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

On the hunt for youth truths at a Justin Bieber concert

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Nov 07, 2012 @ 11:23 AM

justin bieber concert performance 03On Sunday night, I engaged in what anthropologists term “participant observation.” I found my subjects in a place where they congregate. I ate the food they ate (popcorn). I wore their attire (jeans). And most importantly, I listened to their music.  On Sunday night, I saw Justin Bieber in concert with my husband, my five-year-old son, my ten-year-old cousin and my aunt. Fieldnotes (with a bit of embellishment!) below…

  • The stadium’s population was comprised almost solely of girls.  Rather than the tween girls who we expected to see, many of these fans appeared to be 5-9 year olds. Accompanying these little kids were not just moms, but many dads (who, we should note, did not adorn the “native” attire – purple and pink shirts, inscribed with local mantras like “Believe,” proclamations like “I love Justin,” and, the somewhat more direct invocation, “Make me your one less lonely girl”).
  • Between Carly Rae Jepson (of “Call Me Maybe” fame), the researcher experiences déjà vu.  Her first concert, in 1985 was the Victory Tour, and she felt like she was there.  Not only did Justin Beiber don a number of Michael Jackson-inspired outfits, but he also warmed up the crowd by playing all nine tracks on Thriller. Researcher asks 10-year-old cousin, “Do you know who this is?” The answer: “no.” Researcher wonders if Beibers’ cultural canon is reflective of, or way over the heads of his young fans. Still, moms and dads seem to appreciate it.
  • Despite being in the actual presence of the boy wonder, the crowd shrieked loudest when he took a break! During these brief interludes, everyday pictures of the pop prince (including broadcasts of the YouTube videos that catapulted him to fame), filled the screen. Suddenly, the larger than life figure (who, it might be worthy to note, looks years younger than 18 when he’s on that big stage!) seems relatable once again. This seems to be the Justin that resonated with them. The sounds of a real kid’s voice, and a glimpse at his home videos seemed slightly more spectacular than the lasers and light show that illuminated the stage. Overhead: Dad of five-year-old boy asks, “Isn’t this just footage from the movie?”
  • Ritualistic turning back of time occurred during the morning of the concert, allowing for more sunlight in the morning, but prompting eyes to droop about four songs into the 8 pm est concert. (Right around the sixth song, five-year old boy opts to fall asleep wearing noise-blocking earphones. Does not seem to be concerned that he’s missing the “one time” he will see his favorite singer.)
  • Overheard: adult female to girl of ~10 years of age, “We used to use cigarette lighters to light up the audience, because we didn’t have cell phones.” Laughter, seemingly in disbelief…Researcher unclear if this is due to inability to believe that cell phones didn’t always exist or that cigarette lighters were appropriate to bring into a concert venue.
  • Throughout the concert, singer assures audience of over 20,000 that he wrote the “next song just for them.” While this seems highly improbable to the adults in attendance, the many screaming girls seem to believe.

Our thoughts and well-wishes go out to our friends affected by Hurricane Sandy. We know that many kids and families have faced challenges in the past week, and even kids who aren’t directly affected might be experiencing feelings of uncertainty about the storm and its aftermath. We recommend the following resources related to talking to kids about natural disasters:

Tags: girls, music, youth media, tweens, Justin Bieber

The Next American – Managers?

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jul 20, 2012 @ 08:48 AM

148278915A few weeks ago, on an NBC primetime special spanning two summer nights, viewers watched while Justin Bieber caused chaos in cities around the world, just by showing up. This was no surprise. But what may have been a more insightful sign of the times was what we saw happen when the “behind the scenes” crew encountered the crowd – chaos. Okay, so it wasn’t Bieber-brand pandemonium, but it was the kind of reception that another A-list celebrity might find satisfying. Justin’s manager, stylist, musical director and PR person were greeted with authentic appreciation, not just anticipation for the star who they brought to the party.

In youth culture today, the finders’ gain much more than a fee…They get their own chance at fame. Simon Cowell may have paved the way for the producer-turned-celebrity, but even established rockers are finding that selecting or showcasing the next star might make them more relevant than releasing a new single. From J. Lo and Steven Tyler (who was hardly top-of-mind among today’s teens before he chose Idol as his latest gig), who leveraged temporary stints as talent scouts on American Idol into fresh fame, to Justin Bieber’s own “pay-it-forward” tweets to introduce the world to Carly Rae Jepson (and her often imitated hit “Call Me Maybe”) and most recently, 13-year-old Madison Beer, today’s biggest stars know that using their platform to promote others brings the spotlight back to them.  And today’s tweens and teens are used to meeting the momager behind the celebrity (think Kris Kardashian). But what does this tell us about what youth want from their stars?

