A Second Generation of Youth Empowerment

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Thu, Apr 02, 2015 @ 03:10 PM

Kids' Choice Awards logoYour weekend TV viewing quiz question:

Q: Which award winner or winners on Saturday evening’s broadcast of the Kids’ Choice Awards on Nickelodeon said that they had “grown up” watching the awards?

A) Nick Jonas
B) Emma Stone
C) Angelina Jolie
D) Both A) and B)
E) None of the above

Kudos to you if you watched, and correctly guessed answer D

The winners have spoken, and the culture of kid empowerment has reached a second generation. The Kids Choice Awards were created in the mid-1980s, when Jonas and Stone were in the voter target.  Now they’re both in their early to mid-20s, of an age to have children themselves.

Parents of kids, tweens, and even teens in our latest YouthBeat data tell us that they’re a different breed now.  Ironically, one might argue, they report that they have more in common with their children than did parents of previous generations.  Case in point: SpongeBob SquarePants took home his ninth Kids’ Choice trophy this weekend as Favorite Cartoon.  He’s still got something for everyone, whether the viewer is the parent who knew him back when, or the young child who has just discovered him.

Elsewhere in the audience Saturday night, the star-studded crowd rivaled the Golden Globes in its variety of talent across platforms.  Present was everyone from Disney Channel actress Debby Ryan, to Little League World Series celebrity athlete Mo’ne Davis, to movie star Angelina Jolie, to recording artists Jennifer Lopez and Meghan Trainor. 

Modern Family at Kids' Choice AwardsOne winner stood out as appealing to kids, though targeted above kids’ maturity level.  Modern Family took home the Kids Choice Award on Saturday night for Favorite Family TV Show.  It is not surprising that a program that won the last five Emmy awards for Outstanding Comedy Series would attract a broad audience, especially when 86% of parents report co-viewing television programs with their child.*  Moreover, while Modern Family’s absurd situations are clearly fictional, it reflects authentic emotions and funnybone-ticklers that children of all ages appreciate. 

Now for extra credit, an essay question:

Q:  What can your brand do to recognize the empowered nature of this generation of youth in a way that is inclusive of their parents?

 *Top 2 box; YouthBeat data for total year 2014

Tags: kids, Nickelodeon, Youth, Teens, TV, tweens

What Would Justin Do?

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Apr 05, 2011 @ 10:19 AM

Saturday’s Kids Choice Awards included a few surprises…Josh Duhamel attended dressed as Justin Bieber...Selena Gomez beat out Miley Cyrus for favorite TV actress (not really a surprise), but Miley Cyrus did snag the award for favorite movie actress! And whether they were really surprised or not, many presenters and winners got slimed.

But as we mentioned in our last blog, Justin Timberlake’s Kid's Choice Awardstake-home of the Big Help Award was not a surprise. Yet his speech was one of our favorite moments of the evening.

Perhaps it’s predictable that the most decorated celeb in Kids Choice Award history would strike just the right tone with this audience…He’s been around the block a few times, but who knew that this former boy-bander and Brittany beau might also be that summer camp counselor you wish you had. Timberlake may have been recognized for his work with Shriner’s Hospital and authentically “green” golf course, his speech also showed that he understands how to talk to today’s youth in a way that makes them stand up and listen. What can we learn from him?

  1. First, get a little silly…Timberlake peppered his more profound statements about giving back and going green with an on-going burp joke. He promised a great big burp to celebrate the occasion, and this oldie but goodie made him both vulnerable and powerful at the same time. Burping might be frowned upon at the average award show, but Justin realized that his audience needed to shake out the sillies before they could focus on the serious stuff (a lesson that many preschool teachers heed).
  2. Second, don’t underestimate kids. While Timberlake’s aforementioned follies signaled to attendees that he did not take himself too seriously, his next words showed them that he did take them seriously. We could debate whether or not bringing up world catastrophes is appropriate content for a mixed age audience who spends their days alternatively pondering wizards, vampires and sponges who live in a pineapple under the sea, but Timberlake went for it. He rhetorically asked them if they knew about things going on in the world, “like in Japan,” then told them “that’s exactly the kind of thing you can help with.” He reminds us that when adults assume that kids can make a difference, kids assume they’re right.
  3. Finally, Timberlake recognized what they already do…Instead of merely encouraging them to go out and make a difference, he first took a moment to recognize what they’ve already done. He asked them to stand up if they’ve ever helped anyone…A parent, a friend, an organization in their community. He made “help” inclusive, not elite or elusive, and he first pointed out how they’ve already gotten some of the good stuff done. Of course, this also served to get the whole crowd on their feet (he is an entertainer, you know).

