From Child-centric to Family-focused. In the first part of the decade, kids were still king. It’s not that moms didn’t matter, but brands that wanted to stand out in the youth space put their budgets against true consumers of their products – not the people who paid the bills. With the top youth advertisers facing criticism from consumer advocacy groups and multiple economic set-backs making marketing budgets more slim and focused than ever, many marketers walked away from their youth-focused campaigns. While the pendulum first shifted to mom messaging, most recently many marketers have sought the middle ground – or ideally, the higher ground – where parents’ needs and youths’ needs come together. We still believe that creating products for youth means you must know them first, but understanding how families make decisions as a unit, could unlock more sophisticated strategies for the next decade of youth marketing.
  2. From fruit snacks and fat-free to more authentically healthy food. In 2000, fruit snacks were the healthier option for most parents who struggled to make lunches a little better and to give their kids an easy treat they could feel good about when on the go. By the middle of the decade, that belief had started to wane, and parents began scrutinizing their food more closely than ever. With the obesity epidemic in the U.S. in full swing, many marketers began to look for ways to up the health quotient on their classic snacks and meals targeted to kids, tweens and teens, and many more began to explore how to reinvent categories that no longer worked in the new health paradigm. Whether they’re looking for all-natural or organic products, or simply striving to slice their kids’ sugar intake, today’s parents look at snacks very differently than they did at the start of the decade. And kids no longer reject foods because they’re healthy, but often see added nutrients as an added benefit to them. As long as they taste great, of course.
  3. From TV trumps all to 360 Degree Strategies. In 2000, TV was still the medium of choice for most youth marketers – and it was still the centerpiece of most youth campaigns. Promotions kept pantry and fridge staples top-of-mind for moms and kids, but beyond the pack, most of these contests and give-aways took to TV to tout their rules and rewards. But by the end of the decade, TV was just one of the tools in most youth marketers toolbox.  Having an Internet presence went from a luxury to a critical link with youth. And by the end of the decade, a youth marketing team not only includes online experts, but many include social media gurus. Promotions have become multi-modal, with youth learning about them and participating in them across all the devices they use. But, while much has changed, TV may still matter most when it comes to catching the attention of today’s youth. It continues to top the lists of sources for new information about products, places where they expect to see their favorite ads, and spots where they see something that provoked a product purchase.

In the past decade, the state of the market has fundamentally changed – but many of the brands who have stood the tests of the last ten years have succeeded because they have continued to master the fundamentals while staying ahead of the curve on some of the most important shifts in the space.