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The tween consumer marketing model: significant variables and recommended research hypotheses.


Generational differences have been commonly used in market segmentation and niche marketing for very successful marketing campaigns. A generation is defined by certain determinations such as dramatic events or shifts which form a common set of values within the generation. This paper is focused on the "Tween" segment, a subset of the X generation (Lindstrom & Seybold, 2003) or a subset of the Z generation (Williams, Page, Petrosky & Hernandez, 2009). The "tween" marketing segment has been gaining in popularity as a topic of study due to its phenomenal growth and buying power. The "tween" is a user of social media (some even call them the V or virtual generation since they are so involved in technology (Fraser & Dutta, 2008) and consider them to be a "global phenomenon" (Lindstrom & Seybold, 2003). Globalization of tween buying trends may be related to their watching TV, which many see as the creator of the global trend referred to as the "McDonaldization" effect (Chang, 2007, Lemish, 2007; Ritzer, 2009; Hawkins et al., 2010, Hamm, 2007). Tweens are a more powerful generation then past generations since they are a triple opportunity to marketers--"a primary market, an influencing market and a future market" (Norgaard, Bruns, Christensen & Mikkelsen 2007, 197). It is important to study the characteristics, values and attitudes of the "tween" segment to understand how these values influence purchasing decisions. When retailers and marketers capture the values of tweens and wed those to the buying of their products or the retail experience (such as the American Girl Place), it can be explosive (Borghini et al., 2009).


The literature review can be divided into the following areas: 1) definitions and characteristics of tweens; 2) global or localized trends for tweens; 3) negative impacts or ethics of advertising to tweens 4) branding of tweens and 5) tweens as influencers.

Definitions and Characteristics of Tweens

Tweens are defined as 9-12 year olds by marketing practitioners. Estimated at $1.5 billion in disposable income, tweens are a sizeable direct market and they are a market which companies hope to start early with brand loyalty. They are described as hyper brand conscious (in areas of cosmetics, music, apparel, consumer electronics, and film), spend a lot of time with peers and are peer influenced. They grow up faster, are more connected, more direct, more informed, have more personal power, more money, more influence and attention than previous generations (Lindstrom & Seybold, 2003, 1). Tweens do influence family buying patterns, for example, in grocery purchasing they influence parents to buy food products that the tweens can prepare for themselves since they are easy and quick. Tweens want to be catered to and they want a coupon or free gift or to be amused or entertained. Since tweens are on the computer and hit (click through rates high) banner ads more often than adults, marketers are beginning to capitalize on their behavior through social media advertising. As suggested by Sims (2000), to be effective companies need to get on net, offer free things and customize to tweens.

In the academic world, most researchers have defined "tweens" as 8-12 year olds (Andersen, Tufte, Rasmussen, & Chan, 2007), some describe them more widely as 8-14 year olds (Lindstrom, 2004; Maughan, 2002) and others narrowly as 11-12 year olds (Dibley & Baker, 2001). The "tween" term refers to the concept of being "in-between" a child and a teen, which is not necessarily tied to a particular age, but rather connected to a state of mind or behaviors. This schizophrenic existence causes a "split personality" between acting as a kid and taking on the actions and values of a teenager (Siegel et al., 2004). To complicate definitions further, some researchers note the "kids grow old younger" or KGOY phenomenon, which states that kids are maturing faster than in previous decades or generations (Cook & Kaiser, 2004). Some believe this is the result of different dietary patterns and could be influenced by greater use of hormones in food as well as more protein in the diet. Others blame the world of TV and media advertisement for giving more mature images to children at a younger age.

H1 Tweens have a stronger brand awareness than adults in the industry areas of their interest (such as music, apparel, electronics, film and cosmetics).

H2 Tweens will increase their purchasing with increases in giveaways.

H3 Tweens will purchase more often through banner ads than adults.

H4 Younger tweens (8-10 year olds) are more similar to older tweens (10-12 year olds) than to younger children (7-9 year olds) in their characteristics such as use of the internet, influence role and product category purchases due to their growing maturity.

