Music Concert Time Warp

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 @ 02:52 PM

author, circa 1985I wasn’t necessarily aiming for the Auntie of the Year award.  In December, 2014, when tickets to the Maroon 5 “Maps” tour went on sale, I snagged two great seats, one for me and one for my 17-year-old niece.  Living in rural Iowa, it would be a trip to Chicago and her first concert.  The experience of attending the concert made me reflect on my own first concert in the mid-1980s.  Back then, I was an awkward 13-year-old, and fist pumping to the beat was the epitome of cool.

Thirty years later, some parts of the concert experience remained the same:

  1. The audience consisted mostly of groups of girlfriends—from tweens to adult 40-somethings, all defining themselves for the evening by their affiliation with the band and with each other.
  2. Girls of all ages had saved up their allowance, babysitting money, or spare cash to buy concert t-shirts, which they quickly changed into in the ladies’ room, for photos before and during the show.
  3. The people who appeared to take the greatest joy from the experience were those busting a move like no one was looking—dancing and singing along at their seats, in the aisles, and in the concourse.

One big thing was different—the phones in everyone’s hands and pockets. During the band’s break, the house lights went down and Cellphone LightsAdam Levine asked the audience members to shine their lights in unison. As the United Center lit up like the Fourth of July and a collective gasp was heard, we were suddenly all roadies, all a part of each other’s experience, all sitting at the Cool Kids Table.

So since it happened, thanks, Maroon 5, for making me Auntie of the Year.  

Tags: Youth, Teens, music, culture

Reflections From a (U.S.) Youth Researcher Abroad

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, May 22, 2014 @ 12:02 PM

Recently, our family spent spring break in Italy with two boys of our own, and two nephews allItaly under the age of six. While technically “off the clock,” I couldn’t help but bring my researchers’ eyes along for the ride. This is by no means a scientific study, but this fresh look at youth and this, admittedly, random collection of observations and reminders has left me with ideas and inspiration for the past few weeks. I hope they do the same for you!

  • The slides are steeper.  In the town where we stayed, the fountain at the piazza’s center was backed by a modern playground comprised of colorful slides, bridges and tunnels, and climb-able trucks and trains. By all accounts, this play space looked like it could have been in Chicago or New Jersey, or anywhere else in the world. Except for the slide. It was STEEP! As if our American-ness wasn’t already apparent in this off-the-beaten path town, the way we gawked at the tall yellow slide signaled that we were not from “around here.” But what insight can possibly be gleaned from the slope of a slide? Like so many European TV programs (if you ever have the chance, see the brilliant David Kleeman’s presentation on the big risks that children’s television takes in other markets around the world), risk looks a little different outside our borders. There was hardly glass on the ground, and no dangerous characters lingered by the swings, but this playground didn’t have signs signaling appropriate ages, and it had one heck of a drop from the top. The fun for kids from this whizzzzzzzz came from taking off, however tentatively, one’s cloak of nervousness to experience the joy and
    bravado that comes from tackling a phobia. More was at stake on this slide than on their safer American counterparts. Too bad for all the undercover superheroes in the U.S. just waiting for their chance to fly.
  • Play is a language. The highlight of our vacation, at least for me, came not from watching the sun set over a grove of olive trees (although that was nice) or a glass of vino with family (nice as well) but watching my six year old son negotiate a game of tag with a new friend. Beyond a “bon giorno” and a cautious “hello,” the two children had little to discuss. But they were able to gesture and smile their way through a fairly recognizable game of tag (with my son’s new Italian friend sometimes hugging instead of simply tagging!). It reminded me that play is a language all its own, and it travels. The impulse to play is something that adults sometimes try to manage, promote and steer, but the desire to connect in un-productive leisure represents something more powerful than many adults can understand or facilitate. Play pushes its way through barriers of all sorts, including language barriers, to become the language itself.
  • They have the same Legos everywhere. Globalization and consumer culture are weighty issues—and ones that marketers often view very differently than the many critics who consider the loss of local flavor (in addition to many other potentially deleterious effects). But there was something amazing about the way that characters and properties bond children across the globe. Beyond Cartoonito’s decidedly dark rendition of Heidi, many of the shows on Italian TV were familiar to our kids. This universal culture might have its downsides—and in the least, suggests we should treat these ubiquitous exports as sacred symbols—but it also serves to make children comfortable across strange lands. When my son saw his favorite Legos in the window of a toy store in downtown Chiavari, he was home.
  • “New” can be nice. It could be these specific kids, or it could be this cohort of youth, but the differences in pizza, ice cream, language, and environment and even in other people didn’t seem to faze our young travelers. The excitement came from the same sources it typically did—from really, really good gelato. Or a particularly challenging playground bridge. Or that steep slide. But without making a big deal about what was different, our kids seemed to think that most things were pretty much the same. Kids are shockingly adaptable if we allow them to be. For all the concern that modern parents face about fixing schedules and helping children adjust to new experiences, kids not only survive but often thrive when they must encounter and integrate the “new.” It goes without saying that this is where learning and growth live—not just for kids, but for adults as well.

