The lure of generation Y

With a plethora of anti-ageing products flooding the market, catering for society’s baby boomers would appear to be at the fore of new trends within the cosmetics and toiletries industry. However, manufacturers have also set their sights firmly at the other end of the spectrum, on the tweens and teens market, as they increasingly segment products across all age groups.

The underlying factor making Generation Y an ever attractive demographic is its growing purchasing power. The trend is being fuelled by higher disposable incomes resulting from more generous allowances and teens opting to work part-time during schooling, less reliance on parents to make purchases, and heightened media awareness.

This is less true of tweens who possess limited financial freedom and therefore rely on so-called pester power against their parents.

Both mass and premium players vie for custom

Brands such as Cover Girl and Maybelline are renowned for their positioning in the mass teen market. However Estée Lauder was the first prestige company to enter the arena with the acquisition of US mass colour cosmetics brand jane, which is predominantly distributed through discounters such as Walmart. Since then other prestige marketers have followed suit, also keen to exploit the growing buying power of teens.

LVMH, traditionally focussed on the mature consumer, acquired prestige brands Urban Decay and Bliss in a bid to woo 12-25 year olds. Wella meanwhile added niche brand Tony & Tina to its portfolio in 2002.

Direct sellers are also turning their attention to this audience. Avon is launching a major new brand ‘mark.’ in 2003 which is aimed at 12-24 year old women. Mary Kay similarly introduced Velocity, a fragrance, skin care and colour cosmetics collection in 2001, representing its first foray into the teen market. This highlights boththe emergence of a mix of specifically teen oriented brands as well as the cross-over of established prestige brands leveraging their reputation to appeal to young consumers.

A demanding audience

The tweens and teens market is a dynamic and extremely competitive environment. Though it offers plenty of opportunities for new entrants and great scope for innovation, the target audience is notoriously hard to please. All facets of the media – fashion, television, the Internet and music – form significant influences and make teens savvy about what they want. They are unlikely to compromise on quality and more importantly are capricious in their approach to brand loyalty.

As such, new products can expect a relatively short shelf-life with success difficult to imitate in consecutive seasons due to changing fashions and the fickle nature of the end consumer. Therefore it is imperative that products evolve with the moment, and are backed by extensive and focussed marketing efforts if they are to retain the interest of teenage consumers.

Teen consumers are typically attracted by distinctive brands offering products which are fun and add glamour. Nonetheless, as consumer lifestyles evolve, tastes are becoming more sophisticated at an earlier age, with less call for whimsical appeal.

In line with the idea of an element of adult appeal, teens expect a full compliment of product range at their disposal just like their older counterparts. As such sector coverage is not limited to colour cosmetics. The popularity of hair colourants has been spurred by the fact that products facilitate self-expression without permanence and give teenagers flexibility to change their image as and when desired and keep up with the latest trends.

Meanwhile skin care brands market themselves to combat skin problems, with oil control usually top priority. It is not unusual for companies to now offer a full range of cleansers, toners and moisturisers to encourage teenagers to develop their skin care regime.

Tactical awareness: how to market to teens?

Teenagers combine a strange mix of wanting to be like everyone else, yet have a strong desire to express individuality. This paradox, in addition to this group’s sceptical attitude to brand marketing, raises issues about how to tap into the market.

Celebrity endorsement plays an important role in luring young consumers to purchase cosmetics and toiletries products. Lancaster’s licensing agreement with Jennifer Lopez for a line of products under the J.Lo brand name is just one example. Moreover manufacturers play on teens’ image-conscious attitude and their desire to imitate pop idols by introducing affordable versions of products used by stars.

Another potentially powerful marketing tool is the unparalleled popularity of mobile phones and the growing text message culture among teens. As yet, few companies have picked up on the idea of advertising through this media, although two notable examples are Shiseido and L’Oréal. In September 2002 Shiseido launched the Puretext club in the UK – a method of promoting its Pureness skin care range among teenagers through SMS. Similarly, L’Oréal has been targeting Maybelline at young consumers through the mobile Internet in Japan where around 63% of the country’s 21 million users are aged between 15-25.

Retail format is also a key consideration. Teenagers are less likely to purchase in department stores, therefore preference lies with mass merchandisers which offer self-select or open-sell outlets. Retailers have gone so far as to establish speciality stores, or micro-environments, with tweens and teens specifically in mind. CVS, a major chain drugstore in the US, opened Girl Lab in many of its stores. Girl Lab is a specific retail area devoted to teenage cosmetic lines such as jane, StreetWear, Fetish, Caboodles, Kiss and Rad Cosmetics. Packaging, ease of use and portability are other issues which affect teen choices.

Where the future lies…

Investing in Generation Y not only enables the diversification of the consumer base, but it can also be viewed as an opportunity for companies to shape future consumer preferences and build up brand loyalty by influencing the development of C&T regimes from an early stage.

At present it is clear that the focus is skewed towards the female population. Nonetheless, there are other avenues which have yet to be fully explored. Numbering almost 600 million, males represented 51% of the world’s tweens/teen population in 2001*.

The popularity of men’s lifestyle magazines is filtering down from adults to adolescent boys resulting in a shift of attitudes, to the extent that it is no longer viewed as a feminine trait to use personal care products. The main difference lies in the fact that male-targeted products are concerned with keeping fresh, and cleanliness, rather than adornment and style as it is with females.

Such a trend is most prevalent in deodorants and fragrances. For instance, Procter & Gamble has revamped one of its oldest men’s grooming brands Old Spice looking to attract younger male consumers, while Calvin Klein’s latest offering Crave is aimed at 15-24 year old men. Teens are proving to be one of the driving forces behind the men’s grooming products sector.

This has been helped considerably by Unilever’s extension of Axe/Lynx/Ego beyond its traditional domain in deodorants into hair care and bath and shower products, and also the global roll-out of Nivea for Men across a variety of sectors – these brands are both designed to address the needs of this particular demographic.

In addition, further growth opportunities lie in catering for ethnic teens. Several key players have already moved to tailor products for skin, hair and colour cosmetics according to ethnicity to take into account different skin pigmentations and hair types. It would appear to be a natural development to provide these specialty products for consumers from a younger age.

* Population aged 10-19 January 1st: NSOs/Eurostat/UN/Euromonitor