Summer Camp for the Connected Cohort

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Apr 19, 2012 @ 02:05 PM

It may not be time just yet for summer camp, but it is that time of year when parents begin planning, or putting down deposits. And for today’s parents, summer camp is no longer just about giving kids, tweens and teens a taste of the great outdoors…First, for many working parents, camp is a necessity, not a luxury. It fills in the summer gap for working parents who head to the office, even when the weather warms up. In a highly competitive educational context, in which youth and their moms and dads begin to express concern over college admissions before they’ve even hit high school, many see summer as a way to catch up and to get a step ahead. At the same time, schools have been hit with federal, and in almost every case, state budget cuts that have taken a toll on the extracurricular programs that give kids, tweens and teens a chance to find their passion. So it’s no surprise that summer camps cater to a broader group of youth – who are attending for different reasons – than ever before. And summer camp creators offer no shortage of options when it comes to summer camp.thrill logo

Take note: some of these camps involve very little interaction with the outdoors, but if a kid finds their “flow” at comic book camp versus canoeing, is that such a bad thing? At the same time, are we missing something by keeping kids, tweens and teens in school-like environments all year-round?

Regardless of where you stand on the indoor/outdoor debate, we think the following camps give us some indication of the signs of these times...They might be “no bug juice allowed!” and “email your parents here!”

  1. ThrillCoasterTours: Test your bravery by riding roller-coasters across the company (parents can catch that priceless pic on camp-photograph site, “bunk1.” And no cabins here – accommodations provided by Marriott.
  2. Surf Diva “Boarding” Camp: This all-girls camp takes to the waves, combining slumber party vibe with the kinetic curricula of a sports camp.
  3. Plantation Farm Camp: Want to inspire sustainability? Ship your kids to this California farm where they learn where their food really comes from…
  4. New York Film Academy: Because this generation doesn’t take pictures like tourists…this camp shows them how to become a professional cinematographer in just one simple summer.
  5. Digital Media Camp: Think summer camp is for getting your teen away from texting? Not so…this camp teaches them to develop their own apps!
  6. Camp Kennedy Space Center: The space program might be in limbo, but your kid can still lighten up in the no-gravity chamber.
  7. Engineering Camp: If building a robot gets your kid, tween and teen ticking, than these national engineering camps might be for them.
  8. Fashion Design Camp: For your budding fashionista or Project Runway devotee.
  9. Day Jams: Becoming a rock star might look as easy as posting a YouTube video, but this camp shows kids how to really get rockin’.
  10.  Bold Earth Adventures: More like a good-old-fashion survival of the fittest, these camps put youth out of their outdoor comfort zone, and promise to teach them about themselves along the way.

Tags: kids, girls, play, Sports, outside, Youth, fashion, kids tweens teens, culture, parenting

What Tween Brands Can Learn From Boy Bands

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Apr 10, 2012 @ 01:05 PM

From the Beatles and the Monkees, to Menudo, Boyz II Men and New Edition, to *NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees, and most recently, the Jonas Brothers, it would seem that boy bands are nothing new. Far from surprising, the recent re-emergence of a new crop of boy bands signals a return to a recognizable place. It might be easy to dismiss wannabe sensations like One Direction (who may have made it on the radar of adults-without-tween-girls-living-in-their-homes on Saturday Night Live, when they served as musical guest), as the end of the artist as we know it. Afterall, these groups are often not shy about their one directioncommercial ambitions or the way in which they were brought together by youth-savvy producers and industry moguls. But regardless of what you think of their music or their highly choreographed dance moves, understanding the appeal of boy bands (“then” and “now”) provides invaluable insight into what a tween girl wants…So what can brands and organizations do to access some of that boy band appeal? 

