Is Out-of-School Shopping the New Back-to-School Shopping?

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Aug 18, 2014 @ 03:24 PM

128935230Increasingly, the back-to-school list includes as many “must-nots” as “must-haves.” These restrictions range from a ban on candy to limits on chips and a veto on peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish (scrap that shrimp sandwich, mom!). Even at schools that don’t require uniforms, dress codes have become increasingly strict. Depending on age of child, schools have prohibited everything from colors that could be interpreted as gang-related to t-shirts with words of any sort on them. Some schools are urging parents to forego the juice box for a refillable water bottle. At some private schools—and even some public ones—parents can expect to see that all or some characters can’t appear on backpacks or t-shirts. And, of course, technology that might be deemed permissible at home is often forbidden on school grounds.  

This might suggest that the back-to-school shopping trip is more rule-driven than ever. It certainly suggests that it’s a little less fun trip for many kids.

But will parents also miss a bit of the magic of selecting the perfect backpack or the peer-approved outfit? Based on what we know at YouthBeat about today’s moms and dads, and on what our C+R Shopper Insights expert, Terrie Wendricks, has seen in stores and online, they might.

Unlike parents of the past, today’s parents are perfectly fine with kid “asks.” They value their kids’, tweens’ and teens’ opinions like no cohort that came before, and see their children’s requests as keys to understanding their culture, in general, and their personal passions specifically. Having grown up with popular culture more prevalent in their lives, Millennial Moms and Dads, in particular, are more likely to share their kids’ interests in properties and characters. And with an increasing convergence around the content they consume, parents are more likely to side with their kids’, tweens’ and teens’ desire to express themselves through their affinities.

Nowhere is this dynamic more evident than in the retail environment where parents and kids seem to find more to agree over than to argue about! Terrie told us, “Today’s parents seek to ensure their children have their own ‘moments,’ especially in social situations like school, but today’s kids also recognize the reasons for parental restrictions across a wide variety of categories.”

So what happens when schools shun the very items that parents are happy to provide? Parents find other reasons to buy. So this back-to-school season, and for more to come, we predict that the out-of-school shopping list will be as important as the in-school one. Of course, with many families continuing to stick to the kinds of tightened budgets that they adopted during the down economy of the past few years (despite some evidence that families are returning to their traditional retail options over “band-aids” like dollar stores), the necessities are a priority. But if your product or brand is no longer on that list, we think there’s still hope for you…

  1. Position your product or offering as essential to “after school.”
  2. Forego messages about success and readiness, the domain of those in-school products, and instead speak to parents’ belief in the importance of play.
  3. Leverage parents’ nostalgia for characters that they grew up with, and that might provide their offspring with the kind of out-of-school enjoyment that parents can recall—Ninja Turtles, anyone?
  4. Remind parents that the fall “reset” doesn’t just involve the re-establishment of serious routines—it can also be a time to plan for fun!
  5. Remember that out-of-school offerings have permission to be packaged differently—think family size and shareable versus lunchbox friendly. 

Tags: kids, mom, Teens, Back to School, dad, tweens, millennials

The Contested Meaning of Parental “Supervision” for Today’s Youth

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Aug 07, 2014 @ 03:58 PM

“Childhood isn’t what it used to be.”

This statement is often followed by an observation or perhaps a few statistics relatedGirlOnSwing 465184085 to the way kids don’t roam their neighborhoods the way they used to. While this fact is hard to dispute, the reasons why are highly debatable. Some suggest that technology and television have made nearby nature seem boring to today’s kids. Others blame it on parents who hover, the helicopter moms and dads who prefer to keep their progeny in close proximity.

But giving kids the freedom to roam, or permission to spend time alone, is hardly a universally welcomed solution. In fact, what constitutes healthy supervision for today’s kids has become the subject of some of the most intense societal debates today.

