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3 Ways To Market To Teenagers Through Sound

The consumer market of adolescents explained in music terms


Two young, cheerful women sitting on a couch.
What songs do you associate with your youth? Photo by Matheus Ferrero from Unsplash

Who hasn’t felt a bit of nostalgia when listening to a song from their youth?

I know I was obsessed with artists like Limp Bizkit, Backstreet Boys, and my guilty pleasure, Britney Spears.

Now, whenever I hear a song from any of them, I’m immediately transported to a time of childish adventures: arriving home after hours, chasing (or sometimes fleeing) from girls, and well… basically getting in trouble.

All those exciting memories come rushing to my mind just by listening to a few bars from these artists.

Music can trigger specific memories. Memories tightly woven to the heart. In those moments, we’re adults no more.

Music forges a strong bond with a teenager. One that will never break.

In fact, the strongest musical preferences for adults are formed around the ages of 13-14 on average, according to Seth Stephens-Davidowitz of the New York Times:

The highest ratings of a particular song belong to people that were teenagers when these first came out. For instance, the song “Just like Heaven” by The Cure, released in 1987, receives the highest marks by women age 41 (11 years of age at the date of release).

Music is especially important at this tender age, and thus sound becomes an essential part of every teenager’s life.

So how can marketers include sound in their strategies to captivate the young consumer?

#1: Give them a way to become more engaged with what they love

“Know thy customer.”

The first thing is to learn how teenagers use music and what’s the brand’s point of entry in this relationship.

Teens love music. I mean, they consume it voraciously!

A recent survey in the U.S. found that when it comes to media consumption, music is their favorite activity (74%). And that’s even above watching online videos.

Most of them (82%) listen to music daily, two hours a day on average. That’s the equivalent of listening to 40 three-minute songs. Now, depending on your target audience, you’re more likely to engage with girls through music given music’s popularity with them (73%) compared to 59% for boys.

OK, we’ve established that music is important to them, especially for girls, but brands should also include other sound trends to increase the likelihood of reaching their target audience.

Graphic shows teenagers’ music experience, with preferred music genres and listening devices.


Image by the author

According to the image above, the broadest (and most obvious) approach, in this case, would be to include pop music in ads run on smartphones.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Teenagers actively engage with different forms of music. They like to listen, share, create, perform, and dance to music.

Think of ways your brand can engage with these different activities:

  • Brands could create a music challenge and share it on social media platforms. The most innovative, shared, or liked video, linked with a unique hashtag, will earn the teenager a special prize.
  • Brands could collaborate with popular artists and design a virtual meet and greet with their fans. No teenager would resist briefly talking to their idol. And all thanks to the brand.
  • Include teenagers in the creation of your sonic logo, corporate song, or any musical piece you’ll use in your next marketing campaign. Make them feel like part of your brand by asking for their help through music submissions, poems, or any other artistic expression you’d like to see related to your brand.

By combining their musical preferences with their music-related activities, brands can become part of the teenager’s relationship with music more naturally.

Instead of forcing your way in (like ads interrupting the teenager’s Spotify playlist), you’re providing a way to be more engaged with what they love doing.

#2: Evoke positive emotions at your touchpoints to help them cope with their feelings

Adolescence is full of internal and external chaos.

You see your body changing and behaving in weird ways. You aren’t sure where you fit in. You don’t seem to know who you are.

All of this can cause a lot of unpleasant thoughts and feelings. We even have mood changes that we don’t know the cause of. We’re desperately trying to hold on to whatever seems somewhat stable.

No wonder it’s a tough part of our lives.

And this is where music can help.

It can aid teenagers to cope with these negative feelings and enhance positive ones. Music becomes a way to express yourself, channel your emotions, and regulate your physiological responses.

Where do brands fit in this scenario?

A brand can create an environment that teenagers want to spend time in, whether it’s a distraction or an entertaining experience. If you’re able to provide a safe space for them, in your stores, for instance, you can incite them to come more often.

For them, having music inside stores is better than silence. Silence can easily make their minds wander, and with all that’s going on inside of them, music comes as a nice distraction.

And if you play loud music, even better.

Teenagers seek intense emotional experiences. Thrilling or adventurous sensations that will make them feel alive. Thus, when music is at a high volume, they’re able to feel it throughout their whole bodies. Just by changing one musical component, you’ll help them to engage in a powerful experience.

Think about it. Isn’t it exciting to feel sounds going through your body while you reinvent your wardrobe with the help of your friends? It is for teenagers!

Oh and there’s an additional benefit that comes with making them feel better.

When your brand is able to improve their mood, they’re more likely to see your products in a positive light.

