social media case studiesAre you wondering how to connect with the younger generation on social media?

Could your business benefit from connecting to the 80% of online teens using social media?

In this article I explore how Sharpie has successfully garnered 89% market share with the aid of social media.

The Teen Market

Instagram is now the most popular photo-sharing site among teens age 12-17. One million of them visited the site last July alone.

Add to that the 93% of social media–using teens who have a Facebook account (according to Pew Internet research), and the 16% who use Twitter (a figure that has doubled in recent years), and you’ve got a lot of teenage eyeballs.

But to connect with a teen target market, you must do more than simply have a presence on the sites they use. You must also pay attention to what motivates and inspires them.

Take some tips from permanent marker manufacturer Sharpie. Their successful 2012 Back to School campaign helped grow their market share to 89% of their category through a savvy understanding of how teens use social media.

Organization: Sharpie

Social Media Handles & Stats:


  • Gained 5 share points during 2012 Back to School campaign to end with an 89% share of permanent market category
  • Organically grew Instagram following to over 49,000 in 2012 with no ad support or integration into the Sharpie website
  • 86% of Sharpie Facebook followers are age 13-24

#1: Make Content Visual and Engaging

“Teen behavior shifts so quickly; their biggest enemies in the social space are boredom and unoriginality,” said Susan Wassel, director of social media and PR at Sharpie parent company Newell Rubbermaid.

Sharpie has an advantage as an inherently visual brand. But they still constantly look at their content with a critical eye to ensure it appeals to teens.

“Looking at our [Facebook] content from 2011, already some of it looks so boring and flat,” Wassel said. “When Facebook rolled out the timeline, there was this big photo at the top and the opportunity to fill your space with all kinds of awesome pictures.”

sharpie cover photo

Sharpie's hand-drawn cover photos are updated frequently.

They make sure to change their Facebook cover photo frequently with striking Sharpie-drawn designs to catch their teenage fans’ eyes.

Sharpie’s newest social media channel, Instagram, showcases drawings and product shots generated in-house. Whitney Kelly, PR and social media associate manager in charge of Instagram for Sharpie, has been surprised by the number of followers.

“It’s all been organic growth driven by the content and authentic presence in the space,” she said. “It shows fans an inside look into who we are and that the people at Sharpie are passionate about the markers and the products too.”

sharpie instagram photos

Sharpie's Instagram photos range from intricate drawings to simple text.

Video is also a big part of Sharpie’s social media. “Video content is highly engaging for our teen target,” said Ryan Rouse, global director of marketing Sharpie at Newell Rubbermaid.

The Back to School campaign culminated in a new venture for Sharpie;—a music video, which debuted as a 60-second spot at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs). The video featured artwork from hundreds of fans as the backdrop to the California Wives‘ song, “Purple.”

Here’s the 60-second Sharpie ad that aired during the 2012 MTV VMAs:

#2: Promote Self-Expression

“The stars of that video are our fans and their creations that they’ve submitted to and our .com site during the back-to-school period,” said Rouse.

Sharpie conducted a study with both teenagers and adults several years ago to learn how they were using the product. They discovered “an overwhelming amount of creative and expressive usages coming from teens,” Rouse said.

He added, “It went so far beyond what even we had expected. Teens are customizing and personalizing and using our products and other types of products to create content. At the same time that this trend of creation was in an upswing, the ability to share, comment, give feedback, push out, and pull in was rising with digital penetration rate.”

The Sharpie marketing team moved toward promoting more self-expression with the product and giving users ways to share what they had created.

The YouTube channel, for example, features a Get Inspired playlist showcasing artists using Sharpies making unique creations on skateboards, coffee cups, subway maps and discarded window frames.

Said Rouse, “We want to inspire you to do something, ask you to share and if you do, we’re going to put your creation up on stage in a very exciting way.”

Even fans whose artwork did not end up in the official music video could create a custom music video mashup and share the results via Facebook, Twitter or a permalink.

sharpie music video mashup

Sharpie encouraged fans to create their own music video mashup after the MTV VMAs.