Over the past few weeks, two mothers were arrested from Florida and South Carolina for child neglect has brought to a boil a debate that’s been bubbling up for some time. The first mother was arrested for allowing her 7-year-old son to walk to a park a half mile from his house, and the second mother was arrested when another parent called the police after seeing her 9-year-old daughter playing alone in a park near her place of employment (McDonald’s). The coverage of these stories have positioned these women as symbols of the hardships faced by the working poor (particularly single mothers), the shift from personal involvement to policing, and the change in neighborhoods from ones that are safe and “local” to ones that feel unfit for kids to play in without adult supervision.

Childcare website “care.com” asserts with authority, “Never let your child cross the street by themselves before age 10.” On the other hand, advocates of the “Free Range Kids” movement remind concerned parents that statistics do not support their fears of random abductions.  While advocates of both positions will likely continue to disagree, a broader conversation worth happening might be “what constitutes supervision for today’s parents”?

For previous generations, supervision may have seemed more black and white – you were either with your parent or not, supervised or not so much. Today, parents – even helicopter parents – often keep in intimate contact with their children via text. Today’s latchkey kids can Skype mom and dad in the office when they arrive home. While it’s true that many kids are better equipped to enable and disable “parent” controls on their iPad, Kindle or laptop than their moms and dads, these virtual limits can be set without a parent actually being there. And while even a decade ago, parents had to pre-view a TV show or browse a website to know if their child was accessing age-appropriate content, now they can consult CommonSense Media for a full review – along with the age listed for appropriate use/viewing.

“Are these controls enough or too much?” seems to be the crux of the question on the minds of cultural critics. But we think it’s just as important to view this heated debate as a sign of its importance to parenting culture, and thus, to kids’ lives.

But what does this mean for anyone operating in the kid and parent space?

  • Don’t assume you know what “everyone” thinks about safety. Assume ambiguity, and don’t expect that you can predict what your audience thinks. Even the most research-reliant parents can admit that they still worry about kidnappings (despite “knowing” that their child is more likely to be abducted or abused by someone they know). Despite the risks associated with putting kids’ personal info online, many parents continue to post pics of their little ones online. Beliefs and practices don’t always match.
  • Do treat parents with respect. Parenting is hard and while many staunch defenders of the “free range” or the child supervision camp will suggest that the other side is damaging children, remember that most parents live somewhere in the middle. And sometimes for good reason. Remember that many parents don’t have the choice to supervise “ideally.” As the stories of these single mothers suggest, childcare is complicated and expensive. Age doesn’t always tell the story of a child’s level of responsibility. And keep in mind that compromising on a child’s safety isn’t something that most parents would ever do if they had another choice.
  • Reconsider the “permissive/restrictive” continuum. Most parents have complex relationships to the rules they establish for their kids, and what they permit them to do, when, and why. Labeling parents “restrictive” or “permissive” in any category is likely to mask a much more complex reality. Parents often consider context (e.g., sometimes parents who are strict about sugar are even stricter about making sure their children doesn’t insult another parent who has just offered them a treat. Respecting parents’ choices and realities related to their child’s safety, health and well-being starts with understanding their lives. 

Tags: kids, parents, mom, Youth, Teens, dad, tweens

Rediscovering Parenting Power

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 @ 09:31 AM

Portraits of parenting (effective or ineffective) almost always involve some indication of who holds the reins in their relationship. Successful parenting might have once looked like a mom or dad who is obeyed. More recently, the powerful parent is a positive one – a mother or father who can get what they want without raising their voice, or even saying “no.” And more and more parenting ads position the truly powerful parent as one who is willing to relinquish control to their kids. In other words, a truly in control mom or dad makes their child feel like they’re in charge.

Perhaps it’s the promotion of kinder, gentler parenting, or the modern mothering mandate that it’s all about the kids that have led to a (somewhat) recent deluge of depictions of dads and moms who parent with pride (and a healthy dose of humor). Millennials are often described as a cohort whose parents told them they were stars right from the start…So is it any surprise that today’s parents who are Millennials, and those who parent Millennials, have put parenting back in what might seem to be its rightful place? Today’s parents prefer to promote an image of parenting that shows them strutting, even when they’re stressing, and keeping it real even when they’re riding in a minivan.