Tags: toys, food, travel, kids, play, parents, Youth, TV, culture, youth media, speaking

Relating Your Work to Children’s Rights

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Mar 07, 2014 @ 04:29 PM

Conducting research, or creating content, or engaging in marketing with youth can be tricky business. Many of us who have made our careers in the youth and family space know that attending to the legalities of youth marketing and research – online and offline – is just the beginning of considering the ethics of these endeavors. Many of us who spend significant time working on kid, tween or teen brands, products, and at youth oriented companies and organizations reflect upon the way our work affects the lives of children. Most of us question and worry about our work. We treat the job of communicating with and to children as a sacred one – not business as usual, but rather business that can make a difference – positive or negative – in the lives of children. But linking our work to children’s rights? Is that going too far?unicef

Not surprisingly, LEGO doesn’t think so. Recently, LEGO announced that they were going to start taking steps in their online and offline marketing to protect the rights of children, specifically those outlined in UNICEF's Children's Rights and Business Principles, a guide to help business encourage and protect children's rights. UNICEF contends that companies not only have a responsibility to ensure that communication and marketing does not have an adverse affect on children's rights, but that marketing should be encouraging children's rights.

These principles might be geared towards businesses, but they call to mind a more comprehensive document, United Nation’s Conventions of the Rights of the Child (UN-CRC), that serves as the first legally binding international instrument created to protect the human—civil, cultural, economic, political, and social—rights of children. 

Established in 1989, the UN-CRC outlines the basic rights and protections that all children should be given.  While the UN-CRC is a political instrument meant to help governments, it also gives us insight into a global idea of what rights children have.  Certainly all the articles of the UN-CRC are interesting, but three stood out to us and being particularly important for youth marketers and content creators:

Article 13: Freedom of Expression.  Children have the right to give and receive information as long as that information is not damaging to them or others.  Children’s voices are important, and Article 13 acknowledges that not only do children have voices, but what they have to say is valuable.  This article not only encourages creative expression and children’s rights to express their feelings and become active producers, it also encourages adults to remember that the voices of children should be heard.

Article 17: Right to Media.  Children have the right to get information that is important to their health and well-being.  Rather than discourage media, the UN-CRC encourages media specifically designed for children, media that considers the needs and interests of children.  More than just produce media for children, Article 17 also reminds us that this media should be available in multiple languages and be made available to all children.  Children have the right to access media that represents the diversity of the world.   

Article 31: Right to Play.  Children have the right to relax and play and join in cultural and artistic activities.  Article 31 is our favorite and one we completely agree with.  Play can promote health and foster relationships.  More importantly, play is a human right, something all children need to experience.  The UN-CRC doesn’t limit itself on what play and leisure mean.  Sports, games, toys, and relaxation should all be made available to children. 