#3: Appeal to Multi-Screen and Mobile Use

Although a TV ad is traditional marketing, Sharpie integrated the spot with their social platforms. They chose the MTV VMAs to take advantage of the emerging trend of social TV among teens. “We’re seeing broadcast television interaction with social networks being a growing trend,” said Rouse.

Twitter is increasingly popular among teens. “That’s verified by my personal experience as well, with three teens [at home],” said Wassel. “Teens are the multi-screen generation. It’s not enough just to watch TV. During the VMAs they are tweeting to their celebrities, what’s happening on the red carpet, etcetera.”

Sharpie collaborated with BOP and Tiger Beat magazines to co-host a VMA Twitter party during the red carpet pre-show. And the ad was Shazam-enabled, taking fans to a custom landing page where they could view the full version of the video and access one of 5,000 free downloads of the song.

sharpie engages with fans

Sharpie engages with fans who tweeted during the MTV VMAs.

“It’s no longer about winning on that one screen,” said Rouse. “It’s about creating an experience across multiple screens that are part of our teens’ media consumption.”

What Does This Mean for You?

Not every company can hire a nationally known band, shoot a music video and air the ad on MTV. But many of Sharpie’s tactics can be scaled to a teen-targeted business of any size.

Instagram is a good place to start. Rouse calls it a perfect storm of self-expression, both visual and mobile. “It looks and feels like what our audience is doing every single day,” he said.

And don’t forget to communicate with your teen fans. Kelly even spends after-hours time searching for photos tagged with #Sharpie to comment on them, and responding to comments on Sharpie’s own photos.

“I know that when a brand responds to me on social media I’m excited, so I try to give our fans that same pleasure and excitement and gratification,” she said.

sharpie responds to comments

Sharpie responds to fans' comments on Instagram.

“It’s not about us putting out branded content,” said Rouse. “It’s about us amplifying the passion that exists in our community.”

What do you think? Does your company target teens on social media? What works and what doesn’t work? How can you scale Sharpie’s tactics to fit your company? Leave your questions and comments in the box below.

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  • Pingback: 3 Ways to Connect With Teens on Social Media, Tips From Sharpie « Social Media / SEO / Mobile / Digital Marketing News()

  • John Lee Dumas

    Interesting topic on teen-targeted marketing Louise. Small business whose target market includes teens will be able to learn some new and interesting tips from this post.

    Have a rockin Thursday SME peeps!

    ~John Lee Dumas

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    This illustrates yet again, that if you know your audience, understand what makes them tick you can create exactly the “right” customer experience. And it doesn’t always takes oodles of money but it certainly is nice to be able to do something like this. Great article! 

  • Louise Julig

    Thanks, @JohnLeeDumas:disqus  and @CASUDI:disqus ! Yes, Sharpie put the time in to learn about their target audience, which makes all the difference.

  • Sherry Nouraini

    A good example of the fact that successful social media campaigns are all about the customer and not the brand!

  • E N Brown

    Wow – and people thought kids only spent time on their ipads and iphones. Being creative means many things but the most important thing they did was make it easy for kids to share their personal creations. The folks at Sharpie (or whoever) sure had their thinking caps on for this one.  Great campaign points. 

  • Adam4reliv

    I market to the later teen audience (16-20) who have money they can spend (without parents approval, NOTHING illegal). It should be a fun challenge to produce a program to market to them,


  • Greg Wright

    I have products and business that is reaching out to 18 year olds plus looking for entrepreneurs and customers for personal care and health products.  It would be good to set up a mastermind group to see how that could be made relevant.

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  • Louise Julig

    Thanks for the comments, @f7b6bd2e53bb371ca72d305ed05257f0:disqus and @facebook-100000555126745:disqus . Best of luck with your marketing efforts. I thought the most interesting thing I discovered in researching this piece was the DIY culture among teens that Sharpie discovered. They are creative and want to express themselves in as many ways as possible. 