Swagger WagonFirst, the soundtrack of parenting today is more rap than nursery rhyme. Rather than retreating when times get tough, parents play a pep talk on YouTube! Subaru started this trend with their ad for the Sienna SE, affectionately referred to as the “Swagger Wagon” by the mini-van driving mom and dad who star in their spot. This duo defies notions of proper parenting by breaking all the rules, and following their own, despite giving in to the inevitable need for a vehicle that prioritizes volume over vroom. While dad does ask, “where my kids at” in a funny moment in which dads’ casualness turns to momentary concern, this spot and song stay watchable because they show parents who clearly keep the kids in the picture, but haven’t fully given up on their adult aesthetics.

Fiat U.K. made media waves recently with its Gangsta Rap, in which a stressed out mum describes the sometimes grim reality of her “Mother-hood.” The psychology lives close to the surface – when babies scream, cereal spills, or, as she notes, “work and home is a mental combination” – mom doesn’t meltdown. She gets gangster. And she doesn’t give in, she shows off.

And parent pep talks aren’t just for moms. The most recent viral video that position parents as real and righteous at the same time came from a stay-at-home dad.

He’s daddy and he knows it.  This dad doesn’t cope, he controls. Today’s parents see themselves as superheroes. But these superheroes aren’t the shiny, one-dimensional kind that we’ve seen on screen in the past. Instead, they are the flawed figures, who feel conflicted and challenged and committed to their mission, all at the same time. They have back stories and pasts (they were once real people!) and they expect to be acknowledged for it. At the same time, they’ve undergone a transformation. Like any good superhero, they’re hoping to be seen not as being weakened by the loss of their “regular” self, but to be embraced for the resilient and resourceful stars they are now.  

Tags: advertisment, mom, family, dad, TV, youth media, parenting

Mom Confidence: What Back to School Ads Really Sell

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Aug 10, 2012 @ 11:59 AM

With summer winding down, back-to-school advertising has come on full force. According to the National Retail Federation, $83 billion will be spent for back-to-school 2012, and the fight for those dollars has already begun. Retailers have been on air with messaging about new jeans, school supplies, and lunchbox fare for weeks. Brands have begun to release reminders that the choice of gluestick and even sticky-note matter…

describe the imageEven though a Yahoo webinar from April 2012 suggested that back-to-school advertisers should remember that back-to-school shopping isn’t all about moms (“23% of dads and 84% of teens say they're getting more involved in back-to-school shopping; 80% of those in charge of making back-to-school purchases say their children influence what's actually bought”), it seems that back-to-school ads are taking some typical approaches to tantalizing parent purchasers. Despite different approaches, most seem to adopt, as an underlying premise, that winning the back-to-school battle is all about instilling confidence in mom. Sure, you could do that by showing her how much she’ll save. But what fun would that be? Here’s how some of the most aired campaigns are making moms feel like she’s too cool for school…

