Back to School Means Back to Basics

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Aug 30, 2013 @ 08:29 AM

156200911We admit it: the Miley Cyrus story that has dominated headlines this week begs for commentary from us. But with so much being said about the performance of this young star and youth favorite at the 2013 VMA Awards this past weekend, we’re not sure there’s much for us to add to a story that has easily entered media-frenzy mode. Instead, during a week when many commentators have questioned the values of youth, the moral of Millennials and the salaciousness of youth celebrities, we thought we’d focus on a story that’s more authentically affecting kids, tweens and teens around the country: back to school.

If you have kids in your home, you know that back to school is often filled with simple reminders of the timeless joys and fears of childhood. A letter from a new teacher can cause a kindergartner delight usually reserved for a new toy – and it can also cause anxiety about a new challenge ahead. Parents get giddy about the return to a routine – but they also watch, heart breaking, as their little ones take another step away from babyhood. And kids and parents everywhere lose sleep wondering what this year’s workload, teacher, mix of classmates or tryouts for varying activities will mean for how they spend the year ahead.

And this year, across the country, parents at new schools will ask questions about security. They’ll find out about no-tolerance bullying policies. And they’ll wonder if decreasing school budgets will mean the sports they love, or the classes they thrive in, or even the recess time they desperately need will remain available.

Above all, kids, tweens, teens, moms and dads will take a fresh look at how they’re all doing. They’ll resolve to make mornings easier, and they might even institute a new system to organize their households and their lives. They’ll prep new snack options, hoping that this is the year that carrots don’t come home from lunch! And they’ll set goals for who and how they want to be.

During this time, brands can serve as problem-solvers, but they can also take the higher ground: they can inspire and invoke parents’ and their children’s desire to be their best. It can also be a fresh start for brands and content creators, pushing them to take a look at what grade they hope to receive at the end of the year – and how they’ll get there. For youth marketers, back-to-school doesn’t have to mean back to normal – but it should be a call to go back to basics.

Tags: preschool, parents, family, culture, school

The Next Big Thing or the Last Big Thing?

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Aug 15, 2013 @ 09:52 AM

Austin Carter Mahone might be the next big thing. The seventeen year-old singer was discovered on YouTube at the ripe age of 15. His floppy bangs endearingly cover his eyes, causing him to flip them away in interviews. He was raised by a single mom who he seems to adore. And his fans identify themselves as “Mahonies.”Austin Mahone

Sound familiar? If you’re not convinced of Mahone’s striking similarities to one Justin Bieber, take a look at their uncanny likeness in Mahone’s video for “What About Love”.

Austin Mahone certainly seems like a Bieber flashback. He even reminds us that Taylor Swift used to like JB! While Taylor Swift has been seen expressing her distaste for her BFF Selena Gomez’s sometime boyfriend, Swift selected Mahone as one of her opening acts for her Red Tour. 

But beyond giving us hope that Taylor and Bieber will iron out their differences, the close resemblance between Mahone and Bieber made us ask a question important to brands, marketers and content creators.  When it comes to kids and tweens, can the same old formula work for the next big thing?

While authentic innovation seems like an aspirational goal, kid and tween culture is crowded with examples of “me toos” – that have actually made their mark. In fact, the surefire formula of a kid/tween hit might just be the do-over!

Being the “first-mover” might be an advantage in some categories, for some consumers. But when it comes to kids and tweens, copy-catting isn’t always such a bad thing.  Brands and celebrities with a foot in the familiar make exploring a bit safer and a lot more satisfying for kids. It might be why sequels have more staying power among kids and tweens than with adults. It could be why series stay on top of kids’ reading lists (think Harry Potter, Twilight or Percy Jackson). And it might be why kids TV shows seem to tap into the same themes over and over again. Kids and tweens can anticipate the star, brand or show’s next move, which makes them feel in-the-know and in control.

And for “properties” like Mahone, the mistakes of the past can offer a blueprint for getting it right this time around. It might be hard for Austin to avoid the inevitable adolescent implosion, but at least he’ll have a model to follow (or avoid) in Bieber.

For brands looking for a “refresh,” reviewing your youth history is just as valuable as seeking out the undiscovered.

Tags: youth research, digital drugs, music, culture

3 Back-to-School Rules

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Aug 02, 2013 @ 10:21 AM

Back to school shopping is well underway, although in some parts of the country, the first day of school is over a month away. According to the 2013 National Retail Federation Back-to-School survey,  24% of families with kids in K through 12th grades reported that they would begin shopping 2 months prior to school’s start (up slightly from 22% last year). The New York Times noted that some marketers began to plant the seeds for back-to-school shopping as early as May, citing Office Depot’s One Direction cause marketing campaign as an example. But with most marketers bracing for a back-to-school shopping period in which spending will decrease from last year’s record highs, getting back-to-school marketing, advertising, product selection and pricing will be more important than ever. How can retailers and marketers compete for these fewer dollars and deliver the needs of more discriminating back-to-school shoppers in 2013? We’ve got three rules for back-to-school that smart marketers will follow:

  1. kmartFocus on value, not price. Price might be prominent on the minds of moms, but she’s not willing to compromise – even when she has a coupon. We think Target gets it right this back-to-school season with their “Kids Got Style” campaign. Moms know that Target offers low prices (“Expect More, Pay Less.”). But compared to Kohl’s back-to-school campaign, which focuses on mom saving (even showing a close-up of the receipt that suggests she saved over $80), Target keeps the focus on delivering kid confidence.  Stylish products take center-stage, but the hero isn’t mom – it’s their confident kids. Target makes mom’s mission more admirable – it’s about getting the best (in a fiscally responsible way), not about pinching a few pennies.  
  2. Keep it light. While Target might have the market cornered on showing kids with style, Kmart has taken a refreshing approach – showing the funnier side of back-to-school. In a bully-sensitive schoolyard, an ad that shows kids “talking trash” might be a risky move. But this playful piece from the discount retailer turns the tables on typical kid slams. The kid stars of these spots, who reflect a more diverse kid cohort and who look decidedly real, call each other out with clever comebacks like “yo mama must have cavities because that hoodie (that she bought at Kmart) is sweeeeet!” Or (our personal favorite), “Your mama’s like a tasty cheese plate because she saved so much cheddar on those Kmart jeans.” Just try to stay stressed out about long back-to-school shopping lists after watching this spot.
  3. Give her a guide. Much has been made of the lengths that moms will go to comparing prices and online pre-shopping before heading to the store for back-to-school stuff. But the smartest marketers don’t depend on mom doing all her homework. In fact, one trend we think that’s worth following? Help mom make the grade. Pottery Barn Kids caters to a mom who is willing to pay a premium for a custom carrying case, and the retailed knows that these moms really want to get their kids’ gear right. On their website, they let moms shop by child grade – particularly useful for finding the right size backpack for that not-so-preschool, but not-so-big-kid backpack. Moms might be willing to look around for the perfect products for her kids, but she also values brands that give her the reassurance that she’s getting size and style right the first time. At back-to-school, showing you understand what kids need matters as much as offering a varied selection.

Tags: youth research, preschool, advertisment, shopping, school