What Makes Perfect Youth Partnerships

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Feb 22, 2013 @ 02:00 PM

When it comes to selecting the perfect partner for your promotion, cause effort or communication efforts, strategic thinking should always trump availability. Rather than accepting the offer of properties or entities that come to you, you should pursue the perfect partner to embody or compliment the essence of your own brand, organization or initiative. But some recent team-ups in the youth space suggest that this bit of conventional wisdom and common sense marketing might be ready for a rethink.

Let’s face it – sometimes the most intriguing initiatives or most unexpectedly effective pairings were due to serendipity more than strategy. And some unlikely partners have popped up in categories closest to the hearts of youth. This generation has grown up expecting that country crooners (young and old) can partner with pop stars. Or that hard rockers might make nice with pop princesses. One look at the recent “chemistry” created (or attempted to be created) on American Idol attests to the desire to see what happens when J. Lo and Steven Tyler get together or when Nikki Minaj, Keith Urban and Mariah Carey share a stage. Of course, genre bending and blending might be too bold a move for many brands. But one promotional partnership that brings together unlikely partners recently caught our eye.

With its “Flag for the Future” contest, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl ScoutsWAGGs (WAGGS) have teamed with Vivienne Westwood and Green Peace. WAGGS and Green Peace have solicited designs for a flag that will represent “the youth of the world; a flag for peace, hope and global community” according to the contest website. The winning design will be taken to the North Pole, where it will be lowered four kilometers beneath the ice and plant it on the seabed in a time capsule containing the signatures of millions of “Arctic defenders.” The contest and its sponsors hope to remind those who find the flag (assuming the ice cap will, tragically, melt to reveal it) that the Arctic should belong to all people, not one nation.  

Certainly, the Girl Scouts have been quite public about their own brand of girl power in recent years, so perhaps partnering with the outspoken designer, whose early fashion identity was more closely linked to the Sex Pistols and punk scene than the playground, is a more natural fit than it might seem. But perhaps this was intentional? WAGGS clearly wants to make a statement about the bold acts required to save the earth, and they believe that the girls who participate in their programs are ready to handle it.

It’s hard to fathom that U.S. Girls Scouts would have a strong connection to Green Peace or Westwood, and it’s doubtful that their parents would find them to be persuasive. At least at first glance. But perhaps this is the point. The modern marriage of property, celebrity and brand might be more about leading than following, and as much about exposure to the “new” as it is about borrowed equity. This promotion might be challenging the rules of traditional promotions, but isn’t pushing the thinking of girls (and their parents) these entities’ true goals?

In the Millennial brandscape, unconventional pairings seem to be preferred over the neat and strategic brand fits of years past. This doesn’t necessarily mean that brands should take the first offer that comes their way. But it might mean that the perfect partner is more different than similar. Of course, not every partnership or promotion has the same goals, but expanding our view of what “fits” with our brands might lead to brand events that are more relevant to youth.

Tags: youth research, Social Issues, culture

5 Favorites from Toy Fair

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Feb 19, 2013 @ 03:13 PM

In between sessions at the 2013 Digital Kids conference, we got a chance to browse the aisles of Toy Fair. Among the many aisles, a few products, brands and “experiences” stood out to us. Not every idea is new, and we’re not sure all five of these have staying power (in their current form), but they did seem inspired by insights that we’ve seen to be true among youth and parents in the past year…

  1. Oyo Sportstoys Inc.’s minifigures make due without a memorable name, and with a look that’s shockingly similar to LEGO figurines. But these collectible sports figures tap into a few simple youth truths. These posable replicas of pro sports players work with LEGO construction sets, but also feature bendable knees and arms that allow for “realistic” sports play. Minifigures simultaneously serve as sports souvenirs, with limited runs of some players coming in collectible packaging, and as playthings. What better combination for a tween boy who might appreciate the ritual of assembling his personal dream team, but who wants to make more use of his collectibles than the display case allows? Our favorite move? Minor League team players produced in selected markets. Increasingly, Minor League is the way kids are getting exposed to pro ball, and kids will relish bringing the hometown hero together with their favorite all stars.Little Partners Learning Tower
  2. Little Partners has taken the independence-instilling “Learning Tower” one step further, turning it from a work center/stool to a play house. Their Learning Tower Playhouse Kits prolong the life of a product that’s become a standby in the homes of toddlers and preschoolers whose parents seek to promote participation in everyday chores. At a high price point, the Learning Tower might seem a luxurious short-term investment. But with the promise that a simple shell can turn it from a give-away to a new way to play, Learning Tower has given parents another product to buy, while simultaneously making moms and dads feel like they got their money’s worth.
  3. MyRealToy.com made its debut at the Toy Fair with a toy experience (as the New York Times described it) that puts production and design into kids’ hands. Kids submit a sketch, and within 3 days, the sketch is turned into a plush that brings their fantastic ideas to fruition. The price point is high - $149 – and the focus on plush, while practical, might limit the lifespan of this service (as older kids and boys in particular gravitate towards tech-driven products), but the gifting potential seems powerful. One watchout: even the most precocious kids might feel the pressure turned on when faced with the chance to choose the one product that would get plushified!
  4. Slacklines by Gibbons has been around for a few years (see this video demo from Toy Fair 2010), but perhaps this compelling idea’s time has come? With trampoline-like products getting a makeover (think less danger, more design) and ziplines available for installation in the backyard, it seems like this tightrope fits right into the cultural zeitgeist. Following quasi-fitness trends like planking, it seems like Slacklines are primed to cultivate a quirky following. Will they take on among teens or tweens? Hard to tell. But turning fitness into fun feels right in line with the wants and needs of this cohort and their parents.
  5. Finally, in a sea of licensed and property-based products, it’s hard for these me-toos to stand out. But the Monsters University showcased a number of new products tied into the upcoming release of Monsters University.  Getting to dress up like your favorite character might not be new, but bringing technology together with time-tested play patterns is worth noting. In this case, higher tech design gives kids more control, which we think is the right formula for fun.