  1. Reminding her that she was cool once…Beverly Hills 90210 might have found a new audience with this generation of teens, and Jenny Garth might even play a role, but none of their dramas will top that moment when Kelly Taylor faced the ultimate choice: Dylan McKay or Brandon Walsh? This moment is played out in Old Navy’s back-to-school advertising, perhaps to persuade mom shoppers that high school hasn’t changed. Or more likely, Old Navy has realized that their brand of tongue-in-cheek humor makes the mom shopper more comfortable, than, say, Abercrombie? Old Navy seems to be positioning itself as the place for parents to purchase, leaving the teen-with-a-wallet crowd to spend somewhere else. 
  2. Old people icons…And by old, we mean over 18…Target, once again, plays with the juxtaposition between cool and kitsch, high and low, high-style and highly practical that define their brands. In their back-to-school campaign, ordinary objects like rulers come together to form guitars…Back-to-school shopping takes on the event-like status of a Lady Gaga concert….And actors who would likely (hopefully) only be recognizable to parents are used in a commercial that could seemingly get kids bopping. The guy from Bridesmaids? Sure, he should be selling jeans to kids for back-to-school. But lest you think we don’t like this idea, let us be clear: Target (like Old Navy) is letting moms and dads in on the fun.
  3. Schoolhouse rock. Well before Glee, JC Penney had made school look like a Broadway show. Once again, advertisers seem to be softening the blow of returning to the books by re-imagining school as a stage. For parents, who perhaps fantasize about their children as confident, bubbly students, strutting and giggling through their days, these images might comfort. Will kids, tweens and teens buy-in? Payless has raced past the first day right to the fantasy field trip, with its spot (using a They Might Be Giants tune that might make parents wonder where they heard those voices before) that features frolicking kids who delight in dino exploration. There are no lines or rules for these happy-kids. And this seems to be just what parents have in mind as they purchase pants with reinforced knees, or hoodies that promise to hold up for the whole year.
  4. Mom’s make it better. In contrast with showing all of these confident kids, dancing their way through the classroom doors, 3M chooses another approach to instilling moms with the confidence that they can make back-to-school better. In their ad, a shy, sweet little girl tentatively scans her new class…It’s not until she opens her lunchbox to find a sticky-note of reassurance that she drops her shoulders and lets her grin spread.

Will their approaches work? It’s likely they’ll win a share of the back-to-school booty. But while it’s too soon to tell, we predict that they’re leaving some kid, tween and teen influenced purchases on the table.

Tags: Education, mom, shopping, fashion, parenting, school

Back to School Means Big Transitions for Both Moms and Kids

Posted by YouthBeat Speaks on Mon, Sep 12, 2011 @ 09:43 AM

By Paul Metz, Senior Vice President

By the week after Labor Day, this year’s back-to-school period will be all but over and families across America will be settling back into their school-year routines.  The transition back to a school-year schedule happened almost two weeks ago in my family, as we coped with the anxiety of a daughter entering middle school and the excitement of her younger sibling returning to the known stomping grounds of grade school.  While it is a familiar annual event, the back-to-school transition brings a lot of change and emotion.  In fact, in August we talked online with hundreds of moms and observed that while moms’ feelings about the start of the school year may vary from sadness to elation, every mom seems to have a strong and heartfelt opinion on the topic.back to school

We were expecting a majority of moms to relate stories of “mixed” feelings about the end of summer and their children’s return to school.  We did hear plenty of mixed reactions, but we were fascinated that a full half of moms expressed nothing but positive feelings about their children’s return to school.  This sentiment didn’t feel foreign to me, as my wife expressed quite a bit of relief when the school-year began, because it brought a stable routine and relieved my wife of the weekly summer challenge of figuring out how to keep the kids busy and entertained.  What we heard from moms around the country, through our online parent community, ParentSpeak, were various expressions of happiness, excitement and relief.  The onset of school can solve many “challenges”, including irregular summer schedules, lack of time to get work done, and kids’ boredom.  It seems as if many moms welcome the forced discipline of a school-year routine, even though they also acknowledged that they enjoyed laid-back unscheduled summer days.  This mom articulated the feelings of many moms: 

“I’m definitely glad to get back to school.  Being in a routine is so much easier.  I am glad for my kids to have that unstructured play time in the summer; don’t get me wrong.  But I love routine and order.” 

Another mom echoed these sentiments with,

“School gives them a routine and set schedule to follow and it makes for a more harmonious life in our home.” 

Clearly, many moms view school as a positive co-partner in helping them manage the busy lives of their families.

Moms’ outlook about the back-to-school period seems to depend heavily on how they perceive their evolving role as a parent as their children grow.  Some moms are excited that their children are moving to the next grade, getting the opportunity to learn new things and socialize with their friends.  Other moms, however, lament the new school year because it reminds them of how fast their children are growing up and they feel a certain sense of “loss”, and know that the happy, fun days of parenting a young child are not easily recaptured.  These moms tend to feel that summer is too short and that they aren’t quite ready for the school year to start, which leaves them feeling sad and anxious.  Our just-completed research suggests that approximately one in five moms feel this way. 