  1. Focus on cute, not cool. Who says nice guys never win? And who says that being aloof makes you more admirable? Not tween girls. Boy bands can come off as cloying to adults, but for tween girls, they are just like candy – sweet, easy to consume, and inviting. As an Irish newspaper, talking about One Direction noted, Justin Bieber had reminded everyone that there was still a market for "clean cut, wholesome, middle class, parent-friendly pop: cute boys advocating puppy love.” When it comes to their fashion sense, their sounds, or their personal style, they are rarely edgy, and often startlingly sweet. And for tweens who are moving into music for the first time, these boy bands serve as starter artists – who don’t make you work too hard to get them.
  2. Give girls different faces, within the same frame. Go to any middle school playground in America and you’re likely to see groups of tweens girls wearing, what seems to be, the exact same outfit, with such subtle differences that the average adult is likely to gloss over them. Not so for the tween girls, who will proudly distinguish among their group of friends – she’s the one who likes blue…She’s the girly one, so her Tom’s shoes have the sparkles (as opposed to everyone else’s Tom’s shoe that don’t). Boy bands have this down to a science. There’s the scruffy one, the born leader, the mama’s boy (although they’re all a bit over-the-top about their love for their mamas!), and the shy one. There’s the preppy one, the fashion fiend, the “rocker” and the sports savant. The result: everyone in your group can participate, but you can match your guy with your own personal style.
  3. Focus on friendship. Why, you might be asking, is it always a band? Perhaps it’s because of the synchronized dancing (like line dancing and cheerleading routines) that makes dance moves feel so formulaic that they can imagine themselves executing them with enough practice? But more importantly, these guy groups present the ultimate tween girl fantasy: friendship. At a time when tweens are trying with all their might to untangle the web that can be tween girl relations, watching a gang of guys make it look so easy gives them hope! While a group like One Direction, who admittedly came together at the urging of X Factor judge/producer Simon Cowell, even better are the stories (authentic or exaggerated) of a group of true friends from the neighborhood who have had each others’ backs for a long time. 
  4. Don’t assume caring is corny. As any youth brand knows, once you crossover to corny, it’s hard to come back. But, what teens might dismiss as dumb, tweens will often embrace with enthusiasm. Teens might reward artists and brands that seem to be so casual as not to care, tweens appreciate effort. Caring about your fans (and even about their parents!) isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of niceness. And when it comes to boy bands, nice guys finish first.
  5. It’s about the girls, not about the group. Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about the crazes and fevers that develop surrounding boy bands is that it’s all about them. Despite all that hair gel, and their inevitable entourages, tween girls are often left with the impression that these guys would give it all up if it meant dissing their fans. Boy bands don’t put themselves on a pedestal; they put their fans on one (at least from girls’ perspectives).  We see this in their ballads – which are less about relationships and more about reiterating how special, pretty and altogether lovely their love interests are.

Finally, it would be hard to talk about boy bands without acknowledging that tweens have a much higher tolerance than most targets for ubiquity – it’s hard to become overexposed with tweens! But know that the brighter the flame, the faster the fizzle…So brands might want to borrow from the boy bands’ strategy tool box, but make sure that they think about their next hit before the craze has hit crescendo

Tags: girls, boys, free time, fashion, culture, youth media, Justin Bieber

10 Take-aways From the 2012 Kid, Youth and Parent Power Conference

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Apr 05, 2012 @ 02:56 PM

We’re back from Orlando and the 2012 Kid, Youth and Parent Power Conference…We spoke on Performance Culture among youth, a presentation which we’ll broadcast as a C+R webinar on April 25th. A few days to think about our work, our “industry” (although see below), and of course, kids, tweens, teens and parents may be reward enough, but we were lucky enough to leave with a few more thought-provoking questions (even if the answers are sometimes left for us to provide).

