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The roaring tweenies

Lock up your daughters. Now not even ten- to twelve-year-olds, dubbed tweens by evil marketing men, are safe from designer consumerism, and if they don't get that label, fast food or beauty product, they'll scream and scream and scream until they're sick. Cayte Williams reports
WHAT DO Ralph Lauren, Leonardo DiCaprio, The Spice Girls and Rice Krispies Squares have in common? They all owe their success to tweens, 10-12 year old girls who are turning girl power into economic clout. They do it not through disposable income, but rather by filial nagging, interest- related pocket money and aspiring to be different from their older sisters.

The first ever designer advertisement has appeared into the July issue of Bliss magazine, a teen publication supposedly aimed at 15-year-olds but actually read by their 10-year-old younger sisters. The full-page glossy ad for Ralph Lauren's Polo Sport Woman fragrances and toiletries features American supermodel Bridget Hall wearing Polo sportswear. To her left is a fragrance "strip" from which tweens can sniff the aroma with their delicate noses.

The Polo Sport Woman eau de toilette costs pounds 28.50 for 100ml, even the body gel costs pounds 15. Why on earth would tweens, who have an average money allowance of pounds 3.80, spend nearly two months' pocket money on perfume? "Polo Sport Woman was voted best fragrance in the Bliss beauty awards in 1998 by its readers," says a spokesperson from Ralph Lauren fragrances. "This highlights the fact that teenagers are increasingly aspiring to designer brands such as Ralph Lauren. Polo Sport Woman offers Bliss readers the opportunity to buy into a part of the Ralph Lauren life-style."

Research done by EMAP, publishers of the teen mag, shows that wearing the right sports brands has the most significance for 11-12 year old girls, with Adidas and Nike still the hot favourites. Tweens are not interested in their older sisters' Gucci aspirations, but are hell-bent on forging a group identity of their own. This is the age when children enter secondary school and, according to EMAP's findings, they battle to find their place in the hierarchy of the classroom. As children get older they develop individual tastes, but at this age being part of a group is most important. Clothing is the quickest and most basic form of group recognition and acceptance. If you're not wearing the right Adidas trainers, you're on your own in the playground.

Journalist Alix Sharkey is amazed by his 10-year-old daughter's label awareness. "She knows Jil Sander, DKNY and she knows Calvin Klein more than any of them," he explains. "She actually shops at a designer labels- for-less store. Reebok classics were the hot trainers six months ago, but now she must have white Adidas Campers with the three different stripes down the side." However, while head-to-toe Lauren might be out of the question, tweens can buy into the lifestyle. J17, another teen magazine for the younger end of the market, will this summer carry advertising O Oui, Lancome's new rival to Calvin Klein's fragrance, cKbe.

But it's not just fashion that gets the tweens opening their Barbie bags. The success of Titanic has largely been explained by the tweenie habit of going to see a movie they enjoyed not once but six times. As well as developing a crush on DiCaprio (who, coincidentally, looks like a 12-year- old girl), the tweenies loved Kate Winslet's rebellious nature. They shrieked with joy when she "flicked the finger", answered her mum back and emerged stronger for it.

Irish girl band B*witched are jumping on to the bandwagon that the Spice Girls revved up and even took the tour bus to under-age discos before releasing their single. B*witched are more like the girl band Cleopatra because they are essentially tomboys not sex symbols - something much dearer to the tweenie heart. Even the boy-dominated computer market is giving in to tweens. Nintendo have released a Gameboy Pocket Pink and Sony Playstation have just released the Official Spiceworld video game where players can re-mix the music and choreograph the dancing.

So are tweens, who ten years ago were happy with My Little Pony, really galloping towards economic Girl Power? In America, recent research has shown that teenage girls have considerable influence on what is bought for the household. Blue-chip company products such as Coca-cola, Ciba Vision contact lenses and Mazola Oil, have increased their advertising in tweenage magazines by about $3.5 million. Firms believe that building brand loyalty at a young age helps future sales. Last year, teenage girls spend $50 billion mainly on clothing and beauty products.

In this country, brands such as Diet Coke are already advertising in teen magazines. "Teenage girls read a lot of magazines and it's a good medium for talking to them," says a Coca-Cola spokeswoman. "We've tailor- made advertorials and promotions in magazines. Television will always be the main form of communication for us, but that's mainly for broad advertising."

Tweens certainly know what they like off the supermarket shelves. Not only do they not trust their parents to buy them clothes, they don't rate their judgement when it comes to toiletries and food, either. "If you're buying something from Poundstretchers it's going to smell like air freshener," said one teenager in the EMAP survey. "It tastes really sweet and sickly," said another about supermarket brand cola. "It tastes cheaper."

Career mothers who haven't got time to argue end up giving in to tweenie tastes. "My children go around the supermarket with me to make sure they get the brands they want," says one mother of her 10 and 12-year-old daughters. "At the moment there are lots of advertisements for Rice Krispies Squares and my trolley is filled with them. The only shampoos they'll use are Charles Worthington or anything advertised by Jennifer Aniston. I try and go to the local supermarket and not the superstores, because then there's less choice and less argument. But most of the time I just give in." The tweenie is nothing if not persistent.