5 Insights Inspired by Boyhood

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jan 28, 2015 @ 02:31 PM

BoyhoodOf course, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood appealed to our YouthBeat team long before it garnered awards and attention – it’s a longitudinal “study” that covers the kind of day-to-day truth of a single child that serves as a model for the kind of research we wish we always got to do! In this case, the objective is simply to reveal the reality of a kid as he journeys through tweendom and teendom, into young adulthood. We couldn’t help but watch in awe as all the characters (mom and dad included) confronted the ups and downs of family life. We were compelled to keep our eyes on the boy at the movie’s center as he sought agency within the confines of the limited and limiting life in which he found himself. It’s tricky to use a fictional character as a font for real-life insights, but we’ll be so bold. Here are our five of our favorite insights inspired by Boyhood:

  • Growth happens. Of course, many of us know that kids go through stages as they go through ages. But so often, we think about growth through the lens of development. What we can easily miss is the way that relationships shift and morph, how their sense of their place in the world evolves, but also realigns. Children don’t grow in neat patterns, but rather in fits and spurts, through stagnation as much as stimulation. The tale of this boy suggests that kids are constantly growing, but not always upward and onward.
  • Kids are resilient. So much has been said about Boyhood as of late, but we haven’t heard enough about the resilience that the kid characters display. Resilience is one of the most valuable characteristics today’s kids could have, and it’s often earned despite, not because of, the adults in a child’s life. Still, Mason managed to have it. Our insight: it’s easy to bemoan all the ways in which youth culture and family life threaten resilience – it’s harder to notice it when it’s right under your nose.
  • Families are systems. We often debate the role of kids and parents: is one more influential than the other, who “nags” whom, and what moment do the scales tip in one direction or another (especially when it comes to purchase decisions). But Boyhood reminds us of the complex interconnectivity apparent in the everyday life of kids and families. There is no such thing as a “decision-maker” that applies to every situation. And even when parents assert authority, kids (and particularly teens) often override. It’s not that the effort to understand the shopping or decision-making process isn’t worthwhile. It just requires closer observation and more flexibility than we often give it.
  • Observe the silence. When it comes to research, particularly with boys, it’s important to listen to (and respect) the silence. We often assume that every insight and every idea can be articulated and expressed if just the moderator would ask the magic question. We sometimes believe that we can see and hear what young respondents believe and know if we just go to the right space. But many of the most important moments in children’s lives are bathed in silence – not expression. They happen in spaces that are intentionally invisible, in places that are hard to access by design. Our job is not always to reveal something not meant to be revealed but rather to notice and acknowledge that what happens quietly and what is said softly is as important as any statistic or proclamation. 
  • Life is in the everyday. It’s easy to consider children’s lives as a series of milestones and achievements, capabilities mastered and skills gained. But in understanding children, and in finding ways to connect with them, it’s often more important to note the everyday matters that make up their lives and make them who they are. This can be the fodder for great content and products as much as the disruptions and events that are easy to talk about and to include in PowerPoint presentations. But truly understanding youth requires the patience to tell a story in which nothing “happens” as much as everything unfolds. 

Tags: kids, boys, Youth, Teens, tweens

Why Character(s) Matter to Kids, Tweens and Teens

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Jan 15, 2015 @ 03:09 PM
522397525 webFor many marketers, the importance of properties and characters in kids’, tweens’ and teens’ lives comes to the forefront only when they’re considering promotional partners. For others, who have committed to understanding youth culture apart from their own category, knowing the characters that matter to youth can serve as a fun intro to what are often perceived to be deeper, more strategic and more influential trends. Tracking the top characters in kids’, tweens’ and teens’ lives is often seen as a nice to have, but not a necessary part of a marketers’ research plan.

But we would argue that the characters that populate the ever-changing landscape of youth culture provide invaluable and incomparable clues to the mindset of a cohort. A new book with one of the most intriguing titles we’ve read in a while, makes a similar argument. In Harry Potter and the Millennials: Research Methods and the Politics of the Muggle Generation, authors Anthony Gierzynski with Kathryn Eddy ask, “Haven’t Luke Skywalker and Santa Claus affected your life more than most real people?” They suggest that many soci-political factors can shape the views of a specific cohort, but that to ignore the tremendous power of entertainment, and of specific narratives and characters in particular, would be an act of denial. As the title suggests, they hypothesized that Harry Potter had a profound effect on the attitudes of members of the Millennial cohort, in general, and that Harry Potter fans displayed beliefs aligned with those that prevail in Hogwarts and that are embodied in the “boy who lived,” even when other factors (like being an avid reader in general) are considered. They suggest that the impact these characters have on the psyche of youth who were born between 1982 and 2002 (the definition they select for Millennials), is far from superficial. They attribute attitudes towards diversity, social justice and even torture to the narratives that took hold of them during their formative years.

For marketers, we encourage taking characters seriously, regardless of your category. Gierzynski with Eddy’s work suggests that making the most of this kind of market intelligence requires deep analysis of the themes and memes associated with any given character or property, but it also necessitates knowledge about the characters that are truly connecting with this audience right now.

At YouthBeat, we’ve always believed in using these character inventories as critical indicators of youth culture. Starting in 2015, we’re adding a Preschool Character Tracker to our existing suite of products. To find out more, please contact Amy Henry at amyh@crresearch.com or at 312.828.9200.

Happy 2015!

Tags: kids, Teens, tweens, millennials