  1. Our “industry” may be harder to identify than ever…Just a few short years ago, a conference focused on youth and families would include a relatively homogenous group of marketers, researchers and content providers working on traditional packaged goods or children’s television. Occasionally, an entrepreneur would pop up on the agenda and instigate conversation about new approaches or new paradigms for existing categories. But today, the “youth space” looks like a hodge-podge of app developers, non-profits, authors and entrepreneurs – and the occasional “old school” brand or organization. This may make it more difficult than ever for us to find common case studies, but it certainly makes the conversation more interesting.
  2. You don’t have to be a gamer to engage in gamification…Even if the first insight – that gamers aren’t just teens sequestered behind a console in their parents’ basement is an image that doesn’t represent reality – the second, that we’re all kind of gaming in our daily lives, feels like an intriguing one…The term, “gamification,” was used over and over again at the conference, with slightly differing definitions attributed to it each time, but the idea of making your product or service a game (think levels, feedback, rewards) feels like a fresh take on “fun” and “play” that have dominated our “industry’s” discourse for so long.
  3. Behind every success is a strategy – even if they’re less obvious than ever before. If you’re like us, you may think that fads like Silly Bandz and Zhu Zhu Pets stuck because of strong intrinsic, but also a lot of luck, you may have found the case study on the latter brand presented by its founders to be pretty provocative. Just because there’s no campaign to be seen, and no tagline to serve as a strategic heuristic, doesn’t mean that a lot of legwork didn’t go into getting this brand seen by the right audience – in their case, “Power Moms.” These moms are not just bloggers, but have multiple avenues for influencing youth in their everyday lives…as scout leaders, for example, or coaches, or crossing guards. They’re not only the most active fans on Facebook, but more importantly, they’re facilitators and connectors offline.
  4. If you want teens to believe in change, you actually have to believe they want to engage in change. Dosomething.org reminded us that promoting causes among teens requires as much faith in your audience as it does passion for a cause. It’s a simple notion, but a compelling one – if you don’t think they’re altruistic or inspired to change the world, they’ll see that and won’t trust you.
  5. Family travel doesn’t mean “something for everyone.” Hershey Entertainment Resorts reiterated something we learned years ago in our research with family entertainment brands…A trip to Disney, Busch Gardens, the Nick Hotel or Beaches isn’t about “me time” for moms and dads…It’s not about sneaking off for a spa treatment, regardless of how tantalizing and needed those treatments might be!!! It’s about soaking up as much time with your kids as possible. Brands that make it easier to spend time together win in this increasingly competitive family vacation space.
  6. Brand boldness and boundaries continue to matter…sometimes. We’ve often opined that youth recognize fewer brand boundaries than adults…That they’re up for cross-overs, collaborations and unexpected pairings perhaps more than any cohort before them.  But, as evidenced by a case study for Nike SB by one of its initial investors, making tough choices to protect the integrity of a niche brand is still appreciated as authentic by young adults and teens – particularly members of affinity groups (like boarders). Granted, if you have the Nike name and corporate cashflow, you might be more able to make choices like turning down the free endorsement of a celebrity who doesn’t quite fit your brand image, but the point is well-taken – be true to yourself, and teens will be true to you.
  7. Kids may be the arbiters of food culture more than we give them credit for…In a presentation on the power of grass-fed beef (see Take-away #1 on an industry that looks a bit different than it used to!), one insight emerged for us: when we think about food culture, especially paradigm shifts like going local, we might want to pay attention to what kids are thinking and doing. Granted, this insight was a bit more speculation than statistically backed, but it makes sense that youth will be the beacons for bringing in a new wave of eating attitudes, driven by programs ranging from “The Edible Schoolyard” (link) and schools that treat Reduce Reuse and Recycle as three new “Rs.”
  8. Social marketing requires segmentation. Of course, people use social networks differently. But does this generation of digital natives coalesce around a common set of practices when it comes to social media? Not so…”Lurkers,” a term oft-applied to adult social networkers who observe more than participate, for example, might be one type of youth, requiring a different strategy than “Creators” who crave ways to show who they are online. Which segment of social media users does your brand attract? Is your strategy aligned with your target’s behaviors and attitudes about social networking?
  9. School may be a space that’s more sponge-y than in the recent past. We’ll file this one under “the jury’s still out.” Some speakers indicated that getting in schools might be necessary to reach youth, and that, depending on your ability to prove the value of your content to administrators, outsiders might be invited in. This counter’s some (recent) convention wisdom about the increasing sensitivity from schools surrounding marketing within them, but perhaps there’s an opportunity to add value in new ways that provide more benefit than push parents’ and teachers’ buttons.
  10. Finally, performance matters to this generation. We can’t help but end on our own insights! This cohort is surrounded by stages, and raised to believe that everyone’s a critic. They are system savvy and know that discovery is only a YouTube video away. Still, while it’s easy to be cynical about a cohort that is seemingly seduced by fame, their takes on celebrity and on performance are more complicated, and perhaps, sophisticated, than we might think. Find out more at our upcoming webinar.

Tags: youth research, kids, parents, conference, parenting, tweens