The Growth of Social Media

The use of social media has become a core strategy for reaching and engaging teenagers. Facebook now has more than a billion monthly active users worldwide (Facebook, 2012), and as of June 2012, more than 85 percent of online teens in the United States used social media (Common Sense Media, 2012). For a teenager, having a Facebook profile is a required entry card into a social life that is increasingly played out in the virtual realm.

Research has shown that social media are a key arena for teens’ personal and social development. The use of social media taps into their developmental needs for identity, autonomy, and relationships with peers. Social media provide a networked public culture in which teens can express themselves and build self-identity.

As a vehicle for marketing, social media are woven into daily interactions and social relationships. They orchestrate influence, foster fans, create “brand advocates,” and encourage young people to influence each other. Facebook has created the notion of social advertisements, which turn user behaviors such as “fanning” a product into opportunities that can be orchestrated to go viral.

Some of the largest food and beverage companies are clearly targeting adolescents through social media. To celebrate the 100th-year anniversary of Oreo cookies, for example, Kraft created a social media campaign that encouraged people—with a focus on teenagers—to send photos, videos, and stories featuring Oreo cookies so they could be “shared with the world.” A hundred-day campaign offered whimsical and eye-catching ads each day to the approximately 30 million people who “like” Oreo on Facebook. Between June and August, likes, comments, and shares increased by 110 percent for the brand.2

Montgomery also showed a video ad for Doritos that features websites, Facebook pages, tweets, markers on bags of Doritos that provide access to special web features, webcams, and other forms of social media, all in the context of a mock horror movie. The advertising campaign includes gamification, peer-to-peer interaction, and automated capture of personal data.

Advances in Data Collection and Measurement

Data collection, measurement, and targeting are woven together in the content and functionality of digital media. In an era of big data, actions can be measured in real time. The consumer’s “path to purchase” can be monitored, and levels of precision are unprecedented. Facebook, for example,


2More examples of campaigns by major food and beverage brands are available at

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