The Right Way to Advertise on Social Media
Any good marketer knows not to underestimate the power of teenagers. Gen Z, for example, is thought to represent over $40 billion in annual revenue for brands. With such a massive opportunity for profit, companies must invest in advertising to young adults and teenagers. It’s paramount to success, and social media is the modern age’s answer.
Platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, and, more recently, TikTok, have proven to be incredibly effective for reaching the teen demographic. Most teenagers today use social media and online shopping for retail, which means they learn about most new products on their phones. The phenomenon of social media influencers has also become a key component to attracting teenage consumers. Since teenagers generally have negative attitudes toward advertisements they can’t skip or scroll past, and typical media like television and radio are dying out with the rise of social media apps, hiring other young people to advertise products on their own accounts has become an invaluable resource in today’s marketing scheme. Teens trust influencers more than large companies and are more likely to engage with their posts. However, the current paradigm of social media advertising is actually doing more harm than good when it comes to teenage mental health.
The downside to this is that, while effective, many trends on social media actually harm teenagers in serious ways. While influencers and social media marketing are indisputable in terms of how effective they are, the fact is that they have negative effects on teen self-esteem and mental health.
Even before social media was around, teenagers were forced to come to term with their identities through trial and error. High school clubs and cliques, societal expectations, and pressures put on by school and parents are already enough to make teens self-conscious about their appearance and decisions. It’s why teenagers sometimes act out—they need an outlet for all the emotions they’re trying to suppress and cope with.
But now, with teenagers constantly displaying themselves on social media, there’s even more pressure. Today’s young people are always projecting their virtual persona into the world, whether it’s on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, or whatever next year’s social media fad may be. And, while it’s arguable these apps and sites connect teens more than any past generation, it’s also true that they have negative side effects, too.
Teenagers, due to the way their brains are developing, are incredibly vulnerable to the messages they see in the world around them. They’re trying to figure out who they are and what’s “right,” and they often seek the answers in the media they encounter. They internalize all the stimuli around them, including what they see on social media. The overall consensus is that social media makes it easier for teens to compare themselves to their peers. Likes, views, and comments become quantifiable evidence for how “popular” someone is, and there will always be someone with more. This leads to increased self-judgment, and, therefore, increased instances of negative self-esteem and issues with anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation.
What Needs to Change
But Advertisers Can Help!
Since social media has such a serious impact on teenagers, it’s key for advertisers to make good on their obligation to market their products ethically on social media platforms. Brands have an unfathomable amount of control when it comes to what teens see in their everyday lives, and it’s especially true on apps like Snapchat and Instagram.
Up to a quarter of modern teenagers look to influencers on Instagram and other social media platforms to form their opinions on brands and products. They trust influencers more than large-name companies, thinking the paid and sponsored models are more relatable. Unfortunately, many of these influencers – akin to many professional models used in advertising campaigns – purport unrealistic goals that most teenagers can’t reach. In attempts to show products in the best possible light, they encourage unattainable body standards and reinforce harmful ideas of what’s considered “normal.” This phenomenon is a leading cause of the lowered self-esteem and increased mental illness caused b social media. Teens, in short, feel like they aren’t enough.
When advertisers lean too heavily on influencers and similar marketing strategies on social media, all they do is help reinforce these negative feelings in teenagers. They rely on making teens feel like they could be doing more to “fit in,” creating an added layer of social pressure. Fortunately, there are a number of proven advertising methods that brands and marketers can implement on social media that not only accomplish the goal of reaching the teen demographic, but refrain from negatively impacting the younger generation!
Any good advertisement is already honest about the product or service offered, but it might still be overrun with imagery adding to the harmful side of social media. Since teens are so impressionable and want to reproduce what they see on screen, these kinds of advertisements can be very harmful.
But, by focusing on the purpose of a product rather than associated emotions and societal myths, advertisers can still use social media to create a sense of brand loyalty. For a prime example, look no further than the Droga 5 ad campaign from Clearasil. Clearasil related to teens precisely by admitting they didn’t know how to relate to teens. It was an honest, comedic approach that helped teenagers become comfortable with the brand and its product.
This isn’t the only way advertisers can be honest. Focusing on a product or service without trying to pull the wool over teen’s eyes is an effective strategy that teenagers will appreciate. They’ll respect you for being up front with them, and you won’t be contributing to any of the negative side effects of social media. It’s a win-win!
By Being Transparent
By Giving Teens a Choice
Do you like when the video you’re watching is interrupted by an irrelevant ad? What about the pop-ups that slow down your internet browser? Odds are, you don’t. And neither do teens, but not for the same reasons as you.
Yes, they think it’s annoying. But that’s only part of the equation. My work with teenagers has taught me that there’s almost nothing they crave more than autonomy and independence. By making your advertisements mandatory for teens to view, you’re already putting yourself at a disadvantage. When teens feel they’re forced into something, they rebel by doing the exact opposite. If you give teens a choice on whether or not they engage in your ad on social media, they’ll have a more positive reaction.
Another benefit to giving teens choice on social media is that you aren’t making teenagers feel like there’s only “one way” to fit in. If you make it seem like your product or brand is the only option for teens, you’re contributing to the extra pressure they’re already putting on themselves. It’s important for you, as a marketer on social media, to help teens feel like they’re making their own decisions. This way, they are developing a sense of individuality rather than suppressing their own personality. It’s important to make use of this concept when you market to teens on social media platforms.
Gen Z is shaping up to be one of the most politically and socially vocal generations to ever exist. The evidence shows that they’re more liberal than even their Millennial predecessors. Social media is a great opportunity to show teenagers you and your brand care about the same issues they do. Climate change, gender equality, racial representation, and charity and outreach programs, for example.
Instead of relying on harmful posts that make teens feel pressured to conform to social norms, advertisers can focus on brand purpose marketing techniques to show teenagers they care about the same large-scale issues. Brand purpose marketing is when company’s prove they value more than just profit by contributing to charities, outreach programs, and other humanitarian efforts.
On social media, this might look like creating a post that correlates to climate change, for example, and then providing a link in your page’s bio or the photo’s caption that leads to an environmental charity. This is an awesome way to contextualize your product or service to teenagers while also contributing to a positive social cause. It will show Gen Z, the most progressive teens yet, that you’re not only concerned with money. That will likely break the ice between you and them, creating a foundation of trust and respect, leading to increased brand loyalty.
By Supporting their Values
What To Do Going Forward
I truly hope this article has shown you how powerful the effect of social media advertising is on teenagers. Like Uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And when it comes to influencing the current generation of teenagers, advertisers arguably have the most power possible.
By straying away from typical social media marketing strategies that rely on influencers and unattainable “norms,” online marketers will change the way teens interact with businesses on social media. Rather than reinforcing the negative aspects of advertising, progressive and caring marketers can earn a good response from teens and grow brand loyalty while also contributing to positive social change. Being honest and making an effort to meet teens’ values is the future for healthy marketing, and I hope you take the necessary steps to foster a healthy generation of consumers!
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com, ghostwriter at WriteItGreat.com, and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.