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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A Christmas Meme for Your Holiday Pleasure

Welcome to the Christmas edition of getting to know your friends (and by friends, I mean, random online strangers reading this blog in search of peeing snowsuit wisdom). I realize that not everyone celebrates Christmas (including me. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood, okay? All that cheer. All that merriment. All that Bailey’s in my coffee. *Hiccup*), so if you repost, please tell us about your favorite [insert religious, non-religious, familial, self-described, or totally fake-ass made-up winter holiday here] traditions!

(And you can all thank my dear friend Amy D. in Minneapolis for starting this today!)

  1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? There isn’t enough gift wrap in the world to contain all the love I have to give you this Christmas. We’re making it another “thought that counts” Christmas. As in, it’s not the amount of money you spend. It’s the thought that counts. And I’ve thought a lot about your gifts!
  2. Real tree or artificial? Real. Fake plastic trees are like flavored coffee. They seem like a good idea at the time, until you’re standing there Christmas morning half asleep in your Dora the Explorer underwear trying to identify the chemical aroma filling your nostrils. But don’t let my propensity toward the authentic fool you into thinking I actually got a tree this year. Or last year. Next year is looking better, though we’ll be back in NY which means table-top tree, Charlie Brown style.
  3. When do you put up the tree? In the time-honored tradition of my father, I like to put up the tree part of the tree in early December, and then apply one row of lights per week until late Christmas Eve, when Mom gets a hold of the Bailey’s and threatens divorce if those lights aren’t up in one hour.
  4. When do you take the tree down? In the time-honored tradition of my mother – around Valentine’s Day. If you leave it up long enough, it practically takes itself down!
  5. Do you like egg nog? Silk Soy Holiday Nog is the way to go! A little nutmeg on the top… yeah. Also great for making French toast.
  6. Do you have a nativity scene? Me, personally? Like, here’s a miniature likeness of Mom, feet in stirrups, about to turn to the dark side if she doesn’t get the drugs? Here’s me, taking my sweet time on the trip out? Here’s the doctor and various medical staff and three men outside the door arguing about which one is the father? So um, that would be no, (but I do feel a business idea coming on…). Anyway, since this is after all a Christmas meme, I think the original meme author meant Nativity scene, capital N, which means the whole “tiny little statues commemorating the birth of Jesus” thing. In which case, the answer is, no. There are no tiny little statues in my home.
  7. Hardest person to buy for? Everyone! Hence the Thought That Counts Christmas and its close cousins, the Wrap Up Something From Your House And Pass It Off As New Christmas, and the Make Something From The Heart That Has Actual Meaning But Will Probably End In The Recipient’s Disappointment Christmas.
  8. Easiest person to buy for? Myself! That’s why Alex and I don’t go Christmas shopping anymore. One for them, nine for us, that’s how we roll, baby!
  9. Mail or email Christmas cards? Email Christmas cards? Really, people, is it that bad? It’s almost better not to send anything. Because if I don’t get a card from you in the mail, I don’t think anything of it. But when I get an e-card for Christmas? I say, hey there, guy! Thank you for only pretending to think about me this holiday season!
  10. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? Christmas, 2002. My newly-appointed boss sent me a box of meat. I don’t mean like a Hickory Farms box of sausage and cheese and chocolate and jams and whatnot. No, this was a box of raw, red meat. It sat on my front porch in the sun all day until I got home from work. I’m vegetarian. Imagine my surprise. Nothing says “I was only pretending to listen to you” like sending your vegetarian employees a box of raw meat!
  11. Favorite Christmas book? The Night Before Christmas, but I feel compelled to add a new question below:
  12. Favorite Christmas movie? Bad Santa.
  13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? You mean, when do I start thinking about shopping, wa wa wee wa!
  14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? What, just one? I tried to recycle that meat, but the post office wouldn’t let me re-ship it.
  15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Bailey’s! Oh, and these, in no particular order:

    Christmas Cookies

  16. Clear lights or colored on the tree? Clear. But not blinking or musical or anything freaky like that – whoa!
  17. Favorite Christmas song? Silent Night, Etta James version. Well that, and this classic, dedicated to my brother Pook:

  18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? We alternate. This year we’re staying in town, but dog-sitting at my friend’s house, so it’s kind of like traveling, right? I already told my friend I’d be implementing my grab bag idea from the previous post, so maybe some of you will get nice (purse-sized) Christmas gifts after all.
  19. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer? Yes, but what about their second-string understudies? Those guys never get any play.
  20. Angel on the tree top or a star? Is there anything more frightening than BHAD (Blue Haired Angel of Death)? I think not. That’s why she’s been in our family for 47 years. Everyone is afraid to throw her out. She will put a spell on us. Bwah hah hah!

    Ol' Blue Hair

  21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Morning. Except for the matching PJs we get when we travel to Mom’s house in Buffalo. Those babies we open on Christmas Eve, but we’re not allowed to put them on until Christmas morning, lest we wrinkle them and spoil the effect.
  22. Most annoying thing about this time of year? Mass consumerism and commercialization. What if everyone followed the true spirit of Christmas and, say, donated their holiday cash to a good cause instead? *Ducks rotten tomatoes some of you are inevitably tossing at me*
  23. Favorite ornament theme or color? Well it used to be the glass ornament I got when I was a baby, with my name on it, but my brothers destroyed it with a nerf gun one year and I don’t like to talk about it. Thanks a lot.
  24. Favorite for Christmas dinner? Bailey’s! And Ensalada Rusa. More, please.
  25. What do you want for Christmas this year? I’ll take… waking up with my favorite person in the world. 🙂

But seriously. Enough about me. Now it’s your turn! Either answer in the comments or on your own blog!