Halloween - Possibly the Perfect Holiday for Kids, Tweens and Teens

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Oct 31, 2011 @ 01:06 PM

Halloween may just be the perfect youth holiday…Halloween gets it right in so many ways with kids, tweens and even teens (not to mention their parents). The most kid-centric of celebrations, this holiday could only be made more perfect if it came with a day off from school (maybe – see below).  And while parents might suspect that other holidays have become too commercial, or require more planning and prep than play, most have no problem getting into the spooky spirit. To get all you guys and ghouls in the mood (sorry, we couldn’t resist!), see our 10 reasons why Halloween gets the under 18 set howling:

  1. The power of fantasy. Whether you’re a kid, tween or teen, every youth wishes to be someone else, at least some of the time. For kids, Halloween is a chance to be big. Whether it’s dressing up like a superhero, a princess or a ferocious animal, Halloween gives kids a chance to turn the tables. For once, they can feel what it would be like to be in charge and on top.
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  2. The opportunity to express one’s self.  For tweens, Halloween transformations are more subtle, and often, involve trying on the look of one’s aspirational self. The up-and-coming athlete asserts his or her identity by being, well, a soccer player. The tween girl dresses up as the super fan of their favorite band. And the teen who might not stand-out on the traditional measures has a chance to get kudos for their cleverness with a witty costume. Tweens and teens are in the midst of the important process of figuring out who they are and how they want to be seen, and on this day, they have more tangible tools to help them do it.
  3. Permission to break the rules. Maybe today’s kids don’t really wander the streets in the evening (with trick or treating officially ending at dusk in most places)…But on Halloween, you get to knock on your neighbors’ doors and beg for candy, and then actually get to eat it. In many schools, the dress-code gets ditched. And – under the protection of being “in character” – you might get to be a bit rebellious. After all, no one expects a Pirate or a Vampire to use their inside voice.
  4. Connection to community. In a “Bowling Alone” culture, where friendships play out online, with little face-to-face interaction, connection matters more than ever. Concerns about “stranger danger” sometimes isolate our kids from people who live very close to us. But on Halloween, barriers are broken down as costumes serve as conversation starters. Halloween parades give youth a chance to show off (and compete for prizes) but also give them a chance to participate in community.
  5. The chance to be scared. Being frightened might seem like something to be avoided, but it’s actually as much a need as a truth. For the little kid who worries about ghosts in the night, Halloween is a chance to confront your fears (and laugh them off). (Toys that tap into this need, like dolls from brand “Monster High,” tend to meet with unexpected success.) For older youth, Halloween gives them a delicious taste of the uncanny – the sense that something is familiar and not quite right at the same time. Some of our most loved literary ventures tap into this Freudian theme, and it makes for a chance to explore the dark side in a safe space.  
  6. An excuse for family fun. For many parents, Halloween comes with a certain amount of anxiety. Most parents don’t make their kids’ costumes, but even trying to find the perfect costume at the right price, in the right size, can be stressful. (Not to mention the parents of teens who are monitoring their children’s choices for public appropriateness!) But Halloween gives mom and dad a chance to join in the fun, and gives kids, tweens and teens some time to bond with parents.

Halloween might be a tough act to follow for organizations and brands who want to tap into some of its magic. But this day might provide some inspiration, along with ideas, for smart marketers to consider.

Tags: kids, Youth, Teens, holiday, tweens, Halloween

Take Me Out to the Ballgame: The Cost of Forgetting Young Fans

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Oct 26, 2011 @ 11:45 AM

As a Phillies fan, it’s a bit difficult to write about baseball right now. But the World Series goes on, and it seemed like the perfect time for a YouthBeat blog on the state of bringing kids to big games.

We’re certainly not the first to bemoan the high cost of taking today’s kids to professional sporting events (see this blogger’s recap of the costs associated with taking her Chicagoland kids to Wrigley for the first time). Back in 2008, the average cost of an outing at Fenway Park was just under $50 per person – for tickets alone. But high ticket prices are just one of a number of deterrents…Many stadiums have family-friendly sections, but the risk of exposing little kids to adult language and “themes” at a game make many parents think twice before bringing their children to the park. And baseball might be the professional league that’s the friendliest to young fans (with some newer stadiums including fantastic playgrounds designed for little fans, like the Phanatic Phun Zone at the Phillies home field, Citizens Bank Park). Game times seem to make catching a game tough for workiYouth Insights on Baseballng parents, school kids and those with reasonable bedtimes (start times for a variety of sports often approach 8pm).

Does it matter that young fans have a tougher time getting in the gates today? Maybe not…After all, adults engage in many behaviors that they aren’t privy to as children. Children don’t necessarily rehearse all of their adult experiences during their pre-teen years, so it’s not a given that losing today’s youth will mean the loss of adult fans when this generation ages up. And go to a Philly suburb, or to downtown Chicago, or to Boston or New York or St. Louis, and you’re likely to wonder whether clothing stores stock items other than team jerseys.

