ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Companies like Taco Bell, McDonalds and others are trying very hard to use social media to reach teenagers.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
But as any teenager can tell you, trying very hard is the worst thing you can do.
SIEGEL: NPR's Sonari Glinton and Youth Radio's Billy Cruz explain why.
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Billy, since I've been working with you and Youth Radio on this story, you've been trying to get one simple point through to me.
BILLY CRUZ, BYLINE: Sonari, no matter how hard you try to impress us, we do not care.
GLINTON: And of course the we he's referring to - teenagers.
UNIDENTIFIED TEEN: Sometimes you just got to have all that milkshake, all of it at once. It's funny.
GLINTON: Recently I met up with some of your colleagues, the teen reporters at Youth Radio who broke down their opinions of how fast food companies are reaching out to young people on social media.
CRUZ: With interesting results. Here's Nila Venkat.
NILA VENKAT: It makes me think, like, oh, yeah, Denny's - they're funny on social media. It doesn't mean I'd want to eat their hash browns.
LAUREN JOHNSON: Social media and millennial marketing is an extremely tough area for brands right now.
GLINTON: That's Lauren Johnson. She's with Adweek.
JOHNSON: The agencies obviously tend to be a bit older than millennials, so they're trying to understand what the millennials talk about with their friends and how that can then be translated into marketing that feels that same way.
GLINTON: Billy, since the birth of modern marketing, companies have been trying really hard to reach you, the elusive teenager. But it's been decades since I've been a teenage, but you know...
CRUZ: Yeah, 23 years by my count.
GLINTON: Yeah, yeah, I don't need to be reminded (laughter). Before, a big company would make a TV commercial, buy an ad in a TV magazine, and then that was pretty much it.
CRUZ: But now new technology has brought new expectations. Teens expect brands to engage in a conversation online 24/7. And some companies are doing a better job than others, like Taco Bell, for example. My peers kind of like their laid-back approach.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Duh.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Duh.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Duh.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Duh.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: So amazing, it's a total no-brainer.
GLINTON: Yeah, and the fancy marketing analysts and experts say that Taco Bell is ahead of the game or as far as a fast food company can be, but it's tough to say how much, if any, of their business is due to their newfound social media savvy.
CRUZ: We talked to Marisa Thalberg, Taco Bell's chief marketing officer.
MARISA THALBERG: I'm sitting here in our fishbowl right now. We've got lots of screens where you can see everything that's going on in social media about the brand and about the world.
CRUZ: Taco Bell prides itself on being a pioneer and figuring out how to engage with its customers on social media platforms like Snapchat.
THALBERG: If you go to Twitter and you tweet @TacoBell and type the taco emoji plus any other emoji - so it's a lot of fun to see what happens - you're going to get tweeted back an original piece of content.
CRUZ: So I could do it right now.
THALBERG: You could do it right now. Go ahead (laughter).
CRUZ: One of my producers tweeted a taco and a unicorn emoji. Within seconds, she got a video of a horse eating a taco and turning into a unicorn. It was pretty cool, but it doesn't really make me want to eat at Taco Bell. Just because a brand makes teens laugh doesn't mean they'll buy the products.
GLINTON: Or that the companies even are on the same page as young people.
CRUZ: What I thought was interesting about it was how self-aware Taco Bell seems to be. Could you sort of explain to me how you guys set that tone?
THALBERG: What do you mean by self-aware?
CRUZ: Like, it sort of has, like, a stoner-at-midnight vibe.
THALBERG: Well, I actually don't think that's our vibe. I think that implies something that's maybe a little bit of the stereotype of Taco Bell but not at all who we are. I think what makes us unique is there is an authenticity to our voice that makes us feel like a likable friend. And I know that seems like what brands say.
GLINTON: That doesn't seem like what a brand says. That's actually exactly what a brand would say.
CRUZ: Yeah, which is probably why fast food brands don't always get what it's like to be a teenager.
GLINTON: Like, I don't understand, Billy. Why not just embrace the stoner vibe? I mean, why not?
CRUZ: Exactly, Sonari. One day, marketers and brands may learn that. But by the time you've managed to impress a teenager, they've become adults, and you've got to move on to the next group of kids.
GLINTON: And the next media revolution.
CRUZ: For NPR News, I'm Billy Cruz.
GLINTON: And I'm Sonari Glinton, NPR News.
SIEGEL: That story is part of our series of stories on the future of fast food produced in collaboration with Youth Radio.
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