Global or Local Trends for Tweens

In the arena of globalization versus localization of "tween" buying behavior and values, some researchers believe the "tween" segment to be extremely global in nature (Giges, 1991; Lindstrom, 2004; Lindstrom & Seybold, 2003; Siegel et al. (2004); yet others have found differences by countries in the attitudes, usage of products and purchasing decisions that "tweens" make. In the Giges (1991) study, the consumption pattern of 14-34 year olds around the world were found to be extremely similar for products in the soft drinks, beer and footwear segments. However, Andersen et al. (2007) found that Danish "tweens" used the internet and social media for entertainment and communication with their peers (significantly more text messaging), whereas Hong Kong "tweens" had more limited media choices and used the media they had for more academic activities (such as homework and finding information) even though they may own similar devices. Mobile phones were owned by 75% of Danes and 47% of Hong Kong tweens, whereas the internet access for Danish tweens as compared to Hong Kong youth was 95% to 89%.

H5 Buying patterns and characteristics of tweens in individualist countries will be more homogenous (and therefore more global) to one another than when comparing to community oriented countries (local differences greater).

Negative Impacts or Ethical Considerations for Tweens

Consumerism is certainly at its zenith in America and brands are becoming globally known, but there are possible negative impacts of this materialistic emphasis in society that could be detrimental for our tweens. Goldberg et al., (2003) have found a disturbing link between tweens (9-14 year olds) who are preoccupied with materialism and low grades (interests and performance in school decreased). Singaporean youth (ages 13-18) were found to be influenced by peers and media celebrities as well as by the amount of advertising viewing and responses to marketing promotions (actually buying something seen in ad) in their overall materialism (La Ferla & Chan, 2006). The impact of celebrity adoration was also found in Taiwanese adolescents when it came to increasing their purchasing intent (Chiou, Huang & Chung, 2005), thus making them more susceptible to the negative effects of materialism.

Possible early tendencies towards excessive or compulsive buying patterns were also shown in 46% of EU adolescents by Garces Prieto (2002). In addition, advertisers have been criticized by their over-sexualization of adolescents in their marketing campaigns (Brown, L'Engle, Pardun, Guo, Kenneavy & Jackson, 2006, Durham, 2008; Goodinm Van Denburg, Murnen, & Smolak, 2011). Some marketers have attempted to put ad breaks in their online content in order to let youth know that they are indeed advertising to them This practice does decrease the brand recall of the product for young people (An & Stern, 2011).

From the industry perspective, it is getting more difficult for marketers to find the sweet spot for tweens with the phenomenon of "KAGOY--Kids Are Getting Older Younger". In selling books, marketers have a tough time deciding what will be considered "age-appropriate" by young readers, their parents and their teachers. Tweens may have the "reading ability" to read teen or even adult novels but may not be emotionally prepared to handle the material (Maughan, 2002, 36). Tweens want to be teenagers, be sophisticated and treated as older. Ten years ago, tweens would have been 10-12 years old, but now the market segment of tweens has gone down to 8-12 year olds in the book publishing industry.

There is a well known effect called the "nag factor" or "purchase influence attempts" that shows hard sell media techniques do influence adolescent buying behavior, but the content of this research does not specifically deal with the sexualized appeal and its negative impact on children (Williams & Burns, 2000). Estimates in the research show that between 12 to 44% of young people in the US and UK today are experiencing compulsive buying as a dysfunctional behavior (Magee, 1994, Hassay & Smith, 1996, Dittmar, 2005). Young people seem to be more susceptible to the psychologically motivated buying spree as a way (often mistakenly) to achieve their goals of happiness, success and life satisfaction (Dittmar, 2005). Those who use consumer goods to mediate mood and seek identity creation are sadly disappointed at the outcome and adolescents are among the highest segment in this group (Gardarsdotir, Dittmar & Aspinall, 2005; Kasser & Kanner, 2004).

H6 Tweens, with a higher materialistic rating, will have increased negative life impacts such as poor school performance, dysfunctional compulsive buying, and over-sexualization.

H7 Ad breaks in online advergames lower brand recall.

