Every three to four years for the last few decades, U.S. commentators wonder aloud whether this will be the year that Americans care about The Beautiful Game, in conjunction with both the men’s World Cup and the women’s World Cup (Canada, 2015). The escalation of youth participation in soccer
, the rising international profile of U.S. Soccer (men’s – women, we know, have been on top for quite a while), and increased media coverage on mainstream outlets are all cited as reasons why this (insert year here) will be the year that Americans finally get soccer. Of course, on the heels of the draw with Portugal, which looked like a victory for the U.S. up until the last 30 seconds, this claim seems more justified than in the past. Can Americans still possibly claim that soccer doesn’t hold the excitement of other sports?
Thus far, research shows that viewership of and interest in the World Cup has remained pretty stable compared to four years ago. According to Pew Research, roughly the same share of the public is looking forward to the World Cup this year (22%) as it was in 2010 (23%). The nature of the tournament means that few moments will garner as much attention as the one and done Super Bowl. Despite the U.S. and Ghana match’s 7.0 ratings share on Nielsen’s overnight report—a record for a FIFA World Cup match on the channel, according to Businessweek, kids, tweens and teens who are still in school in some parts of the country and beginning camp in others, don’t exactly have the freedom to view during the day that many adults seem to find. Youth can’t flock to their local pub the way Millennials might, and kids and tweens, in particular, are consistently more excited to play the game than watch it on TV.
Still, it’s hard to argue that the World Cup and soccer, in general, have become important symbols of youth culture. Pew’s research shows that four-in-ten adults ages 18-29 (40%) were looking forward to the World Cup before the start of the tournament, compared with just 13% of adults 50 and older. The last time the men’s World Cup occurred, we wrote about the reasons why soccer should matter to today’s kids, tweens and teens
. Four years later, we’re inspired to look at all that soccer – and the U.S. team specifically - represents and reflects about this particular cohort of youth.
A global community. As fans of England now know, the seemingly solid lines of citizenship and belonging are hardly fixed. Uruguay dashed the hopes of the English team by the foot of striker Luis Suarez – best known for an infamous stint in the Premier League, and as a player for Liverpool. The global exchange of footballers is not new to the sport, but better reflects a kind of youth culture and experience that sees country boundaries and borders, and a general sense of belonging and membership that is more fluid than ever. The U.S. team has players that feel diverse in all sorts of ways – with many spending much of their lives living outside our nation’s borders. The U.S. team, moreso than many other “national teams” like the Olympic contingents for most sports, feels like it truly reflects the plurality of experiences and backgrounds that youth recognize from their own lives.
An underdog coming of age. The U.S. team might be an unlikely underdog, but when it comes to soccer, the world seems to be watching to see whether this up and comer can establish itself as a world power on the pitch. Being underestimated makes the U.S. team even more relatable to youth, who respect fame and accomplishment, but root for those who – like themselves – are often trying to prove they’re more capable than expected.
A respect for refresh. For many long-time U.S. soccer fans, the decision to leave Landon Donovan at home was controversial to say the least. But for youth, a chance for new stars to shine makes the team even more appealing. Soccer has been somewhat stagnated in popular culture, with athletes like Mia Hamm (who kids continue to love) representing the face of the game, despite being on the bench. Today’s youth are more likely to follow someone who represents the future of soccer, not its past.
Inclusiveness. The Nike campaign for the World Cup suggests that the kind of inclusiveness that this cohort of kids, tweens and teens value and demand is not lost on one of youth’s favorite brand, even beyond football. The ad includes “characters” from across the globe in a video game style ad, and, importantly, speaks to youth with humor, not only heroism. And, the language of laughter connects with a broad range of youth.
On the surface, Kendall and Kylie Jenner are not relatable in any sense of the word. They come from one of the most globally recognizable families in the world. They call an Olympic athlete their dad and a “Momager” their mom. Kendall Jenner’s IMDB bio describes her as an “American socialite, television personality and model.” Kylie Jenner hangs with Will Smith’s son, movie star Jaden Smith. Their famous sisters (and half brothers) have had self-titled TV shows, and almost everyone in their family of drinking age is paid in the thousands of dollars for merely appearing at a party. Not to mention that their lives have been filmed and broadcast since the age of 10 (Kylie) and 12 (Kendall).
