Move Over Mom – There’s A New Customer in Town

If you’ve read about or talked about summer camp marketing, you’re probably familiar with the industry’s target customer. If you haven’t, it’s moms. Primarily, mothers are the ones to make decisions regarding if and where their child will go. It makes sense. I get it. Moms are the ones who sign the release forms, write the checks, and ask the questions. But what drives moms to that point?

Increasingly, in a world where more and more people have access to smartphones, children are the ones to bring ideas to their parents. Don’t believe me? Check out what they found in a 2015 study:

Children of today are generally known as consumers, buyers, spenders, shoppers and in general influencers towards purchasing decisions. Nowadays children have more autonomy and dominancy within the families as compared to the previous generations, so it makes a clear picture that children are vocal about their needs and wants towards their parents. Generally study of children as a influencer plays a very important role for markers, researchers in identifying the factors which tends to stimulate the kids in influencing their parents for making the purchase decision.
Still not convinced? Check out these statistics:
  • 62 percent of parents of teens say that their child has more influence on purchasing decisions than they did (Facebook)
  • 71 percent say children influence how parents spend their money (Facebook)
  • 64 percent say children impact decisions on family vacations (Facebook)
  • 57 percent of parents think of their children as successful persuaders (YouGov)
  • 95 percent of parents consult their children before making a decision for them (Nickelodeon)

Wow! And there are even more statistics and studies to back this up. Undoubtedly, the influence of kids and teens in family purchasing decisions is on the rise.

So what does this mean for camps?

We need to go past connecting with our current campers and throwing up some pictures. We need to actively recruit campers. We can bring these campers in by going directly to them instead of going through their parents.

BUT we have to be extremely careful when doing this. Moms don’t have to trust McDonald’s to be convinced to buy a Happy Meal, but they do have to trust us to send their kids away with us (maybe even for weeks at a time). There’s a fine line between marketing to campers and aggressively going after them, and it’s a line we have to keep an eye on. The Federal Trade Commission cracks down on “deceptive” advertising, especially when it comes to children. So how do we avoid these problems? It’s easy. Be ourselves.

How do we do it?

First and foremost, we need to understand what makes kids tick. After years of practice, we have a pretty good understanding of how to appeal to moms (think: build relationships, strengthen self-esteem, etc.), but kids don’t react to the same messages. A mom most likely knows why confidence-building is important, but a young kid might not see the same value in it. We’ve got to communicate why we those things are important. An awesome rock wall just isn’t enough anymore.

It’s also important to know that kids are doing research. According to YouGov, 50 percent of children ages 6-17 research products before buying. That number increase (64 percent) as children grow into teens. What does that mean? It means they’re probably checking out your website. And your reviews. Language on our website needs to appeal to more than moms, and asking campers for online reviews is equally as important as asking parents.

Next, we have to understand that our strategic marketing needs several layers when trying to reach potential campers. Seven year olds don’t respond to the same messages 17 year olds do. They’re different, and our approaches to them should be different as well.

Young Childen

Children ages 6-10 may be the most difficult to reach. However, if the studies I’ve seen are correct, younger children don’t turn into repeat campers as often as older campers do. So maybe that’s okay.

Many children these ages aren’t on social media, so they’ll need a different approach. Instead, think about how you can get face time with these campers. And if you do get that face time, think about how you can make the most of it. Kids this age respond to peers, so letting a current camper speak will have pull with them. These potential campers want to know that they’ll be welcomed at camp and feel safe, so one-on-one welcoming conversations can make a big difference. Ask the child what he/she is interested in, and paint a picture of how camp incorporates that (if it does – if not, find something similar).


“Tweens” are our next group of potential campers. Motivate ROI defines teens as between the ages of nine and 13, but whether 9 or 10 year olds fit into this category really depends on their personality, their parents, and what they’ve been exposed to.

As Motivate ROI puts it, tweens “seemingly grow up at a faster rate than those of generations before based on the fact that they have an infinite amount of information at their fingertips. Tweens need to be marketed to as if they are 2-3 years older than they are with a persona of an experienced teen.” Many of them have smartphones, and they’re using them to watch hours of video each week.

But it’s important to remember they’re not watching hours of ads or camp videos – they’re watching YouTube celebrities, beauty gurus, how-to-videos, and more. If you’re going to use video to appeal to this age group, try making content with them in mind. Find out what videos are going viral, and see how you can do that with a camp spin. Are people raving over Team 10’s latest house tour? Get in character and do a video tour as entertaining as theirs. (Note: they won’t like you for trying to be Team 10 – they’ll like you for parodying Team 10.) Is there a new Eating Whatever Challenge? Film a video with your staff trying it. These things won’t necessarily be the reason campers come to camp, but it will get them to know who you are. (When you go viral, remember me.)

Tweens crave authenticity, so make sure whatever you do stays true to your brand. They dislike being treated like children, so use age-appropriate language instead of dumbing it down. Soft skills like “independence” do resonate with this age, so don’t be afraid to use them. Just make sure you’re highlighting skills they care about. Responsibility? Eh, maybe not so much. Studies show that tweens and teens increasingly care about a product’s value, so make sure you have a plan to communicate that after you’ve gotten their interest.

Being “cool” is important for this age. Your graphics, your language, and your pictures should reflect cool without trying too hard. Remember, you ARE cool. You don’t need trendy words and phrases to prove it. Using a word that is now “out” with tweens can lose your audience. Pay attention to what they’re saying, and use similar (but still authentic!) messages.


Like tweens, teenagers (13-18) are available through their smartphones. Be strategic about how you reach them. Know where teens are spending their time (hint: it’s not Facebook), and focus your efforts there. Only take on the networks you can handle. Having an account with one or two posts is worse than having no account.

Teens are looking for content they can share. As this article states, “For teenagers, social media is a way to express themselves and share interesting messages with their friends, so producing content that aims to be anything other than sharable isn’t going to get the best results.” They like short content and value. Advertising makes them apprehensive, so don’t attack them with “Sign up today!” Post valuable content, and put your link in your bio.

While tweens are on the cusp of discovering their own values, teens have them and they’re standing up for them. Avoid posting anything too controversial, but let them see what you stand for. If you give back to the community, accommodate vegan diets, have a garden, host a camp for military families – anything related to a cause -, let them know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Like tweens, teens are looking for authenticity. Show them who you are and what you stand for.

Looking for more ideas when it comes to marketing to teens? Ask the teens who currently attend your camp! They’ll take pride in being asked and hopefully give you great ideas.

OMG. Is she saying to switch from moms to kids?

No. That is NOT what I’m saying.

I’m saying that camp marketing is a triangle, and we want to be safely in the middle. Your messaging, no matter who it’s for, should be parent-approved. Don’t gain the attention of potential campers only to lose the blessing of their parents.

Here’s what I’m saying: directly targeting potential campers has huge potential. Recognize this, develop new strategies, and fill your camp next summer.


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