Kids, Tweens, and Teens at the Holidays 2015: Toy and Gift Wish List Results

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Mon, Dec 07, 2015 @ 10:32 AM

Coolest wish list toys!  Holiday wish list alert!  Tech toys kids want! Headlines are hollering this year, whipping parents and gift-givers into a frenzy with the goal of pleasing children during the holiday gift-giving season.  The National Retail Federation predicts that overall holiday spending will top $630 billion this year, up nearly 4% over last year.  This makes sense in households with children, given:

  • Lower gas prices according to AA, thus higher household disposable income

  • The multitude of digital and high-tech-meets tactile toys (think Skylanders, Disney Infinity, or Star Wars/Sphero BB-8 robot) available this year, at higher price points than traditional toys

The holiday gift guides for childern have two consistent themes: 1. Go with anything Star Wars, and/or 2) buy something high-tech (virtual reality, cameras, or tablets).  The browsing and list-making process itself has become tech-saturated.  The Toys ‘R Us catalog includes codes that unlock virtual games and 3D augmented reality views of the products. Kids can create wish lists using Amazon or Target’s Wish List app

All of this sounds very exciting.  Is it, however, what kids are asking for, or what we as adults are projecting onto their desires?  Our 2015 Holiday Wish List survey is in, showing that kids’ desires might be simpler than we think.  Click here to download the Holiday Wish List infographic.

Sure, kids are asking for Star Wars—as long as they’re Lego sets.  Robots and talking dolls?  Not so much.  That’s not to say that they won’t love the more sophisticated toys that they receive this year.  The key to pleasing the recipient is to fit with their favorite play patterns, be it role playing with dolls or action figures, building, or game play. Most of all, they’d really like to pick out their own presents, so consider a gift card.  This commercial for IKEA underscores kids’ desires for simple pleasures at the holidays (spoiler alert: Grab a tissue). 

We also asked kids about their charitable giving over the holiday season.  Most are participating in some way, primarily by donating toys/gifts, food, or clothing.  Just for fun, we asked them whether they’d rather give all of their holiday gifts this year to charity, or forego their electronics and media for a month.  Kids in 1st-4th grades overwhelmingly want to keep the gifts and give up the media, as do the better part of tweens in 5th-8th grades. Teens disagree; the majority would gladly give up the holiday haul in order to hang on to their sources of connectedness, information, and entertainment.

So make those lists and check them twice. But do it knowing that youth pleasures are simple and eternal, even as the toys we build and buy for them grow more complex.

Happy Holidays from YouthBeat!

Tags: youth research, toys, target, wish list, kids tweens teens market research, star wars, holiday, trends, infographic

Lollipop Seeds that Sprout for Kind Deeds

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Apr 16, 2014 @ 09:20 AM

Lollipop SeedsWhen it comes to creating family traditions, many of today’s families – especially those headed by Millennials – seek less to recover the past than to adopt great new ideas. The Elf on the Shelf is not necessarily a new tradition but one that many kids consider timeless, while many of their parents take pride in knowing they’ve identified a great opportunity for family fun, and have created a tradition along the way. In our recent work with Millennial Moms, we found that they seek out ways to celebrate the little moments in their children’s days and calendars in ways that are more engaging for kids than any generation before them. Far from cynical about family-focused holidays and kid-events, they see them as sacred. At the same time, they look for ways to bring fun and play into these special days.

Enter a new idea for Easter that we think sits at the center of the Millennial family Zeitgeist. Cherri Prince, an alum of the advertising world (and, in full disclosure, a friend of YouthBeat!) has decided to bring her own family tradition to the world in the form of a new book and idea called Lollipop Seeds that Sprout for Kind Deeds. The concept:

  • Before Easter, kids must do something kind for someone.
  • The night before Easter, parents and kids join together to plant seeds in the backyard or in a pot.
  • The next morning, if kindness occurred, the seed will bloom into a lollipop garden!

In addition to a sweet treat, kids get a great lesson in the power of kind acts. And moms not only get the joy that only comes from watching kids get surprised, but they also have a great story to tell other moms – another element of the experience that Millennial Moms find hard to resist.