In between the extremes are a number of moms who exhibit truly mixed feelings.  Many moms have a balanced perspective of both the positives and negatives of summer and of the school year.  It’s not atypical for moms to welcome the regular schedule of the school-year while dreading the early mornings and long nights of helping with homework.  The same mom can feel happiness for her child’s advancement, and sadness about having less time to enjoy with her children. 

This mom captured her competing feelings quite well:

“I am sad that my son will soon be heading off to 2nd grade; I love spending all the time with him in the summer.  But I am also excited because I love watching him grow and become the wonderful little guy he is.  I love hearing his stories about his day.  It’s such a mixed feeling,  but I am glad he is getting a good education  and know I have to slowly let him grow up.”

These are the types of tensions and inner conflicts that companies with child and mom-targeted products and services should try to understand.  There is opportunity for companies who understand moms’ feelings and emotions during the back-to-school time, because they can reflect these in their advertising messages and strike a chord of relevance and authenticity with moms.  For their part, retailers seem to be succeeding at connecting with moms, as we tallied over 60% of moms saying that they enjoyed back-to-school shopping.  And this was something that both moms and kids could agree on, and serves as a positive exclamation point to the end of the summer.

Tags: kids, mom, family, tweens, school

Parents to their Kids: Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jan 14, 2011 @ 11:17 AM

It’s no surprise to anyone – youth aficionado or not – that social networking has captured the attention and imagination of young people. In the first half of 2010, in fact, 16% of kids, 43% of tweens and 71% of teens reported visiting at least one. And in addition to causing us all to grapple with fundamental questions about our private and public selves, social networking poses force parents to ask themselves a critical question related to online parenting etiquette: do you friend your child or not?Facebook

Today’s parents are no strangers to social networking themselves – 71% of parents with children 6-18 years of age report having a profile on a social networking site. But when it comes to parenting in the digital domain, this generation of parents is pioneering. And every day, new dilemmas surface.  As parents and their children’s play spaces begin to converge online, so have questions about what to do when they virtually bump into each other.

What we know about parents ”friending” children tells us a slightly unexpected story. 45% of parents who have profiles on social networking sites have friended their children. And we might even predict that younger kids are more likely to be friends with their parents than not. Many of the youngest users of these sites (which restrict usage to those over 13), have profiles established by parents, who often set up the accounts to enable their kids to keep in better touch with distant family members, or parents who don’t live with them or who sometimes travel without them. It might be safe to assume that teens would take offense to parental invasion into their “personal” (despite being very public) spaces. But in reality, 12% of parents of kids, 47% of parents of tweens and a full 75% of parents of teens report “friending” their children.

What’s behind these numbers? Perhaps teens fear not “friending” their parents because they’re savvy to the privacy settings on Facebook. (Mom and dad might think they’re seeing all their child’s activities, but are getting a highly edited version). Have today’s tweens and teens begun to realize that they shouldn’t say anything online that they wouldn’t want their parents to see? Probably not. It could be that teens actually don’t mind when their parents know what’s going on with them. Today’s youth seem to crave connection with their families more than ever. When time with them is limited because of busy work and activity schedules, meeting up online might be more of a treat than a trial. Or maybe teens don’t mind just a tad bit of supervision – or even the insinuation of supervision – in a space where bullying and aggression can spread like wildfire, and where even the most confident teen might be willing to admit that a little guidance couldn’t hurt.

What do you think? Should parents friend their children or leave them to their own devices when they’re in these online lounges?

Tags: kids, parents, cyberbullying, mom, family, Youth, Facebook

To Know a Mom…

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Nov 17, 2010 @ 01:08 PM

What kind of household manager is she?
What’s her level of education?
How does she make a living?
Where does she like to shop?
What’s her style?
And our favorite, what benefits does she seek in category x?