But despite the odds, they might have just become role models of a certain sort to today’s youth. What makes these girls the celebs of the moment goes beyond good marketing and a public platform that is arguably unrivaled (although those help). We think that they were far from destined to become today’s trendiest teens (with millions following them on Twitter). And while there are many reasons why adults might critique their particular brand of fame, we’re endlessly curious about the reasons why these girls have connected with today’s teens.
- They defy the script. Despite being part of the most scripted unscripted family of all time, the youngest Jenner sisters consistently seem to speak in a different tone, in a different way than their older counterparts. Kylie dyes her hair blue. Kendall prefers to portray herself as awkward and anti-social versus gregarious and polished. They publicly criticize their celebrity family (all the while, reassuring listeners that they’re all about familial love). They sometimes shun the camera (all the while, continuing to post selfies of all sorts).
- They eschew entitlement. Like their older sisters, these girls seem to engage in deals across multiple domains. But the image they’ve cultivated is one that suggests that they are workers. Beyond constantly praising the work ethic of their parents, they have served as “interns,” designers for a line at Pac Sun (who, in the “fashion” of the day, claim to be hands on, and they’ve written a fictional novel). Even Kendall’s recent success as a model feels like it’s fueled more by the kind of flow she gets from pursuing a lifelong passion (even though, in early episodes of the series, she buckled under the pressure her older sister put on her to take modeling classes).
- They have issues. But they have the right kind of issues – teen angst, sibling rivalry, a little bit of narcissism - but they’re not known for promiscuity, overindulgence, or insensitivity. Remember, their young fans are much more morally self-righteous than we might expect. Tweens, in particular,are quick to feel uncomfortable when their idols make ill-advised decisions.
- They care about creativity. They represent a kind of creative class of youth that feels both age-appropriate and consistent with the ethos of their cohort of youth. It’s unlikely that teens will read the countless scathing reviews of their newest endeavor, a novel entitled Rebels: City of Indra, and instead will see them as “authors” of a form that feels different than the memoirs of their famous sister and mother. They treat fashion with reverence that helps to elevate their occupation as “designers” and models to a respectable height. And their boho style, while fueled by designer labels, feels more earthy and relatable to today’s teen girls who see themselves as more creative than luxury-laden.
- They’re connected. It’s not just about tweeting or posting a never-ending stream of images on Instagram. They’re connected to each other – they come as a pair like so many popular kid and teen characters (remember Mary Kate and Ashley?). They are surrounded by people and have a built in social club in the form of their siblings. This reassurance that these stylish, attractive girls are also part of a larger team is critical to keeping them within reach.
Later this week, 20th Century Fox will release the highly anticipated Fault in Our Stars (FiOS), a teen romance based on the best-selling 2012 Young Adult novel by John Green. Social media has been buzzing over this movie for years, and the excitement is getting even more intense as the premiere date gets closer. The trailer for the film has nearly 20 million views, and John Green has been popping up all over social media promoting the film.
The success of FiOS might seem surprising. There are no supernatural creatures, it’s not set in a dystopia where teens must fight to the death, and it lacks much of the dark, fantastical elements we’ve come to expect in teen media. It’s a realistic story about two terminally-ill teens who meet and fall in love. The story isn’t new to Young Adult fiction (or “YA” among the indoctrinated!), but Green’s story has made a huge impression on teen and adult readers. A lot has already been written about what makes FiOS so successful (its raw emotions, its universal story of love and life, its compelling characters, etc.), but we thought of a different reason as to why FiOS is not only so wildly popular, but also why it’s popularity isn’t that surprising.
