Last Updated: December 1, 2020

Teenagers as we know them today have only been a distinct part of the population since the 1950’s. A burgeoning youth culture in film and popular music celebrated the years when young people were no longer children, but not quite adults. Young people suddenly became very conscious of their own identity.

At that time, a booming postwar economy meant that many teens had disposable incomes. Eager to express themselves, they began to buy clothes, grooming products, and entertainment like never before. Marketers noticed the trend and started to design products and ads designed specifically for teens.

Teenagers and young people have been an important consumer demographic ever since. According to MarketingVox, the total amount of money spent by or for teenage consumers in 2012 will be $208.7 billion.

What is youth marketing?

Youth marketing is any marketing effort directed toward young people. This group is typically broken down into smaller segments depending on their age, including tweens, teenagers, college students, and young adults aged 23-34. Each market segment has products and ad campaigns that are targeted specifically for them.

This advertising strategy is not limited to any one marketing channel or technique. Youth marketing takes place on TV, radio, in print and in dozens of forms online. Companies often sponsor extreme athletes, musicians, and high school sports teams as a way to insert themselves into youth culture. Authenticity is particularly important to the young — they want the brands they support to reflect their values and tastes. (See also Brand Marketing)

Young people make such valuable consumers because they influence the purchasing decisions of their friends and family. In addition to being consumers themselves, teens can affect where their family goes on vacation, the car they choose to buy, and the clothes that their friends wear. If a product or brand is popular with young people, it gains an image of being “cool.”

Tips for Youth Marketing

  • Use student media – Take out advertisements in high school newspapers and on college radio stations
  • Use text ads – It is no secret that kids like to text. Send out announcements and offers straight to their phone.
  • Send out a campus rep – Go to college campuses and high school football games and hand out free samples and company info.
  • Support a cause – Research which issues and organizations are most important to young people and make a donation or suggest a partnership.
  • Make a quick pitch – Young people are impulsive and have short attention spans. Effective sales pitches should be short and direct.
  • Be interactive – Use tools like games, videos, and online apps to keep kids engaged.
  • Listen – Solicit and respect feedback from customers. Young consumers want to feel like a partner in the brand.
  • Use flyers – Place inexpensive, but attention grabbing flyers in bars, record stores, and coffee shops where young people gather.

Who implements youth marketing strategies?

Marketing to young people is a strategy used by a wide range of companies, particularly those selling consumer goods. Companies that sell food, clothing, personal electronics, and entertainment will invest heavily in the youth market.

Small businesses have something to gain as well. Imagine a local pizza shop that offers a special discount for college students. Even companies that would seem to have no interest in young consumers will try to keep their advertising relevant to them. Young consumers will eventually become responsible adults who need to buy washing machines and life insurance policies.

Youth marketing is such a common advertising strategy because being young is associated with being free, happy, cool, and culturally relevant. This is an image that every brand aspires to, even if they market to older consumers. The images and slogans used to market to young people often influence the ads of companies who want to seem vital, new, and forward thinking.

Examples of Youth Marketing

  • Apple – When the iPod was first introduced, Apple ran a now legendary series of TV ads featuring black silhouettes dancing while listening to iPods. The ads made the iPod seem innovative, energetic, cool, and inherently youthful.
  • Sony – The Walkman was developed after the chairman of Sony noticed how important music was to his teenage daughter. He realized that young people were clamoring for a way to take music with them everywhere.
  • Virgin Mobile – Riffing on the idea of “The parent trap” Virgin created ads that encouraged teens to pester their parents to buy them more cell phone minutes. The ads were placed in magazines like CosmoGirl that cater to teens.
  • Taco Bell – The fast food company appeals to a young, bar hopping crowd by keeping their restaurants open late and promoting the idea of a “fourth meal.”
  • Wal-Mart – The retailer teamed up with pop star Miley Cyrus to introduce a line of clothing targeted at young girls.
  • American Eagle – The clothing maker gave away free pairs of flip flops to incoming college freshmen.
  • Red Bull – The energy drink maker produces games and mobile apps to encourage participation in their social media.

How is a youth marketing plan developed?

Youth marketing takes so many different forms that it is difficult to make generalizations about how a marketing plan will work. To understand how youth marketing is conducted by real companies, consider Levi’s jeans.

By the mid 90’s, the iconic denim maker was struggling. They had seen their percentage of market share plummet and the image of their brand weakened by upstart clothing makers like Diesel and Gap. For years, Levi’s had relied on a reputation for being rebellious, hip, and stylish. Lazy marketing had caused this reputation to erode and the brand was slowly becoming irrelevant to young people.