If you want to get to know today’s moms, as a target, audience, a customer, or just as people, these questions might get you started…But to really know today’s moms, we think there’s one question that is often missed: who are her kids?shopping cart race car

Many marketers today, even those who create products explicitly for kids, tailor their messages to their parents. Many accept that mom is no longer merely a gatekeeper, but also a researcher and strategist– trying to figure out the needs of her children and align those needs with her own goals for them, her budget and her own wants. But in a world in which mom teams and kid occupy different floors in organizations, and moms are treated merely as a sub-group of women, we think there’s an opportunity to think differently about our mom-learning agendas…

Take for instance, the grocery store. In thinking about moms of little kids, retailers do a pretty good job of thinking about the child reality in crafting the parent experience. They know that exploring the produce section doesn’t hold the interest of most preschoolers, mom will likely find a way to make less frequent visits to a store if her child throws a tantrum. And as much as she might like her local Whole Foods, or might prefer a discount store, she’s likely to shift her habits if it means a happy child. Enter the car-attached-to-the-cart…Yes, moms might get an unintended workout trying to navigate these bulky vehicles down the aisles, and even moms who don’t mind a few germs might cringe at these Petri dishes on wheels, but she feels like she’s satisfied her most important stakeholder.

But ironically, when it comes to older children who we can assume to have more agency and more persuasive arguments for experiences, products and services that they want, marketers increasingly attend only to mom. Mom’s agenda matters, but even when she’s cutting back financially on things for herself, she’s often willing to spend on her kids. And she might prioritize attributes like health or quality, but really, when push comes to shove, she’s often looking for clues that her kids will love product x first. When we tell her that a snack is healthy, we might be cluing her in to what her child will like about it – after all, more and more kids prefer or at least accept nutritious noshing. But wouldn’t it be more compelling to find out what her kids really want out of a great snack and tell her about that? Or provide her with a more authentic narrative about what other kids love about an experience or service?

Obviously, we think the answer is “yes.” There might be some merit in telling parents what they want to hear. There’s no doubt that parents gain a sense of satisfaction around having their own lists checked, even if their children’s aren’t. And one could argue that moms won’t find children’s reality nearly as compelling as her own aspiration. But we think that’s underselling moms. Today’s mom is as interested in getting to know her child’s needs as she is in making sense of her own. And we think understanding moms without truly understanding her children misses more than just the context – it misses the core insight into what’s driving mom’s behavior today.

So next time you’re talking to moms, consider asking them who their children are and what they really want. And when Mom has completed her story, then ask her kids.

Tags: kids, parents, mom, Youth, Teens, shopping

Parents and Licensed Products: Where Principles Meet Pragmatism

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Aug 26, 2010 @ 01:03 PM

This past weekend, I reached a parenting milestone that most moms and dads would nod their heads to: realizing you’re that parent that you never thought you’d be!

Our son has many unbranded wooden toys, books written for Waldorf classrooms and will be starting at a Montessori school in the fall. But on a trip to Chicago with my husband and son, we found ourselves at the Disney store. All three of us “oohhed” and “aahed” as we eyed the ceiling-high shelf of Toy Story products. And needless to say, we left with Woody and Buzz. On Sunday, we returned because we “forgot” Jessie

So while all this is new to me, fortunately, my short stint as a parent was preceded by years of listening to moms (and the occasional dad) across the country talk about their feelings on licensed products (products that borrow equity from characters) or property-based products (e.g., a Woody or Buzz doll).Toy Story Woody Doll

While critics of commercialism like Susan Linn of CCFC see no gray areas when it comes to these kinds of products (which Linn is referring to when she writes about “unfettered commercialism actually prevent[ing] [children] from playing”), even the most anti-corporate, anti-media parent will usually admit that denying your kids the characters they love is not as easy as it seems. For other parents, it’s a no-brainer. For them, childhood is as much about the joy of having a doll, action figure or other toy that takes on the likeness of their most fantastic friends – just as it did for many of us, pre-Nickelodeon’s hay day.