The UN-CRC reminds us that children are active agents in the world, and that our work has the power to support them. It’s likely the work that you’re doing considers children’s voices, or children’s right to media or children’s need for play. But considering these “strategies” or brand equities or positioning as rights might raise the stakes in your own organizations and on your youth teams.

Tags: Social Issues, kids tweens teens, culture, news

Making Endorsements Count

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Feb 04, 2014 @ 01:39 PM

Every January, the American Library Association announces the winners of some of the biggest awards in children’s and young adult literature.  These awards are given for excellence in children’s books (John Newbery Award), illustration (Randolph Caldecott Award), young adult literature (Michael Printz Award), African-American children’s literature (Coretta Scott King Award), and much more.  But the way these awards operate in the children’s literature space suggest lessons that a broader group of marketers and content creators can tap into.american library association

In any category, it’s safe to assume that winning a major award increases sales. In the case of children’s literature, public libraries and schools see a medal on the cover as an endorsement of the author (for the unknowns) or as a reason to expand their collection of favorites.  These awards and honors serve as insurance policies on the product’s quality, and also convey secondary but critical information about age-appropriateness. In a 2004 study conducted by Gundry E. Rowe, in which he surveyed public and school librarians, he found that nearly all the librarians bought award winning titles without even looking at plot summaries.  In the extremely competitive marketplace for children’s books, winning an award can take a book from a few sales to hundreds of thousands.  Certainly, libraries and schools look for materials to buy in a different way than parents, but these expert buyers and children’s lit curators create the selection set for moms, dads, aunts and uncles, and children themselves. In other categories, award winners are often a searchable category on online websites. For example, yoyo.com includes their “yoyo picks” but also lets buyers sort by Dr. Toy’s endorsements. With so many options available, these awards feel like a soft exertion of authority which moms and dads welcome. 

In the children’s literature space, winning a major award propels authors to top status, signifying them as master craftsmen. An award can turn an unknown into a key player and force within a specific market. Long before Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (1964) was a classic children’s book, it was a Caldecott Award winner in 1964.  The award gave Sendak, and his artwork, a boost in popularity.  Today, Sendak’s artwork is an important part of many children’s lives, and the image of Max and the Wild Things is a part of children’s culture. 

What lessons can we take from looking carefully at the ALA Awards?

  • Endorsement matter. Even for a cohort of moms that might not believe that there’s one source of expertise in any category, they seek out ways to distinguish quality products from simply popular one.
  • Remember to recognize the influencers. While understanding consumer preference is harder than ever in an age with so many property and content possibilities, remember that experts from unexpected places might be more influential than ever. Make sure you have a plan to connect with them.
  • While awards might, on the surface, say more about parent preferences than kids’ requests, they also suggest a glimpse at the marketplace. Even if kids are empowered to make their own choices, they are still limited to the subset of goods that adults allow them to access.

Tags: Education, book, free time, culture, youth media

Mario’s Magic

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jan 17, 2014 @ 01:12 PM

MarioWith the immense popularity of Nintendo’s new Super Mario 3D World for Wii U, we thought it was time to think about what makes Mario such an important and popular character among kids, tweens, and teens (and the namesake of kids’ favorite video game since YouthBeat’s launch in 2008).

For our YouthBeat readers who weren’t around then, Mario first appeared in the 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong.  Since then, he has appeared in over 200 video game titles and the Mario franchise games have sold millions of units.  Mario, and the characters and world built around him, have surrounded youth in the form of cartoons, comics, films, toys and countless objects of play and design.

So, what makes Mario (the character and the franchise) so popular?