Tags: play, family, holiday

5 Ideas from the Elf on the Shelf

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Dec 06, 2013 @ 12:57 PM

Just after Thanksgiving this year, many households around the country welcomed a houseguest. It wasn’t an aunt or uncle from across the country. It wasn’t a college friend with their kids in tow. It was an Elf. And he showed up on a shelf.

Elf on the ShelfThe Elf on the Shelf tradition can be traced back to 2004, but has taken hold in households as if it had been around for decades. For the uninitiated, the Elf on the Shelf (whose story has been told through a self-published book written by mother and daughter team Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell, and later turned into a holiday TV special) serves as Santa’s special envoy in the homes (and increasingly in the classrooms) of children everywhere. The Elf, assigned to the child, watches on Santa’s behalf, eager to catch good behavior or naughtiness! The child gets to name the Elf, but beyond that, the Elf decides where he’ll appear each morning. These Elves can get pretty creative, as shown in this video featuring the 125 best Elf ideas. We think there are lessons to learn from this phenomenon, which returned youth’s attention to the magic of the season just at a time when the getting of gifts often garners more attention than showing Santa you’re “good.”

  1. Don’t underestimate the power of surprise. While the Elf on the Shelf might have been compelling as Santa’s steadfast seer, he matters more because he’s “new” each day. Consider ways to keep the surprise and delight into your everyday offerings.
  2. Remember the power of being good. Young kids are obsessed with the rules, and interested in good versus bad. But often, this timeless trope is twisted – we forget that children want recognition for their good behavior as much as they seek to avoid getting in trouble for the bad. Find ways for your brand to catch them acting their best behavior. See Sprout’s wonderful campaign for kindness as an example. http://www.sproutonline.com/kindness-counts
  3. Keep it simple. With promotions in general, complexity is sometime mistaken for depth. The Elf on the Shelf premise might have meaning, but it does it through the most basic of mechanisms. Make sure your own “events” make participation and the pay-off as easy as possible.
  4. Build on existing traditions. The Elf on the Shelf may have been a novel idea, but it leveraged the legends of elves, Santa and the naughty list to keep the communication simple, and to ensure a place in the home during the holidays.  
  5. Get parents in on the action. While we don’t necessarily have an inside track on elves’ criteria for choosing their holiday homes, we can imagine that they prefer the ones where parents get involved in the fun. Remember to make your promotions not simply parent-friendly, but make them exciting and enjoyable for mom and dad.

Tags: play, family, holiday, parenting

Happy birthday, Justin, Jake and Me

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Mar 01, 2013 @ 11:51 AM

Jake and The Neverland PiratesToday is my birthday. But I only get to write about it here because of this date’s profound role in youth culture. I share this day with Justin Bieber, 2012’s favorite kid and tween pop star and Jake of Disney’s popular program, Jake and the Neverland Pirates. It is my 30-something birthday and, while I hope my husband and two sons are planning a grand gala, and I really hope to receive my share of automated and authentic birthday wishes via Facebook, I don’t really expect to rally the online universe around the anniversary of my birth in quite the way that Justin or Jake have.

If you are a tween girl afflicted with Bieber Fever, it only seems reasonable that you would want to give Justin a birthday gift.  Many Beliebers tweet their tokens of affection to the star, and Justin, of course, knows this. But what do you get the guy who received a $100,000 custom car for his 18th birthday, who cites a purple pool table as his favorite gift ever, or who has the access and income to acquire almost anything he could want? In 2010, Justin took his fame to Facebook, partnering with the American Cancer Society to raise awareness (and money). While other stars simply gave away their renditions of “Happy Birthday” on TV advertisements, Bieber asked his fans to donate $1 to unlock his own version of this song (nevermind that one does not usually sing happy birthday to one’s self!). What will he do this year? We’ll watch, but we think a little birthday philanthropy could do Justin some good right about now.

Speaking of coffers, and talking of treasure, Jake also seeks to turn his birthday into ratings gold. Kids love events and, as we’ve often said, a preschoolers’ life is often punctuated by holidays and excuses to celebrate. And what better way to create news around your show than by informing viewers that it’s the pirate protagonist’s special day! Disney Jr. invites kids to wish Jake a happy birthday via videos. Check out how boys and girls got into the birthday spirit like it was their own anniversary!

