Summer Flick Break for Youth

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Tue, Jun 30, 2015 @ 01:00 PM

School is finally out for most kids across the U.S., many of whose vacations were delayed to make up for extra snow days racked up during another tough winter.  Families can now take a short breather for a few weeks before Back to School shopping starts in earnest—the National Retail Federation reported that last year, the highest proportion of shoppers (44.5%) started buying for kids ages 6-17 between 3 weeks to a month prior to the new school year.

Why not use that time to take in a summer blockbuster movie?  Our YouthBeat data shows that nearly half (48%) of 1st-4th grade kids go out to see a movie monthly.  The kids, then, will be ready and excited to go.  But which of this summer’s offerings will delight them the most?

 Let’s look at 3 options:  1) Jurassic World, 2) Inside Out, and 3) Minions. 

Jurassic WorldJurassic World is already the summer’s juggernaut movie.  Rated PG-13, it may be a bit scary for the youngest kids.  The theme of dinosaurs, however, is a perennial favorite even among preschoolers—10% of kids 2-5, including 14% of boys 2-5, want a dinosaur-themed birthday party.  Plus, kids are likely to have seen earlier films on DVD at home, familiarizing them with the content.  We predict that many families, especially those school-age kids, will make this their summer movie choice.  It will delight kids who love dinosaurs, who have lots of energy to burn while pretending to be them, and who get a lift in confidence from having seen the most talked-about movie of the summer.

Inside OutInside Out (rated PG) is a movie about feelings (gasp!).  Feelings don’t appear on the top 10 list of favorite birthday party themes anywhere.  The movie is surprisingly accurate about memory creation and storage, and for half of the narrative the main character is guided only by her fear, disgust, and anger.  What, then, is in it for kids?  A couple of important things—first, as of press time, it’s grossing the second-highest of any movie this summer.  That will make kids feel “in the know” for seeing it.  Plus, its honest look at the positive and negative forces driving all humans will give kids permission to live within their own skins, even if they don’t always feel like being on their best behavior.  That makes this a “feel-good” movie that, whether or not it is seen in the theater, is likely to go into many, many families’ regular home viewing rotations once it is released on DVD.


MinionsAnd then there are the
Minions (rated PG).  Not yet released, we predict this to be the most beloved 
movie of the summer for the preschool and grade school crowds for a few big reasons.  First, it is arguably a superhero movie—the main characters support super villains—and superheroes are the #4 favorite birthday party theme among preschoolers ages 2-5 (18%).  Second, the Minions are already familiar from the Despicable Me movies and attractions at Universal Studios. This makes them feel “popular” to kids, who will get a boost of self-esteem by affiliation when they go see it.  Third and most important, the main characters are innocent and well-meaning, but they make lots of mistakes and blunders on their journeys. Sounds a lot like…children.  Celebrating minions, then, is tantamount to making the children in the theaters the stars of the movie.  What could be more thrilling than that?

For your brand, consider how you can give kids a brush with popularity, a feeling of acceptance, and leave them happy.  See how you can incorporate some blockbuster magic into your brand experience.

Tags: kids, movies, Minions, Teens, preschoolers, Inside Out, tweens, Jurassic World

Frozen’s Princess Revolution

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Mar 31, 2014 @ 10:42 AM

Disney's Frozen was recently released on DVD/Blu-ray and quickly became one of the bestselling video releases in the last decade.  It's one of the biggest hits of 2013 (and an Oscar winner to boot), and one of the most popular kid and family movies in awhile.  Some have called it the beginning of a new Disney renaissance. 

From the very beginning, Frozen was a different kind of Disney fairy talFrozene.  The earliest trailer for the film showed only the goofy snowman, Olaf getting stuck on an icy pond.  The 30-second clip was funny and entertaining, but gave no hints that the film was actually about two sisters.  Later promotional material highlighted the four principle characters (two females and two males), but failed to betray the fact that the film was another princess play from the company that made this trope famous.

But getting kids and parents in the theater is only part of the story.  With Frozen, Disney created another mainstay movie that parents and kids love (and already rewatch over and over).  So, how is Frozen unique in the Disney Princess world and why are parents and kids—especially young girls – so drawn to it?

Princesses can be complex too.  Frozen throws out the typical good versus evil dynamic we've come to expect from Disney animation, especially the classic fairy tales.  Instead, Frozen gives us two princesses at odds with each other.  Neither one is entirely good nor evil.  Both sisters are capable of doing some not-so-nice things (Ana yelling at her sister and Elsa emotionally shutting Ana out), but they are also capable of love and compassion.  These Disney Princesses don't just need to be rescued; they can also do the rescuing.  Frozen lets Elsa and Anna be more than pretty images on screen.  They are complex characters who struggle with relationships and their own identities.  Parents looking to teach their young daughters how to be true to themselves have found some great messages in Frozen.