But we think the risk, and more importantly, the lost opportunity to engage with youth deserves attention. First, pro sports aren’t the only game in town. Youth and their parents, in many markets, have begun to trade-out their trips to the big leagues for more family-friendly minor league games (the cost, for a family of four is just $57.50 on average, according to BizOfBaseball). College sports have an inherent appeal to kids, tweens and teens who often find the unpaid and much younger athletes more relatable. And alternatives to the traditional pro sports (think Arena Football) might chip away at enough of the young fan base to make the next group of adults think twice before professing their loyalty to the local football, basketball or baseball team.

The risk might be great, but the opportunity might be greater…We know that today’s families cherish family time more than ever. Parents seek out spaces that cater to their children, restaurants that feel family-friendly without sacrificing fun (for parents or kids!), and experiences that allow them to bond and build memories in the sometimes limited time they have to spend together. And with childhood obesity continuing to count high on parents’ lists of top concerns, parents would welcome the chance to expose their children to athletes who take their health seriously.

We’re not writing anything that the leagues themselves, and team owners, don’t know. The Philadelphia 76ers’ new owners took drastic action in their first days in charge: slashing ticket prices on nearly 9,000 seats and establishing the website NewSixersOwner.com to solicit fan feedback. All the major leagues continue to court a younger audience through pro-social initiatives that support little leaguers and children in need of safe spaces to play. New arenas include more amenities for young families than ever before.

But still, the lesson to take from this change in the face of the fan base of major sports is one that brands in many categories should heed: kids today matter in the decisions their families make. And while they might grow up and grow into new brands and experiences, regardless of what they did during childhood, they might also redefine the “norm” for their own generation. And if you’re not willing to invest in them, someone else will.

Tags: play, parents, Sports, free time, parenting, tweens, money

Digging Into The Dark Side of Youth Culture

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Oct 14, 2011 @ 09:30 AM

In an op ed in Sunday’s New York Times, Maria Tatar takes issue with the way in which contemporary children’s literature shows kids, tweens and teens a darker side of life: death. She compares teen literary phenomena like The Hunger Games with the dark, but more benign, stories of the past…She proposes that Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and the many works of Maurice Sendak (of Where the Wild Things Are fame) balance out their sometimes dark themes with the levity and self-conscious sensitivity that allows children to embrace the frightening without crossing the line. In contrast, she claims that modern day darkness is doled out with less redemptive endings. She notes, specifically, that today’s moral dramas trade in monsters and pirates for a more real threat: other children.  And modern day heroes, according to Tatar, don’t seem to follow the same chivalrous rules that heroes of the past abided by. While we can assume that Tatar would attribute this cultural turn to a wide variety of factors, in this op ed, she attributes it to authors who aren’t as “invested in finding ways to win their attention and affection in real life.”

Certainly, Tatar is not alone in her nostalgia for media of the past. And to her credit, she doesn’twicked witch of the west 2 reduce the appeal or the artistry of the modern series she mentions to their edgy content. But Tatar’s assessment of today’s literary landscape and her memory of children’s past media’s might serve more as a call to look more closely at children’s literature than a definitive diagnosis of any disease afflicting it.

When it comes to many aspects of society and culture, it’s easy to fall into a trap that sees everything new as better. We know more (or know differently) in many categories, from medicine to marketing. When we look at the history of ideas and technologies, we’re almost always biased towards seeing life as “getting better.” But when it comes to culture, and particularly, children’s culture, we might be more likely to fall into a different sort of trap. Many critics of children’s media have moaned the abandonment of a simpler style of children’s media - when, seemingly, less commercial, more wholesome and perhaps more sophisticated shows and stories were made available to youth.

But this is, in the least, up for debate. The Wizard of Oz may have had an explicitly moral message about the comforts of home, but it also included a nightmare-inducing witch who threatened a puppy and threw fire at her own guards. Classic cartoons like Bugs Bunny may have introduced children to classical music, but they also included guns. Bugs’ appeal might have rested in his witty banter and clever schemes, but he was also a bit of a bully.

Does, as Tatar suggests, a bit of a happy ending balance out the darkness? And are today’s tales really that different? Twilight, for example, is often cited as a symbol of youth culture and teen literature. But Tatar doesn’t note this vampire drama…Perhaps it’s because the story of a vampire who wants to be good (opting for a vegetarian lifestyle) doesn’t fit her paradigm? And what about the popular tween series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which rises to the top of middle schoolers’ list of favorite books by focusing only on the drama that occurs in the cafeteria?

Any statement about children’s media is challenging, given the vast amount of media that provides counter-examples to any theory. But even with this acknowledgment, Tatar’s assertions might be a bit flawed. In many domains, especially those that would likely seem to be the most edgy from Tatar’s perspective, children’s fare has become tamer. Preschool TV must not only meet high standards for family-friendly, developmentally appropriate themes and ideas, but is also expected to be educational. One could argue that today’s movies are edgier, but one only needs to compare “G”-rated movies from  the earliest days of children’s film to today’s movies with the same rating to see how much more conservative children’s media has become (at least on this one measure).