So what does this mean for you?

  • Consider building your brand biography…What’s the backstory for your characters or products, and how can you engage youth in celebrating your milestones?
  • When it comes to digital, remember to rally young users to your sites. It’s your job to give them a reason to visit, don’t just create a digital presence and assume they’ll find their way to you. Promoting a cause or event doesn’t activate your audience as much as giving them something to do (and a reward for doing it).
  • Finally, remember that birthdays are big in youth culture. This might not be new, but with more and more ways for kids to celebrate (an explosion of venues dedicated to kid parties, endless theme ideas from retailers ranging from Wishworks to etsy), seek out ways to make your product or organization a part of the big days in kids’, tweens’ and even teens’ lives.

Tags: TV, holiday, youth media, Justin Bieber

Giving Back

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Dec 20, 2012 @ 11:53 AM

Looking for a great youth charity to give to before the year ends? Our YouthBeat team shared some of their top picks for charities that do good by giving to youth and family causes…

CCACC+R Research supports the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center, an organization that provides support to abused children. You can also support this group in their mission, “Uniting public, private, and community partners to ensure the safety, health and well-being of abused children.”

Mary McIlrath, our youth and family qualitative expert, recommends Heartland Alliance. This organization advocates for human rights and responds to the human needs of the worlds’ most vulnerable populations. While their work extends beyond youth, we know that youth are disproportionately represented among those living in poverty, and that early childhood poverty can have lifelong effects.

Paul Metz of KidzEyes supports two organizations that help homeless families get back on their feet: DuPage Family Shelter Services and Bridge Communities.

Brenda Hurley of ParentSpeak volunteers her time with Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation.  The charity is named for “Bear” (Barrett), who died at 8 yrs old of cancer. Before he died, he and his mother talked about starting a charity dedicated to eliminating pediatric cancer and to providing hope and support to those who are touched by it.  Brenda sets up “Bear Hugs,” which are customized experiences, like a weekend away or going to an event or show, for youth ages 0-19 who are going through cancer.  

Amy Henry, who heads up YouthBeat, appreciates two charities that tap into the transformative power of sports. Harlem RBI may be about bringing baseball to the inner city, but their tagline, “Play.Learn.Grow.,” show that they take mentorship and personal growth seriously.   

Grassroots Soccer “uses the power of soccer to educate, inspire, and mobilize communities to stop the spread of HIV.” 

Finally, YouthBeat’s Rhonda Eviston reminds us that, in the face of events that can make even the strongest adults feel disempowered, there is a way to support the families of Newtown, CT by donating to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund (sponsored by the United Way of Western Connecticut).

Tags: tragedy, Youth, holiday, culture, trends

The Hidden Message Behind Holiday Cards

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Dec 14, 2012 @ 09:52 AM

Holiday Family PhotosTis the season for many a holiday tradition – new and old. And while holiday cards are nothing new, the way we send them now is certainly different than in previous generations. According to the Greeting Card Association, approximately 50 million ecards are sent every year. And, despite anxiety that the many ways that this cohort of digital native uses to keep in touch might make a paper holiday card obsolete, more than 2 billion boxed and individual Christmas cards were purchased in 2011. But outside the box, more and more companies offer opportunities to customize cards to make them your own. Sure, one benefit of these cards is making it easier to send (upload your mailing list once and these services will save you a trip to the post office!). But more often than not, the holiday card lets today’s families say something about themselves. (Holiday style segmentation anyone?) And, since children and families are so central to this genre of self-branding and promoting, we thought we’d examine what families are really saying about themselves through their holiday cards…

  • “We’re still here!” Or, “we’re here!” Far from holiday greetings being replaced by a wink or a poke on a social network, a yearly check-in might be more important than ever for today’s mobile families. It’s not just a holiday hello, but an annual GPS that tells a broad circle of family and friends where you are and that you’re still seeking connection.
  • “We’re okay.” You know those letters that provide a topline summary of the year that was? They might be brag sheets for some…But they’re also ways to reassure and reaffirm that life is good. That college student whose living in the basement? He’s figuring out what makes him passionate. That unexpected illness? A life event that brought everything else in perspective. These narratives are not only stories to tell others, but ways to bring comfort to ourselves.
  • “Holidays are about home.” And of course, for families, there about the “Wondrous Innocence” that sociologists like Gary Cross suggest are indelibly associated with children and that special moment we think of when we think of Christmas morning. Whether your holiday style is matching sweaters, a casually chaotic snapshot, or a photo from a favorite moment of the year, they all remind us that between sleepless nights for parents of newbies, school slip-ups or pre-adolescent pouting, there are times when everything seems innocent and perfect.

