Teen Marketing by Vogue: Drink Smoothies, Be Wooed

Marketing consumer products to teens isn’t an exact science, especially in a downward-spiraling economy. As a YA author who will soon depend on teens’ eagerness to trade their cash for a copy of TWENTY BOY SUMMER, I get the marketing challenge. I’m always on the lookout for creative, original, and even wacktastic ways to promote and share my book with young adults. Giving stuff away for free? Staging a stunt for local media? Embarrassing myself on YouTube? Yes, yes, and where do I find the bucket of red paint and bag of feathers?

Making an international mockery of myself on film to sell books is one thing. But I’m sooo not down with Teen Vogue’s new approach, reported in today’s New York Times.

Teen Vogue Haute Spot

Meet the Teen Vogue Haute Spot, a store that doesn’t sell — well — anything. Instead, it just kind of “presents” stuff, observes, and then “whisks” teen customers to conveniently-nearby retail locations to buy the goods.

A store that doesn’t sell stuff? Check it out:

Instead, the store will be a place for girls to relax, try on clothes and drink smoothies — all while marketers woo them.

The stores will offer free snacks, informal modeling, a perfume bar, a makeup station, charging stations for cellphones and iPods, a gift-wrapping counter and racks of clothes.

Stylists and attendants at the store will advise visitors on lipstick, shoes and outfits.

And, to the delight of retailers, they will whisk visitors to stores in the mall where they can buy the products.

Something about it feels, well, oogie to me1. In my mind, some hip-looking woman clad in black leather lures unsuspecting girls into the store with free samples and cool music. The store is bright pink with silver accents (you can’t see the pink part in the drawing because the store shown here is still under construction), techno beats bumpin’ softly in the background, and clear, futuristic-looking counters holding trays of frosted glass bottles that say “eat me” and “drink me” à la Alice in Wonderland. While girls innocently sample high-end clothing and makeup and smoothies, shopping and texting and modeling, chatting and laughing and relaxing, a panel of corporate researchers in white lab coats and thick safety goggles watches from behind a two-way mirror, taking careful notes against their clipboards and muttering the occasional “verrrry interesting” and “mmm-hmmmm.”

Unless Teen Vogue is verrrry transparent with its customers about the purpose of Teen Vogue Haute Spot — explicitly stating what the magazine and participating retailers hope to accomplish and how they’re tracking and reporting on the teens’ behaviors, purchases, and data — this is not a good marketing tactic for consumers. It might be great for Teen Vogue and its retail advertisers. But for teens? Smarmy.

Here are a few other points I’m uncomfortable with:

Zain Raj, the chief executive of the marketing firm Euro RSCG Discovery, part of Havas, said many other companies sell merchandise not connected to their brands. Teen Vogue’s decision not to sell anything would help raise its profile among its audience.

The fact that Teen Vogue Haute Spot isn’t selling anything doesn’t raise its profile if employees are just marching girls down the hall to the Clinique counter at Nordstrom. On the other hand, if the store offered free products for teens to sample without additional expectations, wooing, or whisking, that would be more of a profile-raise for me. Or — better yet — donate the clothes and cosmetics to girls who could otherwise not afford them, or to girls and moms shelters or in hospitals. But this approach: “That shade of $38 lipstick looks smashing on you. Shall I escort you to Bloomie’s to complete your purchase? Have another smoothie. Can I have your email address? Thanks for being wooed!” Nope. Not cool.

Next point. What do you make of this?

Mr. Raj, who is not involved in the Haute Spot, suggested that publications should “basically get people wedded to the brand proposition for the long term.”

Basically get people wedded to the brand proposition for the long term? Is anyone else creeped out by that statement? Especially when it applies to teens? I mean, I want teens to love my book, and to buy it, and maybe even to tell their friends about it and hopefully buy future books. I’d be elated if they were entertained, touched, excited, saddened, angered, uplifted, or otherwise moved by my books. But do I want them to be wedded to my brand proposition for the long term? No.

