Two-Thirds of Kids and Teens Now Mobile

Always-on from increasingly young ages

For years, companies have watched the mobile youth population develop and grow, but aside from text messaging there have not been many clear-cut marketing opportunities on the mobile phone.

However, now that mobile phones are nearly ubiquitous among teens and becoming ever more popular among younger kids, the opportunities are increasing.

“Tweens are the growth engine,” said Debra Aho Williamson, eMarketer senior analyst and author of the new report “Kids and Teens: Mobile Everywhere.” “Recent surveys from Pew, Kaiser Family Foundation and others indicate that in some age groups—particularly the tween–young teen bracket—ownership has nearly doubled since 2005.”

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 66% of US children and teens ages 8 to 18 had a mobile phone as of 2009.

Mobile Phone Ownership by US Children and Teens, by Age, 2004 & 2009 (% of respondents in each group)

Turning wide ownership into wide marketing opportunities may be difficult, however. Companies must take into account extra privacy and safety considerations when it comes to minors, and young people who view their mobile phones as devices for personal communications may not welcome marketing messages.

In addition, most children and teens are still using feature phones, so relatively few can be reached through more sophisticated mobile advertising such as via the mobile internet or smartphone apps. Just 14% of moms surveyed by Q Interactive in January 2010 said their kids had a smartphone.

US Females* Whose Children Own a Smartphone, January 2010 (% of respondents)

The future lies in smartphones, but for now mobile marketing efforts directed toward kids and teens will have to focus on feature phones. Texting is best for driving immediate actions, but also has its drawbacks.

“Although text messaging is hugely popular with teens, they are like adults in that they do not necessarily want companies to contact them via text messaging,” said Ms. Williamson. “The mobile phone is perceived as a very personal device, and intrusive marketing is not well received.”

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