And what about Tatar’s claim that authors like Lewis Carroll and J.M. Barrie were more concerned about and in touch with their audiences? As youth researchers, of course we’re biased…Publishers, networks and studios check in with children in much more systematic ways than ever before. Unlike their counterparts in previous generations, today’s authors tend to care about a broader group of youth than those particular children they find in their own homes or neighborhoods. Creators of properties engage their readers and viewers on social networks, via book tours and through surveys. And, in fact, one looming critique of children’s media today is that it’s too subject to data regarding children’s explicit needs and wants. Even researchers recognize that ideas from artists must be handled with sensitivity in the research setting. Children can easily find the appeal in work that looks familiar, but they might not be able to assess the cultural value of a breakthrough book or a paradigm-shifting program in the context of a focus group.

Still, Tatar’s theories (especially when localized to Young Adult fiction) might have some merit. What does the popularity of series that scare say about this particular cohort of youth? And perhaps, more importantly, what does our view on today’s children’s media say about how we see them?  The answers might frighten as much as the fictional tales that Tatar references, but they might also unlock insight that makes this treacherous trail worth following.

Tags: reading. movies, Youth, culture, youth media

Breaking down youth brand loyalty

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Oct 06, 2011 @ 09:32 AM

In our recent YouthBeat data, we’ve notice some interesting – but not altogether unpredictable – statistics…Kids, tweens and teens are most likely to cite a favorite film or book that’s part of a franchise or series. Year after year, they choose SpongeBob as their favorite cartoon character. Their favorite clothing brands continue to include adidas and Nike. And their list of favorite foods stays the same year after year.

But conventional wisdom tells us that kids, tweens and teens are fickle. Many marketers have made the decision to ignore younger audiences for just this reason.

So what’s the real story on youth brand loyalty?

First, it’s complicated. Like most questions pertaining to youth, simple dichotomies need not apply. Brand loyalty lives on a continuum, not on the poles. And the answer to the question, “Are today’s youth brand loyal?” is, frustratingly, “It depends.”Brand Loyalty

And what does it depend on? Age and stage for one. It’s likely that individual kids, tweens and teens are more inclined towards brand loyalty than other members of their cohort, but as a group, we often see recognizable patterns. For kids, “brand” loyalty looks more like passion for a favorite character, property or food. It’s just as likely to apply to the “type of mac and cheese my mom makes” as it is to a specific brand. For these younger youth, brands aren’t public displays or cultural currency in the same ways as they are for tweens and teens, but they do serve as symbols of sameness – or an affirmation of the familiar. Youth love what they love, and are loyal to those products and experiences that provide them with the comfort they seek. Even when they try out something new, it’s typically because there’s an element of the familiar in that new thing…So for brands, a friendly warning – “new” doesn’t mean never been seen. But for kids, and even moreso with tweens and teens, authenticity is important. Even if a brand isn’t the property of their generation, youth prefer brands that have a reliable essence but don’t back away from a brand refresher once in a while.

Loyalty also depends on the category…Let’s face it: some categories invite improvisation, and others need to nurture the new with more subtlety. For tweens, loyalty to favorite foods lingers, but, at least for girls, clothing is a chance to change things up. But while tweens are willing to try new styles, and with that, experiment with new brands, they also seek stand-bys that can serve as filters. With so many options, and tweens so concerned with avoiding missteps, retailers and brands that serve as safe symbols provide tweens with the net they need when they’re tip-toeing into new fashion territory. For teens, brand loyalty matters less, as teens are constantly on the look-out for that new and undiscovered item that fits “brand me” – not that they can fit into.

And, finally, loyalty can languish if a product or category no longer meets their needs (which do change). While there are timeless cues that can help guide us when we’re thinking about the things that teens want, we also know that wants change over time. Teens are caught in a cultural feedback loop – they may dictate what the market makes, but they also develop new needs based on what’s offered to them. And because of this, loyalty can be fleeting. Teens might prefer Apple right now, but even a brand as bankable as this one is vulnerable to the next cell phone manufacturer who delivers the perqs teens want at the price that fits their budget (or their parent’s). In categories like technology, in particular, teens are on the lookout for the latest big thing, and this means that loyalty must be earned, not assumed, among this group of youth.

What does this tell us? We think loyalty is worth nurturing among the youth market, but it can’t be left to develop on its own. Youth respect brand integrity, but expect brand evolution at the same time. And finally, figuring out the right strategy for your brand requires a little resistance: beware of simple formulas for creating loyalty with youth, and instead, take the time to look and listen to how they’re living and changing with your brand in the real world.

Tags: kids, Youth, Teens, culture, tweens, Apple