Why Back to School Should Start with an Understanding of “School”

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Aug 31, 2012 @ 09:09 AM

Marketers tend to seek insights about adolescents outside the classroom – in their culture, in their extracurriculars, etc. But sometimes it’s easy to forget just how much time youth spend in schools during the day. As it should be (at least we think), these spaces are considered sacred and generally off-limits to non-academic researchers. However, understanding their attitudes towards school can shed light on the state of mind and on the characteristics of this cohort. What engages them intellectually? What does it feel like to walk through the hallways of their own schools? And, how do they view the adults they interact with almost everyday of their lives?

for web 57447358In a July 2012 study of 981 high school students (an equal mix of freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors), C+R Research found that some things never change, but of course, this creative and connected generation may be perceiving and experiencing school life differently than we might think.

We asked our survey respondents to choose the three words that best describe their school. Overwhelmingly, teens described their schools as “competitive” and “challenging,” but also “friendly” and “interesting.” Over 50% of freshmen say that science or math is their favorite subject – but only 32% of seniors share this sentiment. And, when it comes to food in the cafeteria? Boys and girls both agree that the options better suit the boys’ tastes than the girls’.

Recently we’ve taken to watching the documentary series, “Kindergarten” on HBO Family. Like the series, “High School,” before it, this tot doc shows how 5- and 6- year-olds handle the big transition from home to school – following a real-life kindergarten classroom from day one to the “moving on” ceremony. A view of this show reminds us what really gets little guys going and how a thoughtful teacher can engage and invite even the most timid early learners. (My own four-year-old is riveted!)

Knowing what their everyday lives are really like further contextualizes their out of school time (are we surprised that some kids want to lounge on the couch, after seeing the rigorous schedule they keep at many schools?). Knowing what topics they care about in school can inspire innovation even more than an investigation of what they already do after school. And knowing about their school day makes the causes they care about outside of school make more sense. So next time you want to understand eating, viewing or participating in sports, start with what’s going on in the place where youth spend most of their hours. You may find that what happens in school is closer to their hearts than you might have thought.

Tags: preschool, bullying, Sports, Teens, free time, reading, school

YouthBeat in TIME!

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Aug 22, 2012 @ 10:33 AM

This week’s print edition of Time magazine (August 27) was dedicated to the way wireless is changing our world, and a few YouthBeat stats were cited regarding the age of real/ideal ownership of cell phones. Bonnie Rochman wrote, “A YouthBeat survey from the first six months of 2012 found that 13% of children ages 6 to 10 already own one. But 12 is the most common age for first-phonedom; that's when 18% of kids get theirs.” Read more here.

YouthBeat in TIME!While the number of 6-10 year olds who own cell phones has stabilized in the past few years, and fewer might own then we might think (0% of 6 year olds and 4% of 7 year olds, meaning that most of that 6-10 year old ownership is driven by older kids). But over the past few years, the cell phones kids own have become increasingly complex. As of June 2012, a full 35% of kids 6-10 years old with cell phones were able to access apps (but 46% of kids with phones say they use an app on a typical day). 46% have web access on their phones (although 55% of those kids have a rule in their house that they can’t use their cell phone to go online).

In addition to the factors that parents previously considered when getting their young child a cell phone, they now have to grapple with a host of other capabilities that are increasingly coming standard with a cell. Sure there are other options, but many kid cell phones are of the hand-me-down variety. Suddenly, the decision isn’t only dictated by whether a child can handle the responsibility of handling a breakable device, or of making calls to appropriate people, but instead they have to wrestle with the responsibility of giving kids unfettered access to the Internet, to apps (with varied content, at varied costs) and to email. Yet 47% of parents of kids say that they keep in touch with their children via cell phone when they’re not with them. 33% say they text! (In case you’re wondering, 64% of kids with phones have unlimited texting plans). So we expect that kids will continue to keep cell phones by their side, and parents will continue to struggle with the many, many factors that contribute to the decision to buy one for them. 

Tags: youth research, texting, digital drugs, Youth, culture, youth media

What Winning Looks Like For Kids, Tweens and Teens

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Aug 16, 2012 @ 02:34 PM

In our final mini-poll on the 2012 Olympics, we asked our KidzEyes and TeensEyes panelists to tell us who their favorite Olympic team was. Not surprisingly, 39% of teens and 41% of kids selected the fab five – the women’s gymnastics team – as the one they most wanted to watch. These girls put on a show throughout the games. Not only did they exhibit death-defying feats, but they also brought drama to spare!

