Teenage girls rule the (media) world
Last week, Alex from Target was bagging groceries. This week, #AlexfromTarget is an Internet phenomenon. The reason? He caught the eye of one — and then millions — of teenage girls.
On Sunday, a Twitter user tweeted a picture of a 16-year-old Target TGT, +3.65% bagger, Alex LeBeouf, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Justin Bieber. The hashtag #AlexfromTarget went viral on Twitter with the help of a small army of teenage girls. His Twitter account went from 144 followers to over 663,000 in just a few days, and he appeared on “The Ellen Degeneres Show,” a respectable stamp of approval for new Internet stars. (A marketing company claimed credit for the viral photo, although it subsequently said it had no connection to Target; LeBeouf also tweeted that he’d never heard of the company.)
Teenage girls are always on the lookout for the next big thing, says Bob Faris, associate professor of sociology at University of California at Davis, who has studied status anxiety and bullying among teenagers in high school. “They often exhibit a desperate desire to fit in with the current trends or stay ahead of the curve,” he says. “Teenage girls are in constant motion [online] trying to adopt new things before their friends. It’s pretty efficient from a marketing perspective as they spread these trends among themselves on social networks.” Some 82% of girls own a computer versus 77% of boys, according to the Pew Research Internet Project.
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Studies show young teenage girls are more concerned with what’s “cool” than their male counterparts. Some 27% of teen girls (aged 15 to 17) say their Facebook friends are “very useful” for discovering what’s cool versus 8% of teen boys and 81% of tween girls (aged 8 to 11) say the same — compared with 68% of tween boys, according to a survey of 555 people by consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates. “What’s remarkable now and creates situations like #AlexfromTarget, is the power they have through the Internet and social media,” says Sharalyn Hartwell, executive director at consulting firm. “Momentum is quickly gained.”
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One explanation for this could be that young females are likely to share their feelings and latest styles with their friends online, says John Bonini, content marketing manager of Impact Branding & Design in Wallingford, Conn. “Females tend to develop emotionally earlier than males,” he says. They’re also more likely to use Twitter than boys (33% versus 22%), according to a survey of more than 1,000 girls and boys aged 13 to 17 by Common Sense Media, an organization that studies the use of how children use media. What’s more, girls are almost twice as likely to say they “love” posting photos of themselves online (75% versus 42% of boys).
And all this social networking translates into dollars: More girls prefer shopping online than boys. Some 79% of teenage girls and 58% of teenage boys say they prefer shopping online than in the actual store or shopping mall, according to the fall 2014 retailing survey, “Taking Stock With Teens,” by investment bank Piper Jaffray. The company surveyed 7,200 teenagers with an average age of 16 — the same age as Alex from Target. Their favorite websites aren’t hard to predict: Amazon, Nike and eBay are the Top 3 for teenage boys and Amazon, Forever 21 and Victoria’s Secret are the Top 3 websites for teenage girls.
The media storm around Alex from Target is just the latest example of teen girls creating a phenomenon. Taylor Swift and movies like “The Fault in Our Stars,” which grossed $ 125 million in the U.S., harness the power of girls. The first two installments of “Hunger Games,” which grossed over $ 825 million domestically, had opening weekends that were 71% female and 59% female, respectively. ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” averages 3.8 million viewers a week, but is the network’s top show among young females. “It does not draw in an exorbitant number of viewers,” says Ari Zoldan, CEO of technology and media company Quantum Networks. “Yet every week hashtags relating to the show bounce to the top of Twitter’s trending topics.”