But back to that first group of parents…in talking to them about licensed products, they often make some good points. Most child development experts would agree that the best objects of play allow kids to create their own narratives – not simply imitate the storylines they see on screen. And many worry about setting an expectation that enjoying a story is about owning an object versus possessing an idea in your mind.

On the flipside, there’s the smile on your child’s face when they see a character whose gentle nature or clever mind or self-deprecating silliness has captured their hearts. And it’s pretty hard to resist.

But as many marketers have learned, the power of characters is actually quite fleeting. While tweens and teens will happily tune-in to SpongeBob, they’re unlikely to wear him on a t-shirt – or even on their PJs. And kids as young as 7 years old will let a researcher accompanying them to the grocery store know that products with characters on them are really meant for their little brothers and sisters. So for most parents, the licensed product “dilemma” is one solved by time…Just in time for more tricky challenges to take their place.

For years, youth marketers have debated whether borrowing or “buying” a halo from an established kids property or creating your own equity characters (think the Trix Rabbit or the Rice Krispies guys) is the easy-street to success. But either way, we think the decision requires serious contemplation. So, how can marketers meet the needs of parents when it comes to the character connection?

  • First, honor the characters you choose to align your brand with or you choose to promote through products. Be authentic to their essence – and that means knowing what their essence is according to kids. A character’s actual bio doesn’t always reflect the story that kids tell about the character – and knowing and creating to that narrative is the first step to getting your property-driven products right.
  • Second, make sure your products keep in mind their true purpose: play. Many licensed products go beyond pure character appeal to meet parents’ needs for age-appropriate play for their kids. For marketers to leverage these properties with integrity, it can’t just be about getting the branding right, but should also pay homage to the real star, your consumer.
  • And finally, when creating your own characters, know that kids love the rich stories behind their favorite characters. Woody isn’t simply a cowboy. He doesn’t just have a look that kids love. He has a heart, a soul and a strong script that allow kids to go beyond observing him to bringing him into their own stories. And it’s just this kind of complexity that makes these characters as much fun to “play” with, as they are to watch.

Tags: research, kids, Nickelodeon, movie, mom, Youth, Toy Story

Overheard in a Home Depot: Are Kids Taking Over Your Home?

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Aug 13, 2010 @ 10:57 AM

“It’s called Twilight!” the tween girl standing next to me told her mother, in a high drama, OMG kind of voice.

This was the weekend, and I was not behind the glass watching a mom-kid pair or a focus group. I was in the paint section at Home Depot and upon hearing the magic word my Robert Pattinson radar kicked in. My husband, sensing what was up, took my toddler son to the next aisle and left me to listen in.

“This one’s called ‘sexy’ she giggled – clearly trying to shock her mother, who clearly had been shocked too many times to react. With practiced practicality, the mom ignored her daughter and simply suggested a slightly less bold paint color. The negotiation began.

“I really feel like I’ll be most comfortable if it’s the color I love (Note to reader: that color would be “sexy”). And this is my room so I have to be comfortable, right?”

It seems today’s kids, tweens and teens have been taught, by example, by the media and by pop psychology that environment matters. And retailers haven’t missed their cue. Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel saw an opportunity to develop room décor for this style-savvy set with stores like Pottery Barn Kids and PBTeen, as well as Crate and Barrel’s sister store, Land of Nod. And while directing its messages to parents more than kids, Restoration Hardware recently got into the youth home goods game with its new line of Baby and Toddler furniture.