  1. Mario Lets Kids Learn as They Go.  No matter the Mario title, players are slowly and methodically introduced to the key movements and elements of the game.  Not only does this help players develop skills, but it also encourages players to challenge themselves and push further. With each new level, there are new skills to learn.  And for mastery-loving kids, this chance to get good and test your skills serves as a recipe for success!
  2. Mario Can Fit Many Forms.  Mario has done a lot of rescuing over the years, and he has shown that he can be a hero in any setting.  Whether it’s a classic side-scrolling platform (Super Mario Brothers), 3D open adventure (Super Mario 64), a race (any Mario Kart), or a fighting game (Super Smash Brothers), Mario has the ability to adapt to any type of game.  Mario, an archetypical hero with a rags-to-riches story (he is a plumber who rescues princesses), begs you to root for him in every scenario in which he appears. 
  3. Mario is Familiar. While conventional wisdom might suggest that new is necessary to keep kids interested, Mario suggests another model.  Mario serves as the guide to new genres that kids can explore. He represents a typical hero (he is a plumber who rescues the princess) whose quests are filled with tragedy, comedy, and overcoming monsters (Bowser!).  Within the larger Mario franchise, there are numerous fighting games, RPG games, and racing games.  Everyone can find a game to love in the Mario universe. 
  4. Mario is part of the Family. Mario is about as family-friendly as video games get (little violence, cute images, and simple humor).  With the release of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Nintendo has also been using Mario to bring families together by making the games cooperative.  With Super Mario 3D World, parents and kids can work, learn, and play together.

What lessons can content creators and marketers alike learn from Mario?

  • Incorporate learning and growth.  This allows entry-points for all ages and skill levels. 
  • Think outside the box.  Moving across different platforms enhances appeal, not detracts from the franchise’s DNA.   
  • Think about family.  Cooperative play not only encourages family time, but also makes games more social and fun.

Now, who’s up for some real life Mario Kart?

Tags: youth research, Gaming, play, culture, youth media

Giving Back at the Beginning

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jan 10, 2014 @ 01:27 PM

We often hear about great causes and organizations at the end of the year. But since kids, tweens, and teens don’t care about tax write-offs, we see little reason why January 1st can’t be the start of their support of people, places and products/brands/companies that are making a difference! We know that this group of youth care about the world outside their neighborhood more than ever. They feel connected to others through many means. And they are prepared to solve the world’s biggest problems in ways that we might not always notice, but that, nonetheless, make them one of the most entrepreneurial generations ever to walk the earth! The organizations below sometimes include youth, but often serve their needs. Either way, we think these organizations deserve some recognition and also provide some valuable lessons for youth marketers.

Capes for Kids

We believe in kid empowerment, and certainly, no kids need or deserve to feel like superheroes more than kids who are sick. The Hero Project, which provides pediatric in-patients with customized superhero capes, understands that visible symbols of strength can go a long way towards making kids feel better, or at least braver in the face of unthinkable challenges. This group recognizes that one way to catalyze donations is by getting donors to give of their creativity, not just their money, as they encourage groups of friends, family members, etc. to get together and create capes as a collective.

Project Night NightProject Night Night

For victims of homelessness, having a snuggly toy or a care package offers more than just physical comfort – it gives a glimmer of hope and assurance that they matter. Project Night Night creates Night Night packages designed for children under five years old, “who can’t articulate their concerns overcome the anxiety, emotional and mental stress that comes with home displacement.” The project also offers a secondary benefit – keeping slightly used toys out of landfills. Project Night Night reminds us that there’s no place like home for small children, and when it’s not a safe space, kids need significant signs and symbols of well-being to help them carry on.

Room to Grow

The first “100 days” of a child’s life are incredibly important to their cognitive, social and emotional development. Room to Grow assists women living in poverty by providing them and their children with resources they need, including baby gear and clothing, along with an actual place where they can find support and community. This idea grew from the notion that many moms have baby gear that they didn’t want to go to waste. We think this is a great example of an organization that responded to an asset and found a deserving group of moms who needed it. This makes us wonder, who could benefit from the gifts your organization has to offer? How will you give with authenticity and integrity?

