Back to School Means Back to Basics

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Aug 30, 2013 @ 08:29 AM

156200911We admit it: the Miley Cyrus story that has dominated headlines this week begs for commentary from us. But with so much being said about the performance of this young star and youth favorite at the 2013 VMA Awards this past weekend, we’re not sure there’s much for us to add to a story that has easily entered media-frenzy mode. Instead, during a week when many commentators have questioned the values of youth, the moral of Millennials and the salaciousness of youth celebrities, we thought we’d focus on a story that’s more authentically affecting kids, tweens and teens around the country: back to school.

If you have kids in your home, you know that back to school is often filled with simple reminders of the timeless joys and fears of childhood. A letter from a new teacher can cause a kindergartner delight usually reserved for a new toy – and it can also cause anxiety about a new challenge ahead. Parents get giddy about the return to a routine – but they also watch, heart breaking, as their little ones take another step away from babyhood. And kids and parents everywhere lose sleep wondering what this year’s workload, teacher, mix of classmates or tryouts for varying activities will mean for how they spend the year ahead.

And this year, across the country, parents at new schools will ask questions about security. They’ll find out about no-tolerance bullying policies. And they’ll wonder if decreasing school budgets will mean the sports they love, or the classes they thrive in, or even the recess time they desperately need will remain available.

Above all, kids, tweens, teens, moms and dads will take a fresh look at how they’re all doing. They’ll resolve to make mornings easier, and they might even institute a new system to organize their households and their lives. They’ll prep new snack options, hoping that this is the year that carrots don’t come home from lunch! And they’ll set goals for who and how they want to be.

During this time, brands can serve as problem-solvers, but they can also take the higher ground: they can inspire and invoke parents’ and their children’s desire to be their best. It can also be a fresh start for brands and content creators, pushing them to take a look at what grade they hope to receive at the end of the year – and how they’ll get there. For youth marketers, back-to-school doesn’t have to mean back to normal – but it should be a call to go back to basics.

Tags: preschool, parents, family, culture, school

3 Back-to-School Rules

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Aug 02, 2013 @ 10:21 AM

Back to school shopping is well underway, although in some parts of the country, the first day of school is over a month away. According to the 2013 National Retail Federation Back-to-School survey,  24% of families with kids in K through 12th grades reported that they would begin shopping 2 months prior to school’s start (up slightly from 22% last year). The New York Times noted that some marketers began to plant the seeds for back-to-school shopping as early as May, citing Office Depot’s One Direction cause marketing campaign as an example. But with most marketers bracing for a back-to-school shopping period in which spending will decrease from last year’s record highs, getting back-to-school marketing, advertising, product selection and pricing will be more important than ever. How can retailers and marketers compete for these fewer dollars and deliver the needs of more discriminating back-to-school shoppers in 2013? We’ve got three rules for back-to-school that smart marketers will follow:

  1. kmartFocus on value, not price. Price might be prominent on the minds of moms, but she’s not willing to compromise – even when she has a coupon. We think Target gets it right this back-to-school season with their “Kids Got Style” campaign. Moms know that Target offers low prices (“Expect More, Pay Less.”). But compared to Kohl’s back-to-school campaign, which focuses on mom saving (even showing a close-up of the receipt that suggests she saved over $80), Target keeps the focus on delivering kid confidence.  Stylish products take center-stage, but the hero isn’t mom – it’s their confident kids. Target makes mom’s mission more admirable – it’s about getting the best (in a fiscally responsible way), not about pinching a few pennies.  
  2. Keep it light. While Target might have the market cornered on showing kids with style, Kmart has taken a refreshing approach – showing the funnier side of back-to-school. In a bully-sensitive schoolyard, an ad that shows kids “talking trash” might be a risky move. But this playful piece from the discount retailer turns the tables on typical kid slams. The kid stars of these spots, who reflect a more diverse kid cohort and who look decidedly real, call each other out with clever comebacks like “yo mama must have cavities because that hoodie (that she bought at Kmart) is sweeeeet!” Or (our personal favorite), “Your mama’s like a tasty cheese plate because she saved so much cheddar on those Kmart jeans.” Just try to stay stressed out about long back-to-school shopping lists after watching this spot.
  3. Give her a guide. Much has been made of the lengths that moms will go to comparing prices and online pre-shopping before heading to the store for back-to-school stuff. But the smartest marketers don’t depend on mom doing all her homework. In fact, one trend we think that’s worth following? Help mom make the grade. Pottery Barn Kids caters to a mom who is willing to pay a premium for a custom carrying case, and the retailed knows that these moms really want to get their kids’ gear right. On their website, they let moms shop by child grade – particularly useful for finding the right size backpack for that not-so-preschool, but not-so-big-kid backpack. Moms might be willing to look around for the perfect products for her kids, but she also values brands that give her the reassurance that she’s getting size and style right the first time. At back-to-school, showing you understand what kids need matters as much as offering a varied selection.

