OPINION23 July 2018

What’s next with kids?

Media Opinion Trends UK Youth

Hook Research's Debbie Bray shares insights from a panel on how brands can stay agile in a constantly changing children’s media market. 

Laughing boys watching TV_crop

How can brands keep up with the latest kids’ trends when they can go from being cool, to not-so-cool, to ironically cool in the wink of an emoji’s eye?

To try and answer this question, Hook Research convened a panel of our expert clients – Marc Goodchild, head of digital, Turner EMEA; Stuart Rowson, head of curation and discovery, BBC Children’s; and Iain Sawbridge, chief marketing officer, Beano Studios – at this year’s Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield. The panel explored how their brands are staying agile and keeping on top of trends in the modern, fluid kids’ media landscape.

Our panellists were clear about one thing: brands need to be agile if they want to succeed in 2018.

Digitally, this is relatively straightforward but given the lengthy production times of long-form content, is that same responsiveness feasible in the linear TV environment?

Perhaps not – but there are certainly lessons to be learnt: Sawbridge suggested that digital can work as an “insight team” for long-form creators, enabling brands to try out new ideas and formats before bringing them to TV. Turner’s Ivandoe was launched in just this way, leveraging the strengths of digital to test and learn before the full rollout on Cartoon Network.

Understanding platform essence

Goodchild pointed out that “kids aren’t using platforms in the way that adults use them”.

Young people don’t always use apps in the way they are intended: while grown-ups are using Instagram to share and curate imagery, many young people use the platform for its instant messaging functionality. Instead of looking at the explicit functionality of each platform, our panellists suggested that brands should examine the basic reasons that kids are using each – what their distinct needs are from these spaces – and craft content accordingly.

These needs haven’t changed in the modern age. Today’s young people are still interested in many of the same things that they were in the past, even if they might at first appear novel. Does it feel like watching YouTube videos of the latest grime artist is a new phenomenon? Think back to the halcyon music video days of early MTV…

Building a safe, creative space for kids to explore

“There need to be more places where kids can be more in control, in a safe environment, free to explore,” said Sawbridge.

The internet may a fruitful space that encourages trends to emerge and grow, but it also has its drawbacks.

Sawbridge’s comment points to a delicate balance that each of these youth brands strives to maintain: how can brands create spaces maximising the constructive potential of the internet, while also fulfilling the “social contract” that they have established with parents, offering their children a safe space to play online?

One answer – with great time and expense. Rowson estimates that the CBBC Buzz App has generated about 350,000 pieces of user generated content (UGC) – all of which has been moderated to ensure that it’s fit for children’s eyes (while also protecting the identities of its young creators).

What’s next for kids’ media?

Rowson said: “We need to keep talking to kids, and not down to them.”

If brands want to succeed in the digital space, they need to be conversing with the people that matter the most – kids. This ultimately requires youth research to be just as agile as the brands commissioning it. Goodchild closed the panel by calling for researchers to reflect on their own methodologies and explore ways that powerful insights can be delivered in a timely manner.

Keeping up with the ever-shifting trends of the youth landscape can be difficult, but research teams that embrace agility will be a powerful partner to youth brands.

Debbie Bray is co-founder of Hook Research