Tweenspeak: The World’s Newest Language

Last week we looked at the extraordinary purchasing power of “tweens” (kids from 8 to 12 years old). This week we’ll explore another interesting tween phenomenon — their language.

Tweens communicate with others all around the globe. In fact, 15 percent are doing this on a weekly basis. Furthermore, 70 percent of all tweens in Europe text message — or SMS — each other every day. According to BRANDchild, the world’s largest study exploring kids and their relationship with brands, a unique language is emerging. I call it “Tweenspeak.”

Our research figures show close to 60 percent of all kids around the world have discarded traditional grammar in favor of the far cooler texting language. Twenty-five percent state they would prefer to text on their cell phones or chat on the Internet than communicate “for real” — even if they are sitting side by side!

Increasingly clear to me is Tweenspeak is much more than a new way of writing. It’s a new language, which operates with icon-based symbols, abbreviations, contractions, and numerals — enabling tweens in the U.S. to talk with tweens in Japan with very little misunderstanding. Now that phones come with full-color screens and built-in cameras, messages are jam-packed with cartoons, broken hearts, houses, trees, animals, and a whole host of emoticons.

See for yourself. Ask any tween to give you a glance at her email or online conversations. You will see what they call “cute” icons, proving in a whole new way a picture is worth a thousand words.

What does it mean for you? A lot. The BRANDchild study revealed 80 percent of all brands purchased by parents are heavily influenced by their tweens, so marketers must develop dual strategies.

Part of the strategy necessitates talking Tweenspeak. This is not to say you should discard your corporate language, but considering the value of communicating to both audiences simultaneously is important. The challenge is to integrate corporate language and the cooler Tweenspeak.

Tweens are a totally and thoroughly unique generation. They are the world’s first truly interactive population. They are born with a computer screen as their window on the world and use a mouse to navigate. Their expectations of brands are enormous. Their desires need to be satisfied instantaneously. Their influence, as we’ve discovered, is huge. For all these reasons, it’s important you rethink who your target audience is. Then redesign to appeal to your audience.

It’s a challenge to balance conveying your brand message and maintaining the ethical (and legal) standards required to speak directly to kids. If nothing else, you need to begin discussing this internally. Because if you fail to pay heed to the language of tweens, it won’t take long for them to persuade their parents to support a much “cooler” brand, which may very likely be on your competitor’s site.

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