So when you’re trying to motivate, inspire or just inform kids, look at the way the people they admire treat them. You’re likely to find some of the same patterns. They might be speaking a language that’s more relevant to your own than you think.

Tags: Nickelodeon, kids tweens teens, music

Catching Up With the Kids Choice Awards

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Mar 31, 2011 @ 10:00 AM

2011 Kids Choice Awards

For 2010, kids and tweens in our YouthBeat survey put Disney at the top of their list of both “most watched” and “favorite” TV channels. But ask any 6-12 year old you know and you’ll find that Nickelodeon continues to wield significant influence on the tastes and preferences of today’s youth. In both 2009 and 2010, iCarly (whose Miranda Cosgrove was featured in a piece on young stars in last weekend’s New York Times Magazine) supplanted Hannah Montana as the show that kids and tweens want to see. And SpongeBob is their go-to-guy when it comes to cartoons that tickle their funny bones.

This weekend, for the 24th time, Nickelodeon will air the Kids Choice Awards. The Grammys, Oscars and Emmys might bring artists more cache, but no other awards show puts you on the radar of the future generation of listeners and viewers than this one. Nickelodeon puts the power in its audience’s hands, quite literally, by allowing youth to vote on the show’s web and mobile sites.

But while awards shows tend to be a litmus test of the “new,” this year’s list of nominees and presenters will probably appeal to parents as much as kids, and will likely look just as familiar to older siblings as they do to kids and tweens themselves. Jack Black will host and KCA veterans Justin Timberlake and Brittany Spears will both appear (remember her 1999 performance of Hit Me Baby One More Time?).  Timberlake might be playing the elder statesman, receiving an award for his commitment to Green issues and other charity work, but the ghosts of boy bands past will be adequately represented by Nick’s own Big Time Rush. And Will Smith (1997 Kids Choice Hall of Fame Award Winner and most KCA decorated celeb of all time) might not be nominated, but son Jaden (Karate Kid) is and his hair flipping daughter, Willow, will perform.

But this year’s ceremony is not just about passing the kid culture baton from one generation to the next. It’s also about kids and tweens asserting their own taste and choosing their own heroes. For every old school (and let’s face it, older) potential winner (Jay-Z, Donkey Kong and America’s Funniest Home Videos to name a few) there are those who belong to this group of youth alone. We don’t know if Justin Bieber or Joe Jonas will be on the scene 10 or even 5 years from now…Before you decide, take a lesson from Nickelodeon: count on kids to pick the winners.

Tags: kids, Nickelodeon, Youth, music, TV

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 to Make of Miley: The Tween Stars Transition and What it Really Tells Us

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jul 14, 2010 @ 10:46 AM

For the past few months, we’ve been watching with, well, everyone, to see what Miley Cyrus will do next. While most have seen her recent performances at Canada’s MuchMusic Awards and the MTV Music Awards as shedwater moments in the young entertainer’s life, we’ve been watching her shed her softer side for a while. (Remember that infamous pole dance at the Teen Choice Awards?)

In the beginning of 2009, we began to hear kids tell us that Miley’s days were numbered. But at the same time – and throughout 2009 – Miley remained kids’ and tweens’ choice for “favorite” celebrity. But were they reacting to the time-old tale of tween icon turned teen iconoclast?  Probably not. More than likely, Hannah Montana was just less new than it once was. And with Nick’s iCarly showing a more relatable slice of life (and perhaps even more aspirational, with many tweens fantasizing about hosting their own webcast over starring on stage), Hannah seemed to be losing steam.

But then Miley started pushing boundaries. And things started to get interesting.

As Laura Holson wrote in a NYTimes article last Sunday, Fans of Miley Question Her New Path, kids and tweens have been left in the dust while Miley leaves them behind. For kids and tweens, who often feel a deep connection to the characters they watch, Miley growing up feels a little scary, and a bit like a snub. While we might think of todays’ kids and tweens as edgier, more sophisticated and more experimental than in the past, at the heart of it, they’re terrified of taking that next step into the teen years. They may appear to be dressing seductively, but the kind of overt sexuality that Cyrus has put on display is more intimidating than inspiring.

