In this season of giving thanks, we at YouthBeat admit that we're thankful for all kids, tweens and teens! But we couldn't help singling this one 14 year old boy out...Graeme Taylor, an openly gay 14 year old, seems to have the spirit of giving in mind when he puts himself on the line to defend a teacher who was recently suspended after kicking a student out of his classroom who had made homophobic remarks. In this profound and moving speech, Taylor lays out the issue of gay bullying better than anyone we've heard to date. So give this a look, get inspired, and give a little thanks that there are kids, tweens and teens like this out there!
What kind of household manager is she?
What’s her level of education?
How does she make a living?
Where does she like to shop?
What’s her style?
And our favorite, what benefits does she seek in category x?
If you want to get to know today’s moms, as a target, audience, a customer, or just as people, these questions might get you started…But to really know today’s moms, we think there’s one question that is often missed: who are her kids?
Many marketers today, even those who create products explicitly for kids, tailor their messages to their parents. Many accept that mom is no longer merely a gatekeeper, but also a researcher and strategist– trying to figure out the needs of her children and align those needs with her own goals for them, her budget and her own wants. But in a world in which mom teams and kid occupy different floors in organizations, and moms are treated merely as a sub-group of women, we think there’s an opportunity to think differently about our mom-learning agendas…
Take for instance, the grocery store. In thinking about moms of little kids, retailers do a pretty good job of thinking about the child reality in crafting the parent experience. They know that exploring the produce section doesn’t hold the interest of most preschoolers, mom will likely find a way to make less frequent visits to a store if her child throws a tantrum. And as much as she might like her local Whole Foods, or might prefer a discount store, she’s likely to shift her habits if it means a happy child. Enter the car-attached-to-the-cart…Yes, moms might get an unintended workout trying to navigate these bulky vehicles down the aisles, and even moms who don’t mind a few germs might cringe at these Petri dishes on wheels, but she feels like she’s satisfied her most important stakeholder.
But ironically, when it comes to older children who we can assume to have more agency and more persuasive arguments for experiences, products and services that they want, marketers increasingly attend only to mom. Mom’s agenda matters, but even when she’s cutting back financially on things for herself, she’s often willing to spend on her kids. And she might prioritize attributes like health or quality, but really, when push comes to shove, she’s often looking for clues that her kids will love product x first. When we tell her that a snack is healthy, we might be cluing her in to what her child will like about it – after all, more and more kids prefer or at least accept nutritious noshing. But wouldn’t it be more compelling to find out what her kids really want out of a great snack and tell her about that? Or provide her with a more authentic narrative about what other kids love about an experience or service?
Obviously, we think the answer is “yes.” There might be some merit in telling parents what they want to hear. There’s no doubt that parents gain a sense of satisfaction around having their own lists checked, even if their children’s aren’t. And one could argue that moms won’t find children’s reality nearly as compelling as her own aspiration. But we think that’s underselling moms. Today’s mom is as interested in getting to know her child’s needs as she is in making sense of her own. And we think understanding moms without truly understanding her children misses more than just the context – it misses the core insight into what’s driving mom’s behavior today.
So next time you’re talking to moms, consider asking them who their children are and what they really want. And when Mom has completed her story, then ask her kids.
For the last century, and long before it, scholars, scientists, doctors and parenting experts have debated between focusing on gender differences, between the notion that boys were being “left behind” and that girls were, and between a belief in fixed and blurry gender identities.
Consumer culture has been credited or accused with allowing youth to explore gender or proscribing narrow definitions of it. While some industries cater to boy and girl differences (think the toy manufacturing and toy retail industries), others have sought common ground between the sexes (think media entities like Nick and Disney). And the culture that youth consume has embodied a scope large enough to hold gender benders and gender stereotypes alike.
But regardless of our theories on gender that aim to describe what it is and what it ought (or ought not) to be, youth experience gender in a way that’s all their own.
In YouthBeat’s next round of qualitative research, conducted among a virtual panel of 18 families across the country, we hope to uncover what gender means on boys’ and girls’ own their terms. How do ideas around gender being a spectrum versus a binary translate into the lives of real youth? What role does gender identity play in their emerging understanding of their overall identity? And what role does gender play (or not play) in the choices that they make as consumers of products, services and media?
To do this, we need your help. What questions about gender keep you up at night? What hypotheses do you have about this generation and their relationship to gender? How does your brand negotiate gender and what challenges have you faced?
In Katy Perry’s video for her latest single from the aptly titled album, Teenage Dream, she matches her poignant, if easily accessible, lyrics to “Firework” with images of “outcasts” of all sorts translating an inner fire to an outward spark.
And it could not come at a better time.
