Fault in Our Stars and Finding Balance in Teen Culture

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jun 04, 2014 @ 01:23 PM

Later this week, 20th Century Fox will release the highly anticipated Fault in Our Stars MovieFault in Our Stars (FiOS), a teen romance based on the best-selling 2012 Young Adult novel by John Green.  Social media has been buzzing over this movie for years, and the excitement is getting even more intense as the premiere date gets closer.  The trailer for the film has nearly 20 million views, and John Green has been popping up all over social media promoting the film. 

The success of FiOS might seem surprising.  There are no supernatural creatures, it’s not set in a dystopia where teens must fight to the death, and it lacks much of the dark, fantastical elements we’ve come to expect in teen media.  It’s a realistic story about two terminally-ill teens who meet and fall in love.  The story isn’t new to Young Adult fiction (or “YA” among the indoctrinated!), but Green’s story has made a huge impression on teen and adult readers.  A lot has already been written about what makes FiOS so successful (its raw emotions, its universal story of love and life, its compelling characters, etc.), but we thought of a different reason as to why FiOS is not only so wildly popular, but also why it’s popularity isn’t that surprising.  

Teen culture has always been about balance.  For every bad boy, there is a boy next door; for every nerd, a jock; and if there’s heartache, there’s a new romance.  The list could go on.  Even popular culture aimed at teens balances itself.  The crazy stunts and outrageous antics of Lady Gaga are balanced by Taylor Swift’s wholesome good-girl. 

After years of supernatural creatures and murderous teens, FiOS balances YA literature and teen culture.  For years, teens have been bombarded with (and rabidly consumed by) dark fantasy, paranormal romance, and dystopia.  Just when it looked like the scale was beginning to tilt a little too far, along came FiOS with its human, fallible characters, its awkward romance, and its gritty exploration of a very real and very human issue: illness and death.  FiOS provides teens with something different, something to offset the media they’ve been consuming for so many years. 

Even John Green himself is vastly different from other YA authors.  Green was one of the first major vloggers on Youtube, a platform he has used successfully to speak to teens and promote his books.  Green tweets and takes to Tumblr. His celebrity status and willingness to engage with teens has led some to call him the "teen whisper", unlike Stephanie Meyers and Suzanne Collins, neither of whom have actively engaged with their audience in the ways Green does. 

While it might be easy to talk about the importance of tension in teen products or offerings, we think a bit of balance might be a better formula for success. Extreme might make for a headline, but balance makes for a bestseller.

Tags: Lady Gaga, Teen Culture, movie, Taylor Swift, John Green, Teens

10 Things That Don’t Get Old to Kids

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Sep 24, 2013 @ 09:47 AM

Roller SkatingWe sometimes find ourselves compelled to think about the new experiences that define kids’ lives…What is something they’ve never before seen or that’s new to their world (and ours). But we often forget that some of the simplest pleasures of childhood are hardly novel. In the everyday lives of kids, there are many, many “old” experiences that feel new to the latest generation of youth. So in case you’re looking for some inspiration in unexpected places, here are a few youth experiences and products worth revisiting:

  1. Roller skating. Roller blades might look cooler, but there’s nothing quite so fun than stumbling around the rink on eight wheels! Skating rinks of the suburban sort (Cherry Hill Skate Rink) still fit the bill. Maybe it’s the mini arcades, the kid-friendly food or the lifting of the usual kid noise restrictions! But we think it’s also about the fun of learning the ropes with the help, and the hands, of your friends.
  2. Bowling. Along the same lines, bowling might seem staid to moms and dads, but it’s new again for youth! Bowling alleys of the retro sort can bring in youth, but many might be getting their first taste of the lanes alongside their parents in hipster takes on the timeless activity. With newer lanes offering the option of bumpers that rise when kids come up to bowl and fall to level the game with parents, bowling might be the newest old way to enjoy family fun!
  3. Apple picking. Tis the season for apple picking in much of the country, and this old-fashioned pleasure continues to delight kids and their parents. This pastime appeals to romantic notions of childhood, along with the new notions of local and sustainable nature.
  4. Movie night. Screens may have changed and the popcorn might come in unconventional flavors, but movie night still matters to youth. They might be able to download the movie of their choice any time, but a night with friends or family focused on a flick continues to feel special to today’s youth.
  5. Sleepover parties. Whether it’s a backyard campout with mom and dad by their side, or the first brave night away from home, sleepover parties are still a milestone for minors.
  6. Reading with a flashlight.  Okay, so today’s kids and tweens might have books that light up all by themselves, but the mischievous pleasure of staying up late and reading under the covers with a flashlight can still make kids feel daring! And parents can feign outrage while secretly endorsing their child’s sneaky reading!
  7. Friendship bracelets. Loom bracelets might be all the rage right now, but they are just the most recent rendition of a classic kid creation. Whether it’s crafting the look of your arm candy with the perfect collection of charms, or weaving a wristlet of your own design, girls AND boys continue to love the friendship bracelet look. And while the making of these bracelets matters, the sharing is where the timeless fun really comes to fruition.
  8. Swimming. This “sport” continues to be the favorite active pastime of our youth (kids, tweens and teens)…Despite all the opportunities youth have for elite and unique activities for fitness, this no-pressure, everyone’s invited sport persists as a symbol of childhood at its best for good reason.
  9. Bike-riding. Bikes have certainly changed, with little kids learning on balance bikes and scooter/bike hybrids making mainstream tracks. But the sense of accomplishment associated with learning to ride a bike, and the freedom of getting to go around the corner on your own leg-power remains the same.
  10. Scoring a goal…or hitting a homerun or even that hole in one! Carrying the team for just a moment is still the standard in kids’ epic tales of achievement and triumph. Maybe everyone gets a trophy in today’s little leagues and soccer clubs, but making that precious point is still the stuff of kid fantasies.

What do these timeless pleasures tell us? Some of them involve a bit of rebellion. Many involve a break from the everyday routine (like bedtime in your own bed!). Many show the importance of mastery in the lives of youth. And most involve a taste of freedom – even when you’re right alongside your family! When seeking ways to delight today’s youth, don’t forget to consider these classic kid experiences as inspiration.

Tags: toys, movie, Sports, outside, free time, kids tweens teens, culture

Creating An A-Peeling Kid/Tween Promotion

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jul 17, 2013 @ 11:09 AM

While Despicable Me 2, which topped the box office for the past two weekends might be benefitting from family-movie-friendly weather across much of the country, we would be remiss if we ignored the true pull and power of the film: enter the Minions.Chiquit Banana

These golden-hued mischief-makers made a big impact on kids and tweens after the original film; with their silly speak, funny shapes and sizes and relatable role as “minions” (what kid doesn’t feel like a servant to an all powerful adult at least some of the time?).

So it’s no surprise that Despicable Me 2 earned over $250 million in promotional partnerships before the film’s release, just prior to Independence Day. Predictably, there’s a collection of cute Happy Meal Minions. Cheetos is running a “One-In-A-Minion” sweepstakes, and put Minions in a special edition of Cheetos “Mix-Ups.” Honey Nut Cheerios and Lucky Charms has gone old, school, offering a literal “prize inside” the box.

But the promotion that stands out to us comes from an unexpected source: Chiquita Banana. From our perspective, this might be the perfect partnership for kids. Here’s what we think brands can learn from Chiquita’s strategy and execution:

  1. Keep it simple!  Minions love bananas. This simple truth, told to viewers in the movie, makes infinite sense to (and we say this with affection) LITERAL kids! They are yellow. They look kind of like bananas. Therefore they love them. So they chose this URL: www.minionslovebananas.com. When it comes to kids promotions, don’t overthink it. Keep it simple, and kids will understand.
  2. Play AGAINST type. Bananas don’t exactly have a rebellious rap. They’re one of kids’ first foods. They’re easy eating. They don’t require utensils. And, of course, simple sweets like bananas get squeezed out as favorite snacks as kids turn to tweens, and certainly to teens. BUT, Minions bring a bit of edge to the bunch. Bananas have always had a humorous halo, and Chiquita reminds us that bananas can be as fun as they are fulfilling. So when choosing your promotional partner, don’t just consider what “fits” – think about your partner as a pathway to the place you’d really like to be.
  3. Own it. When it comes to kid and tween promotions, simply being associated with the right partner can be helpful. But Chiquita shows that promotions that matter make the most of any brand/partner association. Other brands include the Minions; Chiquita makes it hard not to think about bananas when you think of these little guys. Granted, Chiquita has a unique advantage in that they only have to own “bananas” – not differentiate themselves among a formidable category competitor. But Chiquita seems to claim these characters in a way that other Despicable Me 2 promotional partners have not.
  4. Package it. While all of the Despicable Me 2 partners include Minion imagery on their offerings, Chiquita takes the best advantage of the little bit of real estate they have. The brand went big, placing more than a half billion Despicable Me 2 stickers on the front of these fruits. The variation gives kids a chance to literally pick their favorite, and makes a healthy option even more a-peeling for moms.
  5. Follow-through. Chiquita’s site offers games, kid recipes and even a chance to win a trip to Hawaii – all great ways to extend the life of this association online. But the games on the site – “Minion Memory” and a “Minion Maker” feel younger than the presumed target for this promotion (which, remember, involves a PG –rated film). The site lets you vote for your favorite Minion model, which includes a Minion wearing a hula skirt. These Hawaiian themes Minions win among voters in almost every case, yet the “Minion Maker” doesn’t give you options to create a luau-looking Minion. And finally, the kid recipes don’t connect to the Minions theme – a missed opportunity for both kids and tweens, as well as for moms. To take advantage of a strong strategy, make sure your execution matches developmental level with look and feel and game play with age group.

Have you seen a smart strategic partnership in the past year? Tell us about it!

Tags: advertisment, food, movie, youth media

Kids and The Staying Power of Superheroes

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Mar 16, 2012 @ 11:57 AM

Super HeroIt’s hard to think about kid culture without thinking about the undying appeal of superheroes. From the classic Marvel heroes and heroines and their iconic foes, to modern day do-gooders like Word Girl (secret power: vocabulary!) and Super Why (secret power: reading!),superheroes seem to find a place in the hearts of kids and in their canon from generation to generation. It’s true that the nature of superheroes tends to change from season to season, from cohort to cohort…Today, superheroes are often seen spruced up by the magical tricks of modern filmmaking, and Superman capes show up on toddler t-shirts, but also in elaborate (albeit, always authentic) form on the men and women of Comic-Con. But there’s something inherent to superheroes in their most basic form that continue to captivate the imagination and the play time of kids in a way that few other motifs and characters can.

  1. They help kids feel bigger than they are. The experience of childhood involves constant reminders of how little power they have in the real world. “Inside voice,” “please, please,” and “hand to yourself” (or even the sweeter exhortation, “hands are for hugging!”) reinforce the fact that kids are constantly being redirected and wrangled in. When they go to the amusement park, they stand on tip-toes, hoping that their height matches the boost of bravery that has made them want to test out the roller coaster for the first time. Size matters to kids, and playing superhero changes all that…It’s not just that Superheroes are big and strong. It’s also that Superheroes often show that even a diminutive person can transform into a tall and strong one with a little radioactive energy in their corner…
  2. They honor kids’ secret identities. Speaking of making the little guy more powerful, Peter Parker makes Spiderman not only more relatable and approachable, but teaches kids that beneath the surface of every overachiever is a person who is a little insecure, who might be struggling to figure out what’s right. For kids in this cohort, who are increasingly required to perform, the idea that you sometimes have to be yourself (humanity and all) is not seen as a weakness, but as just one more strength. And it’s no surprise that just when our leading men started to look a bit nerdier (and we say this in the most affectionate way possible, Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen), the secret side of Superheroes took center stage in plays, in new TV shows on Cartoon Network, and even in the form of quirky toys taking on the image of our old favorites. Kids know more than anyone that it’s not always easy to be cool, and knowing that even their heroes have secret sides is reassuring, to say the least.
  3. They reinforce that the natural order remains intact. Translation: good triumphs over evil.  Despite the bad rap that kids can sometimes get when they choose to play Superheroes over scientists on the modern playground, playing superheroes is generally a positive thing for kids. Playing Superheroes lets kids try on the role of bad guy in a safe space. It helps them negotiate the rules – what should get one captured? What should be punished with entanglement in a sticky web? And, when should you choose a disguise over confrontation? And it helps them feel confident on those days when they just might not. But mostly, it helps them play with right and wrong…Something that kids are fascinated by, even though they don’t always choose to be on the right side! Whether it’s the fantastic Justice League, or the very real “Extreme Justice League” of adults (real-life men and women who dress as Superheroes and hand out food to the homeless and patrol the evening streets), Superheroes can bring out the best in all of us, and kids are not immune.