So what’s a tween to do? Well, we predict they’ll do something surprising – tune in to the final season of Hannah Montana, if only to reminisce about the way things “used to be.” But will they stick with her and look up to her when she’s off air? Probably not. For every Miley (Britney, Christina) who grows up, there’s a benign starlet waiting in the wings (Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Selena Gomez and everyone from Glee!). And for teens, Miley (who just nabbed a Glee-tying total of 19 nominations at the Teen Choice Awards for TV, music and fashion) might be hitting their radar for the first time since they left their own tween years behind.Miley Cyrus

If the lesson for kids and tweens feels somewhat moralistic, what’s the message to brands? First, people might be brands, but when they’re still developing, those brands will – will have to – evolve. As much as marketers and fans might like Miley to stay the way she is, wouldn’t we be a bit worried about her if she did? Second, if you’re a brand, kids and tweens own you – not the other way around. Before your brand changes, check in with your most critical customers: tweens. And finally, recognize that what your youngest consumers want is not to grow up faster or “get older younger,” like so many marketers have mantra’d in the past. For many kids and tweens, the “right now” is comfortable, cozy and confidence-building. And speaking to where they are sometimes requires as much following as it does leading.

So in the next few months, as the frenzy over Miley’s every milestone reaches its peak, we’ll be watching. But instead of seeing her as a brand taking a risk, we’ll be watching as a teen takes on the challenge of finding out who she is and who she wants to be. That seems to us like a story in the making.   

Tags: kids, Nickelodeon, movie, music, TV, Miley Cyrus

Youth Culture Rewind: Or, What’s Behind a Comeback

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jul 07, 2010 @ 10:16 AM

Karate Kid in theaters, Indiana Jones on your Legos and Star Wars top YouthBeat’s list of favorite all-time films among kids.

Don’t pinch yourself – it’s not 1984.

Actually, in 1984, youth marketing wasn’t really a profession, and few creatives could afford to focus on kid stuff. (Nickeloden did not take off as a network until the 1984 relaunch, with the first use of the orange “splat” that we know today.) With so much more focus on creating content that speaks to the hearts and minds of today’s youth, why aren’t we creating new properties that overtake the old ones?

Today’s youth experts and content creators might know more than we think…Here are just a few reasons why, when it comes to kids, oldies are still goodies and what’s old can easily become new again.Indiana Jones

First, it’s not nostalgia that drives kids’ choices – its naivete. Perhaps that sounds harsh…It’s more like innocence. While the stories that shaped our way of seeing this world and worlds beyond are indelibly imprinted in our collective conscious, kids don’t know that (spoiler alert!) Darth Vader is Luke’s father. They don’t know that Harrison Ford was the hero in Indiana Jones, long before he played Shia LeBoeuf’s father. And they are only vaguely aware that their older brothers and sisters grew up on SpongeBob – and watched many of the same episodes that they watch today. Every four or five years, we graduate a group of kids, tweens and teens and replace them with a fresh set of eyes and ears – ones that see the stuff created for their predecessors as new to them.

So if these shows aren’t retro or these reruns familiar fun, then what makes them stand out among the new? The concepts are solid: good versus evil…The underdog ending up on top…While many of these properties were created to appeal to an all-family – or even adult – audience, they leverage themes that connect with kids. The Hero’s Journey might be a formula for success for many narratives, but these coming of age stories are even more salient to kids, tweens and teens who are embarking on new adventures everyday.

But what has made these properties stand the test of time is not just a timeless concept, but makeovers that made sense. Star Wars’ update came in the form of a cartoon – Clone Wars on Cartoon Network – that made the characters even more ageless and gave kids a chance to absorb the narrative in bite-sized pieces. Indiana Jones breathed new life into the franchise with a younger star – all while paying homage to the baton-passer, Harrison Ford. And Karate Kid? The story moves from LA to a whole new continent, and the protagonist is no longer a twenty-something acting like a teen, but the story – a tale of found strength and brains over braun – continues to ring true.

And what they haven’t done is also worth noting. We still see technology, but only where it belongs. We might see updated cuts in clothing, but we don’t see anachronisms. While bringing these stories to a new generation, their creators have preserved their authenticity. And that’s something that youth recognize – even in something they’ve never seen before.

Tags: Nickelodeon, Indiana Jones, movie, Karate Kid, TV, tweens