Consumer power has no age limit

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I believe our future is in good hands, despite what recent news headlines would have us otherwise believe.  You are as familiar as I am with the barrage of negative stories of violence, drugs, teen pregnancy, bullying and other questionable behaviors of today’s youth.  No matter where you live in the country, I’ll bet there are legions more of good kids in your city or town who are shining in every area of their lives, excelling in school, giving back in ways both small and large to their communities, sports and other extracurricular activities.   In the spirit of full disclosure, I claim my bragging rights as the mother of one of these outstanding young people, my 16-year-old son.

I always talk about how this nation is becoming more and more multicultural day by day. In fact, in eight years, there will be 170 million multicultural consumers in the United States. This nation is a huge melting pot already, but these forecasted numbers are promising for people of color – especially young people. 

According to the most recent U.S. Census, African Americans, Hispanics and Asians each make up 42 percent of the youngest demographic age groups:  12-17, 18-24 and 25-34.  These same groups of young folks are going to be in our shoes as adults in a few decades and their numbers are on the rise.  The 18 to 24 year-old demographic is, in fact, growing faster than any other segment. 

Businesses and advertisers are paying very close attention to the information I’m sharing with you today.  All of us know by now how critical everything we purchase, watch, read and listen to is for manufacturers and marketers.  The same is true for young people.  What are their consumer behaviors?  How much are they contributing or will they contribute in the future to the consumer bottom-line?  Nielsen research shows that teens have some real purchasing potential – although at this point, that potential has a lot to do with the earnings of their parents, grandparents or guardians, since most kids are not yet making the big bucks.  Last year, 29 percent of teens in the U.S. lived in households earning more than $100K.  And if you are the parent of teenager(s), you know they are very good at spending our money.  Can I get an ‘AMEN’ on that?

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that ownership of smartphones and tablets is growing faster in households with teenagers.  There was a 45 percent jump in smartphone penetration among teens between 2011 and 2012, a 32 percent increase among young adults 18-24 and 22 percent among those 25-34.  The numbers for laptop penetration are interesting.  It seems laptops are cool with young people until they hit their late 20s – even though laptop ownership has increased in all three young adult age groups (12-17, 18-24, 25-34) over the last year.

We talk a lot in this column about how much time all of us spend in front of the television or watching our video content on one of the many other fun electronic toys we own.  That time spent is money – both for the marketers who want to reach us and the program providers who measure and make decisions based on our viewing habits.  Teens and young adults, like the rest of us, watch most of their shows and videos the old school way – on television.  However, according to Nielsen’s most recent Cross-Platform Report, young consumers under 34 watched more video on the Internet and their mobile devices in 2012 than they did in 2011. 

The “under34” crowd isn’t a monolithic group, though, when it comes to video consumption.   Young teenagers lead in watching content on their mobile phones (I can attest to this); 18% more than those 18-24 and 46 percent more than the next age group, 25-35.  On the other hand, teens don’t seem to favor watching online, even though laptop ownership is higher in that group.  The data shows that in the last quarter of 2012, those in the 18-24 age bracket spent nearly three times more consuming video on the Internet than 12 to 17-year-olds.  The “oldest” of the young demos, the 25 to 34-year-olds, spent the most total time watching video across all platforms in 2012:  19 hours and 30 minutes more per month than 18 to24-year-olds and 40 hours and 54 minutes more a month than 12 to17-year-old consumers.

Whenever I speak to youth groups, I always let them how much of the sweet target they are to marketers. And I think the information I just shared supports this statement. The youth of today should feel empowered, too. Because not only are they the future, they are the present and marketers are watching.

Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is senior vice president of Public Affairs and Government Relations for Nielsen. 

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