Imagination Library

Who knew Dolly Parton would make our list of kid philanthropists in 2014? We think her idea – to provide preschoolers with a specially selected book, via mail, each month - is both ahead of its time, but also taps into many timeless truths about youth. First, getting something in the mail might make kids feel more special than ever before! A physical book can still feel like a gift to a child who has few. And bringing good-for-you content to kids is more effective than expecting them to come to you. We love this idea, which began in Tennessee, but is reaching the rest of the country rapidly.    

Donors Choose

Many of us are lucky enough to live in places with great schools, and almost all of us can remember a teacher who went above and beyond. You’ve likely seen statistics about the amount of money that teachers spend out of their own pockets to make their children’s learning environments live up to their own, and to kids’ expectations. Donors Choose also solves a frequently cited dilemma about non-profits – people often want to act locally, but most organizations that they can easily find are more national or global. But on the website, you might even find a well-deserving school or classroom close-by that you can help in other ways than just donating your time. And everyone loves a thank you – which the teachers and students agree to send to supporters of their cause. Speaking from experience, there’s nothing more gratifying that receiving a card created by a grateful teacher and appreciative kids after providing them with something that truly enhances their learning environment.

Teens Turning Green

There’s no question that kids, tweens and teens are capable of compassion. But what we like about teens Turning Green is its competitive spirit! Games and contests (not of the random winner variety) appeal to youth who are often up to challenges. Like dieting (speaking of New Year’s resolutions), doing good is often easier when it involved a few friends. And these events – like a 30 day sustainability challenge or a “green your dorm room” contest - are also chic. It’s no surprise – this organization isn’t run by adults for kids, but was actually founded by students striving to change the world.

In 2014, we think youth brands can give as much as they get. We recommend you follow the lead (and fuel the good work) these organizations are doing – let’s begin!

Tags: Education, Social Issues, Youth, culture, youth media

Making the The Ron Burgundy Approach Work for Youth

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Dec 17, 2013 @ 01:08 PM

ron burgundy 2Fictional newscaster Ron Burgundy (played by comedian Will Ferrell) is all over the place these days. In recent weeks, he’s been selling Dodge Durangos, guest hosting the news in North Dakota, and interviewing Peyton Manning on ESPN. All of these appearances, done with complete earnest; are of course, in the service of stirring up excitement over Paramount’s upcoming Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

We’ve been admiring his antics and just dying for a chance to connect this clearly adult marketing campaign to a kid, tween and teen topic. On last week's Saturday Night Live, we thought we had our entry point (read: excuse!) when Will Ferrell interrupted One Direction.  But Ferrell only appeared as himself, not as Ron Burgundy.  Well, this really caught our attention and made us ask, "So, can youth marketers learn from the 'Ron Burgundy Approach?'"  Answer: Absolutely!  Here are just a few of our favorite lessons:

Ron doesn’t create culture, he’s capitalizes on it. As many youth brands have learned (the hard way), it’s difficult for a brand to become the center of youth’s attention. Ron Burgundy’s (Verified!) Twitter account is full of references to his public appearances, but also a few thoughts on Miley Cyrus.  He’s interviewed Peyton Manning during football season, (albeit asking him questions about his take on tacklers from the 70s). Instead of attempting to draw attention to himself through creating big events, he’s showing up in the spots where we’re already looking. Brands sometimes worry about being overshadowed by a bigger brand or event, but Burgundy shows that there’s a balance of showing up and breaking in to these existing situations that gets consumers paying attention. 

Ron respects his fans.  Ron isn’t only appearing in spaces of satire – he’s also willing to make waves in waters where he wouldn’t typically swim. Last week Emerson College’s School of Communication was renamed The Ron Burgundy School of Communication (for 24 hours). Burgundy spoke to students about the changes he was going make (everyone gets a car upon graduation) and the difficulties of reporting the facts of a story (Don’t have facts? Make something up). Burgundy might be showing up in big venues, but he’s not afraid to throw some memorable grassroots moments in the mix. AND, he recognizes that this kind of marketing requires give and take – make some noise and be generous with acknowledging those who buy in. Youth love stars who tweet the people who spoof them. They appreciate the back and forth (that only social media allows) when a star starts a meme and lets the fans take over. Youth love the juxtaposition of big stars in small places (remember kids often feel that their world is invisible, so showing that a star remembers the little guys goes a long way with youth).

