By Rakia Reynolds
Photography by Hannan Saleh
Family has always been the focal point of Tina Wellsâ€™ life. The daughter of a pastor and eldest of six children, Wells, 31, had a steady upbringing that helped prepare her for the fast-pacedâ€” and unexpectedâ€”life of a marketing master. As a teenager, she began writing and submitting reviews of her favorite products, eventually recruiting her friends to do the same, andâ€”voilÃ !â€” her career as a trend spotter and arbiter of cool began. Today, the South Jersey girl runs Buzz Marketing Group, a multimillion dollar company with more than 9,000 â€œbuzzSpottersâ€ around the globe; sits on the boards of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Franklin Institute; promotes her book, the latest industry bible, Chasing Youth Culture and Getting It Right (Wiley); and studies in a post-baccalaureate program at the University of Pennsylvaniaâ€™s Wharton School of Business, all while managing to squeeze in some R&R whenever possible.
Wellsâ€™ parents encouragedâ€”and expectedâ€”all their children to go to college. â€œI wasnâ€™t allowed to watch TV shows like Married with Children or The Simpsons or R-rated movies until I was 18,â€ she says. â€œOne of my parents was home at all times.â€ This parental policy helped shape young Wellsâ€™ identity. â€œI once read that girls are as smart and powerful as theyâ€™ll ever be at 9 years old. Iâ€™m completely consumed with helping them stay that way.â€
POP GOES THE CULTURE
Wells is also the author of books for tween girls. The Mackenzie Blue series (HarperCollins) is â€œgood, clean fun with a message.â€ Wells believes that teen girls are often bombarded with the opposite: â€œWhat makes America so powerful isnâ€™t our military or money. Itâ€™s our pop culture. [In general], weâ€™re selling girls an oversexualized culture.â€
SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT
Wells culls information from her young trend spotters and translates the teen talk for mega brands like Nike, Steve Madden, Aveda, and M.A.C Cosmetics. Chasing Youth Culture and Getting It Right examines the Millennials (those born between 1984 and 2002), their obsession with â€œinstanityâ€ and technology, and how to reach (read: market to) them where they live, work, and play. â€œThis book is a conversation between me and the reader,â€ Wells says. Further proof that she is indeed the teen whisperer? â€œI wrote the book in a week.â€
X MARCS THE SPOT
According to Wells, some companies absolutely get it right when it comes to making the Millennials top priority. â€œMarc Jacobs is so youthful. He connects so well with the young audience when it comes to fashion,â€ she says of the designer and owner of the eponymous label. â€œHeâ€™s done a really good job of extending the brand.â€
â€œYoung people crave luxury, and technology is the new luxury,â€ Wells says. Millennials â€œtreat their technology as a fashion accessory.â€ Almost 40 percent of their money goes to items such as textured, colorful covers and cases for iPods and iPadsâ€”a 20 percent increase in recent years. â€œWe can learn a lot from teens and tweens,â€ she notes.