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Angling for an Edge With Youths

Teens and tweens are having fun being a bit wicked, and they favor high tech toys over high style.

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Teens and tweens are having fun being a bit wicked — and favor high-tech toys over high style.

The Things They Do and Love

NEW YORK — Bad girls, bad girls, whatcha gonna do?

Just about anything that feels fresh — preferably with a rough edge. That’s what’s most likely to win the hearts, minds, and dollars of teens and tweens over the next couple of years, according to The Zandl Group’s proprietary Hot Sheet 2003 report. “Girls are being a little more wicked,” noted Irma Zandl, president of the SoHo-based youth market researcher. “They are pushing the envelope. They’re being bad girls now, like bad boys.”

That desire is also gaining traction with young adult women: One-third of the members of the National Hot Rod Association currently are females, for instance, Zandl pointed out.

At the same time, products and experiences conjuring up comfort, mysticism, self-discovery and independence are projected by market researcher Zandl to flourish, as the weak economy increasingly compels youths to seek entertainment and empowerment at home.

Current favorites of teens and tweens, as identified by Hot Sheet’s representative sample of 3,000 boys and girls, include Juicy Couture; Vanilla Coke; Crest Whitening Strips; Bratz dolls; PlayStation 2’s Grand Theft Auto “Vice City” game; “The Osbournes;” Houston Rockets basketball star Yao Ming; Converse; K-Swiss; Nike Air Force Ones; Hot Topic; Pacific Sunwear; Hummer’s H2 and Jet Blue.

The widening field of diversions embraced by the youths Zandl sampled adds to mounting evidence it will become harder for the fashion business to effectively appeal to the group.

“The number of teens who enjoy going shopping has dropped by 50 percent in the past year, while 30 percent more like DVDs, video games, making online scrapbooks and burning CDs, and watching reality TV, live Web-cams and cable programs,” she noted.

When looking for a good time outdoors, youths head to theme parks and extreme sports venues, activities that keep gaining favor with each new wave of them.

More broadly, there are seven trends surfacing that Zandl anticipates will grow more popular with the tween and teen set during the next few years. They are:

Combat Mode, now emerging in fashion and entertainment themes. Styling ranges from military looks to peace-inspired takes, but war-ready designs are likely to dominate.

The Feel-Good Factor, realized in at-home comforts like cozy furnishings, velour sweat suits, vintage TV reruns, game nights, pot-luck dinners, reading and aromatherapy.

Mystical Powers, indicating a search for empowerment in uncertain times. Astrology, tarot, and psychics are playing a role as are amulets, spell candles and prayer. (The National Science Foundation has found 40 percent of Americans think astrology has a basis in science; 61 percent think people have psychic powers.) Also coming on: the new Goth look.

Bolly Days, reflecting India’s influence on various aspects of pop culture: cuisine, yoga, fashion, advertising, videos, music and movies. (The country’s Indian population doubled in the Nineties, Zandl noted.)

Northern Lights, drawing on Nordic influences. Gaining currency are the minimal designs of Nokia and Bang & Olufsen; fun, affordable fashion and furnishings of H&M, Ikea and Marimekko, and music like that of mod Swedes The Hives and Iceland’s Sigur Ros.

Girls Gone Wild, as evidenced in a taste for very sexy apparel, bedhead, HBO, reality TV, online dating and live-feed Web cams.

Free Agents, or those always angling for a better offer, from comparison shopping online to participating in digital auctions, and shopping discount stores and thrift shops.

Some of those trends will flourish via straightforward applications, while others will be a bit tricky to interpret, Zandl projected. For example, she said, marketers aiming to leverage the feel-good factor will need to tie in “without being sappy.” In contrast, she anticipates the acceptance of wide-ranging interpretations of Goth-inspired looks, from street to designer styles, and foresees exotic Bollywood influences extending to TV commercials. “Gap should do it,” she said of borrowing from India’s cinema. “They’re already selling yoga mats.”

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