So what can we learn from Superheroes?

  • Be bold…Don’t be afraid to let your brand don its superhero cape!
  • But be vulnerable, too. A superhero is only as believable as the real guy that lives inside.
  • When you stumble, bounce back with dignity. Every Superhero has a bad day. Brands can too. When you’re down, don’t opt out. Muster your strength and stay clear of the Kryptonite.
  •  And finally, stick to your story. Even though special effects might make your brand look and feel bigger and better than ever, don’t forget that your timeless narrative is still the thing that makes a great brand stand out to its littlest fans.

Tags: kids, play, movie, Youth, Superman

Empowering Kids to Fix the Environment: The Lingering Lesson of The Lorax

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Mar 09, 2012 @ 01:06 PM

It’s not news to his many fans that Dr. Seuss did not shy away from exploring the issues on his mind, and exposing the problems of his time, through books intended to talk to both children and to the parents who read to them. In books, like The Better Butter Battle and The Lorax, he exposes the “childishness” in the way that adults (presumably those in power) behave, using his tales to tell lessons about nuclear proliferation and environmental destruction (just to name two). With a film version of The Lorax entering theaters last week, many critics questioned its “agenda.” Its modern day villain, O’Hare, is not only more sinister than the Once-ler because he chooses financial gain over environmental sustainability, but mostly because he does so knowingly. While the Once-ler’s tale is one of youthful exuberance and entrepreneurialism gone awry, O’Hare is an adult who should have known better.Lorax Movie Poster

But  Dr. Seuss’ brilliance – and the resonance of this sophisticated story with small children – doesn’t stem from his cynicism. It doesn’t even come from kids’ natural inclination towards nature, which Richard Louv called “biophilia” in his groundbreaking work, Last Child in the Woods. Rather, the power of his message comes through in the final pages of his book, and in the action-packed chase scene of the film, catalyzed by one seemingly mysterious word: “unless.” This word, the Once-ler comes to understand as a heuristic for a “perfectly clear” call to action… “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

It’s with this word, and the meaning behind it, that the Once-ler shifts the source of agency from the old to the young. The book and film’s namesake sage, the Lorax, is not only “oldish,” but he also “spoke in a voice that was sharpish and bossy.” The film turns Ted’s grandmother (voiced, appropriately by Betty White) into a heroine who transcends granny stereotypes, but also serves as Ted’s bridge to a nature-filled past. Even the Once-ler is an aged, decrepit version of his once youthful, vibrant self. But with a drop of a Truffula Tree seed (the last one!) and the lyrical passing of the baton, the Once-ler tells Ted, and Seuss assures the child reader, that even if they don’t remember what has been lost, they can change the world.

Tags: kids, movies, book, movie, Youth, free time, reading, culture

Pirating The Principles Of Successful Youth Brands

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Aug 17, 2011 @ 10:47 AM

Preschoolers, kids and tweens have been shivering their timbers, yo-ho-ho’ing and seeking out gold doubloons all spring and summer, making pirates the latest craze among youth.

Disney Jr.’s Jake and the Neverland Pirates has taken what could be a scary concept and made it preschool-friendly. It’s hard to find a preschooler right now who hasn’t taken to the adventures of “good pirates,” Jake, Izzy and little Cubby, making it the premier show on the newest network from the children’s entertainment powerhouse.

The fourth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean, On Stranger Tides, has given Disney another hit among tweens, teens and their parents. Take a-listers Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz and Geoffrey Rush, put them in a story as seductive to adults as it is fantastic to kids, and infuse it with wit and it’s no surprise why this franchise has put seeking treasure and sailing the high seas back on kids’ radar.