Even with family-life more complex than ever before, the most conventional of holiday cards continues to feel relevant. Something about those check-ins challenges our notion that nothing is the way it used to be.

Tags: internet, parents, holiday, culture, trends

Three Reason Why Kids Love Thanksgiving

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Nov 19, 2012 @ 10:30 AM

This cohort of kids might be more likely to be foodies than any in the past, and for tween boys in particular, getting to eat their fill can be a dream come true. But for most youth, the food isn’t the real draw on Thanksgiving. Yet, kids still look forward to celebrating. Here are three reasons we think turkey day delights:

  1. Kids love a parade. Sure, not every place has a parade to call their own, and not every household tunes into Macy’s megaThanksgiving-event. But many do, and for those who do, they get a chance to see some of their favorite characters (current and classic) in larger than life fashion. We love Melissa Sweet’s “true story” tale of the parade for little kids.
  2. Family is…fun. While adults might feel ambiguous about a day of family reuniting, kids, tweens and even occasionally teens look forward to it. For many, Thanksgiving is a chance to visit out of town relatives, or to have far-off family come to town. Even if their relatives are local, connecting with cousins, or seeing grandparents is less corny than cool for this cohort.
  3. Finally, giving thanks is good. This generation is oft-described as narcissistic, materialistic and tech-addicted. But we at YouthBeat know that’s not the real story. This group of youth also values giving, and giving back. As kids get older, moments made for authentic vulnerability and public professions of thanks seem to happen less often. But youth need to say they care, and to be reminded that they are loved and valued as much as any cohort before them. Thanksgiving gives them a cover story for a bit of appreciation communication. In schools, kids often get the chance to tell their friends what they are thankful for. And don’t be surprised if a kid you know asks you what you’re thinking of most on Thanksgiving Day.

Tags: wish list, Youth, kids tweens teens, holiday, culture, youth media

What Wishlists Tell Us About Teens

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Dec 23, 2011 @ 11:55 AM

In our final installment of holiday wishlist reviews we tackle the trickiest target of all – teens and just in the nick of time!  When we think about teens, we can’t think of them as a cohesive collective in the same way that we do younger groups of youth. By the teen years, youth are seeking out their own style, their own identity and their own stuff. The brands and products they choose not only say something about who they are, but also who they want to be. And as teens begin to find (ideally) the thing that they’re passionate about – be it music, sports, school, volunteering or something else, they become more and more interested in total immersion. This doesn’t mean that all teens are totally independent, or that peer pressure doesn’t matter; it means being your authentic self across multiple contexts becomes both a personal priority and a brand attribute they value. So the top gift for a teen you know is likely to be something so specific to their interests that it wouldn’t make our list…Teens’ needs are likely to be for something so niche that it wouldn’t make sense for another teen that goes to the same school or is on the same team. Over the past few years, we’ve talked to teens about everything from their love of Cricket to their passion for Chuck Palahniuk novels! But a few items appeal to the masses for the holidays and we discuss a few below…

