Youthsayers say it all
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the November 1999 issue of . Subscribe »

Maybe you weren't the cool kid in high school, and your style better resembled your mom's than your best friend's cool older brother's (you know, the one with the band and the zine). And now that cashiers call you "ma'am" or "sir," you may as well forget about tuning into youth .

Sorry, you can't. You can remain your geeky self if you wish, but you need to know what fads the trendsetters are setting because Gen Y is ready to take over where boomers haven't even left off yet. "The youth population is the fastest-growing sector," explains DeeDee Gordon, co-creator and editor of The L-Report, a youth-culture trend-tracking journal published by Del Mar, California, ad agency Lambesis. "It's the most influential and will spend the most money on products and entertainment in the next 10 years."

Gordon speaks with "innovators" and "mainstream" people, ranging in age from 14 to 30, to compile information for her quarterly report. (A secret client list pays a pricey $20,000 subscription for the goods.) By studying both groups, Gordon can identify the newest trends and how they trickle down into the mainstream.

Just in case you're worried that watching MTV and the WB isn't enough to keep you abreast of the competition, here are Gordon's tips for keeping up:

  • Trickling up and down: Why are youth trends important to you even if you're to babies or boomers? Because youth culture now influences those older and younger. Eight-year-olds aspire to be like 14-year-olds, and a 40-year-old may watch twentysomethings to see what they're buying. "Youth audiences tend to be the definers of what's going to happen," says Gordon. "The cars they're into right now are the cars the older market will get into later. The music they listen to now is what younger kids and even older people will listen to later."
  • Just do it: To understand your target audience and what they're into, you need to share their experiences. "Go out and find the innovators in that group," says Gordon. "Talk to them and find out what's going on. If you buy a CD they're listening to, or play the video game they're playing, or watch the TV show that's their favorite, then you're a little bit closer to understanding their taste and sensibility."
  • Get in their brains: If kids are asked about their favorite things and your pops up, you have what Gordon refers to as "top-of-mind awareness." "If there's a real concentration in a city within one age group all mentioning the same brand, then that company is really marketing to that audience well. You'll find they just did a promotion or some real grass-roots marketing."
  • The finer things: Quality is of increasing importance to the youth market, even if they can't afford it yet. Says Gordon, "Ask a group of 8- to 12-year-old girls what their favorite cosmetic brand is, and they'll answer MAC, Chanel, Lancôme. And you're going, `How can these girls afford this?' Then you check their bags and find Cover Girl, Wet `n' Wild and Jane. Yet they cite brands they don't buy because it's an aspiration. They want higher quality than they can afford, and that's important to pay attention to. You need to understand [aspirations] to market effectively."
  • World domination: Don't focus your trend-spotting efforts solely on your part of the country--or the world. In her , Gordon studies youths across the United States as well as in Tokyo and London. " is a reality because of the Internet, access to information and the curiosity of youth audiences about what's happening in the rest of the world," she says.

If a trend has been around for three to six months already, is there a point to jumping on the bandwagon? Possibly, says Gordon, "if your product is something that previously wasn't focused on, or you pick a whole new spin or approach a market a different way." And remember, trends don't stay trendy forever--which can be both negative and positive. Some may fall by the wayside, but some will also become part of the mainstream culture. "It depends on how many cities and age groups [accept the trend], how long it teeters on both sides--trendsetters and mainstream," Gordon advises. "[If it's widespread], then you know it has some longevity."

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