Businesses trying to court teen customers might do well to pay attention to a new survey that shows that 89 percent of teens are likely to switch to a brand associated with a good cause.
Teenagers spend $150 billion in the United States each year. Their purchases are a hard-to-track but significant segment of the retail world.
The second annual 2000 Cone/Roper Cause-Related Teen Survey showed that when the price and quality of an item are equal, the majority of teens would drop one brand and pick another that is associated with a worthy cause.
The 89 percent figure shows a 62 percent increase over the previous year, which would indicate that teenagers are becoming increasingly conscious of social and moral issues and are letting their dollars speak for them.
The two examples in a survey summary included Levi Strauss linking up with the anti-gun violence organization PAX to involve teens to take a stand against gun violence and Chevrolet's sponsorship of S.A.V.E. (Students Against Violence Everywhere), a student-run organization that helps young people resolve conflicts peacefully.
The survey let teens choose from a list of eight things that influence their buying. The teens who were surveyed said that after the quality of the product, they think about whether the manufacturer makes donations to a cause or supports a cause.
Company support of a cause ranked higher than price, advertising and celebrity endorsements.
Eighty-one percent of the teens polled said companies have a responsibility to support worthy causes.
However, not everyone knows about the good works done by corporations; and 95 percent of the teens said the firms should advertise these things more widely.
Stephanie Benson, 17, a senior at Jordan High School, said manufacturers and retailers that contribute to good causes influence her spending. "A lot of times I'll just notice it when I'm shopping," she said.
Why is this important to her?
"For me, I put myself in another person's position and think about it that way. That's what pushes me. A lot of kids have everything they want and some kids have nothing," Benson said.
She believes teenagers are beginning to think about such issues more these days and "as they're getting older, they're appreciating more what they have."
Michael Whitney, 15, a sophomore at Alta High School, said he feels the same way, although he often doesn't hear about the efforts by companies to support worthy causes. "I don't know if any of the companies I buy from have ever done anything good in the world. If they had, I'd be like, 'They're good guys. I'll buy from them.' "
He is certain, though, that if the price and quality of two items were identical that he would buy from the manufacturer that supports a good cause. "It would make a difference."
Carol Cone, CEO of Cone, Inc., the Boston-based strategy firm that links companies and causes, said the results showed that teens are growing up in an uncertain world marked by school shootings, high divorce rates and dual-career parents.
Cone's interpretation of the survey results is that teenagers are looking for ways to play a positive role in society and are using their considerable financial clout to regain a sense of traditional values and a sense of community.
The online survey was conducted by Roper Starch Worldwide between Aug. 3 and Aug. 9. It received 600 completed surveys from American Online users ages 12-17. The margin of error is 4 percent.