  1. The first is no surprise – iPads. Teens aren’t the only youth who are asking for tablets this holiday season, but they’re more likely to get them! Check back in with YouthBeat to see how this item fares, or how the teens who request them do, in terms of getting this desired device. Most parents will be grappling with the dilemma of getting their older teens a laptop or a tablet, something that they might justify as a college application or attendance tool versus just a play thing. But still, we bet that a few lucky teens will count the iPad or another tablet as one of their newest treasures.
  2. Have the teen who has it all? Or maybe just enough? Consider empowering teens with one of the many cards available for donating to charity…Check out the options at JustGive.org. While teens might be a bit disappointed if this giving gift is the only one under their tree, they might just appreciate the chance to be taken seriously, and to take their desire to help to the next level.
  3. Speaking of exchanging stuff for something else…Today’s teens, more than any generation before them, crave time with mom and dad. Consider gifting an experience over a thing – like tickets, a night out at a special restaurant, or here’s the twist – give the gift of your own time! It might be a day at the batting cages, or a morning at the spa, but either way, moms and dads can make the most of the holidays by promising some quality time with these older youth.  For the particularly sophisticated teen, we love High 5, which gives your student access to cultural events (that they might just learn to love).

Happy holidays from YouthBeat!

Tags: wish list, Youth, Teens, holiday

What Wishlists Tell Us About Tweens

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Dec 21, 2011 @ 11:47 AM

In our last few blogs, we have been looking at our YouthBeat age groups through the lens of their top wishlists items for this year.  If you’re shopping for a tween, you know that being “in the middle” – navigating the treacherous territory between the safe haven of childhood and the risky waters of the teen years – makes for a complex and sometimes confused wishlist for the holidays. Right around 11 years old, we often hear parents of boys and girls complain that their children no longer have a go-to store, and there “asks” have become alarmingly few and far between…Sounds like a nice problem to have? Perhaps, but parents of tweens know that their children still have high expectations for their holiday hauls, and they also know that tweens’ lack of locution doesn’t mean they don’t have strong opinions about what they want. So, below is our best attempt to help these moms and dads out!

  1. If you need a tween shopping heuristic for the holidays, think child-like Taylor Swiftfun with a sophisticated twist. This lead us to a whole category that has served as a timeless turn-to for the tween set…Back in the late 80s, I remember, fondly, wishing for a bottle of Coty’s “Exclamation” under my Christmas tree. For tween girls, dressing up and putting on a look still feels playful, more than purposeful, and perfume serves as the perfect entry point to the beauty business. This category, which plays to the senses without putting forth an overly adult look, lets tweens fantasize and day-dream without being too daring. Every holiday season, a number of new brands emerge, but this holiday, we’re betting on wonderfully girly “Wonderstruck,” by Taylor Swift, the romantically optimistic “Someday,” from Justin Bieber, and for the hello kittyironic older tween, Hello Kitty and Crayola (yep, Crayola!) sprays from quirky scent house, Demeter.
  2. This year, reading gets a rad makeover with EBooks making it on to tweens’ radar. Barnes and Noble’s Nook Color and the Kindle Fire may make for a new kind of scene – instead of tweens listening to their iPods together, we may see them side-by-side with their stylishly accessorized eReaders, downloading the latest installment of the Hunger Games or “Pretty Little Liars.” Although YouthBeat data suggests that tweens continue to prefer paper (with some industry experts hypothesizing that the buy-it-on-release-day mentality created by the Harry Potter Series has led this generation to take on a collectors’ level love of the hard cover version of their favorite reads), this year, we expect to see tweens take hold of this new technology to a greater degree than ever before. If eBooks are slightly too sophisticated (or pricey!) for your tween, take a chance on another kids/tween trend – making you the star of your own book or comic! U Star Novels puts your name into a novel, combining younger tweens’ love of customization with their desire to see their name in lights (or print).
  3. Nike might not seem like news to us, but for tweens, this brand continues to top their list for footwear, and for boys and fashion. NikeiD gives the traditional brand a tween test, allowing tweens to get an authentic and socially endorsed product, but one of their own making. Customizable fashion can tend to feel kiddish, but mostly because the big brands tend to lead versus follow tween style…And too much play makes for a product that tweens don’t feel comfortable displaying. But NikeiD, which allows tweens to take a gift card to a website and create their own bags, kicks, and sport watches which look more like a find than a fun arts and crafts project.

Next up, our final group – teens!

Tags: parents, movies, Taylor Swift, beauty, fashion, reading, holiday, tweens, Justin Bieber

What Wishlists Tell Us About Kids

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Dec 13, 2011 @ 11:16 AM

As part of our pre-holiday blog series, we’re taking a look at some of the most commonly recommended items from among the “top pick” lists of some of our favorite toy and gift sites. Last week, we looked at some of the most telling take-aways about preschooler products; this week, we look at some gifts that are sure to catch the attention and capture the imagination of kids.