Defy Expectations.  Early on in Frozen, it looks as if Disney is delivering another "love at first sight" with a young princess and handsome prince.  But the movie quickly rejects the idea of love at first sight and becomes a story about the relationship between two sisters.  One of the reasons fairy tales can be so comforting is that their plots are predicable and formulaic.  By violating expectations of plot, Frozen demands a lot of thought out of its young audience.  Frozen proves that kids don’t always need the simple and familiar stories.  Fans of this Disney film are embracing something that defies everything they’ve come to expect (and frankly, love) about the genre. 

It's not just about beauty—it's also about the ideas.  Some critics have found Frozen's plot to be overly simplistic (or non-existent).  But Frozen is a movie with some pretty big ideas.  Do you hide who you are or "let it go?"  Love is complicated and understanding true love takes work.  You have to take the good with bad, and figure out how to balance to two.  Kids watching Frozen not only get to see some spectacular animation and sing along to catchy songs, they are also confronted with big ideas and questions.  One of the reasons the film has been so popular is that these questions and ideas speak to kids.  Kids have a lot of questions about how the world works, and Frozen respects the seriousness of these questions.  Kids don’t feel talked down to by the film; instead, they are empowered by it. This is the junior viewer’s thinking movie – and we think parents and kids are ready for it.

Girly-Girls can be strong too.  While Frozen is unique and subverts a lot of familiar tropes of the Disney princess, it doesn’t completely reject the genre.  Unlike Brave’s Merida, who is sometimes so opposite of a Disney Princess that she potentially isolates the primary audience of the Disney Princess franchise, Anna is allowed to be kind of a girly-girl.  Anna has moments where she needs help, but she isn't completely helpless.  Young girls who love the Disney Princesses have a lot to love about Frozen, but unlike some early film, they also have a lot to learn about what it means to be a strong girl.  And obviously, the strength Frozen gives them. 

Tags: movies, Youth, youth media

Making the The Ron Burgundy Approach Work for Youth

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Dec 17, 2013 @ 01:08 PM

ron burgundy 2Fictional newscaster Ron Burgundy (played by comedian Will Ferrell) is all over the place these days. In recent weeks, he’s been selling Dodge Durangos, guest hosting the news in North Dakota, and interviewing Peyton Manning on ESPN. All of these appearances, done with complete earnest; are of course, in the service of stirring up excitement over Paramount’s upcoming Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

We’ve been admiring his antics and just dying for a chance to connect this clearly adult marketing campaign to a kid, tween and teen topic. On last week's Saturday Night Live, we thought we had our entry point (read: excuse!) when Will Ferrell interrupted One Direction.  But Ferrell only appeared as himself, not as Ron Burgundy.  Well, this really caught our attention and made us ask, "So, can youth marketers learn from the 'Ron Burgundy Approach?'"  Answer: Absolutely!  Here are just a few of our favorite lessons:

Ron doesn’t create culture, he’s capitalizes on it. As many youth brands have learned (the hard way), it’s difficult for a brand to become the center of youth’s attention. Ron Burgundy’s (Verified!) Twitter account is full of references to his public appearances, but also a few thoughts on Miley Cyrus.  He’s interviewed Peyton Manning during football season, (albeit asking him questions about his take on tacklers from the 70s). Instead of attempting to draw attention to himself through creating big events, he’s showing up in the spots where we’re already looking. Brands sometimes worry about being overshadowed by a bigger brand or event, but Burgundy shows that there’s a balance of showing up and breaking in to these existing situations that gets consumers paying attention. 

Ron respects his fans.  Ron isn’t only appearing in spaces of satire – he’s also willing to make waves in waters where he wouldn’t typically swim. Last week Emerson College’s School of Communication was renamed The Ron Burgundy School of Communication (for 24 hours). Burgundy spoke to students about the changes he was going make (everyone gets a car upon graduation) and the difficulties of reporting the facts of a story (Don’t have facts? Make something up). Burgundy might be showing up in big venues, but he’s not afraid to throw some memorable grassroots moments in the mix. AND, he recognizes that this kind of marketing requires give and take – make some noise and be generous with acknowledging those who buy in. Youth love stars who tweet the people who spoof them. They appreciate the back and forth (that only social media allows) when a star starts a meme and lets the fans take over. Youth love the juxtaposition of big stars in small places (remember kids often feel that their world is invisible, so showing that a star remembers the little guys goes a long way with youth).

Ron makes moments, not media buys.  Ron Burgundy’s campaign looks different than it did in 2004 because the social landscape has changed. Ron still shows up on TV – he’s not relying only on being “discovered” serendipitously. But importantly, he’s making moments that matter. Regardless of how much Paramount spend on ads, the views that Burgundy has gotten on YouTube, on replays, on clips, and shows have mattered more. Many youth brands worry that they don’t have budgets big enough for TV. But keep in mind that a great creative idea and clever execution can multiply your marketing.

