The World Cup: A Young Person’s Game?

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Jun 24, 2014 @ 12:15 PM
FIFA 2014 World CupEvery three to four years for the last few decades, U.S. commentators wonder aloud whether this will be the year that Americans care about The Beautiful Game, in conjunction with both the men’s World Cup and the women’s World Cup (Canada, 2015). The escalation of youth participation in soccer, the rising international profile of U.S. Soccer (men’s – women, we know, have been on top for quite a while), and increased media coverage on mainstream outlets are all cited as reasons why this (insert year here) will be the year that Americans finally get soccer. Of course, on the heels of the draw with Portugal, which looked like a victory for the U.S. up until the last 30 seconds, this claim seems more justified than in the past. Can Americans still possibly claim that soccer doesn’t hold the excitement of other sports?

Thus far, research shows that viewership of and interest in the World Cup has remained pretty stable compared to four years ago. According to Pew Research, roughly the same share of the public is looking forward to the World Cup this year (22%) as it was in 2010 (23%). The nature of the tournament means that few moments will garner as much attention as the one and done Super Bowl. Despite the U.S. and Ghana match’s 7.0 ratings share on Nielsen’s overnight report—a record for a FIFA World Cup match on the channel, according to Businessweek, kids, tweens and teens who are still in school in some parts of the country and beginning camp in others, don’t exactly have the freedom to view during the day that many adults seem to find. Youth can’t flock to their local pub the way Millennials might, and kids and tweens, in particular, are consistently more excited to play the game than watch it on TV.

Still, it’s hard to argue that the World Cup and soccer, in general, have become important symbols of youth culture. Pew’s research shows that four-in-ten adults ages 18-29 (40%) were looking forward to the World Cup before the start of the tournament, compared with just 13% of adults 50 and older. The last time the men’s World Cup occurred, we wrote about the reasons why soccer should matter to today’s kids, tweens and teens. Four years later, we’re inspired to look at all that soccer – and the U.S. team specifically - represents and reflects about this particular cohort of youth.
  1. A global community. As fans of England now know, the seemingly solid lines of citizenship and belonging are hardly fixed. Uruguay dashed the hopes of the English team by the foot of striker Luis Suarez – best known for an infamous stint in the Premier League, and as a player for Liverpool. The global exchange of footballers is not new to the sport, but better reflects a kind of youth culture and experience that sees country boundaries and borders, and a general sense of belonging and membership that is more fluid than ever. The U.S. team has players that feel diverse in all sorts of ways – with many spending much of their lives living outside our nation’s borders. The U.S. team, moreso than many other “national teams” like the Olympic contingents for most sports, feels like it truly reflects the plurality of experiences and backgrounds that youth recognize from their own lives.

  2. An underdog coming of age. The U.S. team might be an unlikely underdog, but when it comes to soccer, the world seems to be watching to see whether this up and comer can establish itself as a world power on the pitch. Being underestimated makes the U.S. team even more relatable to youth, who respect fame and accomplishment, but root for those who – like themselves – are often trying to prove they’re more capable than expected.

  3. A respect for refresh. For many long-time U.S. soccer fans, the decision to leave Landon Donovan at home was controversial to say the least. But for youth, a chance for new stars to shine makes the team even more appealing. Soccer has been somewhat stagnated in popular culture, with athletes like Mia Hamm (who kids continue to love) representing the face of the game, despite being on the bench. Today’s youth are more likely to follow someone who represents the future of soccer, not its past.  

  4. Inclusiveness. The Nike campaign for the World Cup suggests that the kind of inclusiveness that this cohort of kids, tweens and teens value and demand is not lost on one of youth’s favorite brand, even beyond football. The ad includes “characters” from across the globe in a video game style ad, and, importantly, speaks to youth with humor, not only heroism. And, the language of laughter connects with a broad range of youth.

Tags: kids, World Cup, Sports, Youth, Teens, tweens, soccer

5 Reasons Why Teens Love the Youngest Jenner Girls

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Jun 12, 2014 @ 04:09 PM

Kendall and Kylie Jenner

On the surface, Kendall and Kylie Jenner are not relatable in any sense of the word. They come from one of the most globally recognizable families in the world. They call an Olympic athlete their dad and a “Momager” their mom.  Kendall Jenner’s IMDB bio describes her as an “American socialite, television personality and model.” Kylie Jenner hangs with Will Smith’s son, movie star Jaden Smith. Their famous sisters (and half brothers) have had self-titled TV shows, and almost everyone in their family of drinking age is paid in the thousands of dollars for merely appearing at a party. Not to mention that their lives have been filmed and broadcast since the age of 10 (Kylie) and 12 (Kendall).

But despite the odds, they might have just become role models of a certain sort to today’s youth. What makes these girls the celebs of the moment goes beyond good marketing and a public platform that is arguably unrivaled (although those help). We think that they were far from destined to become today’s trendiest teens (with millions following them on Twitter). And while there are many reasons why adults might critique their particular brand of fame, we’re endlessly curious about the reasons why these girls have connected with today’s teens.