These properties and the general pirate craze has spawned or breathed new life into pirate experiences across the country. In Ocean City, NJ last week, kids Paul Frank Piratesattended Pirate School at the boardwalk, and throughout the spring, summer and into this fall, they’ll take a ride on an authentic pirate ship where they’ll get painted tattoos, drink “grog” (root beer to you landlubbers) and battle an enemy pirate with water cannons. In Buena Park, California, or Orlando, Florida, you can get the full pirate experience at the Pirate Dinner Adventure. And of course, Disney has capitalized on the pirate trend they re-inspired with The Pirates League. If getting styled like your favorite Princess isn’t your thing, get your face painted, grab a sword, and transform yourself into your inner swashbuckler. The pirate trend is good news for Paul Frank, who has played with this motif in his designs for years, and providing pirate paper plates was big business for Target, who sold out of this party pattern pretty quickly!

But what makes pirates work with youth, beyond an association with a few hit shows/movies? And how, as a marketer, can you tap into what these pirate properties know?

  1. Look to the classics...First, many great youth stories have been written. The Pirates of the Caribbean and Peter Pan serve as inspiration for the most modern of seafarers. These tales survive the test of time because they pit good versus evil, take youth on journeys to exciting places, and test the characters’ mettle (letting kids vicariously test their own). It doesn’t hurt that the nice guys usually walk away with the loot.
  2. 2.       …But create concepts that grow. These themes are far from grounded in the needs of one age group. Instead, Disney has translated a commonly admired concept to suit the very different tastes and aesthetics of its differing audiences. Jake and the Neverland Pirates make villains more silly than scary, and The Pirates of the Carribean’s Jack Sparrow has an authentic edge that makes him appeal to even the most jaded teen.
  3. Make it sing! Like any good evergreen theme, this one comes with a soundtrack. For little kids, music is essential to making a property sticky…For adults, a few tongue in cheek drinking songs provide the comic relief that affirms the movie’s fun-loving side.
  4. 4.       Give them treasure – but make them look for it! A pirate may be only as interesting as the treasure that he seeks – and the one that alludes him. Just as youth love to be recognized and rewarded, and the fantasy of riches that could transform their lot in life is a fantasy that begins with babes, the pirates they admire have the drive to go for something that wiser souls might label a longshot. Sound like the state of childhood? Kids and tweens alike identify with characters that throw a little caution to the wind, and they revel in telling the more sober cynics “I told you so” when that wild goose chase yields some gold.
  5. Finally, don’t take yourself too seriously. Pirates can be serious stuff – and perhaps a few parents, a few years ago, were conflicted about the whole idea of pirates, once real pirates started to dominate the headlines – and they weren’t good guys in disguise. But these pirates show that the pirate life is fun for a while, and that beyond their thin veneer, even the most evil villains might be more vulnerable than vicious.

So when you’re thinking about your brand this summer, think, what would Jack Sparrow do? Drink a glass of grog and contemplate what evergreens are ripe for a reinvention…

Tags: movie, Youth, fashion, kids tweens teens

What’s the Most Compelling Superhero Power? A Little Listening…

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Oct 11, 2010 @ 01:30 PM

For the past few weeks, director Davis Guggenheim’s (An Inconvenient Truth) latest opus, Waiting for Superman, has stirred up sentiment regarding the quality of U.S. education today. Widely available clips from the movie feature shockingly raw and honest (although admittedly, this candor is characteristic of Rhee) assertions from national education figures like Michelle Rhee, chancellor of schools for Washington D.C., that kids in her schools are getting a “crappy” education. Guggenheim drives his point home with rankings (meant to trip a very American competitive trigger) which places the U.S. behind too many other nations in regards to math and science.

But these numbers are nothing new. And Guggenheim’s praising of charter schools and vilification of teacher tenure have led educators, administrators, union leaders and educational activists to balk at what they call an “incomplete” picture of the story behind education.

So what has made this underground film strike a nerve? Admittedly, it’s a bit less underground than another film that focuses on education, Road to Nowhere, directed by Vicki Abeles (it’s hard to stay under the radar once you’ve won an Oscar).  But more than Guggenheim’s prior successes, what most people talk about when they talk up this film is the kids. In debates over educational opportunity and access, and in speeches about what should be done to prepare our nation’s children for economic participation or to set them up to master the adult curriculum, it’s hard to hear what real kids think. This simple act of assuming that kids have the agency to tell their own stories has made all the difference in this documentary.Waiting for Superman

As we watch the lottery for a place in charter schools, and we see the potential students of these schools clutching their number, we’re moved by the idea that this scenario resembles a pro-sports draft – but only the stakes are higher and the participants embody more anxiety than bravado. But the most captivating moments involve a child speaking to camera, telling us why they want to learn.

