Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

To engage teens you need to understand the digital lives of the new teen tribes

By Victoria Cook, Global Head of Audiences, Mindshare Worldwide

The world of teenagers is always a bit of a mystery – even if we were all one once.

It is almost like we are hard wired to forget the language, clothes, disappointments and embarrassing crushes, which is why we need to ask them about how they feel, what they are doing and what they want to buy and not make assumptions based on our own experience or those of past generations. Mindshare, alongside Mediacom and Wavemaker, did just that. We asked 8,000 13 to 17-year olds in 18 markets around the world about their lives today.

We started this knowing that teenagers are not only digital natives but mobile first ones at that. They are the most forward-thinking generation when it comes to gender fluidity and that social media is where they live. What we wanted to understand was the ‘why’. In doing so, we also learned there is a whole language they have to themselves, which I will pepper throughout – don’t worry, there is a glossary at the end to help.

As teens haven’t finished growing and developing and because their world is more fluid than ever, forcing them into a traditional segmentation makes no sense. So instead, we developed 7 archetypes that are not mutually exclusive:

Confident Aspirers: Highly aspirational and already thinking about their career. Enjoy pushing themselves and taking on new challenges. Do not need approval from friends or family for decision-making – instead, life decisions are based on what is right for them. Highly value education but concerned about cost.

Self-Assured Rebels: Satisfied with their life right now and confident in who they are. Culture and tradition are important to them, but they also like to push boundaries/rules. Overall, it’s important that others think well of them.

Socially-Aware Butterflies: Maintaining an online social image that receives views and likes is important to them, but they are also cautious about what they post in case it offends others or negatively affects them in the future. Online bullying is also a concern.

Virtual Virtuosos: Very heavy, and highly savvy, internet users. Comfortable protecting their online privacy, blocking adverts and not taking everything at face value, although can be shocked by what people share. Happier using online spaces to share their emotions.

Future Proofer: Focused on financial security, both in terms of saving money for the future and ensuring it is always spent wisely through heavily researching purchases. Value ethical brands and companies.

Trendsetters: Like to be the first to know about new things (TV programmes, technology, gadgets, etc) and to be the one that people come to for updates and advice. Adverts and celebrity endorsements accepted, but only if relevant to them directly.

Content Addicts: Love all forms of TV/video content and being in front of a screen. Use content as a form of social currency with friendship groups.

What is amazing about teens is how global they really are.

They understand they are part of the globe and therefore also tend to share similar online behaviours globally.  For example, 90% of teenagers are using at least one social media platform globally. Maybe slightly counter intuitive is China is one of the lowest markets (still at 77%) and much of that is driven by how much time they are spending on homework! Preventing them from doing ‘un-purposeful’ things.

FOBO has replaced FOMO – that’s Fear of Being Offline Vs Fear of Mission Out, with 67% preferring to have superfast wi-fi wherever they go than have infinite battery life – showing with how much of their life is now always-on and connected.

Being a teenager today is one big oof (see Glossary), but technology and especially social platforms provide them with opportunities to connect and be involved. In fact, 63% are always trying to outdo themselves and take on new challenges – striving to be Gucci.

This always-on connectivity and desire to outdo themselves leads them to be highly entrepreneurial, whether it is 16 year-old YouTube “Bugha” who took no Ls when he got $3 million for winning the Fortnite World Cup or Jojo Siwa, who continues to slay as she uses her social platform to be one of the now OG kid influencers.

However, we can see from the Future Proofer archetype that being wise with money and always looking for a bargain is also important to teens today. A great example of how technology enabling this is the new Chelsea kit release, which allowed fans to take pictures of themselves wearing the jersey virtually, showing off their new garms on social media without the sky-high costs of actually purchasing them! Also the continued growth of Animal Crossing, allowing teens to escape and get involved with expensive hobbies like high-fashion.

Technology is also not only used for themselves. We can see this from the Confident Aspirers archetype. They are socially aware group who are CEOs of change. Despite being too young to vote, K-Pop fans and TikTok users around the world were able to use their social knowhow to influence politics whether taking over hashtags for good or buying tickets with no intention of turning up to Trump rallies.

The brands that embrace getting involved and communicating to teens about what matters will win with this group versus those who shy away for fear of corporate reputation.

They are also savvy when it comes to privacy and how they want to share their emotions as seen in the Virtual Virtuosos archetype.  If everything is getting too extra, brands should flex in ways that benefit teens. Apple and Snapchat are just two of the brands that have given power to teens over their data, with 43% saying they find it easier to do emotional posts about their feelings than speak to people face-to-face, so you can see why they want a safe space online for when life gets too OTT.​

With personally-created content being the language of social exchanges teens choose to appear interesting, well liked and attractive with 60% still caring what people thing of them. No cap! Separating their true and ideal self is important. Having multiple social accounts or even multiple accounts on the same platforms allows teens to present the version of themselves they are most comfortable with according to the audience. Finsta saves lives.

Finally, they really are content addicts and yes, I do also mean TV. Sharing live TV reactions and being part of the moment is really important therefore second screen usage is very high. From sport watch along or Twitter reacting to Love Island, appointment viewing is back in fashion and that now also includes gaming, with DJs taking to Fornite to hold virtual concerts, allowing teenagers to hangout from the comfort of home – especially important in a global lockdown.

However you think about teenagers, this research shows that each generation has their own equivalent of those embarrassing moments, the need to experiment and the need to be heard. We just all do it in our own way. 

And that’s the tea.

Teen Glossary:

  • Big Oof: Said in response to a person when something doesn’t go their way. The sound “oof” is a death sound that comes from the game Roblox. Example: “I heard you broke up yesterday, that’s a big oof!​
  • No Ls: One who takes no losses. All they do is win.​
  • OG: Usually means Original Gangster but nowadays people use it as a quicker way of saying “original”.
  • Garms: New clothes. Example “Those garms you’re wearing are lowkey wavey!”
  • CEO of: Originated from TikTok, this refers to what you are well known for. Example: “Your mum passed the vibe check. She’s the CEO of being a cool mum!”​
  • Extra: Said when someone is behaving really dramatically. To an excessive level.​
  • Flex: To show off. Usually in a non-humble way.​
  • No cap: Means the person is not about to lie. Example: “No cap, that face mask brings out your eyes.”​
  • FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. The emotional strain that comes from missing out on anything. It is mainly felt after you see social media posts related to the thing you previously missed out on.​
  • The Tea: The ultimate gossip shared between friends. Example: “I’ve missed you so much since my holiday. So, what’s the tea?​
  • finsta is a secondary, usually private, Instagram account. It’s where content posted is more personally authentic and shared with close friends. This is in contrast to someone’s main account, which will be more heavily curated content.