Ron makes moments, not media buys.  Ron Burgundy’s campaign looks different than it did in 2004 because the social landscape has changed. Ron still shows up on TV – he’s not relying only on being “discovered” serendipitously. But importantly, he’s making moments that matter. Regardless of how much Paramount spend on ads, the views that Burgundy has gotten on YouTube, on replays, on clips, and shows have mattered more. Many youth brands worry that they don’t have budgets big enough for TV. But keep in mind that a great creative idea and clever execution can multiply your marketing.

Ron invites, he doesn’t exclude. Especially in youth culture, it’s easy to lose your audience by assuming they have more insider knowledge than they do. This is particularly true when your market is made up of multiple age groups. But you don’t have to know anything about Olympic Curling – or Burgundy himself - to find Ron Burgundy’s coverage of the Canadian Olympic Curling Finals funny—it just is.  Fans of the first Anchorman film can laugh along with teens and tweens who may be unfamiliar with Ron Burgundy.

Regardless of how this approach increases what were already sure to be sound box office sales, Ron Burgundy continues to provide an example for subverting typical advertising approaches. In the immortal words of Burgundy, “You stay classy, YouthBeat reader.”

Tags: youth research, movies, TV, culture

What Makes Masterchef Junior a Masterpiece?

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Nov 20, 2013 @ 02:36 PM

Masterchef Jr.Now that it’s over, it seems the right time to reflect upon the first season of Masterchef Junior Fox’s reality competition show might seem like an unexpected winner to some, but we could have predicted its power. In our second issue of the YouthBeat TrendSpotter, we listed “Kid Cuisine” as a sign of the times. We know that this cohort of youth have grown up with a greater interest in food than any before them. They are exposed to more cuisines, groomed with more refined palettes, and are increasingly indoctrinated that quality matters much more than quantity.

Still, when we saw Masterchef Junior heavily promoted on our On Demand menus, we were skeptical. Right before Masterchef Junior first aired, Rachel Ray and Guy Fieri hosted young chefs for a special episode of their own reality show, Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cook-Off. The results were hardly appetizing. We love kids of all kinds, but these young chefs preened for the camera. They seemed skilled, for sure, but they didn’t seem comparable to adults (and before Masterchef Junior, would we have expected them to be?). These young reality chefs seemed too contrived for kids to care about, and yet not interesting enough to engage adults. We were left feeling like we’d been hooked by a gimmick, with kids dangled as the bait.

But, perhaps due to professional integrity more than authentic interest, we tuned in for Masterchef Junior. We were on the lookout for the typical kid-in-adult-context pitfalls. Would they be overly precocious? Think National Spelling Bee, which we love once a year, but in weekly doses! Being out-spelled by a 12 year old is one thing, but how many adults would tune in to be “food-shamed”? And on the flipside, we feared the cloyingly sweet children that sometimes appear in shows made for adults but about kids. But the third possibility was truly the most terrifying: Gordon Ramsey of a show called Hell’s Kitchen would be a judge.

The result: a pleasant surprise. So what made this morsel a meal that “tastes like more”?