  • Jordyn Wieber, the world champ and expected all-around competition victor failed to qualify for the finals.gty womens soccer mr 120809 wg
  • 16 year-old Gabby Douglas brought home the gold (the first African American girl to do so)
  • Aly Raisman’s parents mimed her whole routine from the stands, warranting an award of their own!

But along with the highlights, came some moments that made us cringe. Moments after Aly Raisman qualified for the all-around competition finals, she assured an interviewer that she never doubted that she would make the cut. But she did this within shouting distance of her teammate and friend, Wieber, whose Olympic dreams were shattered with Raisman’s rise. Yes, Raisman exhuded confidence, but what about empathy? McKayla Maroney took her silver medal with a very public smirk, not with the grace of a girl who won second place in a worldwide competition. And Gabby Douglas, when asked, on the Today Show, about how life would change, talked about how she was “trending on Twitter” and how everyone in the world knows who she is. What happened to, “I’m still the same old girl…”?

How this team handled victory and defeat invites the question: how important does good sportsmanship matter to kids, tweens and teens today? And what role does humility play in youth’s definition of winning?

In fairness, other Olympic athletes offered an alternative approach…

Sticking with the girls, we saw Missy Franklin (a 17-year old high school senior) who broke down after seeing her parents post-race, noting how appreciative she was to have their support. The women’s world soccer team (who undeniably have mojo to spare!) embraced their rivals, the Japanese women. They traded in trash-talk for a different kind of discourse. Megan Rapinoe noted, “They snatched our dream last year. And still we have that respect for them.”Girls around the world learned a valuable lesson -- play hard, but maintain perspective off the field.

But does the way that kids, tweens and teens define winning really matter for marketers? Absolutely. A few years ago, I received questions over the course of two weeks from three different clients who wanted to know what “winning” looked like for kids, tweens and teens.

  • Do they want to see an athlete’s win as the result of hard work?
  • Should you show them enduring the toughest training session, or simply show them with the trophy?
  • Is the best face of your brand the one who wins with flair or with focus?
And of course, ask a tween boy about their best sports moment, and you’ll hear about homeruns, not practice sessions. But, generally, when we ask this generation (often dismissed as fame-seeking and self-promoting) which celebrities they love and why they love them, we often hear them talk about character alongside championships. Granted, without a win, they wouldn’t likely make it on kids’, tweens’ and teens’ radars! But, when they talk about actors and actresses, or musicians they love, they often talk about how they do good things for others, or how they haven’t forgotten where they came from. The American Idol contestants who rise to the top are often equal parts exciting performance and appreciation for the opportunity. And, similarly, we predict that the athletes who will endure in the minds of youth will be those who are a little less arrogant and a bit more authentic. Because at the end of the day, youth want their winners with a healthy dose of humility, and they’re willing to stick with the second place finisher if they can stand-up even when they’re not on the podium.

Tags: play, Sports, TV, culture, youth media, olympics

Mom Confidence: What Back to School Ads Really Sell

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Aug 10, 2012 @ 11:59 AM

With summer winding down, back-to-school advertising has come on full force. According to the National Retail Federation, $83 billion will be spent for back-to-school 2012, and the fight for those dollars has already begun. Retailers have been on air with messaging about new jeans, school supplies, and lunchbox fare for weeks. Brands have begun to release reminders that the choice of gluestick and even sticky-note matter…

describe the imageEven though a Yahoo webinar from April 2012 suggested that back-to-school advertisers should remember that back-to-school shopping isn’t all about moms (“23% of dads and 84% of teens say they're getting more involved in back-to-school shopping; 80% of those in charge of making back-to-school purchases say their children influence what's actually bought”), it seems that back-to-school ads are taking some typical approaches to tantalizing parent purchasers. Despite different approaches, most seem to adopt, as an underlying premise, that winning the back-to-school battle is all about instilling confidence in mom. Sure, you could do that by showing her how much she’ll save. But what fun would that be? Here’s how some of the most aired campaigns are making moms feel like she’s too cool for school…