The company quickly realized that their classic design no longer appealed to young people. Market research revealed that the brand was seen as old and designed for the middle-aged consumer. Levi’s began their new marketing strategy with a careful analysis of the company and its customers. This analysis revealed that the problem was with the product itself and not just the way it was marketed. A marketing plan was enacted that would reflect a whole new youth marketing strategy for Levi’s.

Designers developed a line of jeans and pants made from new materials and featuring contemporary cuts. To help publicize their product and re-brand the company, they took an aggressive, multi-channeled marketing approach, opening several stand alone stores that sold the company’s products along with fashion and design offerings targeted at urban trendsetters.

If Levi’s could establish themselves as a “cool” brand they would attract the attention of the young. A widespread TV ad campaign featuring a yellow puppet was the perfect mix of silliness and strangeness to connect with young viewers. A heavy focus on viral, guerrilla, and other non-traditional forms of advertising helped to differentiate Levi’s from other denim makers. (See also Viral Marketing)

Levi’s may never become the iconic brand that they once were, but they managed to successfully reposition themselves as a clothing brand that young people want to wear. Rather than clinging to a declining reputation and an outdated notion of what kids want, Levis was willing to make big changes and fundamentally redesign the image of their company.

Careers in youth marketing

Trend Spotter

What do they do?

Average Salaries of Youth Marketers

  • Trend Spotter
    entry level – $20,000-$40,000
    after 10 years – $60,000-$120,000
  • Brand Manager
    entry level – $35,000-$65,000
    after 10 years – $70,000-$140,000
  • Copywriter
    entry level – $40,000-$60,000
    after 10 years – $60,000-$90,000


Trend Spotters are design experts who scout the streets of major cities looking for new trends in fashion and culture. They will use their observations to help companies produce new products that reflect the most popular looks. There are a very limited number of these jobs, but their influence on the marketplace is huge.

Education and Skills

Trend spotters are not required to have degrees in marketing, but a background in marketing will be helpful. They will need to identify the styles that will be most marketable as products. Many trend spotters have training in fashion design and an esoteric personal style.

Brand Manager

What do they do?

Brand managers plan and implement all of the advertising related to a specific brand. Many brands are oriented exclusively to a youth market. The brand manager will need to study the youth of the day and find the most effective way to connect with them through marketing.

Education and Skills

All brand managers will need to have degrees in marketing. Many have advanced degrees as well as supplemental education in communications or psychology. A brand manager will typically have years of professional experience marketing the same products or industries.


What do they do?

Copywriters use the written word to help sell products and services. Any text, whether written or spoken, will have been created by a copywriter to illicit a certain response in the consumer of that ad. Youth marketing often uses the phrases, slogans, and slang of young people to help connect with this demographic.

Education and Skills

Copywriters will not be required to have a degree in marketing. Many enter the field after studying English or communications. A strong command of the English language and a portfolio of past work will be necessary for any copywriter looking for work.

How can a marketing school help you succeed?

Our Recommended Schools

  1. Grand Canyon University (GCU)

    GCU's Colangelo College of Business offers leading edge degrees that address the demands of contemporary business environments.

  2. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

    Explore the bond between business and consumer behavior with a degree in marketing.

Marketing changes quickly, but some things remain constant. As long as kids have money to spend, there will be advertisers reaching out to them. The best way for marketers to connect with the youth of the future is to get a degree in marketing from a four-year college or an MBA or Master’s in Marketing. Find schools offering marketing degree programs.

Decades of research into youth marketing has produced a number of proven strategies that work for companies in any industry or era. Students who enter marketing programs will get special access to this pool of knowledge. They will receive training on how to conduct market research, use new media, segment customers, and speak the language of the young. Courses will require them to develop mock ads that will challenge them to think like real marketers. Graduates from marketing programs have the skills and experience they will need to lead the ad campaigns of the future.

Marketing to College Students

The average college student has to juggle their coursework, with a vibrant social life, and the challenge of living on their own for the first time. With so much competing for their attention, it can be a difficult demographic for marketers to reach out to. The chart below, based on data from Barnes & Noble College Marketing illustrates the advertising methods that college students believe they are most influenced by. Surprisingly, email and TV ads make a much stronger impression than social media or mobile advertising. New media marketing may get more attention, but TV is still the best way to connect with students.