In 2014, a teenage girl posted a Vine clip showing off how great she looked after getting her eyebrows done. She described them as being “on fleek.” Since then, the phrase has been adopted by the likes of Kim Kardashian and Nicki Minaj, and has made its way into everyday teen vernacular. In case you’re not familiar with the term, something that’s “on fleek” is something that’s perfect; on point. And no, according to Merriam-Webster, it is not an actual word.
And yet, “on fleek” has risen in popularity right along with the word “bae” (i.e. a sweetheart or loved one).
On Instagram, “on fleek” has been hashtagged more than 500K times. “Bae” has surpassed 9MM.
Both words are used frequently to describe positive sentiments about people and things. … So, for marketers who want to connect with teens, the obvious thing to do is to start referring to their products or services as “bae” and “on fleek” right? Wrong. So, so wrong.
Take it from @brandssayingbae, the Twitter feed that’s known for aggregating tweets from brands that use terms like “bae” and “on fleek” to connect with their teen and millennial followers. Its (very sarcastic) bio says it all: “It’s cool when a corporation tweets like a teenager. It makes me want to buy the corporation’s products.”
It might work for some brands, but, for the most part, blatant attempts to emulate consumers (even when it’s done in jest) are often met with confusion and sarcasm. Some notable fan responses to brands using teen speak include:
- “As a millennial, I feel stereotyped by this. I don’t use Bae or on fleek. Get your life together or I’m switching to [competitor].”
- “What does this even mean?”
And yet, this leaves marketers to wonder: How can brands give a nod to teen culture all while staying true to themselves? Authenticity is core to messaging that inspires and sticks. Here are five visual examples from companies that are getting it right with their massive teen audiences.
1. MTV: Tap into pop culture.
MTV is a major hub for all things pop culture. As a result, the network has attracted a large teen following that extends beyond TV. On Instagram, the brand keeps their fans engaged with celebrity shoutouts and videos, and they’ll often include a funny image that resonates with their fans.
This one, for example, features two-year-old North West (daughter of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West) and an equally stylish small friend walking around, while North West makes facial expressions questioning the actions of her pal. MTV tied it back to a best friend forgetting the snacks at home before an outing. The call-to-action in the caption encourages fans to tag their BFFs, too. More than 11K fans followed through, tagging their fans so they, too, could get a laugh.
If you’re going to tap into pop culture, be sure to subtlety tie it back to everyday occurrences (like having a case of the Mondays or seeing your crush walk in with his girlfriend). Choose concepts that will resonate with your fanbase. For example, if you know your pins featuring Kanye are outperforming all others on Pinterest, leverage those insights to spark some inspiration on Instagram.
2. Taco Bell: Be there for consumers’ big life events.
Taco Bell is king when it comes to connecting with teens and young adults. Though Taco Bell has found a way to use “bae” effectively (e.g. calling themselves “Taco Bae” every now and again), their main strategy is to simply stay on top of what’s happening in the lives of their fans – today. Timely messaging results in authentic engagement and conversation.
Take this photo, for instance. The brand’s marketing team knew that prom season was coming up and that teens would start delivering their elaborate “promposals,” so they decided to help their fans out with ideas. Their audience absolutely loved it, with many expressing that they wanted someone to “prompose” to them with delectable signage too.
Case in point: A fan actually went to Taco Bell, bought a box of tacos and created a colorful poster using tacos to ask a date to prom. The date posted the photo, saying there was no way she could ever turn down a guy who bought her tacos. So, not only did Taco Bell create content that fans could apply to their lives, but they also opened the door for valuable user-generated content submissions.
Stay on top of what’s actually going on in the lives of your target audience. Is it the first day of school in many states? Is it graduation season? Use those insights to create compelling content that will motivate fans to engage. In your call-to-action, encourage fans to create and share their own content, which you can later collect and share on your own channels (after asking for permission, of course).
3. Denny’s: Make light of everyday occurrences.
Denny’s has an incredibly active presence on Tumblr, a platform that skews younger in usage. The brand’s posts are light and humorous, fitting in perfectly with the quirky, creative nature of Tumblr. Much of the content draws from general things teens rant and rave about, like getting a cast off or a parent refusing to buy a new game console.
Their “Goodluck Bacon” post was designed almost like the chain letters we’ve all seen on email and social. The photo tells fans that reblogging the photo will result in passing grades in all of their classes. More than 850K Tumblr users have engaged with the image since it was first posted, speaking to just how successful a simple nod to something silly like a bacon-inspired chain letter can be.
Make light of innocuous moments. It helps to do an analysis of your most reblogged content to inspire new ideas. If you come to the conclusion that posts about food get more engagement than images about animals, you can then move forward dedicating more time to creating content around bacon, too.
4. Juicy Couture: Organically refer to quotable movies and TV shows.
Who doesn’t love a good line from an eminently quotable movie? Juicy Couture did a fantastic job at tying “Mean Girls” to its brand on Mother’s Day this year. The photo worked not only because the mom in the photo has a line in the movie about being a “cool mom,” but because she’s also wearing a pink Juicy Couture tracksuit in the scene. It’s a perfect fit for the brand.
Fans expressed their amusement, and one young woman even commented that she wished her mother had an Instagram profile just so she could tag her in the photo.
Look to strong references from highly-quotable movies and TV shows. If it doesn’t work organically, don’t try to force the brand into it.
5. Oreo: Channel your creativity with emojis.
We’ve said it before: Teens love emojis. Oreo tapped into this several weeks ago with a screenshot of a text conversation featuring a kissy face sending love, which a hand eventually captures. Though it doesn’t have anything to do with creme-filled chocolate cookies, the photo was an incredibly creative way to describe the way people feel about Oreos. This is the beauty of image-driven channels; they provide the ability to capture shared emotions with very few words.
When it doubt, get creative with emojis. Though Oreo didn’t hashtag the emojis they used in this photo, it’s interesting to note that the heart emoji just so happens to be the most hashtagged on Instagram. Users on the platform are most inclined to share love-expressing emojis, so don’t hesitate to show some.
Today’s teens are capable of making anything go viral within hours (whether it’s a 16-year-old teen or a blue-black/white-gold dress). If one consumer has an amazing (or terrible!) experience, they have all the tools needed to share it with everyone they know. Getting it right with this demographic is crucial.