  1. Humble Pie. Time Magazine writer, James Poniewozik, contributed his list of five reasons why Masterchef Junior worked to the pile of rave reviews from critics. We’d like to borrow one of his sentiments here. In a culture in which adults often steal and stay in the spotlight based on bad behavior (MasterChef, Real Housewives of Anywhere, NFL bullies), we have come to expect shows studded with bullies. But in Masterchef Junior, even Gordon Ramsey minds his manners. More than that – he’s nice. All three judges are. And, there’s nothing more entertaining than watching someone who is sour turn sweet. All three judges treat the contestants with more than professional respect – they treat them like their children.
  2. Taking the Cake. It’s not an easy task to create a show in which the coaches are kind, but the competition is still sharp. And that’s what happens here. These kids come to cook, and the stakes are high – $100,000 for the winner. Not to mention a trophy, and we know how kids love trophies! But in Masterchef Junior, the challenges are real and the strategizing significant. One player has a “target” on his back throughout the competition, yet his cast mates continue to support and comfort him when his cake comes out less ideal than planned. This kind of drama makes for great co-viewing, as parents and youth get caught up in the competition.
  3. Kids’ Cup of Tea. One of the reasons why watching a program that subjects kids and tweens to such intense competition is something we can bear is that it’s crystal clear that these kids love it. They are engaged in what psychologist Mihaly Czikscentmihalyi refers to as “flow”: (to paraphrase) the experience of being so thoroughly immersed in an activity or pursuit that you lose all track of time. The youth participating in Masterchef Junior are clearly not just there because mom and dad signed them up. They are invested and intrinsically motivated in a way that allows them (and us) to tolerate critiques – because they are committed to mastery and perfection. Because this passion is theirs, we want to see where they take it. Their enthusiasm for their work is contagious, and it’s one of the keys to Masterchef Junior’s success.
  4. Surviving Spilled Milk. Even these culinary wizards make mistakes. Alexander, the series star right from the onset, mistakes sugar for flour. Parents and other adults suddenly feel less inadequate. As in adult competition shows, even the best and the brightest miscalculate, overreach, overcomplicate or underestimate sometimes. But what makes it different watching these kids is that we know how hard it is, and how important it is to foster resilience in youth. It’s the difference between successful, healthy children and those who are not, according to most psychologists. Call it bounce-back, GRIT, or even “Fishful Thinking” (as the Goldfish brand has), but however you label it, you know it when you see it. These kids not only recover, but they do so with determination, tenacity, and grace. We love these “characters” not only because they can cook – but because they keep going when it gets hot in the kitchen.
  5. Eating their Hearts Out. Finally, in a culture in which the relationship between kids and food has often been demonized, this show suggests that there’s a new way to frame it. Sure, kids are often known to gain joy from “junk” food, to indulge in insufficient fuel, but Masterchef Junior considers another possibility – can kids learn to love and respect food? Certainly, not every kid will become a foodie (no more than every adult has). Many critics of the show noted an over-representation of kids from California and New York City among the cast. But this show also makes it possible that kids might care about food. Perhaps giving them a bit more credit and some skills in the kitchen could help them get more curious about foods of all types (even the healthy stuff).

When it comes to this kids’ competition show, we suggest indulging, but also incorporating the lessons learned into the brands, products and content that you serve up to youth.

Tags: food, menu, reality tv, TV, culture

Why Kids Need to Find the Forest

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Nov 06, 2013 @ 01:03 PM

Toys “R” Us began airing their 2013 holiday campaign before trick or treaters even made it around the block. But an early start to holiday advertising isn’t really news and hardly caught our attention. Instead, it was the content of the TV commercial, created by the agency, The Escape Pod that took us by surprise.

The spot starts with a man telling the audience (presumably adults) that a group of kids are about to go on “the best fieldtrip they could wish for – and they don’t even know it.” Ranger Brad enthusiastically ushers a line of elementary schoolers onto a green bus, which reads “Meet the Trees Foundation” on its side. A moment later, he asks the students to play “name that leaf…” Cut to a close-up of a yawning little boy, next to a stone-faced classmate. And then the reveal: Ranger Brad rips off his ranger shirt to expose a Toys “R” Us shirt. “We’re not going to the forest today – we’re going to Toys “R” Us! You’re going to get to choose any toy you want!” Children cheer and triumphant music plays. The Toys “R” Us logo shines from the TV screens behind Ranger Brad, as if he’s (a scaled down) Steve Jobs revealing the iPhone.