  • Cierra Timpson

    Awesome read!

  • Tamingdragons

    So while I’m not sure what it will do for my own marketing campaigns, this article did get me to take a picture of my teenager’s colorful sharpie switch plate decoration and have her post it on the sharpie website.  Not sure this was exactly the intent of the article.  But, lesson internalized for future use.  Thank you!

  • Maria

    As a teenage first bra brand we find it quite difficult to get to our audience, we have started an instagram account this week and shall now use your tips on how best to engage. Many thanks. #sweetling_

  • Prashant Main

    The key is identifying your exact target audience. You can work around your plan with many bright ideas. Thanks for sharing the tips.

  • Liz

    Excellent review and great example of understanding your target market. Looks like Sharpie are having a lot of fun with this and this has been reflected in their results. Inspiring.

  • Moniza GOPAUL

    Many thanks.  Great example of how to captivate the teen’s audience.

  • Traci Garceau

    Excellent article on what can be achieved with a needle point targeted approach.  They deserve that 89% of market share.

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  • Dara Khajavi

    This is a perfect example of a carefully planned out social media strategy for a target market. Sharpie has developed a creative and unique strategy that is true to brand. This strategy may not be relevant to a different demographic, but it fits perfectly with the teen audience.

  • Linkedin

    It is good to see creativity @ any age. My concern with “Sharpies” is the landfill aspect. It would be nice to see the company invest in a product that can be refilled in some manner that would decrease the ‘use it & toss it’ mentality. At nearly 60, I have been using them for years, primarily to obtain autographs from notable entertainers, such as Petula Clark. Must have worn out a couple of them on her alone! Most recent was Peggy Cummins, who appeared @ the San Francisco Film Noir Festival & signed all 4 of my DVD copies of films in which she had starring roles.

  • Katie Wood

    Great example of a brand connecting with a specific target audience. Sharpie clearly understands where and how the teen demographic is using social media. Through the creation of unique content and community interaction, Sharpie makes itself a relevant part of the conversation.

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  • Louise Julig

    Best of luck, @ce56bca9eb6ba866a927c3459c84da3c:disqus I am glad the article was useful to you.

  • Louise Julig

    You might be interested in this post on the Sharpie Blog about an upcycling program to repurpose used Sharpie markers into other products.

  • May M

    Facebook ,Twitter ,YouTube,Instagram,Pinterest are definitely for teens… Have to choose

    the right combination of social medial sites which can compliment each other:)

  • Christine Steffensen

    This is a good strategy on how to connect with teens using social media for marketing campaigns. It is also important to communicate with your target audience to gain their loyalty to use your brand. Today’s teenagers have become the most connected generation of all time in social media world.

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  • Paulien

    Hi Sharpie, I would like to contact
    your office in The Netherlands to discuss a possible partnership. The email
    tool on your website is unfortunately not working. Can you give me the right email
    address? Thanks! Paulien.

  • Louise Julig

    @44f910bc0ada4424c21946f9a130c3d0:disqus you should try addressing your question to the Sharpie Twitter account or on the Facebook page, linked in the article above in the Highlights box. Good luck.

  • Kayleigh Green

    Great insight on how engaging the target audience needs to be a priority!

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  • Mohan Rangaswamy

    enjoyed the feature on teen marketing, would welcome something on how to penertrate the more mature market

  • Mohan Rangaswamy

    i have been told that as a plastic surgeon i should be on instagram, am a bit puzzled as to how this will help, i cannot obviously upload patient pictures and sensitive information. yet i am intrigued. Any thoughts on this?

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  • J Parker Adair

    I couldn’t help but LOVE the Petula Clark comment. When I coached HS football, our stadium/school was downtown. Her voice echoed after every game like Sinatra at Yankee Stadium.

  • JAE


  • oyin

    lovely article. for me i noticed most teenagers are more into themselves, they love the private life thats why you would see very few teenagers tweet