Five Ways to Make Earth Day Fun

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Apr 22, 2013 @ 03:50 PM

Celebrate Earth DayHappy Earth Day to all our YouthBeat friends! Youth’s involvement in the environmental movement is, in some ways, both a timely and a timeless topic. Children and nature have been indelibly bonded in literature, social history and even psychology (with well-being often linked to children’s ability to connect with nature in positive ways). This cohort of youth certainly sees the environment as important, although in the past few years our YouthBeat data has shown kids’, tweens’ and teens’ concerns related to global warming to be waning.  We know that this group is inundated by messages related to sustainable living, and that might be part of the problem. The normalization of green discourse means that environmental action might lack a sense of urgency surrounding it.  So how can you make your messages matter to kids? Take a cue from these companies and organizations who are seizing this Earth Day as an opportunity for fun.

  1. Tree Fu Tom, featuring Sprout’s newest superhero, reminds preschoolers that nature is full of adventure. And Tree Fu Tom shows that kids don’t have to choose nature shows or adventure shows – they can get excitement alongside their environmentally friendly programming.
  2. Get creative. One way to encourage kids to recycle is to show them the bins…Another way? Remind them of all the great things you can make if you pay attention to the art tools available in your home…Check out Scrapkins’ site and the Scrapkins Collector app for inspiration.
  3. Put kids on the case. Saving energy starts at home, and kids love being put in charge of making positive change (and telling their parents and sibling what to do!). Check out the Energystar site, designed for kids, for ways to make environmental issues accessible for them.  And remember, putting kids in charge makes getting things done less of a chore and more of a welcomed challenge.
  4. Inspire youth to take action. It might not sound like fun, but sometimes kids, tweens and teens need to know that doing the right thing can sometimes be recognized. The Children’s Environmental Health Network’s Nsedu Obot Witherspoon (NOW) Youth Leadership Award acknowledges tweens and teens who have engaged in good work surrounding the issue of children’s health issues caused by environmental problems. This organization acknowledges that their future depends on tweens and teens taking an interest in this important aspect of the sustainability story while reminding youth that their participation in the cause can reflect positively on them.
  5. Finally, focus on entertainment. Jack Johnson contributes to the cause by crafting a song that kids can’t help but sing: the “3 R’s song”. Enjoy!

Tags: Education, Social Issues, play, outside, culture, news

What Makes Minecraft Work

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Apr 16, 2013 @ 01:57 PM

MinecraftAccording to the Minecraft blog, Minecraft has around 10,000,000 users globally. And it’s no surprise that a game with that kind of following has also taken the tween world by storm.  The game, created by Swedish programmer Markus "Notch" Persson and later developed and published by Mojang and now available for play on computers or the XBox 360, has inspired young users through gameplay that includes space for both exploration and achievement. The 2011 “Golden Joystick Award” recipient revolves around breaking and placing blocks, allowing youth to play by themselves or, better yet, with others, to create worlds of their own and to fend off foes. Often cited as an example of “sandbox” or “emergent” gameplay, the game relies on the simple acts of its users to inspire relatively complex gaming dynamics.

What lessons can we learn from Minecraft’s success? We polled players and other experts to identify what Minecraft gets right:

  1. "You can make anything you want." According to one kid expert, Minecraft’s open-ended game design puts kids in control. He notes that "You can build a house any way you want. You can also make statues, mines, and make tunnels." Like loose parts playgrounds, Minecraft gives kids pieces with unlimited functionality and lets them play. This game gives kids the keys to the castle, allowing them to make the world what they wish it to be.
  2. "There are also portals that take you to other places, other worlds." Minecraft combines reality with fantasy, and escape with deep strategy. While part of the game’s appeal is constructing an environment that kids control, the other appealing aspect involves discovering new spaces to explore.
  3. As one of our clients recently noted, Minecraft’s two modes appeal to younger and older kids: explore or overcome. Minecraft nimbly navigates the tricky territory between early childhood and late childhood, letting all play, while upping the ante for the older set. While younger kids might especially appreciate the ability to investigate a world without a virtual “leash,” older kids find satisfaction in anticipating and countering attacks from virtual villains. Constructive play combines with good guy/bad guy play, which piques the interest of boys of many ages.
  4. "You can download characters from the Xbox - your character can wear armor that protects you from enemy characters." Avatars are nothing new, but the ability to be who you want within the context of a world you create makes customization more concrete.
  5. Finally, Minecraft takes gameplay social. For kids, Minecraft takes the constructive play usually associated with solitary activities (think LEGO) to the social sphere.

So what can brands learn from Minecraft?

  • Put kids in charge. Let them create, and inspire them to finish the story (versus completing it for them).
  • Consider entry points for younger kids (explorers) and older kids (controllers).
  • Enable them to make it their own. Let them enter the story through avatars or first-person perspective.
  • Foster friendships. Make social play possible.

Tags: internet, Gaming, digital drugs, free time

Satisfying Superfans: Breaking Down the “Bronies” Phenomenon

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Apr 05, 2013 @ 01:32 PM

My Little PonyTurn on the Hub, and you’re likely to recognize a number of properties that were important in your own youth. My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic is just one of the old-school toys that’s received a refresh from Hasbro’s “The Hub” TV network. And while every cohort of little girls seems to love ponies, kids and tweens aren’t solely responsible for this show’s popularity. Meet the “Bronies.” 

According to urbandictionary.com, “Bronies” was coined on 4chan's /co/ board as a term used to describe the mainly teenage and older, often male fans of My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic. 4chan provides the following sample dialogue between Bronies:

Brony A: “Dude, just finished watching the first season from MLP:FiM!”
Brony B: “Cool! So who do you think is the best pony?”

Brony A mentions the pony they think is best. Brony B agrees and exclaims: “Brohoof!”  The “Bronies Brohoof” is similar to a high five.

These superfans have their own signature MO, interrupting conversations on message boards in an attempt to change the conversation to one about unicorns and pink horses. But according to Angela Watercutter of Wired, this type of affinity might be more sincere than subversive.  Watercutter coined the term “neo-sincerity” back in 2010 to describe a shift away from seeing irony in everything to sincerely appreciating the sentimental.

So what’s a youth brand to do with these vocal superfans, especially those whose fandom might be interpreted as bad behavior (or at least an unwelcomed annoyance) by some?

  • First, say thank you. It might make sense to be suspicious of the taste of superfans, but in most cases, they’re responding to something that seems authentic, complex and unique in your property. Find out what they appreciate and see if it helps you understand the specifics behind your success.
  • Second, keep your eye on the prize. Superfans often relish in a sense of discovery; your primary target or audience might expect you to speak more directly to them. Superfans might provide some insight and inspiration, but don’t let them silence your main target.
  • Finally, have fun! It’s okay to acknowledge these superfans and to build on the buzz that their unconventional attention garners for your brand, product or property.

Tags: youth research, play, kids tweens teens, TV