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

Amy Henry Announced as a Speaker at the Digital Kids Summit

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Jul 23, 2013 @ 02:45 PM

digital kids summitAmy Henry, Vice President Youth Insights, will be presenting, “Understanding App Value from Parent’s Perspective” at this year’s Digital Kids Summit. The summit, the must-attend event for brand owners, entertainment and media executives, marketers, producers, digital media directors and licensing professionals seeking to engage children online and on digital devices, will take place on September 19 in San Francisco.

During this presentation Henry reveals what parents of preschoolers through tweens see as “value” in the apps they allow their children to use. She’ll also explore the role kids play on the influence of app purchases. Along the way, Henry will bash some myths and unveil the new truths about parents’ relationship to apps today.

To attend the conference there are multiple registration options: go to Digital Kids Summit or Digital Kids Edu  for more information on both events as well as possible multi-even registration discounts.

View the Digital Kids Summit Speakers page to learn more.

Tags: Education, youth research, digital drugs, culture

Phineas, Ferb and Old School Funny

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, May 06, 2013 @ 11:02 AM

Disney’s Phineas and Ferb may not have the power to unseat SpongeBob Squarepants as top cartoon, but the series and its title characters take the second spot to the porous perennial favorite. And while they might fall behind the lovable sponge from under the sea, Phineas and Ferb should hardly be seen as taking a backseat to anyone…

phineas y ferbPhineas and Ferb might be a relative new kid on the cartoon block, but its sensibilities stem from old school cartoons. But each cartoon convention gets a fresh twist in this show starring two boys whose faces defy a circular shape. First, it’s always summer vacation for Phineas and Ferb. Today’s elementary schoolers might be more likely to move from the school year to another structured setting (camps of all kinds, enrichment programs, etc.) but Phineas and Ferb fuel the fantasy of a summer day with nothing to do. They take the classic Rube Goldberg devices found in cartoons like Tom and Jerry and give them a playful purpose. Each plan comes from their own hands, and the intention is authentic entertainment, taken to the extreme – from a miniature golf course and an oversized roller coaster on their lawn to a backyard beach (complete with island music and an impromptu surf competition). Phineas and Ferb includes genuine good guys and bad guys, battling in each episode. But the evil Doctor Doofenshmirtz’s devices seem more likely to turn up on an infomercial than to truly help him take over the world! All the better for the young viewers who revel in seeing Doofenshmirtz’s silly plots get foiled by the unlikeliest of heroes, Phineas and Ferb’s pet platypus, Perry. (The popular platypus served as the front man for the app “Where’s My Perry?” a version of the popular app, “Where’s My Water?” Phineas and Ferb include sibling rivalries, with big sister Candace constantly trying to catch her scheming little brothers in the act. But unexpectedly, the two step-brothers who star in this show seek to include Candace (along with the other members of their eclectic gang). Phineas and Ferb works because kids route for them, but not because they’re bad – because they’re just so good. And as an added bonus for mom and dad, Phineas and Ferb exemplify the kind of creative, constructive play that gets mom and dad’s approval.

The show follows a formula that delivers on the “I knew it was going to happen” that kids love, like when someone asks the boys if they aren’t too young to be a rollercoaster engineer, for example. Each episode includes a song and dance that allows for a silly segue to the next scene. But the predictable plotlines include enough imagination to make each episode feel like an adventure. At the end of each simulated summer vacation day, it’s the boys’ preposterous planning and casual cool that make this cartoon a modern makeover of the classic toons of the past.

Tags: play, digital drugs, TV, youth media

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

Cyber Sincerity: Teens Turn the Tables on Online Bullying

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Jan 14, 2013 @ 12:38 PM

When we think of teens and tweeting or teens and texting, we might tend towards an image that’s far from friendly. The discourse surrounding teens’ digital doings includes a significant strand related to the ways that teens often turn communication tools into ways to tease (to use a euphemism). Over the last few years, bullying has been elevated to the level of national youth crisis. Adults and teens alike acknowledge that social media of all sorts can amplify subtle snipes and can put personal conflicts on the public stage.

But three boys in Iowa City were recently caught in the act of using Twitter in a way that turns the tables on these simple notions of teen torment. 9d006ee4c6e8728d33b589f334f9f94bRecognizing that a tweet can carry great weight, they created a Twitter account from which they send messages meant to lift their classmates up, not tear them down. A tweet from the westsidebros might compliment one’s disposition, a recent achievement, or simply a new element of their style. The criteria that these crusaders hold themselves too is a simple one: the compliment must be sincere. And while three boys began this initiative, many more have paid it forward. Good works, or rather, words, have gone viral at this school, and this feel-good story has gotten noticed by media outlets across the country.