In the wake of sensational coverage of teen bullying, and in fairness of the sensational and tragic events that catalyzed this coverage, Perry promotes a message that many teens seem in need of hearing: “Do you know that there's still a chance for you, Cause there's a spark in you?” (See the complete lyrics.) While she does, in one instance, show bullying taking place, most of the vignettes in this video show the self-consciousness that live within these teens versus aggression from outside forces. By showing their torment, she reminds us that most teens don’t need a perpetrator harassing them to make them feel like they’re “drifting through the wind.”
Katy confronts the topic of many recent headlines – the quiet isolation and fear of living as a gay teen. And she has publicly acknowledged that this song is a dedication of sorts to Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project. But she also equally taps into real but slightly less “trendy” depictions of teen self-doubt…A girl too insecure to wear a bathing suit in front of other girls and boys her age…A young girl with a bald head, her hair lost to chemotherapy, feeling weak and frail…A boy whose passion and talent for magic makes him feel on the fringe.
In line with what we’ve discussed in previous posts, Larry Magid of cnet.com affirms that despite statistics that suggest that bullying is widespread, “nice” is actually the norm. In showing the real numbers of teens who engage in cyberbullying, or who report having been cyberbullied (which is probably the more authentic and reliable measure to monitor), which are quite low, Magid says:
The reason I point out these statistics is not to deny we have a problem -- whatever the statistics, cyberbullying can have horrendous consequences – but to remind parents and teens that the norm is to be civil, not mean.
Both of these teen idols seem to recognize that to win the support of today’s teens, the people and brands who influence them need to start by supporting them first.
And Katy’s approach seems to be in line with Magid’s plea: positive programs and messages over punishment of bullies. She leaves teens with a call to action that sounds like it could come from the star who most experts would agree to be the most sought after teen icon in the world right now: Lady Gaga. Katy sings, “You just gotta ignite the light/ and let it shine/just own the night/like the Fourth of July.”
With the launch of her third album, Speak Now, Taylor Swift seems to be courting a new love: the press. Swift is no stranger to the spotlight, having started her (mostly) country and largely crossover career at the tender age of 15 (she’s now 20). But in this post-Kanye-gate opus, Swift breathes fresh life into her formulaic approach: girl dates boy, girls and boy break-up, girl writes a song. Perhaps her romantic liaisons with the hate to love bad boy John Mayer are just a bit more interesting than anything she could have been doing with the Jonas Bros.? Maybe the lost potential of a Taylor/Taylor long-term romance (and all the puns and wordplay that could allow) is just more heartbreaking than the typical teen queen romance gone wrong? Maybe a song that forgives Kanye West for stealing her moment in the sun was so surprisingly genuine that we can’t help but listen?
Or maybe Taylor Swift is compelling to kids and tweens (the top musician on their respective lists) and pleasing to the press because she has managed to do a few things that we don’t expect from our teen icons anymore…
First, in a “share” culture, Swift neither shows nor tells. She manages to remain coy about her love life in interviews, and she doesn’t Tweet about her every interlude. She seems to keep her love life under wraps while it’s in progress (at least we’ll admit that this whole John Mayer business was news to us!). And this ability to stay discreet while living a life about which the public is increasingly interested makes her “news.”
But Swift doesn’t just live privately – she plays with privacy. She might be the nicest scorned woman you’ll ever meet, but she certainly sends a message to boys she dates: be nice or be sung. For tween girls, this model for managing heartbreak feels not only more practical than confronting that boy who just wasn’t that into you, but it also seems a bit healthier. Swift writes the cathartic letter to her ex, sends it, but keeps it anonymous (albeit transparent). She finds her voice, and as she writes in many of her songs, “has the final word.” For girls who are just finding their voice, this ability to express one’s interior life without ruining their exterior life is a skill worthy of admiration.
Finally, Swift explores and experiments – in music and in life. She doesn’t let herself be labeled as the lady of one genre (which may be why the CMA snubbed her this year, much to their own detriment?), and, in perhaps the sweetest revenge, she lets her exes inspire her. Her bluesy rif on “Dear John” might be poking fun at the rootsy guitarist, but her sound is all the better for having borrowed it. And the self-consciousness beneath her quiet confidence shows through – and that’s not a bad thing! While she earns the title, “veteran” in terms of performing, she plays the part of relationship novice in her life and songs. While her cohort of young celebrities shows more skin and reveals more details about their lives than we ever wanted to know, Taylor Swift seems to be taking the time to grow into her own skin. And it’s hard not to watch.
But what’s the future of Taylor Swift? Can she hold on to fame while holding out on sharing the scoop on the details of her private life? We’re not sure, but we know we’ll be hanging on her every word until then.