This is best illustrated in the finding of a study on visual perception. Researchers wanted to see if music could change the way we judged other people’s faces.

Participants were asked to listen to happy and sad background music while trying to identify other people’s emotions based on their facial features.

When they listened to happy music, participants were more accurate in detecting happy faces than sad faces, and vice versa. People become more sensitive to facial features that were congruent with their current emotional state.

Thus, when your brand can create a positive atmosphere for their teenage clients, they’ll see your products more positively and will focus less on the price tag. Those second thoughts on buying a product after seeing its price are attenuated by their change of mood.

A change of perception will lead to a change in their purchase behavior.

Popular music, dance music, and cheerful music have all been found to enhance positive feelings. Also, think of their music preferences (see figure above) and create playlists that specifically appeal to this target audience.

Music is a tool to help your clients improve their mood.

#3: Enhance brand loyalty by linking a music style to your brand’s set of values

A woman holds up blue material which covers her face.


Use music that contains the values you’d like them to perceive you as having. Photo by Toa Heftiba from Unsplash

Teenagers tend to assign values to certain music genres.

Remember that they’re exploring ways to express themselves and belong to certain social groups, and those expressions are associated with specific values.

Since music is so important to them, it plays a significant role in this search to show who they are.

Be careful with the type of music you use throughout your touchpoints. These songs should be congruent with the products you sell. Teenagers can easily smell when something is off.

Take school uniforms for instance.

If your brand sells this product and you try branding them with heavy metal music, it would seem incongruent. Uniforms ascribe to values of conformism and discipline, while heavy metal portrays a more rebellious attitude towards life. The music genre and the brand’s values don’t add up.

Marketers should understand how teenagers perceive music genres so that they can embody their values in music styles that make sense to their audience.

If you are a little bit lost here, don’t worry. Others have already established the link between music genres and values from a teenager’s point of view.

When you’re looking to convey a certain message to your audience, think of these associations:

  • Heavy metal — Rebelliousness: parents usually find an aversion towards this genre which teens interpret as a means to go against them.
  • Classical music — Conformism: teens feel this genre relates to an attempt to please both parents and teachers. When they see other kids practicing classical instruments, they see it as an excessive way to serve their parent’s wishes.
  • Pop music — Friendship and Creativity: adolescents feel very positively about this music. In fact, it’s usually the most frequently listened to genre among teens.

(For a more comprehensive guide on this matter, you can find everything you need in my ebook, “How to Hook Your Customer with Music”.)

Now, these music styles can also be used sarcastically.

You could take advantage of teens’ aversion to classical music and place it in an ad that is obviously not used to please others. Or you might even portray your competition with that particular genre, to clearly distance yourself from them.

Be creative, go wild if you want to use those perceptions to your advantage.

And above all, always make sure that your brand’s actions match its values.

The Takeaway

Music is profoundly embedded in a teenager’s life experience.

Marketers can find music-related strategies to captivate their younger audience since music is pivotal in this latter’s daily activities.

However, it’s not about forcing your way in, but rather helping them enjoy their music experience even more. When you know your customer’s needs, you can offer them real value.

Teenagers have three distinctive needs that marketers can address with music:

  1. Need for control of themselves: with so much going on in their bodies and their psyche, teenagers have to find ways to cope with their feelings. Whether it’s about decreasing their unpleasant feelings or boosting positive ones, marketers can use music to help them deal with these emotions.
  2. Need to express themselves: their identity is still fragile. They’re trying out new experiences to understand who they are and what makes sense to them. Teens can use music as a badge that will enable them to express their values and opinions, and brands can be part of this process.
  3. Need to connect with their peers: adolescents want to have a sense of belonging. They’ll adhere to certain social codes, find role models, and share interests that mean something to them. Music is one of those codes that create bonds between people and marketers can use it to create opportunities that will make them feel that sense of community.

These motivations are not attributed just to Western civilization. Music serves the same functions to adolescents across cultures. They are universal needs!

On a final note, think of teenagers as consumers in general. Not only is adolescence a critical moment to form one’s musical taste, but it’s also a significant time to develop a purchase behavior.

It’s the first time teens are given more freedom about how they spend money on themselves.

Here’s where the first interactions with a brand can further develop into a long-lasting relationship. Teenagers can show their identity through the things they purchase, and if brands can serve as a means to an end, they’ll more likely earn their audience’s loyalty.

The brand’s main goal is to add value to its audience. Sound can help attract teenagers, but from then on it’s up to the brand to do the heavy lifting.

A tool without a purpose becomes useless.

Don’t let sound become useless!

By Pavle Marinkovic on .

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