  • First, they expect altruism alongside talent.  A Twitter account is not meant for only self-promotion, but for propping up a voice in need of visibility.
  • Second, they see celebrity as a business, and know the ones who make it happen are as important as the ingénue. Contrary to what is sometimes said about this generation, they know that fame requires effort – but they also know it takes a team.
  • And finally, they want recommendations from the curators of their choice. This cohort has grown up expecting that every website they visit, every purchase they make comes with a follow-up recommendation for something else they might like.

Tags: reality tv, kids tweens teens, music, culture, Justin Bieber

What Tween Brands Can Learn From Boy Bands

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Apr 10, 2012 @ 01:05 PM

From the Beatles and the Monkees, to Menudo, Boyz II Men and New Edition, to *NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees, and most recently, the Jonas Brothers, it would seem that boy bands are nothing new. Far from surprising, the recent re-emergence of a new crop of boy bands signals a return to a recognizable place. It might be easy to dismiss wannabe sensations like One Direction (who may have made it on the radar of adults-without-tween-girls-living-in-their-homes on Saturday Night Live, when they served as musical guest), as the end of the artist as we know it. Afterall, these groups are often not shy about their one directioncommercial ambitions or the way in which they were brought together by youth-savvy producers and industry moguls. But regardless of what you think of their music or their highly choreographed dance moves, understanding the appeal of boy bands (“then” and “now”) provides invaluable insight into what a tween girl wants…So what can brands and organizations do to access some of that boy band appeal? 

  1. Focus on cute, not cool. Who says nice guys never win? And who says that being aloof makes you more admirable? Not tween girls. Boy bands can come off as cloying to adults, but for tween girls, they are just like candy – sweet, easy to consume, and inviting. As an Irish newspaper, talking about One Direction noted, Justin Bieber had reminded everyone that there was still a market for "clean cut, wholesome, middle class, parent-friendly pop: cute boys advocating puppy love.” When it comes to their fashion sense, their sounds, or their personal style, they are rarely edgy, and often startlingly sweet. And for tweens who are moving into music for the first time, these boy bands serve as starter artists – who don’t make you work too hard to get them.
  2. Give girls different faces, within the same frame. Go to any middle school playground in America and you’re likely to see groups of tweens girls wearing, what seems to be, the exact same outfit, with such subtle differences that the average adult is likely to gloss over them. Not so for the tween girls, who will proudly distinguish among their group of friends – she’s the one who likes blue…She’s the girly one, so her Tom’s shoes have the sparkles (as opposed to everyone else’s Tom’s shoe that don’t). Boy bands have this down to a science. There’s the scruffy one, the born leader, the mama’s boy (although they’re all a bit over-the-top about their love for their mamas!), and the shy one. There’s the preppy one, the fashion fiend, the “rocker” and the sports savant. The result: everyone in your group can participate, but you can match your guy with your own personal style.
  3. Focus on friendship. Why, you might be asking, is it always a band? Perhaps it’s because of the synchronized dancing (like line dancing and cheerleading routines) that makes dance moves feel so formulaic that they can imagine themselves executing them with enough practice? But more importantly, these guy groups present the ultimate tween girl fantasy: friendship. At a time when tweens are trying with all their might to untangle the web that can be tween girl relations, watching a gang of guys make it look so easy gives them hope! While a group like One Direction, who admittedly came together at the urging of X Factor judge/producer Simon Cowell, even better are the stories (authentic or exaggerated) of a group of true friends from the neighborhood who have had each others’ backs for a long time. 
  4. Don’t assume caring is corny. As any youth brand knows, once you crossover to corny, it’s hard to come back. But, what teens might dismiss as dumb, tweens will often embrace with enthusiasm. Teens might reward artists and brands that seem to be so casual as not to care, tweens appreciate effort. Caring about your fans (and even about their parents!) isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of niceness. And when it comes to boy bands, nice guys finish first.
  5. It’s about the girls, not about the group. Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about the crazes and fevers that develop surrounding boy bands is that it’s all about them. Despite all that hair gel, and their inevitable entourages, tween girls are often left with the impression that these guys would give it all up if it meant dissing their fans. Boy bands don’t put themselves on a pedestal; they put their fans on one (at least from girls’ perspectives).  We see this in their ballads – which are less about relationships and more about reiterating how special, pretty and altogether lovely their love interests are.