Tags: youth research, preschool, advertisment, shopping, school

Kids and Costumes: A Few Predictions

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Oct 16, 2012 @ 02:25 PM

Gangnam Style’s Psy? Pregnant Snooki? Clint Eastwood’s Chair? Honey Boo Boo? Smirking Fab Five member?

These are likely to be some of the top costumes at Halloween parties this year – but probably not the parties that preschoolers or little kids will be attending. It’s a safe bet that a few preschool princesses will come to your door (perhaps of the Tangled or Brave variety this season) and that firefighters, superheroes and pirates will parade through your neighborhood. But beyond these timeless tropes, what’s new in the Halloween haute couture this year?Halloween Costume

  • Whether they’re working moms or just practical parents, most Halloween costumes we'll see on the streets will likely come from a store of some sort…At the higher price point, Pottery Barn Kids offers an artisan-looking collection of costumes from Where the Wild Things Are that help preschool parents provide a chance to play favorite-character, while feeling like they’re promoting the literary prowess. This brand also offers quirky costumes that seem to seek handmade simulation over sleek production – see their “paper doll” costume or their cardboard “house.” And while animals are always a Halloween favorite, this year’s batch, at PB Kids and Target, include creatures who haven’t been under-celebrated in the past…Hedgehogs and donkeys might lose out to lions and tigers, but their mere inclusion in the these stores’ selections suggest that parents are looking for something a bit more offbeat in their store-bought costumes. 
  • Speaking of quirky, Chasing Fireflies offers a watermelon fairy costume, alongside a goth “Tragedy Ann.” This brand’s offerings are certainly differentiated versus the competition (Vampire of Versailles costume for your little guy?), but they may have missed the mark. This parent targeted catalog seems to be skipping sentimentality in their offerings, which might be off-putting to parents who strive to steer their little kids and even bigger kids towards good, clean fun.
  • In contrast, superheroes (especially the  Avengers, but also Spiderman) fit the bill for boys this year (as well as last year). Variations on this theme abound, but we have no doubt that many youth will slip into some version of the quintessential cape and mask on Hallow’s Eve. If birthday party themes are any indication of the kinds of properties that preschoolers love (and we think they are) than our YouthBeat Jr. data might hold some clues to Halloween’s top costumes: Disney Classics (Mickey and Minnie), Princesses, and LEGOs.
  • For parents who prefer the commercial-free look, but don’t have the skills or the time to do it themselves, Etsy helps them accomplish their goals. Parents can get the authentic handmade look without putting in the labor – and this marketplace is full of stay-at-home-moms willing to monetize their costume-making skills for those who can’t or who choose not to do it themselves.
  • And what about tweens and teens? Look for Katniss braids on girls, along with a few Olympians. For the boys, athletes are always a mainstay among guys who know that dressing up like your favorite player protects you from making the wrong choice. Will we see any Wanted or One Direction homages? Tough to say – we don’t expect too many boys to take on these personas, but perhaps we’ll see a few female “number one fans” knocking at our doors.

What’s your best bet on the costumes that will connect with youth (and their parents) this year?