In its short time on air, the spot has garnered attacks from predictable critics, The American Forest Foundation and The Sierra Club have penned astute reviews that suggest that this kind of nature-bashing is detrimental to the environmental movement. Raz Godelnik, the co-founder of Eco-Libris who also teaches courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development at Parsons The New School for Design and The University of Delaware’s Business School points out that Toys “R” Us seems to be promoting an unsustainable kind of holiday. Godelnik notes that the Toys “R” Us sustainability page is vacant. Numerous websites have suggested that holiday shoppers boycott Toys “R” Us and take a stand for forests, trees and everything green.

Most of these critics suggest that Toys “R” Us has pitted commercialism against environmentalism – and that’s hard to deny. We agree that the authentic, magical moment of a child getting a toy of their dream is surely a moment that feels like wish fulfillment. From our perspective, it’s not the fantasy of getting a favorite toy that bothers us. We find this ad troubling because it taps into an insight that it assumes to be authentic…The “torture test” featured in this ad suggests that the most boring situation imaginable – the one that allows for a moment of significant surprise – involves learning about nature. We don’t know if youth viewing this ad will actually get the joke (in fact, Ranger Brad seems like a particularly engaging ambassador of the outdoors). But perhaps Toys “R” Us believes that parents will.

And according to statistics from a myriad of sources, today’s children are less connected to nature than ever. In fact, at the same time that Toy R Us is airing it’s campaign poking fun at the forest, the U.S. Forest Service, with the help of the Ad Council, has been making an effort to promote the joys of “finding the forest.” On the same day that we saw Toys “R” Us imply the drudgery of detecting the difference between a field maple and an oak leaf, we heard a radio spot suggesting that a trip to the forest could be as fun as parents remembered it.

In very different ways, both spots convey the same message: many youth may not find the forests to be fun, and certainly don’t find them on their own. We suggest that brands and companies seek ways to change this story, not perpetuate it.  And we propose looking for ways to make your messages align with, not fight against, the sustainable future that today’s children and parents want to achieve – even if they don’t always know how to do it.

Tags: toys, kids, parents, kids tweens teens, culture

Rethinking Intergenerational Influence

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Oct 17, 2013 @ 10:56 AM

GrandparentsPick up any book for young children that include a reference to or visual of a grandparent, and you’re likely to see a sight unfamiliar to most youth of this generation. The days of the truly elderly grandma, who dons her apron all day and ricks the day away in quiet acceptance of old age are long gone. Many of today’s kids, tweens and teens have grandparents who struggle with the name “grandma” or “grandpa,” opting for sassier monikers to describe their relationship to their children’s children. Many Millennials and their younger counterparts know “grands” as folks who are fully engaged in work or their personal passions or travel. Many see their grandparents running or walking races, staying socially active and fully participating in life. In fact, for some youth, grandparents seem to have a much younger outlook on life than their own parents!

But when we think about the role that grandparents play in youth’s lives, we still tend to think of them as transmitters of tales from the past, or conveyors of fairly conventional life wisdom. It seems as though the kind of influence we attribute to grandparents hasn’t caught up with the way they really live and look at the world right now. Last week, we heard this story on NPR’s Story Corps (collected by Story Corps, an independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives) and it reminded us of the way grandparents are and have been reframing their role from authoritative elder to trusted confidant. This tale, told by an adult grandson, describes his grandmother as his partner in crime – someone who would go on adventures with him, not simply warn him of their dangers or wait to hear his recap. He suggests that he didn’t always know where he fit in with the world – he felt like an outsider – and somehow it was his grandmother who (an outsider herself) made him feel like he “fit.”

Like this grandmother, today’s grandparents are sometimes more prepared to play than parent. In a world dominated by devices, they sometimes surprise and delight by bringing offline activities to their offspring’s homes. They are increasingly aware that their value doesn’t come from advising parents about the proper way to do things, but rather providing a break – for parents and for kids – from their daily routines. And for brands and retailers, grandparents represent not only a link to the past, but sometimes, the most forward thinking consumers in the lives of youth.

Tags: family, Youth, grandparents, culture, parenting