Mean Girls: Marketing to Teen Girls

The most interesting point in Robert Marich’s book “Marketing to Moviegoers: A Handbook of Strategies and Tactics” comes from the Marketing in Digital Media section. He says, “Film distributors spent between 5 percent and 20 percent of their marketing budgets on new media, with the range attributable to whether a film’s target audience is a heavy user of cyberspace or not,” (Marich, 112). This got me thinking about the ways in which films (or film distributors, rather) with adolescent target audiences adapt to certain marketing tactics. I’ll examine this through a look at U.S. distribution and reception of the 2004 American teen comedy Mean Girls, directed by Mark Waters. Grossing over $120M worldwide, the film is an adaptation of the book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” by Rosalind Wiseman.

Marketers need to be the Gretchen Weiners of their business, understanding that analytics and information (not gossip) fuel the soul. If you don’t know who your consumer base is and what they care about, ask them directly.

–Stephanie Kaplan in “6 Timeless Marketing Lessons From Tina Fey’s ‘Mean Girls'”

The film surrounds the evolution of protagonist, Cady Heron (played by Lindsay Lohan), a shy foreigner to both America and teen American social guidelines in high school. Amicably, the film does a great job of poking fun at stereotypical high school situations that most girls experience. The undercurrent effect is that the film is really raising a mirror to its audience of teenage females so that they see their own high school experiences. It is important to note that despite the film’s main characters’ race being white (we see you, unfriendly black hotties) the lessons to take away are applicable to a wide racial demographic, and arguably even to teenage boys!  meangirls1

This is a really effective marketing tactic: taking some of the faults and staples of a distinctive generation and creating a parody that they can both learn from and laugh at. In the Stephanie Kaplan article on, she explains the importance of knowing one’s audience in the best way possible, in order to come up with nearly fool-proof marketing techniques. The Gretchen Weiners characters reference is to one of the core members of The Plastics, who seems to be the social guide and code of rules and regulations in “girl world”. The same way film distributors had to know and understand the ins and outs of their target audience, Gretchen Weiners knew nearly everything about everyone in North Shore High.

I believe there are characters in the film that also show you how not to approach a young audience. We all know the scene with Coach Carr’s “Don’t Have Sex” health lesson. It’s etched into our minds simply by seeing how painfully awkward it was for him to try to make a connection with his teenage audience as an adult. Negative reinforcement wasn’t used blatantly when promoting this film, however it was indeed blanketed by humor. The popular comedic mantra “it’s funny because it’s true” is relevant when discussing this. Everyone who has experienced high school this way knows a Coach Carr.

To jump back to Marich’s point on the use of digital media to push films, and fuse it with another point in he Kaplan article where she argues that teens are the best brand ambassadors, teens were indeed the true mavens of cyberspace. Before “going viral” was a coined phrase, word of this movie must have spread through the Internet like wildfire. Those who had already seen the movie were quoting scenes and referencing characters. In middle school and high school, I can’t even begin to tell you how many cliques had their very own burn book after watching Mean Girls.


Most tween and teen girls who owned MySpace pages made sure they were filled with references to the movie. To say the film had a cult following would be to downplay the effect it had. It has been over a decade and the film Mean Girls has a lasting effect on the people who get to see it, including those who saw it ten years ago. Now with the evolution of digital media, and the introduction of new media, we get access to it at our own convenience. Netflix recently debuted the film in 2014 to much streaming success.

One of the defining movies of a generation, Mean Girls withstands time continuously. Even the White House benefits from its huge fan following.

Can You Match The “Mean Girls” Quote To Its Character?

Works Cited
  1. Kaplan, Stephanie. “6 Timeless Marketing Lessons from Tina Fey’s “Mean Girls”” Forbes, 11 Oct. 2012. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.
  2. Marich, Robert. Marketing to Moviegoers a Handbook of Strategies and Tactics, Third Edition. 3rd ed. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2013. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.

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