Tags: preschool, play, Youth, fashion, culture, youth media, Halloween

The Secrets to eeBoo’s Streak

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Oct 08, 2012 @ 03:21 PM

Ever notice those “award winner” stickers on the products you’ve purchased for your kids, nieces or nephews, friends or friends’ kids? We noticed a trend recently – many of the games we’ve seen sporting these stickers (10 from Oppenheim and one from Parents’ Choice) came from the same name: eeBoo. The toys, growth charts, games and gifts from this New York-based brand seem to speak to both parents and kid, let alone the committees who identify the “best of” for the fun-seeking set. What is it that makes these pretty products play so well with today’s preschoolers and early elementary-schoolers?eeBoo

  1. Fine design. The artistry behind eeBoo images isn’t just for kids. It’s meant for the modern mom and dad who is looking to expose their child to beauty with their bobbles. eeBoo’s characters and images are authentic and original, while tapping into timeless fantasies. They look great, and they look like they were worth the money (which is more than parents would typically pay for games of the same sort).
  2. Vivid look. At the same time that their appearance attracts parents, the look of these games and toys takes in kids. The colors are bright and vibrant, signaling to kids that these educational products are meant for fun.
  3. Classic play. eeBoo does offer some innovative games – like their Fairy Tale game which encourages children to collect story elements and tell there own tale to complete the game. But most are slight variations on classic themes…Bingo in different languages…Matching games featuring original artwork. eeBoo takes time-tested play patterns and puts them in new packaging.
  4. Incomplete play. This might sound like something to be avoided, but eeBoo embraces the idea that great play for kids doesn’t do all the work for them. They need to come to eeBoo products with some ideas of their own. The education might be invisible to the playing child, but the engagement that this approach creates will be apparent to moms and dads.
  5. “Moral” materials. According to the company website, eeBoo products are “made simply of paper, cardboard, (often recycled) and non-toxic inks…Our primary sources have been recognized for their ‘green’manufacturing processes and all have been fully certified to ICTI standards. ICTI certifies that these businesses adhere to the highest health and safety requirements.” Materials that are safe and environmentally friendly? Two things that make mom and dad smile.
  6. Made by mom. While many consumers who pick up these products won’t take the time to research the back-story of this brand, some may. And those who do will find that eeBoo is made by mom, Mia Galison. (I found this out when shopping at a NYC store. The proprietor made sure I knew that these nifty products had a nice brand narrative to match!) When it comes to kids’ products, the maker matters. It might be why toy companies are often the object of exposes when their workers don’t fit the romantic image we might have of toy maker or play provider.

For eeBoo, awards might make them stand out on the shelf, but it’s the look, feel and focus on quality that make moms, dads and kids fall in love.

Tags: Education, youth research, preschool, Gaming, play, free time, youth media

Why Back to School Should Start with an Understanding of “School”

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Aug 31, 2012 @ 09:09 AM

Marketers tend to seek insights about adolescents outside the classroom – in their culture, in their extracurriculars, etc. But sometimes it’s easy to forget just how much time youth spend in schools during the day. As it should be (at least we think), these spaces are considered sacred and generally off-limits to non-academic researchers. However, understanding their attitudes towards school can shed light on the state of mind and on the characteristics of this cohort. What engages them intellectually? What does it feel like to walk through the hallways of their own schools? And, how do they view the adults they interact with almost everyday of their lives?

for web 57447358In a July 2012 study of 981 high school students (an equal mix of freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors), C+R Research found that some things never change, but of course, this creative and connected generation may be perceiving and experiencing school life differently than we might think.

We asked our survey respondents to choose the three words that best describe their school. Overwhelmingly, teens described their schools as “competitive” and “challenging,” but also “friendly” and “interesting.” Over 50% of freshmen say that science or math is their favorite subject – but only 32% of seniors share this sentiment. And, when it comes to food in the cafeteria? Boys and girls both agree that the options better suit the boys’ tastes than the girls’.

Recently we’ve taken to watching the documentary series, “Kindergarten” on HBO Family. Like the series, “High School,” before it, this tot doc shows how 5- and 6- year-olds handle the big transition from home to school – following a real-life kindergarten classroom from day one to the “moving on” ceremony. A view of this show reminds us what really gets little guys going and how a thoughtful teacher can engage and invite even the most timid early learners. (My own four-year-old is riveted!)

