Want your business to capture a piece of the multibillion-dollar “tween” and young teen market?
Go to Hollywood.
Studies show that tweens and young teens, kids ages 8 to 14, account for somewhere between $43 billion and $240 billion in spending annually. American children have enormous spending power as consumers in their own right and as influencers of their parents’ buying decisions. Kids also love television, the movies, and the celebrities they see. So when Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, or the Jonas Brothers say they love or hate a product, or when they wear a specific handbag or tell a magazine they use a certain shampoo, their teen and tween fans take note.
And sales often follow.
That’s why many companies are marketing to Hollywood celebrities to show off their goods. Gift suites pop up all over Hollywood the week before any major awards show, and companies can “audition” their wares to be part of the action. If picked, the company sets up a table or booth at the gift suite, and celebrities are invited to stop by and take home their choice of products. Businesses say it benefits them to be part of the suites because if a popular actor is seen on the Internet or in prominent magazines wearing or carrying their product, their brand is enhanced significantly. Companies also get the benefit of meeting the celebs who stop by, collecting information and potential spokespeople for their lines. When you have a product geared to tweens and teens, getting it into the hands of their favorite stars can be an effective marketing technique.
Here’s how it works: a gift suite company or local public relations firm decides to create a gift suite and invites celebrities to attend, either directly or through the actors’ public relations teams. When celebs tour the suite and pick up a gift, they typically sign the company’s guestbook (and provide a working email address) and pose for a picture with the item they choose. They may also autograph a piece of product or add their signature to a special display at the booth. Entrepreneurs debuting new product and companies trying to revamp older lines feel the exposure gives their product the kind of extra boost they wouldn’t get anywhere else.
“I think it really helps, especially when a celebrity is photographed with one of your pieces,” says Amber Ozinga, who with her husband, Karl, founded California Leash Company in 2002 and hosted a booth at the recent Backstage Creations Teen Choice Awards Official Gift Suite. Thanks in part to celebrity exposure, the couple’s trendy line of handbags is now in more than 400 boutiques and stores nationwide, and sales continue to climb.
“We’ll give away about 100 bags here, and we think it’s well worth it,” Ozinga said at the TCA suite.
How gift suites got started
Gift suites were born in 2000, when former awards show talent coordinator Karen Wood couldn’t get the stars to show up in a timely manner for their rehearsals. She founded Backstage Creations to solve the problem.
“It was the bane of my existence, trying to get them there on time,” Wood says. “So I started bringing some designers backstage with sunglasses or other items, sort of the carrot being dangled to get them there. It worked!”
From there, Wood decided it made sense to create gift suites, where companies can rub elbows with the stars, and celebs can try out and take home new product. She has hosted gift suites at major awards shows ever since.
“I was the only company doing it for a couple of years, but of course, now they are everywhere,” Wood says.
Backstage Creations remains the only officially sanctioned gift suite for many of the big shows. That means Wood sets up backstage at the awards venue on rehearsal days and the day of the show. At her TCA suite at the Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal Studios Hollywood, her big tent sat next to the red carpet and received visits by stars such as American Idol winner Jordin Sparks, rising actor Frankie Jonas (younger sibling of the famous Jonas Brothers), and pop singer Britney Spears.
““We look at the show to develop a theme and have companies send us products they would like us to consider,” Wood says. “We want them to be a really good fit.”
A really good fit for tweens and teens is clothing, shoes, and electronics; and the gift suites we visited covered all three of these categories. Entrepreneur Wesley Williams had his Tagur sneakers displayed prominently at the Backstage Creations suite and was one of only four booths that pop star Britney Spears gifted from. Only three years old, Tagur Footwear sells athletic shoes that combine performance with street art. Williams got his inspiration for the sneakers as he worked with disadvantaged youth and observed how creative they were in the graffiti designs they drew on their shoes. He also noticed how fascinated other kids were with the custom-designed footwear. Williams launched Tagur with the desire to give amateur artists the opportunity to mass market their own designs.
“We ask people to submit their designs, then we have a show and put the best ones on display for voting,” Williams told WEALTH magazine at the TCA Backstage Creations suite. “The ones with the most votes become our next line.”
Tagur is growing as a company, but Williams feels getting the shoes into the hands — and more importantly onto the feet — of young celebs will help take his brand to the next level.
“I think it makes a big difference, because when I have pictures and press clippings of the stars with our shoes that I can show to buyers, it makes an impression with them and helps me get orders placed,” Williams said.
His strategy seems to be working. Tagur has grown each of the last three years and saw its biggest sales to date in 2009, with orders exceeding 10,000 pairs at a suggested retail price of $65 to $110.