What were your Toy Fair favorites? Let us know!

Tags: Education, youth research, conference, Youth, free time, parenting

What Makes LEGO® Likable

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Feb 05, 2013 @ 01:07 PM

When we think about brands that get it right with youth, we can’t help but think LEGO®. We’ve highlighted the lessons to be learned from looking closely at the LEGO® brand in numerous webinars and conference presentations. And we continue to admire the brand’s moves, and marvel in its appetite for reinvention.

Lego NinjagoBut beyond LEGO®’s strategy, there’s something that the brand just gets right when it comes to kids. Many brands could partner with Star Wars and see a spike, but what does LEGO® bring to their partnerships that make them so salient? Many brands have taken offline equities to the homeland of the digital natives with success. And recently, more and more brands have managed to matter to multiple age segments (a difficult task, although one that seems more accessible than ever). What makes LEGO® so likable not only sheds light on the LEGO® brand essence, but also on some undeniable truths about youth… 

  1. LEGO makes edge accessible. The plotline: A team of Ninjas engage in an epic battle to defeat Lord Garmadon, the embodiment of underworld evil, and a group of scale-laden serpents. Too scary for kids? Not when the characters look like LEGO®s! Whether it’s making menacing characters more comfortable to watch, putting pre-teen properties in a format that kids can embrace, or making play patterns (like the battles of Beyblades) in a slightly more benign form (Ninjago’s line of Spinjitzu Spinners), LEGO® makes exploring a bit safer.
  2. LEGO leverages the cute and the cool. Just when traditional toys take a backseat to digital doings, LEGO likability seems to rise. Boys, in particular, find solace in the systematizing play, to go along with systematizing brains, that LEGO® owns. With a look and style that feels quirky but not risky, LEGO® lets boys keep their toys in tow without losing face. LEGO® Friends, a new line from the brand designed to engage girls, lets girls continue to play Polly Pockets without feeling like she’s lingering for too long in childhood. The over-the-top cuteness of LEGO® figures, in particular, elevates them beyond babyish to a kind of cool that have helped brands like Hello Kitty keep their kid audience long after they outgrow baby dolls and stuffed animals. “Cute” might not be a concept that we associate with boys, but deep down , there might be something sweet and silly that LEGO® lets them express. 
  3. LEGO® makes little look big. Like kids, LEGO®s are the little things that feel big (or sometimes want to!). Their small stature, juxtaposed with the grand adventures they go on, make for visually arresting images, and somewhere along the way, the idea that these little figures can steer ships, fight aliens, and stop bankrobbers feels believable. With size and strength taken out of the mix, characters can be judged by who they are and what they do, not their age or size – a kid fantasy come true.
  4. LEGO® puts play in place. When LEGO® partners with a property, that property doubles its play value. No longer do products simply promote reenactment of storylines; instead, they facilitate story creation. LEGO® play invites improvisation in a way that a standard play set can’t, letting kids bring themselves to play versus letting the toy lead the way. LEGO®s let kids feel ownership of these properties, not just participants in stories that someone else has written.
  5. LEGO® pleases parents. Finally, LEGO®s have evolved, but still look pretty familiar to parents who grew up building with those little bricks. LEGO®s not only gets kids their moms’ and dads’ seal of approval, but it also gets them on the floor or sitting side-by-side with their sons and daughters, allowing them to play architect, builder, designer and artist. Few other playthings invite parent participation like LEGO®s do. And for this generation of youth, parent approval puts brands at the top of their lists.

Tags: Gaming, superheroes, kids tweens teens, TV, culture, parenting