  1. Reminding her that she was cool once…Beverly Hills 90210 might have found a new audience with this generation of teens, and Jenny Garth might even play a role, but none of their dramas will top that moment when Kelly Taylor faced the ultimate choice: Dylan McKay or Brandon Walsh? This moment is played out in Old Navy’s back-to-school advertising, perhaps to persuade mom shoppers that high school hasn’t changed. Or more likely, Old Navy has realized that their brand of tongue-in-cheek humor makes the mom shopper more comfortable, than, say, Abercrombie? Old Navy seems to be positioning itself as the place for parents to purchase, leaving the teen-with-a-wallet crowd to spend somewhere else. 
  2. Old people icons…And by old, we mean over 18…Target, once again, plays with the juxtaposition between cool and kitsch, high and low, high-style and highly practical that define their brands. In their back-to-school campaign, ordinary objects like rulers come together to form guitars…Back-to-school shopping takes on the event-like status of a Lady Gaga concert….And actors who would likely (hopefully) only be recognizable to parents are used in a commercial that could seemingly get kids bopping. The guy from Bridesmaids? Sure, he should be selling jeans to kids for back-to-school. But lest you think we don’t like this idea, let us be clear: Target (like Old Navy) is letting moms and dads in on the fun.
  3. Schoolhouse rock. Well before Glee, JC Penney had made school look like a Broadway show. Once again, advertisers seem to be softening the blow of returning to the books by re-imagining school as a stage. For parents, who perhaps fantasize about their children as confident, bubbly students, strutting and giggling through their days, these images might comfort. Will kids, tweens and teens buy-in? Payless has raced past the first day right to the fantasy field trip, with its spot (using a They Might Be Giants tune that might make parents wonder where they heard those voices before) that features frolicking kids who delight in dino exploration. There are no lines or rules for these happy-kids. And this seems to be just what parents have in mind as they purchase pants with reinforced knees, or hoodies that promise to hold up for the whole year.
  4. Mom’s make it better. In contrast with showing all of these confident kids, dancing their way through the classroom doors, 3M chooses another approach to instilling moms with the confidence that they can make back-to-school better. In their ad, a shy, sweet little girl tentatively scans her new class…It’s not until she opens her lunchbox to find a sticky-note of reassurance that she drops her shoulders and lets her grin spread.

Will their approaches work? It’s likely they’ll win a share of the back-to-school booty. But while it’s too soon to tell, we predict that they’re leaving some kid, tween and teen influenced purchases on the table.

Tags: Education, mom, shopping, fashion, parenting, school

Are kids and tweens interested in the Olympics?

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Aug 03, 2012 @ 11:47 AM

The Olympics are seemingly custom-made for a kid audience: A celebration of amateurs…A field-day of fantastic proportions…A rendezvous of people from remote places…And a chance to see some of their favorite, but often under-broadcast sports performed on screen (soccer, gymnastics and swimming to name a few). Even kid favorites LeBron James (tied for second favorite athlete among 6-12 year olds) and Kobe Bryant (undisputed favorite among 6-12 year olds) make an appearance.

This year’s games not only take place in the land of boy bands like The Wanted and boy wonder Harry Potter, but both of these pop culture icons have already played a role in the torch relay and opening ceremonies, respectively (not to mention that the American women’s gymnastics team’s favorite boy band, One Direction, is rumored to be playing at the closing ceremonies).

On the other hand, this generation doesn’t relate to “appointment viewing” in the same way as previous cohorts. The “amateur” athlete might not be as relatable as he or she was in the past (can we really cheer for LeBron like he’s an underdog?). And when results are broadcast hours before an exciting race, is it still worth watching?


We conducted a poll of 100 kids and tweens ages 6 to 12 from our KidzEyes panel, and the results reminded us that the Olympics still matter to today’s youth. We asked if they were or were planning to watch the Olympics “a lot,” “a little”, “or “not at all”, and over half told us they planned to gander at these gold-seekers as much as possible!

Perhaps the true test of the Olympics’ salience will come in the next few years. Will Lochte replace LeBron as top sport among kids? Will gymnastics phenom Gabby Douglas – who might be relatable in age, but otherworldy in terms of talent – sustain her popularity among youth for the next four years? We’ll keep watching – alongside kids.

Tags: Sports, kids tweens teens, youth media, olympics