The Anatomy of a Youth Trend

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Sep 06, 2011 @ 01:59 PM

It’s officially September and that means youth all across the country are either settling into a school year or are just about to head to class. The back-to-school moment often marks the beginning of trend-spotting season – for youth and marketers.

 At YouthBeat, with a grounding in a syndicated study among kids, tweens, teens and parents, we’re often asked about the latest youth and family trends. But the work of trend spotting is complicated when it comes to youth, so we thought we would both explore some of the central questions surrounding this issue, and, of course, offer some answers.

What’s the timeframe for a trend? Futurists, cool hunters, business strategists and scholars often debate this issue…Many contend that a trend represents a happening that occurs over a long stretch of time – 10 years. Some see trends as obsolete after just a few months (or weeks!). For youth, the matter is more complex because trends are often cyclical. We recently reported on a resurgence of interest in pirates among youth of all ages…Is this a “trend,” or is it an evergreen with a contemporary makeover? We’ve often heard that by the time kids are talking about a trend, it’s on its way out. But if this is true, than who tells us about youth trends? Playing on our YouthBeat thematic, we have coined our own version of trends as “vibes.” We focus on the big shifts in culture, the underlying drivers of behavior across many aspects of youth’s lives and the meaning behind what they buy in a variety of categories. But through this lens, some of the most interesting and inspiring “fads” (another term that adds to the semantics surrounding trends) get lost in the shuffle. Bieber Fever isn’t a “vibe,” but it’s telling…the question is “what is it saying?”Youth Trends

Who determines youth trends? This question might apply to adults as well…Can we really look at early adopters to help us predict the future habits of the majority? Are the phenomenon that have taken hold in other cultures really good gauges for the next big thing in the States? For youth trends, the question of authority is even more issue-laden. Do we rely on informed adults to tell us about the trends? Afterall, much of the “stuff” of youth trends, including products, music, fashion, etc. are at least financed if not created by adults. Youth may determine which adult ideas to seize, but they don’t always think about what’s next. In our own YouthBeat Time Capsule qualitative exercise (an ongoing initiative that results in Time Capsule TV videos available to YouthBeat subscribers), we often see that youth identify familiar properties like Harry Potter or ubiquitous brands like Apple as “new.” If we rely on them to tell us what’s next, we’re not likely to get very far. At the same time, adults tends to focus more on what might be right for the market, or where an undiscovered technology could take a category. We think, to truly predict a trend, you have to marry the sensibilities of youth with stimulus from forward-looking adults. 

And what evidence do we need to name a trend? The answer to this certainly varies depending on your need for trends, but also on how you use them. Do trends require quantitative support or can something that feels “sticky” constitute a trend-in-the-making? Can ten teens in New York City really have their thumb on the pulse of the zeitgeist enough to predict what will catch on in Kansas? And if we ask parents or kids what movements or shifts they’re experiencing, will we really get answers that underline trends, or will we just get a catalog of current behaviors and truths? Furthermore, can a trend be proven by citing an article in the Journal or the New York Times, by referencing buzz on a blog or on Facebook, or by noting a playground practice seen or heard in your local community?

With all of these questions, it may seem that identifying youth trends isn’t worth the trouble. But we know that understanding what’s next matters to anyone who is trying to keep up with the youngest audiences and users of programs and products. So here are a few simple rules we use – and will use in a series of upcoming blogs that will attempt to cut through the fog around fads!