Teen culture has always been about balance. For every bad boy, there is a boy next door; for every nerd, a jock; and if there’s heartache, there’s a new romance. The list could go on. Even popular culture aimed at teens balances itself. The crazy stunts and outrageous antics of Lady Gaga are balanced by Taylor Swift’s wholesome good-girl.
After years of supernatural creatures and murderous teens, FiOS balances YA literature and teen culture. For years, teens have been bombarded with (and rabidly consumed by) dark fantasy, paranormal romance, and dystopia. Just when it looked like the scale was beginning to tilt a little too far, along came FiOS with its human, fallible characters, its awkward romance, and its gritty exploration of a very real and very human issue: illness and death. FiOS provides teens with something different, something to offset the media they’ve been consuming for so many years.
Even John Green himself is vastly different from other YA authors. Green was one of the first major vloggers on Youtube, a platform he has used successfully to speak to teens and promote his books. Green tweets and takes to Tumblr. His celebrity status and willingness to engage with teens has led some to call him the "teen whisper", unlike Stephanie Meyers and Suzanne Collins, neither of whom have actively engaged with their audience in the ways Green does.
While it might be easy to talk about the importance of tension in teen products or offerings, we think a bit of balance might be a better formula for success. Extreme might make for a headline, but balance makes for a bestseller.
Predicting the next kid or tween craze or collectible is far from easy, and assessing a contender often requires a highly tuned gut more than a simple list of rules. Still, practice makes perfect and we thought we would give you newbies to the kid space a starting point, and you vets a compelling case study to add to your own collection…Watchover Voodoo Dolls.
Watchover Voodoo Dolls are keychains featuring little people made of string. The characters range from ninjas and karate pros to little girls shopping and to test-taking students. Each one comes attached to a tag which provides the character’s name, but more importantly, the way it will watchover its owner…Keeper, a soccer player, promises to be “your last line of defense against all those who try to beat you at your own game.” The Student purports to “help you enjoy the best days of your life and ensure your future is as debt free as possible.” They’re
sold in novelty shops, on eBay, and on Amazon.
So what does our latest favorite kid/tween collectible get right? Here’s what we think…
- Cute+cool. For kids and tweens, the best collectibles are the ones you can show off to your friends…and most of the time, you see your friends outside of school. So collectibles for this age are, not surprisingly, small. Little can inherently lead to cute, and cute, depending on your age, can be a bit uncomfortable. So what do the best collectibles do? They combine the cute with the cool (subscribers can see our JFM 2013 Trendspotter for more on this timeless and timely trend, inspired by the work of scholar, Gary Cross). These dainty dolls deal with strong feelings and emotions, making statements that might be wise beyond the years of their young owners. But containing these weighty sentiments within these tiny trinkets makes for just the right juxtaposition. They are safe but bold, mature but manageable for the developing kid and tween psyche.
- Material matters. As scholars like Robin Bernstein contend, the material that children’s toys are comprised of conveys a “script” for the play experience. Are these toys or objects of desire to be treated gently? Are they precious or rare? For kid and tween collectibles, a little bit of breakability isn’t all bad….This might seem counter to the wishes of
protective parents, but might that not be the point? The best collectibles tend to feel like they require cherishing – much like the dirt-attracting fibers of these miniature Voodoo figures. They aren’t fragile in the traditional sense, but they do require more careful handling (the notion of protection put back in youth’s hands) than the average keychain.
- A dose of danger. So many of kids’ collectibles are relatively benign. But for kids and tweens, a bit of subversiveness often makes for a more salient item. This encroaching on the occult is an evergreen theme in kid culture – think Ouija boards and magic eight balls. But collectibles often have an air of the rare and mysterious to them too. Pokemon cards have their exotic look (especially when they first emerged on the scene, in the early day of the anime explosion). Or the mischievousness of Garbage Pail Kids. Or the taking of a regular top and overlaying it with slightly threatening personas, as in Beyblades. Watchover Voodoo Dolls do a great job fulfilling kids’ and tweens’ fascination with the mystical and dangerous (voodoo), while keeping things light and positive (watchover). These dolls serve as symbolic mantras that kids can carry around with them. More like a lucky rabbit’s foot than an actual voodoo doll, the power behind these objects comes from the ideas they represent more than just their aesthetics.