This strategy has legs outside the documentary space. If you’re the president, in need of a little boost, call a town meeting among youth. Let them talk…Because when they talk, our words and ideas look and sound a bit better.

As market researchers, most of us have already learned this lesson. To prove a point, let kids speak it. To convey an idea or insight, show that kids are on to it. But the latest in political statements capitalizing on conversations with kids remind us that an authentic kids’ voice should serve as the starting point, not a last resort, for all our great ideas.

Witnessed the power of real youth voices rallying your team, stakeholders or consumers? Let us know...We're listening!

Tags: Education, movie, Youth, TV, MTV, Superman

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

What Does Michael Cera Say About Youth Culture Right Now?

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Aug 11, 2010 @ 03:32 PM

In Michael Cera’s newest endeavor, Scott Pilgrim Versus the World, the 22 year old evolves from superbad to superhero.

According to the movie’s description on IMDB:

“Scott Pilgrim’s life is so awesome…Everything's fantastic until a seriously mind-blowing, dangerously fashionable, roller blading delivery girl named Ramona Flowers starts cruising through his dreams and sailing by him at parties. But the path to Ms. Flowers isn't covered in rose petals. Ramona's seven evil exes stand between Scott and true happiness. Can Scott beat the bad guys and get the girl without turning his precious little life upside-down?”

Maybe this isn’t the kind of superhero we’re used to seeing (although recent films like Kick-Ass and even the soon-to-be-released Exes seem to be turning the tables and taking a poke at this genre). But “unconventional” seems a good word to describe almost every role that this unlikely leading man has tackled. Remember when he secretly pined away for his cousin (Arrested Development)? Or when he played his own moustached alter ego in Youth in Revolt?  But is he really so unexpected or is he the most predictable teen idol to hit matinees in years?

More than just a talented comedian with impeccable timing, Cera might be the perfect representative of the new youth aesthetic.

First, he breaks the rules of “aspirational” that have defined teen icons for decades. Not that the occasional geek hasn’t caught our attention before…But today’s stars really look like underdogs – not like models without make-up. And while we love Twilight and don’t think Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner are going anywhere, more teen boys (and girls) are likely to recognize Cera as the kind of guy they are or are around. So perhaps his appeal is driven by mere relatability, but maybe he also breaks the rules that we think movie stars have to follow…And rule-breaking is, and will always be, something that teens admire.Michael Cera

Second, he represents the perfect mix between pop culture and counter culture. Cera’s indie sensibilities appeal to the more sophisticated and underground aesthetic of the latest cohort of teens, but he does it in a way that makes it mainstream. Rather than daring you to discover him, he’s out there – and in theaters on an almost constant basis. He gives teens a sense that they’re in on the joke – not that they have to try so hard to be included. He winks at his own age group, with humor and a sense of style that seems like one that only they would “get,” but he makes himself more available than exclusive. And that he’s rejecting the clichés of conventional teen culture without abandoning the fun.

Finally, his sense of humor fits perfectly with the wit of the Facebook generation. Cera chooses roles where the humor is far from frat-boyish…even when it’s veiled in seemingly simple bits about boyhood crushes and beer bongs. Instead, his character’s comedic power comes from dry turns of phrase, and self-aware, self-deprecating quips. In his Funny or Die videos, like his self-help parody, “Impossible is the Opposite of Possible,” he shows off the kind of smarts and subtlety that make him sing with the social network set.

What can marketers learn from Cera? In a nutshell…

  • When you’re thinking aspiration, look beyond the surface…Today’s teens care about substance more than we might think.
  • When you’re considering a counter culture approach, remember not to take yourself off teens’ radar – or too far from their comfort zone. Find that happy middle ground between irreverent and accessible.
  • And when you’re looking for superheroes, look for ones who work their mental muscles as much as their physical ones.

