Words of advice for the kids and youth industry for 2018

(Based on the MRS kids and youth conference, 2018………….8 hours of talks condensed into two pages!).

Written by Jo Cliff - kids, youth and family research specialist/educator on kids and family lives and behaviour/ advisor on trends, marketing, comms, product and concept development for kids and families/Managing Director, Platypus Research

Following the annual MRS kids and youth conference, having had the luxury of being a viewer this year rather than a speaker, I noted down the hottest topics for consideration and added my spin on what this means for anyone that works in the kids and youth market

1)   Mind over matter

Obesity has taken a back seat as we come to terms with the overwhelming amount of anxiety and loneliness kids are feeling.

·        So?   Time to do something positive and pro-active. Acknowledge it, don’t brush it under the carpet. Embrace the mindfulness movement. We can’t solve the education/economic/social media or housing crisis overnight, but we can young people a forum to discuss and open up

·        How? Take inspiration from the popular Radio 1’s ‘Life Hacks’ programme on Sunday which gives young people the chance to talk about their worries with experts on hand to give their advice and support.

2)   Real/Authenticity/Not fake – whichever way you look at it, in all aspects of their lives, kids and young people want to connect with people and experiences that are true to themselves and don’t pretend to be something they are not. This may be a backlash to the pressure for ‘perfection’ that has been generated by social media channels.

·        So?  Brands/content creators/designers/marketers and market researchers take note. Whether it’s in your messaging, product design, respondent recruitment you need to bereal and connect with reality, it’s not enough to just reflect reality. 

·        How? Look to programmes like Love Island and their approach to ‘poking fun’ at the reality TV concept by showing the cameras and backdrop in scenes giving the message that ‘We know that you know that reality TV isn’t really ‘real’, and this is what it is reallylike.” More broadly speaking, if you want to show you understand your audiences ‘real lives’ you need to ramp up your customer closeness and customer listening research.     For researchers we have a duty to make sure we are understanding ‘real’ people which means an emphasis on behavioural recruitment and more ethnographic approaches that reflect this.

3)   Co-creation/collaboration – again, nothing new but being viewed as an ever-important part of the design and development process for many brands.

·        So? Gaining a child’s perspective makes sure your product, service, programme etc. is right for your target audience. Getting them involved in the design process opens up a whole new world of inspiration that us adults could never access no matter how hard we brainstorm. That said, a balance needs to be achieved. Although kids are brilliant at being creative they don’t always know what is best for them so some adult experience is needed to work with any ideas.

·        How? Co-creation with kids and designers is so much easier with technology like online forums that allow iterative testing (test/evaluate/amend/test) much more cost-effectively. And as Ikea’s Magnus Thuvesson put it is a great example of ‘Business and Research Working Together’

4)  Sophisticated storytelling – through access to diverse entertainment options, kids are being exposed to different types of content, not necessarily designed for them but nonetheless still enjoyed by younger audiences. These shows often cover and debate more serious topics in a humorous or satirical format.

·        So? The appeal of more sophisticated or ‘different’ stories means expectations are changing and through analysing what kids are engaging with we can learn more about what kids want from entertainment options.

·        How? Ensure your comms and content remain relevant and engaging by understanding the elements of popular content that drives appeal e.g. Rick and Morty/Breaking Bad. 

5)  Control – children today have more control over their entertainment options than ever before. 

·        So? Giving kids the power to influence the media they consume is only going to increase and it will be important for advertisers and content creators to consider how they can build this into their work to avoid being left behind.

·        How? Take inspiration from some of the great work already underway in this area from shows like Cartoon Network’s ‘The Heroic Quest of the Valiant Prince Ivandoe’ which gives kids a multi-platform experience and combines gaming with TV as kids play a game to unlock new episodes.

6) Show me, show me... You Tube/Video – nothing new here but the power of video to engage and communicate emotively just gets more and more influencial.

·        So? For anyone researching kids and young people, the power of video for helping kids and young people to express their opinions and for the client audience to be influenced by those opinions can’t be underestimated.

·        How? Including video in research approaches is nothing new but using it in place of traditional open-ended text boxes for example gives improved responses and is becoming easier and more cost-effective as research software improves. Just take care on managing permission to collect this data and on sharing.

7)  Credibility – Is credible the new real? Being ‘real’ is a hot topic but credibility is beginning to shine through as a motivating factor of what kids are looking for. Given the fragmented nature of kid’s entertainment options and the variety of role models they are exposed to, credible is about kids finding something appealing because it has been done well or the celebrity/role model is good at what they do (think Ed Sheeran and his musical talent).

·        So? Although role models associated with a child’s interest are very influential, kids are also looking up to people who have skills from a range of backgrounds. This can open-up an area of interest to them based on being impressed by a particular aspect of that interest. This is important for getting kids to try new sports, new TV shows and products.

·        How? Credibility is all about being impressive and not cutting corners. From the design work to the talent shown and the challenge overcome to get there. Kids will respect you more for it.

8)  Multi-faceted identities – kids no longer identify with one ‘tribe’ but can manage and explore different elements of their identity and interests far more easily via social media and you tube which allow niche interests to be explored with far less effort.

·        So? Individuality and an acceptance of diversity is more evident and this needs to be reflected in other areas of life.

·        How? Don’t fall into the trap of making assumptions about your young target audience or selecting the ‘obvious’ activity/interest/message. Commit to designing for diversity in interests/sports/personalities that exist in kids today in your design, marketing and comms. 

9)   Gender fluidity– I saved the best ‘til last based on a fascinating talk by Sign Salad. Our ‘gender’ is different to our ‘sex’ as it is something we express through the actions or behaviour we have learnt in society. See the gender fluid pronouns that are commonly used in social media

Historically we have tried to promote equality of females and males by women acting more like men i.e. expressing power in the workplace, girls being able to wear trousers in school etc. But equality did not work the other way around e.g. boys wearing skirts to school was not acceptable. However, things are moving, slowly. There is an emergent context of a more multi-dimensional view of gender amongst kids. Gen Z have less of an issue with having more fluid gender identities.

·        So? This is gathering momentum and can have a negative impact if brands don’t take note and respond (e.g. Clarks and their boys and girls school shoe designs). 

·        How?  Be cautious of bringing your own adult pre-conceptions into marketing/designs/comms. Look to shows like Steven Universe and Adventure Time, to genderless fashion examples from H&M denim and Maybelline’s lipstick campaign which point to a quiet gender revolution.

What do you think?

Interesting stuff? Please give Platypus a shout if you need help with the ‘Hows’.

Thanks for reading!Let’s work together