- Priced right. A collectible might have an air of preciousness about it, but to incentivize a trend, it’s important to get the price point right. In the U.S., these dolls linger between the $7.50 and $10 price point. They are just expensive enough to matter (something has to be at stake for a collectible to “count”), but cheap enough that they’re within the range of many tweens’ allowance.
Recently, our family spent spring break in Italy with two boys of our own, and two nephews all under the age of six. While technically “off the clock,” I couldn’t help but bring my researchers’ eyes along for the ride. This is by no means a scientific study, but this fresh look at youth and this, admittedly, random collection of observations and reminders has left me with ideas and inspiration for the past few weeks. I hope they do the same for you!
- The slides are steeper. In the town where we stayed, the fountain at the piazza’s center was backed by a modern playground comprised of colorful slides, bridges and tunnels, and climb-able trucks and trains. By all accounts, this play space looked like it could have been in Chicago or New Jersey, or anywhere else in the world. Except for the slide. It was STEEP! As if our American-ness wasn’t already apparent in this off-the-beaten path town, the way we gawked at the tall yellow slide signaled that we were not from “around here.” But what insight can possibly be gleaned from the slope of a slide? Like so many European TV programs (if you ever have the chance, see the brilliant David Kleeman’s presentation on the big risks that children’s television takes in other markets around the world), risk looks a little different outside our borders. There was hardly glass on the ground, and no dangerous characters lingered by the swings, but this playground didn’t have signs signaling appropriate ages, and it had one heck of a drop from the top. The fun for kids from this whizzzzzzzz came from taking off, however tentatively, one’s cloak of nervousness to experience the joy and
bravado that comes from tackling a phobia. More was at stake on this slide than on their safer American counterparts. Too bad for all the undercover superheroes in the U.S. just waiting for their chance to fly.
- Play is a language. The highlight of our vacation, at least for me, came not from watching the sun set over a grove of olive trees (although that was nice) or a glass of vino with family (nice as well) but watching my six year old son negotiate a game of tag with a new friend. Beyond a “bon giorno” and a cautious “hello,” the two children had little to discuss. But they were able to gesture and smile their way through a fairly recognizable game of tag (with my son’s new Italian friend sometimes hugging instead of simply tagging!). It reminded me that play is a language all its own, and it travels. The impulse to play is something that adults sometimes try to manage, promote and steer, but the desire to connect in un-productive leisure represents something more powerful than many adults can understand or facilitate. Play pushes its way through barriers of all sorts, including language barriers, to become the language itself.
- They have the same Legos everywhere. Globalization and consumer culture are weighty issues—and ones that marketers often view very differently than the many critics who consider the loss of local flavor (in addition to many other potentially deleterious effects). But there was something amazing about the way that characters and properties bond children across the globe. Beyond Cartoonito’s decidedly dark rendition of Heidi, many of the shows on Italian TV were familiar to our kids. This universal culture might have its downsides—and in the least, suggests we should treat these ubiquitous exports as sacred symbols—but it also serves to make children comfortable across strange lands. When my son saw his favorite Legos in the window of a toy store in downtown Chiavari, he was home.
- “New” can be nice. It could be these specific kids, or it could be this cohort of youth, but the differences in pizza, ice cream, language, and environment and even in other people didn’t seem to faze our young travelers. The excitement came from the same sources it typically did—from really, really good gelato. Or a particularly challenging playground bridge. Or that steep slide. But without making a big deal about what was different, our kids seemed to think that most things were pretty much the same. Kids are shockingly adaptable if we allow them to be. For all the concern that modern parents face about fixing schedules and helping children adjust to new experiences, kids not only survive but often thrive when they must encounter and integrate the “new.” It goes without saying that this is where learning and growth live—not just for kids, but for adults as well.
