I am an influential part of the national teenage
can say this with less irony than most people my
age because I had the privilege of filling out Teenage
Research Unlimited's 1999-2000 survey, entitled
"Make Your Opinions Count!: The National Study of
is a marketing firm based in Northbrook, Illinois,
which has carved out a special niche in its business
as the predominant bean-counter of the fickle Generation
Y target audience.
ironically, happens to have been the filming location
of three celebrated Brat Pack films: The Breakfast
Club, Weird Science, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
This coincidence seems fitting because, just as
John Hughes got adolescent angst back in the eighties,
TRU prides itself on its ability to tap into the
innermost material thoughts of teenagers across
June I received TRU's survey in the mail along with
one dollar as some sort of pathetic incentive for
me to spend a lot of time filling the thing out.
So, in the face of having to actually return the
dollar to its sender if I did not complete the task
at hand, I spent five hours of my precious youth
over the month of June arduously filling out the
survey with my opinions, thoughts, and, well, clout.
cover letter that came with the survey told me that
I would "find answering [the survey] easy and enjoyable...and
[I] might learn a lot about myself." I did not.
survey began by asking a series of questions concerning
the media and its impact on me. I wrote that the
ubiquitous Gap Khaki ads were my favorite television
commercials and that "the magazine ads I really
like" use "extremely good-looking people" over "realistic-looking
people," use famous models, athletes, and celebrities
over "everyday people," and "include only basic
product information -- it won't be too much to read."
another section probed my technological abilities
and wondered if, indeed, I actually had my own e-mail
address, screen name, home page, and computer.
TRU made sure that all of those marketing executives
had the facts to prove what they have been saying
all along: Teenagers are the supreme demographic.
All involved will no doubt be happy to hear that
in the week preceding my filling out of the TRU
survey, I had spent a whopping "$50-$74."
regards to advice I would give retailers, I filled
in boxes indicating that they should "play great
videos" and "have giveaways and free stuff." In
other words, I really don't care about the actual
products -- I just want ambiance!
according to me, the words and phrases "cool," "tha
bomb," "tight," "sucks," and "pimp" are all "out"
(as opposed to "in"). Other "out"s include "funky
hair," "roller derby," and "millennium stuff."
a while I felt comfortable enough to confide in
the tenderly-titled "Special Subjects" section that,
personally, "things are going well for me. I've
worked hard to get where I am and feel I'm always
going to be successful."
were two and a half pages of questions dedicated
to feminine hygiene. As a male, I was asked to skip
ahead past questions about tampons, menstruation,
and sanitary-pads. Instead, I spent two pages discussing
why I use my deodorant. A few of my answers included
"wanted a product that did not irritate skin," "wanted
a clear product that doesn't leave white marks,"
"better odor protection," and "liked scent better"
(which, for the record, should be interpreted as:
"liked the fact that there is no scent whatsoever").
At one point I suffered through an inquiry concerning
how much I sweat in comparison to my friends. Like
finishing the survey I knocked the discount superstore
Target as being completely un-hip but gave them
props on their discount prices. I also stated that
sports trading cards are "out" and that the Marines
have the highest coolness-quotient of all of the
American armed forces.
it is important to note that throughout most of
the survey I was asked to strictly fill-in boxes.
But I decided to add my snide comments in the margins
as any other self-respecting, rebellion-inciting
teenager worth his salt would do.
national results from the survey will most likely
be published within the coming weeks so that, as
the survey's cover letter stated, "the survey [can]
be widely reported on network TV, in major newspapers,
and [in] magazines." Soon, my opinion, which I altered
to make it as stereotypically teenager-ish as possible,
will be entrusted to the business machine that feeds
off of this information.
out TRU's survey was worthwhile not only for the
fact that I was, indeed, able to keep the dollar,
but also because I was able to learn all about the
business of appealing to Generation Y.
some ways, the hype concerning the supposed buying
power of teenagers in this day in age is true. But
the reality of the matter is that teenagers are
buying because parents are spending. The parents
are the ones who are opening up their wallets and
creating this social phenomenon, not their adolescent
Is filling out a survey worth
doing anymore? How much does a firm make off the
dollar they spend getting you to spend five hours
of your time? Discuss Here
© 1999 Gary Baum All Right Reserved
Baum is sixteen-years-old and, among other things,
is currently compiling his memoirs. He also writes
a weekly column on contemporary culture on the
Internet as well as edits his school newspaper at
Calabasas High School in Southern California.