Finally, it would be hard to talk about boy bands without acknowledging that tweens have a much higher tolerance than most targets for ubiquity – it’s hard to become overexposed with tweens! But know that the brighter the flame, the faster the fizzle…So brands might want to borrow from the boy bands’ strategy tool box, but make sure that they think about their next hit before the craze has hit crescendo

Tags: girls, boys, free time, fashion, culture, youth media, Justin Bieber

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 does it take to be today’s tween star?

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Sep 28, 2011 @ 03:06 PM

It’s no secret that the crew at YouthBeat has a little bit of Bieber Fever…His music might not be breakthrough, and his dance moves might even look a bit recycled, if completely authentic to him. But after seeing the concert film/documentary of his rise to stardom, Never Say Never, this summer, we’ve caught this contagion all over again. As we wrote, back when the fever was just beginning to brew, Bieber has endeared himself to kids and moms alike by touting his Mama Boy status (and, as seen in his bio-pic, Grandma and Grandpa’s little guy), flirting with mom-favorites like Tina Fey and the ladies of The View (in particular, Barbara Walters), and keeping his image incredibly clean given the temptations that might confront a fifteen year old superstar (even if those temptations might be limited to becoming spoiled!). And far from being just a pretty face, Bieber is a bit of a musical prodigy. The documentary featured cute clips of this entertainer as a 3 and 4 year-old with an uncanny acumen for the drums…And the guitar…And trumpet…And guitar. Then there’s that hair.

He makes it look pretty easy.

So it’s no surprise that Bieber’s YouTube success has inspired a host of hopeful teen stars. Greyson Chance wowed the world with his school talent show rendition of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face, and was deemed likable enough to get the endorsement (and a contract) from Ellen Degeneres. Good or bad, Rebecca Black received plenty of attention for her song, Friday. And most recently, Australian teen, Cody Simpson, the stereotypical surfer boy that the genre may have been silently praying for, has hit the tween scene in a big way.teeny boppers

But do they have what it takes? They all seem to look the part, but somehow they seem to be lacking the same depth – that’s right, we said Justin Bieber has depth – that their predecessor had. His story was the real deal – a true grassroots movement that sprouted at a pace no one expected. Sure, these newer-comers can cause a craze. But will any of them have longevity?

Whether they succeed or not depends on their ability to follow a few simple rules of the tween teeny bopper:

  1. Advertise your authenticity. Perhaps Team Bieber’s most brilliant move to date was showing off his skills…Taylor Swift has swayed her young fans by not only singing relevant tunes, but writing her songs herself. Tweens might be willing to tolerate an artist with the right look for a while, but the ones that last have artistic credibility to back them up.
  2. Advocate accessibility. Twitter and Facebook may be the boon of the young star, giving them the ability to give kid and tween fans what they want: instant access. As adults, we might not really care about the every move our favorite musicians make, but this kind of disclosure is part of the price a young star is expected to pay. The smart ones realize that the key to being a tween idol today is taking time out to get in touch with your fans.
  3. Finally, sell your story. Part of the appeal of this batch of new heartthrobs and fan favorites is their story. First, kids love an underdog, and there’s no little guy that they’d rather root for more than another kid! Second, play up the person, not the celebrity. Even Lady Gaga, with all her pageantry, has learned this lesson…To be loved as a star, she has to first be liked as a person – a daughter, a sister, a friend. And part of demonstrating your down-to-earth nature is showing you appreciate your fame.
Of course, writing songs that matter and dressing the part has to follow. But like any breakthrough brand, the foundation of a true tween star is usually stronger than it seems.

Tags: Youth, Teens, music, tweens, Justin Bieber

What 2010 Tells Us about Kids, Tweens and Teens Today

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Jan 11, 2011 @ 02:17 PM

In our YouthBeat Yearbook, we wrestle with the headlines, dive deeply into data from across our twelve survey topics and look at what mattered in the market in 2010. But before we do that, we thought we’d share a few trends that told us about the way kids, tweens and teens thought in 2010, and what it means for 2011.

The Lady Gaga Conundrum: Overly Produced but Authentic. For today’s youth, independence doesn’t mean gritty footage, do-it-yourself fashion or even casual chic. In 2010, Lady Gaga struck a chord with youth with a deliberate self-depiction that felt anything but accidental. However, Gaga got it right by being herself – whoever that might be. Like Justin Bieber, who might have been pegged as part of the music machine in the past, she kept her cool by carefully crafting her image, and also crafting tweets – making her accessible, and allowing her “true” voice to be heard.

