What Are Today’s Teens Talking About? 5 Insights.

September 12, 2018

Online and offline conversations are estimated to drive almost one-fifth of consumer sales in the US. So as marketers turn their attention to Gen Z, it pays to know what they’re talking about, especially as a new report from Engagement Labs [download page] reveals that they have 35% more product conversations daily than adults ages 21 and older (13.4 vs. 9.9).

Here are 5 insights from the study, which defines teens/Gen Z as people ages 13-20.

1. Teen Tech Talk Shifts to Popular Services and Devices

Compared to 2013, fewer teens are talking about less-portable brands, such as Toshiba, Microsoft and Asus. Interestingly, despite the continued popularity of gaming as a leisure activity among youth, teens are also talking less about Nintendo, Xbox and PlayStations, perhaps reflecting the rise to prominence of mobile gaming platforms.

Popular services and devices are instead capturing the attention of today’s teens enough to warrant a conversation. More than twice as many talk about Amazon (+127%) and Facebook (+115%) as did 5 years ago, though the conversation about Facebook may not be all positive. (One in 3 teens thinks Facebook is for “old people.”)

Meanwhile, more teens are also talking now about brands including the iPhone, iTunes, Google, and Android, reinforcing the importance of mobile devices in their day-to-day lives.

2. Apple Dominates the Conversation

Here’s a remarkable statistic: almost one-third (31%) of teenagers talk about Apple-owned brands on a daily basis.

Indeed, Apple-owned brands occupy the top 2 spots in the list of Gen Z’s most talked-about brands. Almost 1 in 5 teens (18%) talk about the iPhone on an average day, representing an 82% increase from 2013.

Teens’ love of the iPhone has been demonstrated in other research, too. In its latest Taking Stock With Teens survey, Piper Jaffray revealed that 84% of Gen Z will choose the iPhone as their next phone, the highest rate of intent in the survey’s history.

Second on the list of Gen Z’s most talked-about brands is Apple itself, as 15% of teens talk about the brand online and/or offline during a typical day. However, the percentage of teens talking about Apple on a typical day has declined by 40% in the past 5 years.

Given that more teens are talking about the iPhone, iTunes and the iPad than were 5 years ago, it seems that teens’ conversations are shifting from the parent brand to its specific device and service brands.

Other brands in the most-talked about list include:

  • Coca-Cola (#3), spoken about by 14.6% of teens on a typical day, but down 21% from 2013;
  • Samsung (#4), the topic of conversation for 12.1% of teens on a typical day, reinforcing how integral mobile phones are to their lives; and
  • Nike (#5), spoken about by 11.2% of teens on a typical day, up 34% from 2013.

It’s interesting to see Nike in the conversation (pun intended). One assumes that the number of teens talking about the brand might go up – at least in the short term – with Nike’s new ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick. Notably, previous research has found that teens are more likely than their older counterparts to believe that brands should stick with their core believes even if goes against popular opinion, and less likely to believe that brands shouldn’t react to controversial issues due to the likelihood of offending someone.

3. Teens Talk About Social Issues… And Shopping

Well, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. By far the biggest topic of conversation among teens is… schools and education. Fully 58% of Gen Z talks about school on an average day, compared to 18% of adults ages 21 and older.

And here’s a welcome result for retailers: the second-most talked-about topic by teens is shopping, with more doing so daily than adults ages 21 and up (39% and 32%, respectively).

Beyond these leading topics, the data shows that Gen Z is paying attention and talking about social issues, often at a rate greater than the adult (21+) population.

For example:

  • 30% talk about the President on an average day, versus 28% of adults ages 21+;
  • 23% talk about events in other countries on an average day, versus 17% of adults ages 21+;
  • 17% talk about women’s issues on an average day, versus 8% of adults ages 21+;
  • 16% talk about the environment on an average day, versus 8% of adults ages 21+; and
  • 15% talk about immigration on an average day, versus 11% of adults ages 21+.

The only issue highlighted that they’re far less likely to speak about than adults? Healthcare, quite logically…

4. Youth-Oriented Brands Ceding Status to… Grandparents’ Brands?

The Engagement Labs analysis reveals that many youth apparel brands are being talked about less these days. This is true for Aeropostale (64% fewer teens talking about it this year than in 2013), Abercrombie & Fitch (-42%), Forever 21 (-29%), Old Navy (-17%) and Vans (-15%) among several others.

(For what it’s worth, Vans remains a favorite for teens, according to the Piper Jaffray research.)

By contrast, older brands are enjoying a jump in conversation frequency among Gen Z consumers, although the report notes that the conversation doesn’t reach anywhere the level seen for their top brands.

Nonetheless, a motley crue of brands such as Ace Hardware, Scott Tissue, Breyers Ice Cream, and Post Cereal have enjoyed a tripling (or more) of the percentage of teens speaking about them daily.

Other brands getting into the mix more are General Mills, Arm & Hammer, and Cheerios, as well as Band-Aid (the best-perceived brand in the US).

The analysts point out that “several of the… brands gaining with teenagers have made large corporate commitments to environmental sustainability… addressing a key issue that twice as many teens as adults talk about daily.”

5. Destination Retail, Auto Down; Restaurants Up

Finally, the report highlights a few other category trends. Teens, for one, are talking a lot more about restaurants than they were five years ago. Conversation levels have at least tripled for Baskin & Robbins and Del Taco, and more than doubled for Domino’s Pizza and California Pizza Chicken.

But these are just some of the more-than-20 restaurant brands seeing heightened conversation activity.

There are, of course, some that teens are talking about less. McDonald’s, while being one of the most talked-about brands overall by teens, has seen a 2% dip in the number of teens talking about it daily since 2013. Other quick-service restaurants – Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and Burger King – join McDonald’s in depressed conversation levels.

Meanwhile, unlike restaurants, where the preponderance of conversation is trending upwards, auto brands are largely seeing declines in conversation. That’s true for Chrysler, Lexus, Dodge, Volkswagen, Ford, and many others. Those that have been able to transcend that trend include Lamborghini, Jeep, Ferrari and Jaguary, while Tesla is the only one to see a doubling in conversation levels.

As for retail, fewer teens are talking about several department store brands – including Nordstrom, JCPenney, Kohl’s and Macy’s – while more are including convenience stores and drugstores in their conversations.

The full report is available for download here.

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