A few days ago, Bunmi Laditan, author and mommy blogger, wrote a piece on the magic of childhood. Laditan argues that parents should stop trying to create magical moments for their children and tone down extravagant gifts, decorations, and bedrooms. She's not saying that parents shouldn't spend quality time with their children or create fun moments, childhood, Laditan argues, is already a magical time so why do parents feel the need to construct larger-than-life magical moments?
While Bunmi’s point-of-view seems to buck the tide of Millennial moms and dads committed to creating the kind of cherished childhood that they never really had themselves (think princesses actually coming to your kids’ birthday parties instead of princesses that simply populate their plates!), we do think she makes an important point about children more than about moms.
Laditan points out that children can find almost anything magical. Childhood is filled with moments of fascination and delight that parents have very little control over: seeing your first snowfall, meeting your first friend in school, finding something to be passionate about (if only for a few minutes). Even when kids are given an engaging game or offered an over-the-top toy, they often play on their own terms.
It’s clear that kids can create their own magic, but perhaps even more importantly, they should. Being presented with a magical moments is exciting, but discovering and owning it feels even better. The experience of finding magic in unexpected places inspires kids to experiment and take risks. And for marketers and content creators, watching how and where they experience magic is as important as knowing what it is.
The notion of leaving a little bit for kids to finish or find on their own isn’t new in innovation. Products and properties that provide little direction can open up endless magic. Characters that let you contribute to the story keep you engaged and interested. Play products that imagine a child who participates, not just performs a static script tend to get more use. Understanding that almost anything can be magical opens up numerous possibilities for how we position products and brands in kids’ lives.
When it comes to creating family traditions, many of today’s families – especially those headed by Millennials – seek less to recover the past than to adopt great new ideas. The Elf on the Shelf is not necessarily a new tradition but one that many kids consider timeless, while many of their parents take pride in knowing they’ve identified a great opportunity for family fun, and have created a tradition along the way. In our recent work with Millennial Moms, we found that they seek out ways to celebrate the little moments in their children’s days and calendars in ways that are more engaging for kids than any generation before them. Far from cynical about family-focused holidays and kid-events, they see them as sacred. At the same time, they look for ways to bring fun and play into these special days.
Enter a new idea for Easter that we think sits at the center of the Millennial family Zeitgeist. Cherri Prince, an alum of the advertising world (and, in full disclosure, a friend of YouthBeat!) has decided to bring her own family tradition to the world in the form of a new book and idea called Lollipop Seeds that Sprout for Kind Deeds. The concept:
- Before Easter, kids must do something kind for someone.
- The night before Easter, parents and kids join together to plant seeds in the backyard or in a pot.
- The next morning, if kindness occurred, the seed will bloom into a lollipop garden!
In addition to a sweet treat, kids get a great lesson in the power of kind acts. And moms not only get the joy that only comes from watching kids get surprised, but they also have a great story to tell other moms – another element of the experience that Millennial Moms find hard to resist.
Today’s parents have more information than ever about parenting; but that might be part of the problem. At least according to Dalton Conley, author of Parentology: Everything You Wanted to Know About The Science of Raising Kids But Were Too Exhausted to Ask. Despite the sub-title of his book, and the blurbs on the back cover from Tiger Mom’s Amy Chua, and Bringing Up Bebe author Pamela Druckerman, Conley doesn’t necessarily intend to add to the long shelf of self-help books. (In fact, he points out the “one” place where he agrees with Chua in his book, suggesting he doesn’t, in most cases, and he identifies himself as more of an “Italian papa” than a French mere.) Instead, he promotes and chronicles a “new” approach to parenting: “parentology.” While he is a sociologist by training, and does tap into some of the key, recent texts in that field (see our blog post on one of his cited works, Annette Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods), he suggests his parenting journey is one based more on improvisation. Conley outlines three components of the parentology philosophy of “highly engaged child-rearing”:
- Accesses all relevant research
- Makes a practice of constantly weighing said research against one’s own experience and common sense
- Invents unique methodologies on the fly and fearlessly carries them out in order to test creative hypotheses about best practices for one’s own particular offspring
As antonyms to parentology, Conley lists: “Old-world parenting, traditional parenting, textbook parenting, tiger mothering, and bring up bebe.”
