How Can Marketers Effectively Target Gen Alpha, as the Lines Between ‘Tween’ and Adult Products Continue to Blur?

The End of Tween Branding?

By R. Larsson, Advertising Week

Brands today recognise that Gen Alpha, the generation born between 2010 and 2024, is more brand-aware and sophisticated than previous generations. These young consumers want to be treated like adults and engage with the same brands as their millennial parents. With an estimated 2.5 million Gen Alphas born weekly, this demographic’s economic footprint is expected to reach £4.32 trillion by 2029 – almost as much as the spending power of millennials and Gen Z combined. By setting their sights on the youngest consumers, adult brands can secure the loyalty of the next generation by simply expanding the offerings they already have.

Brands like Limited Too and Justice, which were once tween fashion destinations, have either gone bankrupt or closed all physical locations in recent years. Tweens today have few dedicated retail brands catered to their age group, as they are gravitating towards adult brands like Lululemon, Sephora, Walmart, and Target.

As a result, brands are adapting by expanding their offerings to cater directly to this young, influential consumer group rather than relying on dedicated tween-focused brands and retail spaces. The traditional “tween” market is disappearing as Gen Alpha consumers bypass these intermediary brands and stores.

However, this blurring of lines between kids and adults also makes targeting this demographic more difficult, as the distinction between them becomes increasingly ambiguous.

So how can brands effectively reach and engage with this influential yet elusive generation of consumers?

Ndu Uchea, Founder, Word on the Curb

The aspirational age of marketing is the ideal age whose characteristics consumers aspire to embody. Thus, marketing messages aimed at that target age will resonate with consumers of other ages most efficiently. Currently, the aspirational age is reported to be 21. It’s why most advertising skews to attract a younger audience and why marketers have obsessed over Gen-Z. But it’s the generation below that continues to blur the lines between ‘tween’ and adult engagement with products.

Gen Alpha is born with tech not only at their fingertips, but as their fingertips. Their innate engagement across digital platforms leads to potentially obvious ways for brands to engage them. 60% of Gen Alpha parents say their children watch shopping content, so leveraging platforms like YouTube is a no brainer. This generation doesn’t just game but immerses, so tapping into experiential products like Roblox, incorporating gamification into marketing can be successful in drawing their attention.

But their innate digital access means lines are blurred between the conversations, trends and products which tweens, teens and adults engage in.

A growing trend around skincare is prevalent amongst gen alpha, with children as young as 10 engaging in the same beauty influencer-led hacks, tricks and product recommendations targeted at their parents. Brands can, of course, capitalise on this reality by offering age-appropriate versions, such as Drunk Elephant which points out a list of their products suitable for tweens. However, brands must approach this with sensitivity to avoid the potential risks that come with these conversations – the high incidences of mental health difficulties that exist in this generation is an example – a reason why brands like Kielhs (check spelling) have distanced themselves from positioning their products to kids.

To effectively and future-proof targeting Gen Alpha, marketers must understand their unique, nuanced behaviours and navigate the blurring lines between tween and adult products and services. Brands need to build brand recognition from an earlier age and can do so in a number of ways, but most importantly, understand how behaviours and desires change as consumers age.

Brands must ensure recognition through product and comms amongst different age groups, whilst remembering the sharing of the conversations and opinions that occur inter-generationally. 

Chaaya Mistry, Strategy Director, RAPP UK

As a dowdy 12 year old, I watched my chic older cousins raid make up counters at Debenhams, eagerly awaiting the day I too could smother my face with Mac’s “Ruby Woo” lipstick – a right of passage for any brown girl! So it’s not entirely surprising to me that tweens are emulating the hauls that Gen Z influencers flaunt on TikTok.

But just because 10 year olds are demanding Drunk Elephant anti-wrinkle serums and Sol de Jainero bum-firming creams, doesn’t mean we should indulge them. Brands have a duty of care, especially to tweens eyeing up their pretty potent potions for “shelfies”. So, what can be done?

Well, let’s be real. Even if tweens are yanking on the purse strings behind the scenes, it’s parents who ultimately decide whether to buy or not. So create marketing strategies that target them both. Be aware of the reach your influencers have with tween followers and include explicit guidance on how to communicate who your product is – and isn’t! – for. For parents, create content that helps them navigate whatever new world their child wants to enter.

Chelito Rubio, Strategy Director, Saffron Brand Consultants

The biggest thing to consider with this generation of tweens is that they don’t want to be tweens. As such, anything that is specifically designed or targeted towards them will be disregarded because they do not see themselves as the target. Instead, they see themselves as teens, and want to wear the clothes and makeup of the adults they idolise around them. They want to be taken seriously and by choosing “grown up” and “real” brands, they can signify this to their peers.

Brands should think about creating products that are accessible to these tweens, whether by price-point, size, or shopping location, but the products themselves should still be something that an adult would buy; think the same shirt but in a smaller size. By making it attractive to the adults the tweens idolise, but accessible to the tween’s size or price-point, they can attract this audience and still allow them to signify and demonstrate the “serious adults” they think they are.

Helenor Gilmour, Director of Insight and Strategy, Beano Brain

There are brands out there that target Gen Alpha before any other demographic. This way, they see kids and teens engaged with the lifestyle that the brand has created. THEN we see the audience expand to adults, as kids and teens are the far more influenced demographic.

It’s also worth talking about the role of tech in the way brands can target Gen Alpha, they are the newest and most tech-savvy consumers, so the strategy NEEDS to be channel lead. Combine this with the option to make kids feel welcome into your brand, a great example of this would be Apple and Sephora. Introducing kids and teens to luxury products by making them feel welcome, with a strong trends model powered by social media. If you can combine these two attributes, then you’re sure to grab Gen Alpha’s attention.