Branding and market appeals of tweens

Tweens are a buying power all of their own. They are technologically savvy and have access to media in unprecedented ways. For example, the average American tween (defined as 9-14 year olds), according to a Nickelodeon survey, has a TV in their bedroom (77%), cable or satellite access (50%), a video game system (59%), a DVD player (49%), and a computer connected to the Internet (22%) (Farhi & Frey, 2006). Due to the power of niche marketing, tweens can be targeted through cable and the internet very easily nowadays (Farhi & Frey, 2006). A 2001 Roper Youth Report Survey found 30 million consumers from age 8-12 with direct sales of $10 billion/year and influence sales of $74 billion by the family. The Packaged Facts group estimated direct sales to increase to $35 billion by 2002 (Maughan, 2002).

Branding for various segments is created from psychological and social needs of consumers (Franzen & Bowman, 2001). Experts agree that pre-teens and teens often have a high brand awareness due to the fact that they are adolescents who are in the formation stages of their own identity (Dittmar, 2005). In their research on catalog clothing purchases, Simpson, Douglas and Schimmel (1998) found that tweens were even more status conscious than teens in picking clothes that had the attributes of style, brand name and the latest fashions.

Some companies see tweens as a market of the future as well; for example, they are suggesting to tweens which cars are cool and fit with their identity. Even though tweens do not purchase new cars until they are in 30s, car manufacturers want to establish "early brand loyalty" (Business interview, 2000).

Toy companies are seeing tweens leaving the toy market earlier and earlier. To combat this trend, they are now marketing "youth electronics" products to both the tween and the parents. Appeals to the tween emphasize the technological sophistication of the product but the lower price and restrictions on usage (Examples are Mattel's My Scene cellphone and Mattel's Juice Box, a portable media player) are appeals made to parents (Kang, 2011). Publishing companies do not call this segment "tweens", instead they use the term "middle grade reader" when talking about 8-12 year olds. Some firms feel that tweens actually are going between the two stages of young girl or boy and adolescent; sometimes a younger reader may want a fantasy book and the older reader may look for a novel they can identify with more to find out who they are (Maughan, 2002, 32). Mary-Kate and Ashley books and the brand itself is estimated to bring in over $1 billion in sales and keeps increasing 15% per year (Maughan, 2002, 32). Marketers are keeping up with tween trends by observing current movies, TV and rock stars as well as what their own kids are into (Maughan, 2002). Some book projects are successfully tied into movie and television programming under the same umbrella, such as Disney books with the Disney Channel, Harper Collins with Fox TV and Twentieth Century Fox and S&S with Nickelodeon and Paramount (Maughan, 2002, 34). One of the new ways to reach tweens is throurgh mall shows and other event marketing. Older youth are being effectively targeted with online interactive content (free chapters and advance readers' copies), in-store promotions with direct benefits, targeted consumer catalogs, and point-of-purchase marketing materials (Maughan, 2002, 34).

H8 Tweens will have higher brand awareness by identity construction than teens or adults.

H9 Tweens will have higher brand awareness if dual appeals are made to tweens and parents.

H10 Tweens will have higher brand awareness for products advertised online to them.

H11 Tweens will have higher brand recall if the brand is associated with other tweens or tween stars.

H12 Tweens will have higher brand recall if the brand has a free giveaway.

Tweens as Influencers

As Siegel (2004) points out in his book The Great Tween Buying Machine, the buying power of tweens is amplified by their influence on the families' purchasing. Tweens and teens (here defined as 8-14) account for over $39 billion in buying power of their own and over $20 billion in purchases by the family. Others estimate even higher market totals for tweens. Young adults (15-24 year olds) account for $485 billion in sales (Farhi & Frey, 2006). Studies vary on what stage of decision making tweens are most influential. Some say they are most important in the initiation or idea generation stage (Belch, Belch & Ceresino, 1985); others believe the choice stage is when they dominate (Lee & Beatty; 2002). When considering buying of food, Danish tweens (10-12 year olds) were shown to be most influencial on what to buy in-between meals and for breakfast (easier to make products) with least influence on purchasing for the dinner meal, they were most helpful as specific choice decision-maker (adding items to the shopping list) and an information collector (coupon finding) (Norgaard et al., 2007). Foods that children are most influential in are sweets and fruits (Norgaard et al., 2007). The decision is a joint one when it comes to food and it is important to include both parents and children in the family food decision making process (Belch et al., 1985; Caruana & Vassallo, 2003; Lee & Beatty, 2002; Norgaard et al., 2007).