But proving that kids, tweens and teens have influence beyond these boutiques designed for them, Home Depot’s paint display included snapshots of picture perfect children’s rooms alongside images of  Martha Stewart inspired showrooms. When my family rejoined me, I noticed that my son was “playing” with a paint sample – in the shape of mouse ears. He proudly showed me his new “book,” which was really a brochure for Disney paints. He noted that one of these fantasy spaces included a little car just like one that he has at home.Disney Paint Room

For today’s youth, who have grown up watching deserving kids get decked out rooms on Extreme Home Makeover, or who watched their own version of Trading Spaces (Boys versus Girls) on Saturday morning television, this penchant for paint and obsession with getting their rooms just right isn’t a surprise. If you catch HGTV, you’ll notice an increased emphasis on the crafting of kid spaces – with some shows, like Colour Confidential, letting kids get on the act by picking paint colors and weighing in on what their walls will wear. And with more and more kids watching the Food Network and taking cooking classes in cities and suburbs across the country, it’s no wonder that kids are out to conquer the next domestic frontier. Or, if not conquer, at least make it their own.

But will parenDisney Paint Colorsts indulge their kids’ requests for real – and really costly – renovations to their rooms? It’s likely that kids will continue to have free reign over things traditionally chosen by kids for their rooms: posters and novelty pillows, bedspreads and tchotkes. And for some, coloring their walls to match their mood – or their favorite fantasy – might be the next step in designing the world of their dreams.

Tags: kids, mom, Twilight, Youth, Teens, shopping, Home Depot, money

Huge Tackles the Biggest Issues for Tweens and Teens

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Jun 29, 2010 @ 05:04 PM

Last night, ABC Family debuted Huge, the latest teen tale from the producers/creators of Gossip Girl and from the writers behind My So Called Life. Defying an important convention of the teen genre, the show doesn’t feature prom queens and rich girls – it features teens who are sent to “fat camp” by parents who fear for their kids’ health (and if the characters’ confessions are to be believed, are ashamed of their unsuccessful children).Huge

But will tweens and teens make Huge a hit the size of its name? It’s a little too soon to tell. While Huge might feature an unexpected cast, it does deal with the hierarchies that inevitably develop when teens congregate. In this case, the skinniest girl is crowned queen bee in the first few minutes of the series. The show promises love triangles, power struggles and underdogs who get their shot. And, with Nikki Blonski of Hairspray fame playing the central role of Willamina (“Will”), we might see some singing.

And whether or not the show stands out among summer shows, it’s sure to spark debate and hopefully, dialogue, about its central theme. We think body issues and weight are in the Zeitgeist more than they have been in a while. For as long as this latest cohort of kids has been in school, we’ve been encouraging them to be healthier. But while we agree that childhood obesity is one of the most pressing public health issues in a decade, we also wonder if we haven’t inadvertently exacerbated the anxiety that tweens and teens already feel about their appearance.

Tweens’ and teens’ concern – or rather, obsession – with their body might not be news,  but the latest numbers from YouthBeat show just how hard it is to embrace Huge’s  mantra: love thy body. While 51% of elementary school kids agree that they are “happy with the way they look,” this number drops to 30% for middle schoolers and to 18% for high schoolers. And the number one and number two things that kids, tweens and teens want to change about themselves are “my weight” and “my appearance.”

So is Huge sending youth mixed messages? Love how you look, but go to our website for healthy snack recipes. Aspire to be Will, who rebels against a camp counselor and her parents who she describes as “demanding that she hates her body.” Laugh and cheer as Will becomes the camp cupcake “dealer,” but share in her regret when her cabin-mate gets sent home for Bulimia.

What I love about the series, at least based on the first episode, is that the show not only allows, but assumes that this issue is more complex than it seems. In an almost dizzying way, you’re set up to despise Amber, the girl who seems to be there to lose just a few pounds, but you’re ultimately drawn to her struggle to really diet and really gain control over her eating. You’re asked to side with Will as she displays her bod in a striptease (down to her bathing suit – this is ABC Family!), but you’re confronted with her admission of vulnerability and shame. Beyond building awareness of the feelings that kids who are struggling with obesity experience, the show seems to send a message that feels true and simple: what tweens and teens of all shapes and sizes really need is support.

Tags: food, kids, Huge, mom, family, Youth, Teens, beverage, ABC Family, TV, tweens