Debunking Myths of Youth and Family Research

Filed Under: Teens, Youth & Family


Amy Henry

At the Kid, Youth and Parent Power Conference in Florida last week, marketers, researchers and child advocates gathered to discuss trends and to share success stories. But they also came to engage in one of researchers’ and marketers’ favorite pastimes: myth bashing. On the doorstep of Disney, a place where fairy tales usually prevail, speakers challenged the notion that teens rebel (according to MTV, Millennials prefer to game the system, not change it), that tweens and teens respond to mobile advertising, and that today’s parents just don’t understand (it turns out, they do).

We’ve engaged in a bit of this ourselves…On our YouthBeat website, you can find a link to our white paper on the “Six Youth Untruths,” and at the recent ARF conference, we shared a few fables about advertising to kids, tweens and teens.

Why do we take a swipe at hearsay and a cut at conventional wisdom so much? And what makes it so necessary to negate the notions that so many marketers have made into mantras?

  • First, we know that myths don’t just survive, but often thrive, in marketing culture. Sometimes old insights die hard, and it’s tough to give up a gem of an idea even if it’s time has passed. Remember when talking about “pester power” sounded like a masterful mom insight? Or that people over 55 don’t experiment with new brands? Even though youth and family culture has moved on, marketers are sometimes reluctant to change their tune. Too many presentations have been written, briefs have been crafted or businesses have been built on these ideas – and the thought of re-investing in new intelligence brings with it anxiety and a price tag.
  • Second, myths make our jobs easy. And isn’t that a good thing? Many of the myths that prevail come from watching the people around us, or taking our own experience too seriously. When it comes to truly understanding consumers’ needs and desires, this mindset can be a recipe for disaster. Smart researchers know that behind a simple truth sometimes lies a more messy explanation. And while we could argue that simple is good, complexity often gets us to a better understanding of the consumers we serve.
  • And finally, new myths seem to arise on a daily basis. Today, when bloggers’ words can sound biblical, and consultants make their mark through making bold statements about the future, researchers must add a tempered perspective. Do all kids have iPhones? Not by a long shot. Are iPads in every home? Not yet. But these can be unpopular messages to send to marketers who hope to get ahead of the next trend. As researchers, we’re obligated to present the world as it is, even when the rhetoric seems to tell a story of a culture that has not yet come to pass.

So what’s a marketer or researcher to do? Scrutinize the sure-things – don’t accept that timeless ideas last forever. Embrace complexity – and if an insight feels a little too true, question and challenge it before applying it to your work. And finally, look to validate your hunches – especially the newest ones – before using them to generalize the lives of your consumers or your audience.

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