2017 IAAPA Attractions Expo Recap - Marketing to Today's Teens


Hold the Phone: Marketing to Today’s Teens While Preserving Your Reputation

by Juanita Chavarro Arias and James Careless

With so much content continuously flowing across social media channels and video platforms in today’s digital landscape, how do companies get teens to pause scrolling their newsfeeds and video streaming to pay attention to a park’s message? 

To tackle this question and put teens’ habits into perspective, Heidi Fleischer Moltner, global account director of Coca-Cola Refreshments, and James Geiser, vice president of marketing and sales for Six Flags, opened the “Marketing Creates: Today’s Teens—Who Are They and How to Market to Them” session with numerous fast facts and statistics. 

For instance, 78 percent of teens, ages 13 to 17, use a smartphone. In a survey, just 1 percent of teens said that while watching TV at home, they do “nothing else, just watch,” meaning that teens are multitasking while consuming content. Moltner described Generation Z—teens who have used the internet, social media, and technology from an early age—as connected, empowered, resilient, solutions-oriented, and culturally involved.

“They are fearlessly ambitious,” Moltner said. “They aren’t waiting for people to tell them what to do. They can make those decisions.”

Moltner identified teens as influencers, saying there’s now more teen input on family decisions, such as where to eat and where to go on vacations. From a Six Flags perspective, Geiser added: “We need to stay current, and we need to stay connected with what’s going on in the market, what teens care about, and what is interesting to them today because what’s interesting to them is interesting to the family.” 

He also shared examples of Six Flags’ revamped strategies and campaigns designed to reach teens, along with insights he and his team discovered showing why companies can’t keep hanging onto traditional advertising techniques. Social is the new radio, and TV is no longer consumed solely on a TV set, he said.

In addition to these trends, the session’s biggest takeaways included recognizing Instagram as the place to really reach teens and YouTube as the platform teens are most likely to say they can’t live without. Shorter video content is most effective, and it’s essential to lead with the news and take note of completion rates on video spots. On any platform, the goal is to stand out and not look like an advertisement. Geiser closed the session with one final piece of advice for attendees: “Be real about who you are. Be real to your target audience, and you’ll be successful.”

Moreover, with so many people carrying a smartphone in today’s connected world, a corporate reputation that took 20 years to build can be destroyed in five minutes or less with pictures or video shared on social media. It’s vital for theme park operators—and, indeed, all businesspeople—to manage their public reputations openly, honestly, and proactively—especially when challenges occur.

That was the message delivered by Sara Brady, president and CEO of Sara Brady Public Relations, during the “Marketing Creates: The Essentials of Reputation Management” session. 

Citing Hollywood scandals, Brady said pursuing a “culture of disregard”—where profits and secrecy come before integrity and trust—can be fatal to anyone’s reputation. But when it comes to causing the most irreparable PR damage when a scandal breaks, “it’s almost always about the cover-up,” she explained. Add the lies perpetuated by self-appointed “citizen journalists” and internet trolls, and the task of effective reputation management is tremendously challenging.

To prepare for reputational assaults, Brady says a business should devise a crisis communications plan beforehand, to be executed by trained professionals. As well, the business should have three key messages ready to go, each focused on the company’s strengths and contributions to society.

When an unexpected reputation crisis hits, the key is to be open and honest, and express true empathy for any victims and the client base. She believes leaders must also go public and speak the truth to media, including admitting mistakes in plain language.

Brady’s key piece of advice for managing reputations during a PR crisis? “Hope for the best,” she said, “but plan for the worst.”