Parents of 6-10 year olds (how YouthBeat defines “kids”), may be experiencing holiday hecticness for the first time. Christmas morning might be measured more by what’s not there than what is…This isn’t to say that kids can’t delight in a surprise or two, but it gets harder and harder to impress these elementary schoolers, and more difficult to satisfy the many demands on their wishlists. In the past few years, we’ve heard more and more parents of this age group bemoan the high ticket price of the items that children expect. Even if a few high-priced gifts fit into Santa’s budget, most parents and kids fantasize about frolicking in wrapping paper, or at least, spending a long morning mulling through mounds of gifts! And kids this age ask for specific brands and models more than in the past, so relatives and reindeer alike are forced to embark on more strategic searches than ever before… 

The following products seem to embody the holiday hopes of kids in 2011:

  1. LEGO Star Wars makes the evergreen kid brand a must-have (once again) for kids. LEGO has infiltrated almost every category that touches kids’ lives – video games, board games, and even LEGO TV. And according to YouthBeat data, even reading about LEGO is fun! LEGO Magazine ranks at the top of kids’ list of favorite magazines for the first half of 2011. But it’s the simple sophistication of these “loose parts” that continue to catalyze the imagination of youth. With STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) serving as the new buzz in education, parents are more willing than ever before to buy toys that inspire their future architect or astronaut. And they can feel good about the plug-free, signal-free and battery-free form that these classic toy sets take! But this is only half of the story…Star Wars is the set seducing kids this year. This movie still ranks as kids’ top of all time, according to our most recent wave of YouthBeat data. The story of good over evil, brought to the latest generation via Cartoon Network’s Clone Wars, not only makes for a great narrative, but also lends itself to techy gadgets – even in a low tech form.
  2. Classic toys have been all the rage the last few years, with parents being inundated with catalogs from companies that specialize in re-makes of toys that they recognize from their youth, brands re-issuing modernized versions of the old standards, and old games and toys getting a makeover. One of the toy that will surely hit parents’ radar, even if it might be a bit young for kids, is Connect 4 Launch from Hasbro. This latest edition of the game (that was once seen as an innovative answer to the boring way we used to play checkers and tic tac toe), gets kids up and moving while they play, and adds a few gadgets in for good measure. Hasbro has sought to bring back family game night for many years now, and this old-school game with a new-school twist might represent the right way to do it for headphonestoday’s family. Or it might just be more fun for kids to play together – afterall, chucking your checkers at the game board gives them permission to play a little subversively under the guise of good old-fashioned fun.
  3. Kids might not connect with music the same way tweens are beginning to and teens always have. But this year, one of the most unexpected categories to make a comeback is headphones! And bucking other technology trends, these headphones haven’t gotten smaller, more portable – they’ve gotten bigger! The ones shown here, from Skull Candy, conceal the whole ear. They let kids (and tweens, and teens) cocoon while they tune in (and for kids, that’s as likely to be tuning in to a TV show on their portable DVD player or their parents’ laptop as it is to music). These statement sound-surrounders show that just when you thought kid products were moving in one direction, youth take a turn for the bigger.Ugly Dolls
  4. And finally, Ugly Dolls demonstrate one of our tenets of great youth brands: they live in the middle. Or more appropriately, they negotiate two seemingly contrary ideas to create a product or experience that intrigues and inspires as much as it invites. And what two concepts could make for a less likely mash-up than “ugly” and “doll”? These characters that only a kid-playing-a-mother could love give girls permission to cuddle and care in a way that doesn’t make them feel babyish themselves.  Many models of these dolls make them ready-made for the always ready-to-collect kid.  Aesthetically, these dolls not only trade in cute for quirk, but they also demonstrate the almost-homemade look that seems to characterize many of kids’ latest loves (even thought the brand has been recognized by industry insiders since 2006, when it was named the 2006 Specialty Toy of the Year by the Toy Industry of America).

Next up: top items for tweens!

Tags: kids, shopping, holiday, parenting, money