Ron invites, he doesn’t exclude. Especially in youth culture, it’s easy to lose your audience by assuming they have more insider knowledge than they do. This is particularly true when your market is made up of multiple age groups. But you don’t have to know anything about Olympic Curling – or Burgundy himself - to find Ron Burgundy’s coverage of the Canadian Olympic Curling Finals funny—it just is.  Fans of the first Anchorman film can laugh along with teens and tweens who may be unfamiliar with Ron Burgundy.

Regardless of how this approach increases what were already sure to be sound box office sales, Ron Burgundy continues to provide an example for subverting typical advertising approaches. In the immortal words of Burgundy, “You stay classy, YouthBeat reader.”

Tags: youth research, movies, TV, culture

Children and the Call of the Wild

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Jun 10, 2013 @ 01:53 PM

The start of summer seems to invoke images of childhood that may be more retro than real, but that certainly remind us of a childhood that’s free and sometimes even wild. Children have historically and socially been connected to nature. Children have often been positioned as “wild things,” in the romantic or problematic state before “civilization” sets in. Richard Louv (author of Last Child in the Woods) contends that children have a need for, and an inclination towards nature is so significant that children who don’t encounter a bit of the wild in their daily lives suffer from “Nature Deficit Disorder.” And Gail Melson explored children’s camaraderie with animals in Why the Wild Things Are. Google

So for today’s kids, tweens and teens, what’s wild about childhood?

Despite dwindling opportunities to trek through the forest or wade through streams, today’s families and youth often feel most at home in the outdoors. Many parents count camping, or even just running around outside as some of their favorite shared activities (even though they turn to tech when they need or just want it). Google’s “Camping” ad from last summer captured the way that today’s families integrate tech and nature (not choose between them). But aside from these structured and connected endeavors in the wild, youth have fewer and fewer chances to test themselves, discover the dangerous and cultivate a living thing the way perhaps we once did.

Still, evidence of the wild nature of children abounds! The last day of school might be followed up with a structured summer program experience. But for youth, the loosening of the reigns for a few months means possibility. Control and competence might be the ideals for today’s youth and parents, but parents still prioritize play places when buying or renting homes (from backyards to city playgrounds), and this generation of moms and dads often make vacations about the outdoors (even if it is a manicured beach!).

For marketers and experience providers, it’s important to both acknowledge children’s connection to the natural world, and to simultaneously refrain from judging the outdoors nearby. Their backyards can be bounties, and their neighborhoods can serve as important sites of identity exploration. Even adolescents somewhat risky reliance on the sequestered spaces of the woods in their town or the natural spaces in their cities can serve a purpose. Kids, tweens and teens require spaces that let them hide, sit in silence, and wander and find. Make it your summer resolution to find one way to help them.

In honor of what would have been Maurice Sendak’s 85th birthday, which Google has honored with its own Wild Things signature, re-read our own take on the author of “Where the Wild Things Are”.

Tags: movies, free time, kids tweens teens, TV

What Maurice Sendak Got Right About Kids

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, May 08, 2012 @ 04:13 PM

In the past few years, when Maurice Sendak was in his 80s, he talked more than we had ever heard him talk about his views on children and children’s literature. In his lovely conversation with Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air, in his energized and honest dialogue about his own childhood with director Spike Jonze and documentarian Lace Bangs (captured in the HBO documentary “Tell Them Anything You Want”), and even in his irreverent comedic conversation with Stephen Colbert, he shared not only some of his own inspiration, but also some surprising ideas about what it takes to connect with children.

Maurice SendakOn the surface, Maurice Sendak’s works are about the freedom and fun of childhood: being wild, sailing away, exploring the city in the middle of the night. And of course, engaging in wild rumpuses of all sorts! But while his sentiments and his scenes of fantastic flight might seem like simple and sweet children’s dreams, Sendak’s secret was not about sugar-coating childhood at all – far from it. Instead, his uncommon insight was that children’s lives are full of dark corners and eerie events. They see the world as slightly askew, but, they see it. And importantly, they experience the world as complicated. And even more importantly, they, themselves are complex. In his interview with Colbert, he quipped, “I don’t write for children. I write and they tell me it’s for children.” Sendak did write for children, however, He just wrote for a child that was knowing and fragile at the same time. Who was neither an adventurer nor fragile, but was, in fact both. He wrote stories in which the tables-turned, and perhaps more telling, lent his drawings to quirky stories like Janice Udry’s Let’s Be Enemies, which acknowledged that children can be impetuous and self-interested, but that doesn’t always mean they are cruel. They can be angry one moment, and appreciative in the next. They can confront issues like death, without being frightened. He didn’t find everything that children said or thought to be adorable, but he did think it was important. He thought of them as human, and deserving of stories that treated them as such. And perhaps this is why his works continue to resonate with us, and take on different meaning as we re-read them for our children, or re-discover them in different stages of our lives.

Perhaps Sendaks’ closing line from his interview with Terry Gross is an appropriately complex sentiment for this sad day. “There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready."

See our blog on Maurice Sendak (among other literary luminaries) from late last year.

Tags: reading. movies, movies, free time, kids tweens teens, culture, youth media

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

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