H13 Tweens influence parents more in products they consume such as groceries, choice of vacation/recreational spot, movies, gaming/personal computer or restaurant choice) than in products which are considered the family's (car, boat, TV, house).

H14 Tweens influence parents more with positive communications such as negotiations, logical arguments and direct asks than with negative communications such as guilt and anger.


The researchers used a summary of the current literature in order to formulate a comprehensive model regarding tween consumer behavior. The summary chart explains the details of the past research including the authors' names, date of research, description of the tween segment (ages and country), methodology, significant variables and direction of the relationships (Please see Table 1 for complete listing). These factors are then combined into a comprehensive model to give future researchers the benefit of a wholistic approach to researching the marketing behaviors and patterns of tweens. Throughout the paper, hypotheses are recommended from previous research, suggestions for future research, and from current practices in marketing and advertising. This paper can add to the body of knowledge by giving details as to the "gaps" in the research. Many of the current research works have been conducted overseas and the authors believe there are definite opportunities for studies in the US and a wider selection of countries. Using Hofstede's dimensions, country differences in tweens could be examined as well to see if marketing practices and buy (Hofstede & Bond, 1984). The other limitation is in the product categories used in the research, primarily clothing, food, music, and electronics/toys, which could be broadened as well. Another possible gap is in finding ways to measure the variables.

The Tween Consumer Marketing Model for marketing of tweens includes the general categories of Customer Characteristics, Products Characteristics, Media and Appeals, Branding, Purchasing, Materialism and Negative Impact (Figure 1). The Customer Characteristics area spans the concepts of age, generation or age grouping, communication/persuasion style, country of the tween and the country dimension in the recommended hypotheses (H4, H5 and H14). These can be expanded to include gender, ethnic or regional differences of tweens and characteristics such as the technological savviness of tweens. Hypothesis 5 tests the relationship between consumer traits (country dimension) and teen purchasing whereas H14 examines the communication style of the tween with the parent purchasing variable. Product Characteristics include the product category, specific brand of the product or product details. In hypothesis H13, the product category influences the parent purchase and hypothesis 1 shows the relationship of product category to brand awareness. Next the model shows the Media and Appeals used for tweens. Under the category of the media, researchers could study online ads, banner ads, ad breaks, catalogs, print, TV ads or other media choices. For appeals, marketers may use a dual appeal to tweens and parents, identity construction appeal, eWOM (electronic word of mouth) and include peers or celebrities in ads.

Promotional items such as giveaways, two for one deals, coupons and games/contests could also be examined as they impact teen purchasing (H3). Various appeals can influence branding for tweens, which includes the concepts of brand awareness and brand recall. Hypotheses H7-H12 study the effects of various types of appeals and ads on brand recall or brand awareness. Purchasing decisions can be influenced by tweens as consumers as well. For instance, tweens often have a say in which breakfast foods and snacks they eat or where the family goes on vacation (Hypothesis 13). The way tweens talk to their parents can have an inpact on whether the parent listens to their appeal and influence when purchasing (Hypothesis 14).

Appeals such as giveaways and banner ads can influence tween purchases as well (Hypotheses 2 and 3). Research is needed to see the extent of the influence and to examine the types of giveaways and banner ads. Lastly, the subject of materialism is included in the model. The authors felt that this concept of materialism has been examined but could benefit from a more longitudinal study and a look at a combination of negative impact factors simultaneously such as school performance, moodiness, over-sexualized behaviors, and compulsive buying behaviors (Hypothesis 6). Also the topic has only been tangentially tied to branding and purchasing.


In summary, this paper adds to the body of knowledge about tween consumer behavior and marketing to the tween segment. It comprehensively reviews the literature, recommends hypotheses for future research streams and presents a model with important variables to consider. This model gives a more wholistic approach to research for the tween niche than has been given in the piecemeal approach of previous researchers. It also attempts to review the practitioner literature and merge academic research with current business practices in marketing and advertising.



