Marketing Students' Study Finds Teens Ignoring Risks of Tanning

Teens continue to visit tanning salons despite being aware of the dangers, a study released today reveals. The study was conducted by Beachwood High School marketing students on behalf of the office of Bryan J. Michelow, MD FACS, a Beachwood, Ohio-based, board-certified plastic surgeon.

The results of the study regarding teenage attitudes toward tanning beds reveal that 33 percent of the 55 teenagers interviewed admitted to being aware of the dangers of ultra violet light in tanning salons, yet they continued to visit them.

“The results of these focus groups reveal that kids are hearing the message about the link between skin cancer and tanning beds but choosing not to listen,” says Dr. Michelow, who commissioned this study after he had seen a leap in the number of deadly melanomas and basal cell cancers in young adults. “Young people don’t realize that the foundation for healthy skin is laid down early in life. Melanomas can appear in adults as early as their mid-20s. Melanoma can be fatal and basal cell cancers can be disfiguring, requiring a great deal of reconstruction,” adds Dr. Michelow, who repairs the damage to the face, skin and limbs following excision of cancerous lesions.

Dr. Michelow hopes to use the results of the study and the marketing strategies recommended by the Beachwood High School seniors to inform teenagers and their parents about the importance of maintaining skin health.

The Beachwood High School students recommended a tipping point approach to educating teens about healthy skin. Their research suggested that teenagers are highly influenced by their peer group and long to fit in to these groups. They recommended a marketing and advertising campaign based on teenagers desire to be accepted and been seen as cool.

Beachwood High School’s marketing class is taught by Mrs. Jean Getz. Her college-level class, is part of the Mayfield Excel TECC Consortium, a unique collaborative educational effort among six east-side school districts. Each year, students present a client with a complete marketing package that includes market research, a SWOT analysis, and recommendations for an integrated marketing plan to promote the product or service.

Dr. Michelow’s practice engaged Mrs. Getz’s marketing class at Beachwood High School to explore extending preventative skincare services to teenagers.

“The students did a wonderful job,” said Dr. Michelow.  “We learned that teens are hearing the message about healthy skin but they are not necessarily listening.  Mrs. Getz and her class helped us understand the teen thought process when it comes to skincare and what was important to them in product and services."

This collaboration was mutually beneficial. Jason Edwards, company and class president said, “The opportunity to work with Contemporary Cosmetic Surgery was a great experience.  We were able to not only work with a paying client but also to apply what was learned in the classroom in a real-world setting, by generating focus groups, conducting primary and secondary research and creating ads.”

Solly Popish, another senior, agreed. “I had a lot of fun working with Contemporary Cosmetic Surgery," she said. " I learned how to gather information, perform focus groups and design advertising.”

The study’s findings are of particular relevance as Ohio State Representative Lorraine Fende (D) District 62 (Willowick) and Representative Courtney Combs co-sponsored Ohio State House Bill 119, requiring a physician’s prescription for teenagers under the age of 18 who would like to use tanning booths.  Currently a teenager less than 18 years old must present a parent or guardian’s signature to the tanning salon prior to being allowed to use the Ultra Violet (UV) beds.

The number of skin cancer cases in the United States has increased from 500,000 in 1991 to 3.5 million per year.  Experts say that 20 minutes in a tanning bed is the equivalent of basking in two-three hours of midday sun. Eighty percent of the damage to the skin is caused prior to age 18.

Should House Bill 119 pass and become law, it will be the most stringent in the nation. Lobbyists such as the Indoor Tanning Association are vigorously opposing the bill.  Teenagers under the age of 18 comprise 10 percent of tanning salon customers. Barring them from using the tanning beds would take a big bite out of tanning salon earnings, which are already lean. A similar bill, regulating teen use of tanning booths by young teenagers was defeated in 2009. The Bill was supported by Miss Ohio 2009.

Companies marketing to teenagers face a dual challenge; raising awareness of their product, service or message among teens, while earning the approval of the parent who still guides their child’s purchasing decisions. Last year’s marketing class worked with Doner Advertising, the world’s largest private advertising agency, to perform market research for Doner’s clients, Things Remembered and Arby’s Restaurant.

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