Brands Target Tween Girls In Bid To Keep Them As Longtime Customers Brands increasingly see tweens as a distinct consumer group. From menstruation products to underwear, advertisers are targeting young girls in an informal tone to gain loyal customers earlier on.

Brands Target Tween Girls In Bid To Keep Them As Longtime Customers

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These days many 12-year-olds have their own smartphones. They're on social media platforms like Snapchat and Tumblr. Marketers are beginning to see that as an opportunity to reach a distinct consumer group. Ilya Marritz of member station WNYC reports that when it comes to reaching young women, advertisers are tailoring girl empowerment messages for the app generation.

ILYA MARRITZ, BYLINE: Quick - name one awkward thing you could talk about with a 12-year-old girl. How about menstruation?


ANNABELLE ZASOWSKI: (As Katie) Jenny got it. Then stupid Vicky got it. And I tried everything to get my period - nothing. So I faked it.

MARRITZ: This video has been viewed more than 30 million times since it was posted to YouTube last year by the women's health company Hello Flo.


MARIETTE BOOTH: (As Katie's Mom) Oh, it's family tradition. We're throwing you a first moon party.

MARRITZ: I'm watching with Willa Peltzer, who's 12, and her mom.

WILLA PELTZER: (Laughter).

MARRITZ: And it turns out what was once awkward or even shameful is now an ordinary topic of conversation.

WILLA: When I got my period, I was definitely, like, comfortable talking about it with my friends and my mom and my sister.

MARRITZ: So for Willa...

WILLA: ...It's not surprising that it could be turned into something funny because it's already something that I'm comfortable with.

MARRITZ: Once upon a time not so long ago, ads for pads and tampons showed images of women in gauzy garments doing yoga on the beach. Manufacturers left it to moms and big sisters to give young women the talk. Today, these brands speak to girls directly. Allison Koller is with CBX, a branding agency that works with Kotex.

ALLISON KOLLER: Yeah. This is the war room for Kotex.

MARRITZ: The Kotex war room is not much bigger than a closet. Allison Koller is showing me a stack of U by Kotex Tween boxes containing pads and liners specifically for young women. The first thing you notice - the boxes are not eggshell or lavender. They're black.

KOLLER: Right. The black box makes a huge impression at shelf just because it's so unexpected.

MARRITZ: Koller says this approach felt radical, even risky, when the boxes started showing up in stores in 2010. But the first run sold out in two weeks. Girls, of course, are not the only young consumers. Tween boys tend to buy a lot of sneakers and videogames.

But there's something special about young women according to Emily Long. She's with the LAMP, a group that teaches kids to think critically about advertising. Long says underwear, menstrual pads and makeup are the kinds of products that companies can sell to women for decades.

EMILY LONG: I see them trying to set up a customer from a young age who's going to stay with them for the long haul.

MARRITZ: One trend that troubles Long - ads that reference a kind of soft-focus feminism. Dove has a selfie campaign for teens. Last year an underwear brand, Aerie, loudly proclaimed it had stopped doing postproduction on its photography. One ad read, the girl in this photo has not been retouched. The real you is sexy.

LONG: It's still a construction. They're still creating a shot, shaping a shot, putting them in costumes and lighting and makeup. Just because they're not going back over it later on with something like Photoshop doesn't mean that it hasn't been manipulated.

MARRITZ: Aerie declined to give an interview. Now, the models in these ads are clearly older than 12. Aerie says it targets women aged 15 and up. Its close rival, Pink by Victoria's Secret, says it's for college-aged women. But Willa Peltzer, our 12-year-old in Brooklyn, has shopped both places.

WILLA PELTZER: At 11, other girls my age were shopping there, too. I think that they might not know it, but I think that they target all girls.

MARRITZ: Oh, but the companies do know it. One recent study put the spending power of kids aged 9 to 13 at $200 billion. Win a loyal fan today, and she could be a customer for many years to come. For NPR News, I'm Ilya Marritz in New York.

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