Knowing what their everyday lives are really like further contextualizes their out of school time (are we surprised that some kids want to lounge on the couch, after seeing the rigorous schedule they keep at many schools?). Knowing what topics they care about in school can inspire innovation even more than an investigation of what they already do after school. And knowing about their school day makes the causes they care about outside of school make more sense. So next time you want to understand eating, viewing or participating in sports, start with what’s going on in the place where youth spend most of their hours. You may find that what happens in school is closer to their hearts than you might have thought.

Tags: preschool, bullying, Sports, Teens, free time, reading, school

YouthBeat Expands Expertise Adding Preschool Syndicated Study

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jun 20, 2012 @ 03:18 PM

YouthBeat is excited to announce the launch of YouthBeat Jr.! YouthBeat Jr. extends the scope of YouthBeat, our syndicated study and consulting service that examines the lives of youth ages 6-18 and their parents to the 2-5 set. YouthBeat Jr. is grounded in a robust survey designed specificaPreschool Researchlly to unlock the authentic attitudes and real experiences of preschooler parents.

We ask about their parenting style and decision-making approaches. We find out how their children spend their time, what they love and what mom and dad want for them. We cover topics ranging from breakfast foods to book reading to birthday parties. And we ensure that our interpretation includes insight by bringing our applied and academic expertise to everything we do.

See the press release here.

To order your subscription to YouthBeat Jr. or to learn more, please contact Amy Henry by email at or call 312.828.9200.

Tags: youth research, preschool, youthbeat jr., news, market research

5 Reasons to Re-think Preschoolers

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jun 08, 2012 @ 11:38 AM

When it comes to youth, it’s safe to assume that while much has changed, much has also stayed the same. And that’s certainly the case for today’s preschoolers. But among the many things that have remained the same about this stage of life, it’s hard to deny that today’s preschoolers are different than any group that came before. While it’s important to understand what’s timeless about these tots, it’s equally important to refresh our perspective on what life means for these little ones right now.Preschool

As we prepare to launch YouthBeat Jr., a comprehensive syndicated study of children ages 2-5, we thought we would share some insights from our webinar, Putting the Preschool Market in Perspective, which we broadcast earlier this year. Here are five reasons we think it’s worth re-thinking our assumptions and perceptions about preschoolers right now:

  1. Preschoolers are taken more seriously than ever. For a long time, educators have considered the preschool years a critical period for learning. The parents of 2-5 year olds have also bought- in. They have high expectations for themselves, their children, and your brand/product/program.
  2. Preschoolers are no longer preparing for the social world – they live in it. According to a 2010 report from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center of Education Statistics, 69% of 4 year olds and 68% of 5 year olds were in center-based school/daycare programs. Add to that the many young children who regularly participate in scheduled and highly managed play dates and play groups, and it’s clear that this group is social, and is looking for social scaffolding earlier than ever before.
  3. Preschoolers are more tech-savvy than ever. We can thank touchscreen technology for turning a trend that was already well-entrenched past the tipping point. Many preschool parents report that they worry that their child will be behind academically and socially if they’re not already engaged in online game-play. And even parents who bemoan their child’s excessive screen time tend to tell researchers that they’re just a bit proud at how nimbly their precocious preschooler navigates the iPhone.
  4. Preschoolers are demographically different than ever before. According to a 2011 U.S. Census report, racial and ethnic minorities make up more than half the children born in the U.S. However, the demographic distinctiveness of this cohort of preschoolers doesn’t stop with diversity. This is also a generation of preschoolers whose parents are older than in the past, who are more likely to grow up with fewer siblings, and who have more moms who work and more dads that stay at home.
  5. Preschoolers are more catered to than ever. Preschoolers and their parents are hardly happy to be treated like big babies or “kids” to come. They don’t want products that are just right-sized, but that truly fit their unique needs. This generation no longer needs to settle for kids radio – they can tune into bands whose sole purpose is to serenade them.

To download a the extended white paper version of this blog, click here. And to find out more about YouthBeat Jr., contact Amy Henry at or 312/828.9200.

Tags: Education, youth research, preschool, qualitative research, quantitative research