  1. They defy the script. Despite being part of the most scripted unscripted family of all time, the youngest Jenner sisters consistently seem to speak in a different tone, in a different way than their older counterparts. Kylie dyes her hair blue. Kendall prefers to portray herself as awkward and anti-social versus gregarious and polished. They publicly criticize their celebrity family (all the while, reassuring listeners that they’re all about familial love). They sometimes shun the camera (all the while, continuing to post selfies of all sorts).
     
  2. They eschew entitlement. Like their older sisters, these girls seem to engage in deals across multiple domains. But the image they’ve cultivated is one that suggests that they are workers. Beyond constantly praising the work ethic of their parents, they have served as “interns,” designers for a line at Pac Sun (who, in the “fashion” of the day, claim to be hands on, and they’ve written a fictional novel). Even Kendall’s recent success as a model feels like it’s fueled more by the kind of flow she gets from pursuing a lifelong passion (even though, in early episodes of the series, she buckled under the pressure her older sister put on her to take modeling classes).
     
  3. They have issues. But they have the right kind of issues – teen angst, sibling rivalry, a little bit of narcissism - but they’re not known for promiscuity, overindulgence, or insensitivity. Remember, their young fans are much more morally self-righteous than we might expect. Tweens, in particular,are quick to feel uncomfortable when their idols make ill-advised decisions.
     
  4. They care about creativity. They represent a kind of creative class of youth that feels both age-appropriate and consistent with the ethos of their cohort of youth. It’s unlikely that teens will read the countless scathing reviews of their newest endeavor, a novel entitled Rebels: City of Indra, and instead will see them as “authors” of a form that feels different than the memoirs of their famous sister and mother. They treat fashion with reverence that helps to elevate their occupation as “designers” and models to a respectable height. And their boho style, while fueled by designer labels, feels more earthy and relatable to today’s teen girls who see themselves as more creative than  luxury-laden. 
     
  5. They’re connected. It’s not just about tweeting or posting a never-ending stream of images on Instagram. They’re connected to each other – they come as a pair like so many popular kid and teen characters (remember Mary Kate and Ashley?). They are surrounded by people and have a built in social club in the form of their siblings. This reassurance that these stylish, attractive girls are also part of a larger team is critical to keeping them within reach. 

Tags: girls, parents, novel, Youth, Teens, fashion, TV, tweens, books

Fault in Our Stars and Finding Balance in Teen Culture

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jun 04, 2014 @ 01:23 PM

Later this week, 20th Century Fox will release the highly anticipated Fault in Our Stars MovieFault in Our Stars (FiOS), a teen romance based on the best-selling 2012 Young Adult novel by John Green.  Social media has been buzzing over this movie for years, and the excitement is getting even more intense as the premiere date gets closer.  The trailer for the film has nearly 20 million views, and John Green has been popping up all over social media promoting the film. 

The success of FiOS might seem surprising.  There are no supernatural creatures, it’s not set in a dystopia where teens must fight to the death, and it lacks much of the dark, fantastical elements we’ve come to expect in teen media.  It’s a realistic story about two terminally-ill teens who meet and fall in love.  The story isn’t new to Young Adult fiction (or “YA” among the indoctrinated!), but Green’s story has made a huge impression on teen and adult readers.  A lot has already been written about what makes FiOS so successful (its raw emotions, its universal story of love and life, its compelling characters, etc.), but we thought of a different reason as to why FiOS is not only so wildly popular, but also why it’s popularity isn’t that surprising.  

Teen culture has always been about balance.  For every bad boy, there is a boy next door; for every nerd, a jock; and if there’s heartache, there’s a new romance.  The list could go on.  Even popular culture aimed at teens balances itself.  The crazy stunts and outrageous antics of Lady Gaga are balanced by Taylor Swift’s wholesome good-girl. 

After years of supernatural creatures and murderous teens, FiOS balances YA literature and teen culture.  For years, teens have been bombarded with (and rabidly consumed by) dark fantasy, paranormal romance, and dystopia.  Just when it looked like the scale was beginning to tilt a little too far, along came FiOS with its human, fallible characters, its awkward romance, and its gritty exploration of a very real and very human issue: illness and death.  FiOS provides teens with something different, something to offset the media they’ve been consuming for so many years. 

Even John Green himself is vastly different from other YA authors.  Green was one of the first major vloggers on Youtube, a platform he has used successfully to speak to teens and promote his books.  Green tweets and takes to Tumblr. His celebrity status and willingness to engage with teens has led some to call him the "teen whisper", unlike Stephanie Meyers and Suzanne Collins, neither of whom have actively engaged with their audience in the ways Green does. 

While it might be easy to talk about the importance of tension in teen products or offerings, we think a bit of balance might be a better formula for success. Extreme might make for a headline, but balance makes for a bestseller.

Tags: Lady Gaga, Teen Culture, movie, Taylor Swift, John Green, Teens