Tags: Michael Cera, kids, movie, Youth, Teens, TV

How Siblings Shape Youth…And Beyond

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Jul 22, 2010 @ 12:56 PM

This week, Selena Gomez (in the role of Beatrice “Beezus” Quimby) will help re-introduce Beverly Cleary’s classic sibling rivals, Beezus and Ramona , to a new generation of youth. For those of you (women, at least) who didn’t read this series in your younger years, the series’ concept should be pretty easy to grasp…Older sister, Beezus, vacillates between frustration and reluctant appreciation of her inventive and clever little sister, Ramona. The younger sister worships and tortures (often simultaneously) her predecessor, and insists on being engaged by her. Antics ensue.

Youth researchers have known for a long time that sibling status is a factor that counts when recruiting a “representative” sample of kids, tweens or teens. A combination of academic influence and real-life observation has told us that having an older sibling, a younger sibling, or none at all makes a difference in the way that kids and parents see the world around them – including the products they prefer, the shows they watch and the things that matter to them.Beezus and Ramona

And in the August issue of Psychology Today, Hara Estroff Marano explores the impact that siblings really have on one another.

Experts like British psychologist Judy Dunn and Birth-Order expert Frank Sulloway from the University of California at Berkeley note that during childhood, the relationship with one’s siblings often trumps the connection with friends and almost everyone else in kids’, tweens’ and teens’ lives. Dunn calls the relationship among siblings almost “uncomfortably close.” Dunn notes that babies as young as 12-months-old are sensitive to the treatment of others – siblings in particular. They are especially attuned to differences in treatment, and even if they perceive that an injustice works in their favor, they may feel anxious or insecure as a resul

But most parents insist that they treat and have raised all their children in the same way (in the U.S. at least – not so much in other cultures, where acknowledging the rights of the first born are not considered shameful or unseemly). So what’s going on?

According to these experts, parents might believe that their kids have all grown up in the same household, but, as Sulloway says, “every child grows up in a unique micro-environment.” Certainly, parents are different the second time they raise an infant, toddler, kid, tween or teen. They see the “rules” differently and they learn lessons that they wish they knew the first time around. But even if this was not the case, Child #2 or #3 has a few new factors to deal with: namely, their siblings. And being part of a group of kids, versus being “THE kid” can change them in the short-term, and some psychologists argue, in the long-term.

A few effects of the family dynamic:

  • Perhaps because they have to find a way to “stand out” in the eyes of their parents, siblings tend to occupy different niches in the family versus one another. Said another way: “I can’t be like my sibling because that role within my family is taken.”
  • Because of this, the youngest tends to have fewer options…So what do they tend to do? Break the rules – and reject the notion that mom and dad’s opinion matters most. (Interestingly, many of the most disruptive ideas across domains like art, science, etc. have come from the youngest sibling in a family – like “crazy Copernicus” or “daredevil Darwin.”)
  • The closer they are in age, the more they must, developmentally speaking, engage in “de-identification.” In other words, they have to take on really different roles in relationship to their siblings to get noticed.
  • Many psychologists believe that sibling relationships serve as models that we live with for the rest of our lives. Difficulty in relating to siblings can translate into challenges in relationships later in life. And as Marano notes, “feeling like you didn’t measure up at home can color how you perceive your own self-worth and see injustice in work, marriage and beyond.”
  • And not surprisingly, some of these “strategies” that are intended to help siblings stand out from the crowd can become permanently encoded in people’s personalities. But it’s important to note that many psychologists believe that these strategies are merely situational and that most people “move on.”

And what about the 18% of us who are the only children – a group that is likely to grow, with more and more parents’ choice to have children later in life, making one seem like enough. We know less about this group, beyond the many stereotypes associated with being an “only”…But we do know one famous “only” is about to explore sibling life through art: Selena Gomez. J

What does this mean for marketers, programmers and product developers? We may understand that brothers and sisters matter, but with the youth audience already so small and fragmented, could we ever possibly market by birth order? Could we really include sibling status in the target descriptions of our creative briefs or media manifestos? Probably not. But we should keep the powerful influence of siblings in mind when we think about showing “real life” in ads or shows, when we consider the samples we include in our custom research designs and even when we think about products/packaging designed for the “whole family.”

We’d love to hear from you about other ways that sibling love or rivalry impact how you think about your youth or family brand or business.

Tags: kids, movie, Youth, Teens, Ramona and Beezus, tweens