If you are not the parent of a 9-to- 14 year old girl, you probably are only vaguely aware of an entire counterculture that exists amongst us. There is no word for it (except maybe The Tween Scene), but man, amongst that set, it is all pervasive. There are two phenomena that sum up this whole movement: the resurgence of Disney television, and Webkinz.
I’ll tell you about the latter first. The concept behind Webkinz is simple: first, you choose and “adopt” a plush animal (the physical Webkinz), then the child goes to the website, enters a code that came with the plush, and develops an online version of her “pet”. The child can then interact and play with the virtual pet in various ways; she can even “meet up” with one of her friend’s pets online.
It’s so simple, it’s genious. All I can say is that I buy about one a month for Trillian’s friends’ birthdays. It’s not a gift, it’s all they want. From a marketing standpoint, you have to admire that. But to be honest, I can’t wait till the craze dies down.
But if you want to talk about marketing genius, you have to look at Disney, specifically the Disney Channel. They have found an under-served niche (tween girls), and cornered it in no time flat. It is really a wonder to behold. For a primer, read this older article which focuses on Hannah Montana. None of this happened by accident.
When my kids outgrew little kids shows, Zaphod naturally gravitated to the offerings of Nickelodeon. But Trillian never was too crazy about Spongebob and the others; too snarky and silly. Then, a friend turned her on to what was happening at Disney. From the linked article:
“Disney, of course, had a total grip on American childhood for a good part of the 20th century,” Thompson said. But Nickelodeon established itself as a formidable rival, he said, eschewing Disney’s gentle animation in favor of a new crop of ironic cartoons. Shows such as “SpongeBob SquarePants” and the “Fairly OddParents” were just off-kilter enough to make parents snicker, he said, and even appealed to cynical older brothers and sisters.
But Disney’s new crop of shows, Thompson said, show that straightforward innocence can find a market, too.
“They’re not aping Nickelodeon,” he said of Disney. “They’re essentially taking what their old franchise was, which is just squeaky clean innocent naive kinds of things, but updating them with the iconography of modern youth.”
As a parent, I couldn’t be happier that this is what my daughter and her friends are gravitating to. On Hannah Montana and That’s So Raven, her favorite shows, the parents aren’t portrayed as clueless idiots, and the kids are respectful, for the most part. This is in contrast to Nickelodean, which we’ve all but banished from our house because Zaphod likes mimicking the smartassery a little too much after watching.
If you doubt what a juggernaut the whole Disney tween thing has become, consider this:
The soundtrack to the TV movie “High School Musical” is the best selling album of 2006 to date, selling more than 3 million copies , and has spun off a tour featuring its stars as well as a show that high schools and middle schools can perform. The sitcom “That’s So Raven” has inspired a successful clothing and home-decoration line. The soundtrack to “Cheetah Girls 2” debuted this year at number five on the Billboard charts.
This hasn’t made the record industry happy, says Samantha Skey, senior vice president at Alloy Media + Marketing, a New York-based marketing firm.
The most unexplainable part of the phenomena is the success of High School Musical. It’s this generation’s Grease. We’re probably going to have a big tween party at my house on August 17th, when High School Musical 2 airs (It’ll also be my birthday party, and a back-to-school bash). Being on the edge of Generation X, I’ve always been a little too cynical for musicals, especially ones aimed at pre-teens. But, you’ll have to trust me on this one, the musical numbers make the show watchable (the acting is just so-so). I actually catch myself singing “We’re all in this together” from time to time.
Anyway, this was your glimpse into a world you probably didn’t know existed. As the parent of a 9 year old, I’m knee-deep in it.
Old Walt would be proud, I think.