Good Guys Get What’s Theirs. Look no further than Glee!  to see that squeaky clean shows (even those that feature a little drama) have found a place. While we can’t deny that the cast from Jersey Shore and the moms from 16 and Pregnant  got attention in 2010, when it comes to what youth are watching, more care about characters with good – or at least complex – intentions – than with Gossip Girls. Perhaps youth have gotten burned out from the bad girl and bad boy celeb stories that seemed to dominate headlines in 2010, or maybe reality TV began to look just too unreal. But in any case, we think that kids, tweens and teens would agree that to be “bad” in 2011, celebs and shows might want to try to be “good.”

SpongeBob as Seal of Approval. SpongeBob
Okay, that might be going a bit far, but in 2010, a licensed character didn’t signify sub-par food as much as it meant a seal of approval on a slightly healthier option. Nickelodeon’s and Disney’s policies on partnering with healthy food manufacturers became truly visible in the marketplace with Mickey found on snacks like unsweetened dried apples. Shows on both networks also worked in healthy eating and living into their narratives. So in 2011, protecting your brand might mean partnering with a property that cares about parents’ perspectives, or managing your own property by making deals with partners who make a positive difference in the life of kids, tweens and teens.

Design on a Dime. Prior to the economic downturn of the past few years, we had begun to notice that average suburban girls were showing up to focus groups with designer purses…We noticed more and more conversation surrounding brands that many adults would find to be aspirational. Now we’re seeing designers catering to this market (see Coach’s Poppy line) while being conscious of the price-point that’s really practical for today’s increasingly cost-conscious kids, tweens and teens. Mass merchants are youth’s favorite places to shop, and designers that might have previously been inaccessible have found a way to meet their young consumers half-way. We think this formula – along with offering deal-savvy youth special ways to save – will continue to redefine fashion in 2011.

Tags: Lady Gaga, advertisment, parents, Youth, Teens, music, tweens, Justin Bieber

Bieber Fever: What Tweens Want to Catch

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Apr 20, 2010 @ 02:57 PM

Whether you're fourteen or forty, you've probably heard of Justin Bieber. The sweet 16 singer has been living a modern day fairy tale ever since being discovered on YouTube. Usher, who signed him to his first contract, recently bought him a Range Rover. The press has given him the kind of attention usually reserved for post-rehab pop stars. (Just last week, Bieber owned the cover of People magazine.) And the under twelve set has stormed every mall where he's appeared! (Want to see for yourself? Get a glimpse at the kind of reaction that Bieber gets from his fans in this footage from his recent tour:

What's made this bang-laden lyricist so contagious? And what can Bieber teach us about tweens, and importantly, what it takes to connect with them?

First, Bieber is 16 - and he knows what that's really like. He hasn't grown up in the limelight, unlike other tween/teen pop sensations, so his "normal" upbringing makes it believable when he sings about being 13 and in love for the first time: "She make my heart pound and skip a beat when I see her in the street and, at school, on the playground. But I really wanna see her on a weekend" (from Bieber's single, "Baby"). As a pre-teen fan recently wrote on Twitter, "Taylor Swift sings about what girls want to say. Justin Bieber sings about what girls want to hear. :)"

Does this stuff fly with teens? Not a chance. In fact, Miley Cyrus recently made it clear that she prefers Kurt Cobain to Bieber. Bieber's brand of simple romance lacks the angst that teens experience and want reflected in their music. But Bieber seems comfortable trading off teens for tweens. In fact, after spending time with Miley Cyrus and little sis Noah, Bieber Tweeted to the smaller Cyrus. Of course, Miley sent him a big-sisterly thanks in response.

With his loyal tween audience in mind, it makes sense that Bieber (and team) opt for access over elusiveness. While over-exposure can be the kiss of death for teens, ubiquity makes tweens - who value being one of the crowd versus standing out from it - comfortable. In line with the connected generation's expectations, Bieber doesn't just tweet, but actively responds to fans - even encouraging them to send him their own YouTube auditions. In this way, the Bieber epidemic feels more like an intimate affliction than an impersonal plague.

Perhaps Bieber's wisest move has been getting in good with the parents who are funding Bieber Fever! He's flirted with Chelsea Handler, Barbara Walters, and most recently, Tina Fey. He talks about wanting to make his mom proud - and somehow makes it sound more conscientious than cliché. And he speaks to that side of tweens who may not want to be seen being dropped off at school by their parents, but who might not mind curling up to watch American Idol with them.

Or maybe Bieber just happened to come of age at the exact moment when we want our pop stars a bit sweeter and our Romeos a bit more sincere? Could Bieber be bringing back the notion that nice boys finish first? We hope so.

Tags: parents, Youth, Teens, music, tweens, Justin Bieber