And what does this say about teens in general?

First, the fact that a good deed done digitally has received so much attention suggests that we might, as adults, be underestimating the altruistic tendencies of teens. Of course, we know that bullying or exclusionary behavior happens, and when it does, it hurts. But many more teens use technology to build rather than destroy. This story shows that kindness can be as viral as meanness, even among teens.

Second, teens transform their tools to fit their needs – not always the other way around. Teens are not mere victims of technology, but they are also active agents, influencing the way that technology affects their lives, and ultimately, ours.

Finally, teens aren’t only concerned with themselves, but feel connected to their communities, their classmates and the culture in which they live. Since the year began, we’ve come across a number of articles on teens and technology (good ones, in fact) that have, alas, reiterated the notion that teens are a narcissistic bunch. Of course, identity development (which can seem like a solo endeavor) is important during this life-stage. And friends can fuel this process by reflecting who they are, and allowing them to experiment with new self-concepts via “sampling” the many possible groups to which they might belong. But friends are far from simple props. Teens are on their way to creating relationships that might not always stand the test of time, but that are real and meaningful, regardless of whether technology takes a part in them.

For brands and organizations, it’s as critical to catch teens on good behavior as it is to bemoan the ways that some can abuse the tools they have.

Tags: internet, cyberbullying, bullying, digital drugs, culture

Amy Henry Set to Present at 2013 Digital Kids Conference

Posted by Nicole Pitkin on Fri, Nov 30, 2012 @ 10:55 AM

Digital Kids 2013

Amy Henry, VP of Youth Insights, will be presenting at the 2013 Digital Kids Conference in New York City. This must-attend event for brand owners, entertainment/media executives, marketers, producers, digital media directors and licensing professionals seeking to engage children online and on digital devices returns will be held on February 12-13, 2013.

In Henry’s presentation, “Everyone Has an iPad: Sorting Digital Myths From Youth Truths,” she will share fresh-from-the-field data on youth and parents and their use of technology to help you understand the authentic habits and practices of today’s preschoolers, kids, tweens, teens and their parents. She’ll go beyond the “whats” to provide deep insight into the “hows” and “whys” of youth rituals and realities when it comes to the digital world.

Register now and recieve special discount of $100 off the going rate by entering discount code: SPEAKERVIP

Tags: youth research, Gaming, conference, digital drugs, youth media

Google Promotes “Play” in New and Old Ways

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Sep 10, 2012 @ 10:40 AM

149283248In the TV campaign for the new Nexus 7 tablet, Google suggests that classic play and app-based entertainment can occupy a common space. One spot shows a father and son indulging in all the adventures that come along with camping…Getting lost in the woods, exploring the dark and sharing a story by the campfire. What makes this spot modern? A compass app, a glowing phone and an eBook serve as essential equipment. With the tagline, “The playground is open,” the brand suggests that screens are not in competition with play, or even bounded by a digital definition, but rather, this technology can serve as a tool to enhance offline play.   

Of course, Google’s backyard camping scenario is of the most romantic kind…Even when rain threatens to dampen their day, the daring duo endure - simply retreating to their tent to watch a movie. Dad doesn’t use his devices to check email or to text in this idyllic campground. Here, technology is all about adding to father/son engagement. Even the games they play are of the “acceptable” sort – chess!

But underlying this aspirational scene is a sharp insight about a problem facing the parents of this cohort of digital natives which Google wisely seeks to resolve…Play is more political than ever for today’s parents (a subject we addressed in a blog from November of last year). Experts emphasize the importance of offline play. They bemoan the loss of free time in which kids can self-direct their play, and they suggest that media and digital technology threaten the ability to imagine. At the same time, schools are seeking to incorporate technology into their classrooms, both to help them acquire and employ up to date content in effective and efficient ways, but also to ensure that they are preparing their students with the digital literacy they need to operate in the “real” world. Our data shows that parents believe that technology is an important (and inevitable) aspect of their children’s lives, even as some feel conflicted over the role it plays.

