A recent Los Angeles Times news report (2008) found that tween boys in particular account for about S$70 billion in spending worldwide, leading one to another equally noteworthy conclusion that a bigger portion is being spent by or on tween girls.
Perhaps due to marketing initiatives that force children to grow up quickly, tweens are starting to develop their sense of identity and are anxious to have products that will cultivate a sophisticated self-image. They are more aware than ever before of what they should or should not look like, how they should behave and what they should listen to.
Until recently, it was thought that teens and young adults made the ideal consumer with access to their own spending money. Now there’s a new realisation: tweens have access to a much bigger resource ie mom and dad’s credit card.
Marketers are thus eager to reach these young consumers, not just to capture a portion of their disposable income, but also to build a brand loyalty they hope will extend into even more free-spending teen years.
Age compression (KGOY)
Tween spending habits are also explained by the “age compression” phenomenon, also known as KGOY (kids getting older, younger). This trend sees tweens rejecting traditional toys in favour of more grown up products, previously targeted at teenagers, such as mobile phones, video games and music players. One theory is that these have become easier to use than ever before.
Through these tools, manufacturers of products and services have now a host of opportunities to tap into the tweens market. Tweens' technology-savvy choice in such toys has also provided manufacturers with ideal brand advertising and promotional opportunities via websites and text messaging.
The demand for sophisticated toys has been good news for the video games industry. Note the constant introduction of new games consoles, such as the PSP in 2005, and the subsequent stream of upgrades like the PS3 and the Nintendo Wii.
Tech versus traditional toys
However, this has created a challenge for the traditional toys and games industry which sees a lower share of spending by tweens. Research in recent years indicates that the tween spending share on traditional toys and games has decreased to 6% of total sales, while the tween share of the video games market has gone up to 13% of total sales.
These have also grabbed the attention of tweens. The most sophisticated market in terms of mobile phones developed specifically for tweens is the USA. Mattel, for example, launched a Barbie phone nationally in July 2005, aimed at girls between the ages of eight and 14. The phone design and use encourages greater involvement by parents in the life of their tweens.
For instance, it must be activated by parents who can go to a designated website to list chores they want their children to do to earn extra minutes. There is also the monthly option for parents to buy extra minutes contingent on the child's good behaviour. In addition, there are interchangeable covers, as well as exclusive wallpapers and ring tones.
However, as a further step in the evolution of tween trends, there’s the increasing possibility that tweens could in the end reject these specifically designed phones in favour of "the real thing" – more sophisticated devices such as those used by their older siblings.
While age compression has its limits, and the attitudes and interests of current tweens are not likely to shift to an even lower age group, tweens will continue to become more empowered, and will become more interested in issues that previously related to teenagers or adults. Furthermore, tweens will expect to be treated like young adults rather than children, and will not tolerate false promises.
Parental engagement with their tweens will thus have to keep pace with their changing expectations, in the ongoing efforts to have them grow up to be responsible adults of grace, consideration and polish.