- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

So you’re an executive at the Wrigley Co., and you’ve got this gum called Juicy Fruit that — with its familiar yellow wrapper and name — has been a top seller for more than 100 years. But is an early 20th-century product hip enough for the 21st? To find out, executives at the Chicago chewing-gum company turned to a group of consumers that, more than ever, has corporate America’s attention.

They’re not baby boomers, they’re “skippies” — a market-research label for school kids with an income and purchasing power.

Last year, American teenagers spent $170 billion on products for themselves or their households, up from $155 billion in 2000, according to a survey conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, a suburban Chicago firm that tracks youth trends.

So these days, when everyone from car makers to corn-chip producers remake, repackage and remarket their products, they often look for advice from college students, teens and “tweens,” who are preteens as young as 8.

“They’re a lot smarter than we ever gave them credit for,” says Paul Chibe, director of U.S. consumer marketing at Wrigley, a company once known for sticking with tradition. Now, based on teen feedback, it is trying something new.

In July, Wrigley will introduce a new kind of Juicy Fruit in two flavors: “strappleberry” and “grapermelon.” The new gum is shaped in candy-coated pellets instead of the traditional sticks (which will still be available). And its package — while still yellow — is flatter and wider with an inner case that slides out.

“It’s coooool,” said Kiejuan Coffie, an 8-year-old Chicago resident, when shown the new Juicy Fruit package. And that was before he tried the gum.

It remains to be seen how Wrigley’s new gum will be received. Those who study youth markets note that attempts to remake old brands can be tricky.

Paul Ostasiewski, an assistant professor of marketing at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, says clever, edgy ads revitalized Altoids mints, a British brand first sold in this country in 1918. The same was true, he says, for the soft drink Mountain Dew.

Other soda brands, including Sprite, Pepsi and Coke, have been marketing “remixes” — different colors of soda, flavors and packaging — to grab attention.

But the youth market can prove elusive. Levi Strauss & Co. has, for example, gone through several ad campaigns in recent years in an attempt to get young people interested in its jeans — the most recent attempt being its bold-looking, big-stitch Type 1 jeans.

“Type 1 is our New Beetle,” Levi spokeswoman Amy Gemellaro says.

The hope is to cash in on young people’s interest in products from decades past, a trend that has reignited, among others, the Puma and Pony clothing and shoe brands.

Tired of youth-oriented ads that focus on products being “extreme,” at least one market watcher welcomes campaigns with a softer, retro feel.

“If you go with shock value over and over again, eventually it loses its value,” says Greg Kahn, founder of Kahn Research Group, a North Carolina company that studies consumer behavior.

Beyond tone and look, experts say using newer technologies to interact with young buyers is also important.

“You just can’t use only traditional media these days,” says Tina Wells, the 23-year-old chief executive of Buzz Marketing, a New Jersey firm that compiles feedback from teen advisers.

Wrigley, for example, has started a “tongue twister” contest on its Web site, awarding winners free gum. And Miss Wells notes that some companies are using text messaging on cell phones to reach teens and young adults.

All of it is meant to appeal to young people’s wish to feel personally connected to the brands they buy, says Cassie Hughes Ederer, youth marketing expert and co-founder of Grow Marketing of San Francisco.

“We work with a lot of clients on the ‘for me’ factor,” says Miss Ederer, whose company does business with Express clothing stores and Visa credit cards, among others.

Some companies are asking young people to help them with marketing, beyond focus groups.

EdVenture Partners, which works with companies such as Honda, Citibank and General Motors, has commissioned college business students to come up with campaigns for those clients.

Crystal Sandoval was part of a University of Texas group that marketed the new Honda Element — a truck-SUV combo meant to appeal to young surfers, skiers and outdoor enthusiasts.

The Texas students took the car to three locations, including a popular spot for runners in Austin called Stretch Rock. They rolled down the windows, turned up the stereo and let people come to them.

“People our age don’t want to be told, ‘This is the car for you,’” says Miss Sandoval, who is 22. “We wanted to leave it up to the buyer to say, ‘Yeah, that’s the car for me.’”

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