Conley’s genre-bending book reads more like a memoir than a parenting manual. And as the former Dean of NYU, a sociologist by training, and a New York City dad, his story is hardly representative of those of that imaginary “typical” parent that marketers and researchers so often rely on for “authentic” insight.
So what does a book like this help us know or understand about parents or their kids that they’re raising today?
- They seek out research. Sure, most parents aren’t consulting social science journals – and wouldn’t necessarily know where to look if they did – but they do have more and more “research” at their fingertips. Instead of googling a second opinion, Conley seeks out experts in the relevant field.
- They recognize research’s limits. Even the most academically-inclined among us must admit that the research doesn’t reveal magic bullets when it comes to parenting or to understanding kids. Conley’s journey manifests a reality that many students come to know: just when you thought one theory held the key to your conundrum, another theorist or study counters it. This doesn’t suggest that there’s no point in consulting studies and experts. But it does suggest that the search for the holy grail of putting an infant to bed with ease, potty training, college applications, etc. just doesn’t exist. And most parents come to the realization, much like Conley does, that at some point your gut really matters.
- They know that kids are messy-- I mean unique. We admit it – most kids aren’t reading the same textbooks we are. They don’t often fit into neat developmental models, and while it’s incredibly satisfying when these theories help us predict or explain something we see in the world, the truth is that most kids are messy. There, we said it. They fail to comply with the “rules” that experts purport. Or worse, they play fair for one or two days, or maybe even a year, and then they defy their parents by growing, changing and evolving in directions that are sometimes unpredictable. Parents know this. Marketers reluctantly admit this.
- They have to laugh. Conley reminds us that part of parenting resilience must include a sense of humor. It’s not only important to laugh with your kids, but to sometimes take great joy and find the kind of humor that you can’t find on any screen in the ridiculousness that is sometimes childhood (and parenthood). We think Conley’s work works because it doesn’t slip into cynicism or snark (except when it does), but rather maintains the loving, knowing tone of a father who has failed as often as he succeeded and kids who make the world complex more often than they simplify it.
We think these are attributes that many of today’s parents – especially Millennial moms and dads – share. And we wonder if “parentology” might not be an approach to parenting with more longevity than the methods that have made it to the mainstream in the past few years.
Disney's Frozen was recently released on DVD/Blu-ray and quickly became one of the bestselling video releases in the last decade. It's one of the biggest hits of 2013 (and an Oscar winner to boot), and one of the most popular kid and family movies in awhile. Some have called it the beginning of a new Disney renaissance.
From the very beginning, Frozen was a different kind of Disney fairy tale. The earliest trailer for the film showed only the goofy snowman, Olaf getting stuck on an icy pond. The 30-second clip was funny and entertaining, but gave no hints that the film was actually about two sisters. Later promotional material highlighted the four principle characters (two females and two males), but failed to betray the fact that the film was another princess play from the company that made this trope famous.
But getting kids and parents in the theater is only part of the story. With Frozen, Disney created another mainstay movie that parents and kids love (and already rewatch over and over). So, how is Frozen unique in the Disney Princess world and why are parents and kids—especially young girls – so drawn to it?
Princesses can be complex too. Frozen throws out the typical good versus evil dynamic we've come to expect from Disney animation, especially the classic fairy tales. Instead, Frozen gives us two princesses at odds with each other. Neither one is entirely good nor evil. Both sisters are capable of doing some not-so-nice things (Ana yelling at her sister and Elsa emotionally shutting Ana out), but they are also capable of love and compassion. These Disney Princesses don't just need to be rescued; they can also do the rescuing. Frozen lets Elsa and Anna be more than pretty images on screen. They are complex characters who struggle with relationships and their own identities. Parents looking to teach their young daughters how to be true to themselves have found some great messages in Frozen.