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Diane Prince, Clayton State University

Nora Martin, University of South Carolina
Table 1: Summary of Research on Tweens Consumer Behavior


                                  Open ended
An & Stern/2011   8-11/US         questions, 2 X 2
                                  design, Chi Square

Andersen et       10-13/          Questionnaire, Chi
al./2007          Hong Kong       Square, cross tabs.
                  and Denmark

Andersen et       10-13/          Questionnaire, Chi
al./2008          Hong Kong       Square, t tests
                  and Denmark

Chan/2008         6-9 and         Questionnaire, Chi
                  10-15/          Square, t tests
                  Hong Kong

Chiou, Huang &    8-11/Taiwan     Questionnaire, Chi
Chung/2005                        Square, t tests

Dittmar/2005      16-18/UK        Questionnaaire,
                                  consumer panels,
                                  multiple regression

Jones & Reid/     NA/Australia    Website
2010                              observations

LaFerle &         13-18           Questionnaire,
Chan/2008         /Singapore      regression

Norgaard et       10-13/Denmark   Survey, t test,
al./2007                          factor analysis,

Preston &         Tweens and      Case study
White/2004        young adults,
                  no ages

Shoham &          10-18/Israel    Questionnaire,
Dalakas/2006                      ANOVA

Simpson et        12-14 tweens    Questionnaire,
al./1998          compared to     ANOVA
                  15-18 teens


                  Ad break exposure would
An & Stern/2011   make children less likely to
                  prefer the advertised brand.

Andersen et       Danish teens did not recall
al./2007          advertisements on TV
                  (particularly humorous
                  ones) as well as Hong
                  Kong teens. Many Danish
                  tweens disdain

Andersen et       Danish teens have more
al./2008          access to cell phones,
                  internet and websites.
                  Danish tweens use them
                  more for socializing
                  (surfing for fun and
                  chatting) than Hong Kong
                  tweens who use for
                  informational purposes.

Chan/2008         Younger tweens believe
                  advertising to be truthful.
                  Urban tweens and teens
                  more skeptical on
                  advertising than rural
                  tweens and teens.

Chiou, Huang &    Attitude (more adoration)
Chung/2005        toward a celebrity impacts
                  purchase intention.

Dittmar/2005      Compulsive buying was
                  dependent on personal
                  spending money and
                  materialistic values.

Jones & Reid/     8 food company websites
2010              were examined. 6/8 of
                  companies had policies
                  regarding children's
                  advertising. 7/8 used
                  eWOM (word or mouth) or
                  viral advertising.

LaFerle &         Age, imitation of media
Chan/2008         celebrities and perceived
                  peer influence together
                  explained 40 percent of the
                  variance in materialistic

Norgaard et       Children providing ideas
al./2007          and help at the shop are
                  influencing parents
                  purchasing decisions.

Preston &         TV networks (Fox and
White/2004        Nickelodeon) sell to
                  advertisers on their brand
                  and the depiction of kids as

Shoham &          Tactics to influence parents
Dalakas/2006      were negotiation, logical
                  arguments, and making a
                  direct request despite
                  product of cereal or shoes.
                  Boys used persistence and
                  guilt trips more than girls.

Simpson et        Tweens are more concerned
al./1998          with style, brand names
                  and latest fashion
                  (status attributes) then


                  +(CS = 20.8, p < .05)
An & Stern/2011

Andersen et       -(CS = 64.5, p <0.001).

Andersen et       +,(t = 63, p = <.0001),
al./2008          +(CS = 5.8, p<.05)
                  +(CS = 121, p<.001)
                  +(CS = 59.2,p<.001)
                  +(CS = 14.1,p<.001)
                  +(CS 21.4, p<.001)

Chan/2008         +(CS = 115.2, p<.001),
                  -(CS = 297.1, p<.001)

Chiou, Huang &    +(t = 5.95,p = .0001)

Dittmar/2005      +(R2 = .02, B = .15)
                  +(R2 = .08, B = 0.29

Jones & Reid/     NA

LaFerle &         (p = .0001, R2 = .40)
                  -(B = -.16)
                  +(B = .42)
                  +(B = .21)

Norgaard et       +(R2 = 0.446)
al./2007          +(R2 = 0.137)

Preston &         NA

Shoham &          +(p = .05)
Dalakas/2006      +(p = 0.10)

Simpson et        +(p = .007)
al./1998          +(p = .007)
                  +(p = .001)
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Author:Prince, Diane; Martin, Nora
Publication:Academy of Marketing Studies Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 18, 2012
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