Consumption When teenagers want what influencers have

Where do children get their mind-boggling buying ideas? It’s likely that influencer marketing is the culprit.

“Mom, Dad, I absolutely must have these awesome new sneakers!” Parents often have no idea how their own children come up with what they want to buy. No wonder, because parents aren't shown the same online advertising messages and don't have the same surfing habits on the Internet. Over the past few years, advertising has become increasingly digital and more personalized. Whereas you see the latest designer furniture or stackable Tupperware, teenagers get the latest miracle face cream or this season's must-have sunglasses flashing across their screens. And it isn't only in the form of traditional ads, but also as subtle, barely recognizable product placements.

In the past, cool classmates or the stars in the latest teenage magazine were the taste makers – the “influencers.” Today it’s increasingly the idols in the digital world who influence young people's buying decisions. Young people encounter these personalities daily on Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube or Spotify (if they use the streaming service without a subscription). The hippest clothes or the latest electronic gadgets and cosmetic products are subtly presented by influencers as their own personal buying recommendations. There's no question this is how your children decide what they want to buy. That even the most heartfelt influencer tips are mostly paid recommendations is not always obvious at first glance. And even if young people are becoming better at seeing through and understanding the advertising mechanisms at work on social media, this doesn't mean their newly triggered needs will disappear. What remains is the perceived pressure to live up to an ideal.

Figures about media use

  • 97% of 12–13 year olds have their own mobile phone. Among 14–15 year olds it's 99%.
  • 73% of 12–13 year olds have an Instagram account. Among 14–15 year olds it's 88%.
  • 73% of 12–13 year olds have a Snapchat account. Among 14–15 year olds it's 86%.
  • 48% der 12–13 year olds have a Musical.ly account. Among 14–15 year olds it's 51%.*

Advertising now increasingly targets young people. So it's worth discussing the topic of “informed buying decisions” around the family dinner table. How can you learn more about a product before you buy it? Are recommendations of influencers believable or does it perhaps make more sense to read additional, more neutral product tests and reviews? Or maybe you have friends in real life who recently bought a similar product?

Labeling requirement for advertisements in Switzerland

But aren't influencers required to label their posts as ads? Theoretically, yes. Switzerland passed a law against unfair competition. This law requires that advertising must always be recognizable as such. This applies to influencers who positively promote products and services on social media. So there is a labeling obligation. But the obligation is not always honored and generally has no legal consequences.

The key points in a nutshell

  • How do I reach a decision to buy something?
    Not only children and young people are affected by advertising and influencers, but adults are too. Stay self-critical.
  • How credible is a recommendation to buy something if someone has been paid to make it?
    Talk to your child about how advertising works.
  • What opportunities do you have to compare different products and services?
    Try to make an informed decision before making your next large purchase by researching online or asking your friends.
  • Does the world of social media correspond to real life?
    The world shown in advertising and on social media is idealized. The images are highly manipulated.

UBS’s educational principles

This article was written in collaboration with educator Marianne Heller, who has years of experience in teaching financial education and debt prevention programs for children and young people.

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