Defy Expectations. Early on in Frozen, it looks as if Disney is delivering another "love at first sight" with a young princess and handsome prince. But the movie quickly rejects the idea of love at first sight and becomes a story about the relationship between two sisters. One of the reasons fairy tales can be so comforting is that their plots are predicable and formulaic. By violating expectations of plot, Frozen demands a lot of thought out of its young audience. Frozen proves that kids don’t always need the simple and familiar stories. Fans of this Disney film are embracing something that defies everything they’ve come to expect (and frankly, love) about the genre.
It's not just about beauty—it's also about the ideas. Some critics have found Frozen's plot to be overly simplistic (or non-existent). But Frozen is a movie with some pretty big ideas. Do you hide who you are or "let it go?" Love is complicated and understanding true love takes work. You have to take the good with bad, and figure out how to balance to two. Kids watching Frozen not only get to see some spectacular animation and sing along to catchy songs, they are also confronted with big ideas and questions. One of the reasons the film has been so popular is that these questions and ideas speak to kids. Kids have a lot of questions about how the world works, and Frozen respects the seriousness of these questions. Kids don’t feel talked down to by the film; instead, they are empowered by it. This is the junior viewer’s thinking movie – and we think parents and kids are ready for it.
Girly-Girls can be strong too. While Frozen is unique and subverts a lot of familiar tropes of the Disney princess, it doesn’t completely reject the genre. Unlike Brave’s Merida, who is sometimes so opposite of a Disney Princess that she potentially isolates the primary audience of the Disney Princess franchise, Anna is allowed to be kind of a girly-girl. Anna has moments where she needs help, but she isn't completely helpless. Young girls who love the Disney Princesses have a lot to love about Frozen, but unlike some early film, they also have a lot to learn about what it means to be a strong girl. And obviously, the strength Frozen gives them.
Being a teenager has always been tough, but according to a recent study on teen employment, a rough economy makes finding work more trying than ever for them. The employment rate for teens ages 16-19 has fallen from 45% in 2000 to 26% in 2011 - the lowest employment rate for teens since World War II.
While numerous studies suggest that teens are increasingly choosing to focus on school and forgo working, this study accounts for "underutilized" labor—teens that have part-time jobs, but want to work full-time and teens that aren't looking for work, but also want to be working full-time. In other words, for teens who do want to work, the jobs just aren’t there.
If you’re interested in gaining a clear picture of the lives of teens today, these findings contribute a crucial piece to the puzzle. But beyond simply describing the current state of affairs, we think this study should inspire some sound insights about the future of the youth market. Of course, fewer teens working might mean less disposable income for this cohort, but it also means that how teens spend (and think about spending) will change.
So, what might the current economic crisis mean for the future of teen spending?
They will make education (even more of) a priority. Staying in school has become increasingly important to teens and all Americans, but we predict that more teens will deliberately forgo working to continue with or focus on their education. These teens will seek out supplies to make their school years more productive. In other words, for marketers, think school is cool.
They will prioritize products with longevity. Even though teens are looking for deals, they also want to get their money’s worth. Products that last longer are increasingly more appealing to this economically challenged cohort. Even the "coolest" product can get a bad reputation if it's known to have a short shelf life. Don't be afraid to emphasize your product’s long-term potential.
They will make shopping about more than just spending. With less money to spend, teens might be avoiding retail stores more than their cohorts from previous generations. And when they do browse, teens feel less obligated to spend on the spot than in the past. This might seem like bad news for marketers, but instead, we think this signals some unexpected opportunities. Acknowledge that the shopping experience is increasingly social – both in-store and online. Don’t despair if they’re window-shopping – getting in their consideration set should be considered the first and critical win with these savvy, strategic shoppers.
They will ponder their purchases more than ever before. Forget your image of the impulsive teen buyer. Teens have become more thorough and more thoughtful in their purchases. This is why it’s vital to facilitate the evaluation process through reviews, demos, etc. Encouraging teens to think about their purchases will show them that you value their time and respect their wallets.