  1. It’s always about the “why.” Trends can be a trap for many marketers and makers of experiences who focus more on the content than on the drivers of content appeal. The happening or the product or the song that signals a trend is over once it happens, but the forces that made it rise to the top of youth’s mind or to its own category are probably not. This means that finding the newest thing isn’t nearly as relevant as knowing the new reasons why something has come back.
  2. Getting “big” usually means getting more than one thing right. It’s easy to look at a trend or a craze and point to one factor that made it pop. But most tap into numerous themes – timeless and timely – all at one time. Kids might be younger, but their relationship to the culture they care about is not. Just because Silly Bandz worked for kids doesn’t mean that a knock-off will work just as well. Twilight might be popular, but vampires aren’t a surefire formula to attract tween girls. Analyzing trends and fads requires a deep look at all of the aspects of a thing, and importantly, how they all fit together.
  3. Finally, finding trends requires flexibility. If there was a formulaic approach to identifying the new dish, someone would have revealed it by now. It’s easy to claim that there’s a transparent approach to finding trends, or that it’s just a matter of hard work. But the truth is that trends can reveal themselves in multiple ways…It may be a matter of noticing that many different kinds of people are talking about the same thing…That a number of popular products or items pull on a common thread…That something from somewhere else (another market, a niche group) looks to be the missing puzzle piece that the mainstream is seeking… In any case, trendspotting is more art than science and that means committing to openness more than a pre-determined process.

Stay tuned for our next post on one “trend” we’ve caught cropping up in a few places, “Posh Play Spaces.”

Tags: research, kids, Twilight, Youth, Teens, culture, research methods, tweens, Silly Bandz

Letting Kids and Tweens Get Silly

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jun 11, 2010 @ 10:02 AM

Silly Bandz are hardly news at this point, but it seems that they continue to engage kids and captivate bloggers! We spoke about Silly Bandz at Silly Bandzthe Youth and Family Mega Event in May, and at the risk of adding clutter to the conversation, here’s our POV… 

For those of you who don’t know, a quick primer on the latest collecting craze…Silly Bandz hit our radar back in March when the little bracelets had just begun to translate into full-on fad in little towns and big cities across the U.S. These rubbery rings have been flying off shelves of the toy stores where they tend to be sold. The bracelets come in packs of 24 and come in thematic packs: princess, pets, dinosaurs and rock bandz, to name a few. And the trade-worthy trinkets have inspired so much excitement that many schools have prohibited them from the playground.

As Sean McGowan, a toy industry analyst has said, “In a high-tech era when children want iPods and iPads and Wii games, it’s refreshing to see something as simple as this get their attention. This is the lowest of technologies.” So why are today’s tuned-in and wired/wireless kids so intrigued?

First, collecting sits right at the sweet spot for kids and tweens. For kids, who I am is still expressed best by what I have – the brands I wear, the stuff I show off on the shelves in my room, and of course, the collections I’ve acquired. For kids, stuff is good. And having stuff that others want – that has value beyond the sum of its parts – is really good. Perhaps even better than having something for keeps is having the ability to use what you’ve got to get to the next level (i.e., a more coveted bracelet). Collecting Data

Second, Silly Bandz speak directly to the in-between stage that older kids and younger tweens are entering. Kids still love to play. While we tend to think of kids wanting buttons and flashing lights, they can still find fun in simpler things. But society increasingly makes toys taboo and babyish. Silly Bandz allow kids/tweens to show off their style sensibilities while keeping their secret. Grouped on their arms, these bracelets look like mere fashion accessories. Remove them and you can appreciate the play value inherent in dinosaur or truck shapes. Fashion meets action figures in an age-appropriate way.

Finally, Silly Bandz illustrate the scarcity principle – even moreso as bans take hold. The harder it is to find one of these bracelets, the more collectible it becomes. And with parents and teachers helping to fuel their “forbidden fruit” nature, they’re likely to maintain their sizzle through the summer.

And probably most of all, Silly Bandz show us that old ideas are often good ones when it comes to tweens. Silly Bandz don’t differ too much from the bands of the past: jelly bracelets (which, you may recall, became controversial because of the sexually explicit meaning that teens tied to different colored bracelets), friendship bracelets, and charm bracelets. It seems that each generation of kids makes this trend their own, but with their entire world turning towards technology, it’s still fascinating that these tech-free trinkets continue to make the grade.

Tags: kids, Youth, Teens, shopping, fashion, tweens, money, Silly Bandz