June 7, 2024

Forbes: Why Teenage Girls Are The Key To Cultural Relevance

Consumer behavior is ever-evolving, but teenage girls hold the power of influence–and as the marketing funnel continues to collapse, their influence is only poised to expand.

Brad Simms

CEO & President

This piece was original published on Forbes.

Consumer behavior is ever-evolving, but teenage girls hold the power of influence–and as the marketing funnel continues to collapse, their influence is only poised to expand.

When teenage girls deemed Stanley tumblers the must-have cup on WaterTok–a TikTok “wellness” trend encouraging viewers to get their recommended daily water intake–Stanley embraced their enthusiasm.

After a century of largely being marketed to men, Stanley started rolling out new style collections with endless shades of pink, art deco-inspired designs, and iridescent accents that newfound fans could show off to their followers. The cups didn’t stay on teenage girls’ Christmas lists–they became the desire of women of all ages, who stood in very long lines to get limited-edition releases. Stanley’s revenue reportedly jumped from $73 million in 2019 to $750 million in 2023.

When teenage girls became Kansas City Chiefs fans alongside Taylor Swift, the NFL embraced this new audience too. It updated its social media accounts to pay homage to the superstar, and fed fans with Swift-specific content.

By the second game Swift attended, viewership among teenage girls spiked 53% from the season-to-date average. The NFL continued connecting, especially on social media, providing ample Swift content to be amplified. By the season’s end, the NFL earned its highest regular-season viewership among women of all ages.

Even in categories that have historically appealed to women, brands that are winning with teenage girls–and broader consumers by extension–are thinking beyond stereotypes and prioritizing cultural relevance.

Beauty brand e.l.f. demonstrated an understanding of this demographic, with entrepreneurial aspirations, when it launched e.l.f. UP!, a game in Roblox encouraging players to start up a side hustle. 73% of teenage girls play video games, yet women often face harassment in this space due to their gender.

Meeting young women on a platform where they already are and creating space for them to embrace this passion helps create brand affinity. The game has surpassed 10 million visits and maintained a 95% positivity rating. Research from Piper Sandler shows e.l.f. dominates as Gen Z’s favorite cosmetics brand, and sales grew 85% during the quarter the game launched, signaling growth beyond teenage girls alone.

In 1996, the term “soccer mom” echoed through Washington, D.C. and on televisions across the country as then-U.S. President Bill Clinton and Senator Bob Dole vied for the next four years of the presidency. The “soccer mom” demographic–white middle-to-upper-class suburban women with school-aged children–was deemed a critical swing vote in the upcoming election, and the term became so ubiquitous that The American Dialect Society named it the word of the year.

The weight attached to this persona took hold with marketers too, as they elevated the soccer mom for her influence on household decision-making and broader community influence.

A lot has changed since 1996. Pew Research Center data shows Americans are getting married later in life and there’s an increase in single-parent households. The proliferation of social media has vastly expanded consumer touchpoints, allowing more voices to have broader reach. Yet the drive to identify and connect with the next “it” demographic remains; brands invest deeply in understanding who must be prioritized to drive business success.

At first blush, capturing headlines across media and boardrooms alike, it seems Gen Z has become the “soccer mom” of the 2020s. Given this generation’s $360 billion in purchasing power, it’s no surprise they’ve got marketers’ attention. Grabbing Gen Z’s attention as a brand, however, is easier said than done.

Research from Archrival found that 51% of Gen Z believe social media influencers create new trends, yet 74% think in-person experiences are more important than digital ones. Many have noted the contradiction in Gen Z’s stated allegiance to brands that support sustainability while continuing to spend on fast fashion. If one thing is consistent, it’s that the traditional marketing funnel was not built for this generation.

To navigate this, brands are reprioritizing cultural relevance as a key metric for connecting with this audience. To get to cultural relevance, however, brands must be more targeted in their approach than focusing broadly on the dualistic Gen Z.

In a survey of nearly 2,000 U.S. consumers with a teenage girl in their life, conducted by the team at GALE, we found that young women ages 13-19 have an outsized influence on driving trends and culture. 97% of respondents, whether currently living with a teenage girl or not, acknowledged this demographic had a direct influence on their behaviors or attitudes, including those related to technology, food, wellness, and more. The strength of that influence was rated particularly high among other women, who are expected to own 75% of discretionary spend by 2028.

By influencing those around them, teenage girls are determining what brands, styles, and trends will earn must-have status. With this power, they are the true new “soccer moms,” and to connect with them authentically, brands must not make the mistake of stereotyping their interests or underestimating their impact.

Brands will always be chasing the next “it” demographic; it’s part of how marketing works. But when the latest target audience is resistant to traditional marketing, brands must put cultural relevance first. If approached thoughtfully and authentically, creating space for teenage girls to embrace your brand will help you win with all audiences they influence, from others in Gen Z to the still-important moms and other women.