If we as a culture spent less time “marrying brands” and more time developing personal relationships and learning about ourselves and the world around us (and, ahem, reading), maybe we wouldn’t have to think up smarmy marketing strategies in the face of a downward economic spiral.

Okay, we live in a consumptive society. It’s part of our problem, but none of us is immune, and it certainly doesn’t have to be all bad. If we like certain brands or products, being wooed by marketers is okay, as long as we know who’s doin’ the woo-in’ and the what and the how and and the why the woo-in’ is bein’ won. I mean, done.

The Teen Vogue Haute Spot plan, conversely, reads like a bunch of smoke-and-mirrors for teens who would probably support the brands enthusiastically without all of the underhanded marketing tactics.

Teens, what do you think about this? Other readers, marketers, writers, and parents — any thoughts?

1. Confession: As much as I find this oogie, I secretly wonder if a similar approach would work with TWENTY BOY SUMMER sales. I could invite a bunch of teens to my house. I could make smoothies. I could offer perfume samples and snacks and outlets to charge iPods and phones. And girls, if you like the book, I could “whisk” you right over to my computer where you could sign in to your amazon.com account and place your order! I wouldn’t even take any notes or where a creepy white lab coat… hmmm… verrrrry interesting… that book looks just smashing on you! Would you like another smoothie?

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4 thoughts on “Teen Marketing by Vogue: Drink Smoothies, Be Wooed

  1. This is fascinating. Kind of reminds me of William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. That guy’s idea’s have a chilling success rate of actually coming true.

    The thing is, were i a teen, I’d just be looking at this as a way to get a free smoothie. I used to go to gallery opening in college for the free food. Being a broke artist does things to you, I suppose. Another way to look at it is Google. Basically, they offer free products like web search, email, and blog, etc. In return, you see their Ad Sense column on the side of everything. And those ads are customized for you, based on the contents of your search/email/blog. So it is a bit of “ooh, you like YA books by Sarah Ockler? Perhaps you’d like YA books by Jon Skovron! Say, here’s a link to a Jon Skovorn book on Amazon right here! but you don’t have to click the link. You can just avail yourself of the free service and filter the ads out, either internal, or with the use of a browser plugin designed to do such things.

    The point is, exploitation can be a two-way street, provided that you’re sharp enough. We can’t stop Vogue from being Vogue, but we can help people get savvy to it and see the possibilities that work within the system.

  2. Yeah, I see what you’re saying – google is a good analogy. I was totally down for free stuff as a teen (I still am, actually! *I* want to go to Haute Spot! And actually, if they’re providing a service to teens – like quick preview access to products teens want – that’s okay. I just don’t like how they’re positioning it, and I’m not sure how transparent they’re going to be about how they collect and use the data. I think that’s what’s getting me the most. And I wouldn’t say google is super transparent about that, either – sure, it’s all in the fine print, but no one goes out of the way to make sure users read it.

    I guess we’ll see whether their strategy works. And I’m already telling all of my friends they’ll love Jon Skovorn’s books, so you’re covered there! 🙂

  3. As a marketer, I can tell you that people sit around conference room tables talking about how to build customer loyalty to their brand. (I have to say I haven’t heard the term “wedded” before.) The challenge with marketing to teens is that they have incredible buying power but are too easily influenced. They are usually smart enough to know when they are being marketed to, but tactics like this one are often lost on them, requiring a parent’s guidance to say “by the way, this is marketing,” which, I guarantee you, wouldn’t happen. Parents would just be pleased as could be that there is a “safe” place for their kids to go hang out without negative influences.

    Outside of it being a very weird out-of-the-box idea, it is destined to fail. They won’t be able to attribute any revenue to this expense, and it will end up on the cutting room floor when it comes budget time to evaluate which were their winning and losing marketing tactics. It will fade out faster than the “Merry Go Round” teen clothing stores that were around when I was a kid, just like Michael Jackson’s glove that inspired those stores.

  4. Pingback: Teens Change the Face of U.S. Business | Teen Checkup | Internet Safety

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