Google makes their message stand out in the increasingly cluttered tablet marketplace by joining to seemingly contradictory ideas…Outdoor play, and sustained imaginative play (as shown in another spot in the campaign) aren’t the enemies of technology, they’re playmates on the same playground. Digital devices don’t divide families, they bring them together. And apps and tablets haven’t made exploring obsolete, but rather, they’ve made it more vibrant and energizing. Whether parents will see themselves in this vision of arcadia remains to be seen, but we think Google’s strategy smartly suggests a middle road through the tricky terrain of play today.

Tags: Gaming, play, digital drugs, Youth, free time, youth media, parenting

YouthBeat in TIME!

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Aug 22, 2012 @ 10:33 AM

This week’s print edition of Time magazine (August 27) was dedicated to the way wireless is changing our world, and a few YouthBeat stats were cited regarding the age of real/ideal ownership of cell phones. Bonnie Rochman wrote, “A YouthBeat survey from the first six months of 2012 found that 13% of children ages 6 to 10 already own one. But 12 is the most common age for first-phonedom; that's when 18% of kids get theirs.” Read more here.

YouthBeat in TIME!While the number of 6-10 year olds who own cell phones has stabilized in the past few years, and fewer might own then we might think (0% of 6 year olds and 4% of 7 year olds, meaning that most of that 6-10 year old ownership is driven by older kids). But over the past few years, the cell phones kids own have become increasingly complex. As of June 2012, a full 35% of kids 6-10 years old with cell phones were able to access apps (but 46% of kids with phones say they use an app on a typical day). 46% have web access on their phones (although 55% of those kids have a rule in their house that they can’t use their cell phone to go online).

In addition to the factors that parents previously considered when getting their young child a cell phone, they now have to grapple with a host of other capabilities that are increasingly coming standard with a cell. Sure there are other options, but many kid cell phones are of the hand-me-down variety. Suddenly, the decision isn’t only dictated by whether a child can handle the responsibility of handling a breakable device, or of making calls to appropriate people, but instead they have to wrestle with the responsibility of giving kids unfettered access to the Internet, to apps (with varied content, at varied costs) and to email. Yet 47% of parents of kids say that they keep in touch with their children via cell phone when they’re not with them. 33% say they text! (In case you’re wondering, 64% of kids with phones have unlimited texting plans). So we expect that kids will continue to keep cell phones by their side, and parents will continue to struggle with the many, many factors that contribute to the decision to buy one for them. 

Tags: youth research, texting, digital drugs, Youth, culture, youth media

The Problem With Memory

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Aug 17, 2010 @ 11:46 AM

Youth researchers have been dealing with the “issue” of memory forever…It’s almost impossible to conduct research with an age group that you remember being, without bringing some bias to bear. It’s not always that we assume that the world is the way we remember it, but certainly what strikes us as an interesting outlier might be quite commonplace for the group that we’re observing. And what seems like a new world order to us is the way it’s always been to them…

This reality provides a significant challenge when we’re trying to truly understand the college audience. Like it or not, we’re often engaged in this research from the perspective of people who have been out of school for a bit – and who may not even have used email while on campus, let alone used Facebook to manage their social lives online. And even if we’re closer to that experience, with each generation of new students, technology that has novelty value for today’s students feels almost passé to the next round of freshmen or “first-years.”

But how much have things really changed? Remember, just a generation ago, most college students were literally cranking out essays on typewriters. And most of today’s college students wouldn’t see the wipeboard-on-the-dorm-room-door as having quite the same broadcast power as twitter does. And perhaps some of the other “trends” – at least on some campuses – might elude many of us. How about digital drugs for one? This latest way for college students to get their fix shows just how addicting technology can be!

Digital DrugsAt Duke, freshmen receive something as part of their “welcome” kit that we probably couldn’t have imagine getting back when some of us were in college: an iPod. You can get your class schedules and maps to campus without having to press print!

But has college really changed? As today’s emerging adults pack up their cars or get on a plane, they will endure the same rites of passage as the countless generations before them. And they’ll wonder if they can handle the intense expectations placed on them. They’ll imagine who they’ll meet. And they’ll anticipate what this experience really has in store for them – and what it might mean, or not mean, to the course that the rest of their lives will take.

But just likewise, they’ll have to experience it for themselves.

And the memories they build will probably be similar, in some ways, to our own. But the way they remember keeping in touch with parents or friends back home, or even asking someone out on a date might look a little different than the way it looks in our own rearview mirrors. Can we know what it’s like to stand in their shoes today? Probably not. But can we ask them about it? Of course!

Tags: research, digital drugs, college, Teens