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Today is my birthday. But I only get to write about it here because of this date’s profound role in youth culture. I share this day with Justin Bieber, 2012’s favorite kid and tween pop star and Jake of Disney’s popular program, Jake and the Neverland Pirates. It is my 30-something birthday and, while I hope my husband and two sons are planning a grand gala, and I really hope to receive my share of automated and authentic birthday wishes via Facebook, I don’t really expect to rally the online universe around the anniversary of my birth in quite the way that Justin or Jake have.

Jake and the Neverland Pirates

If you are a tween girl afflicted with Bieber Fever, it only seems reasonable that you would want to give Justin a birthday gift.  Many Beliebers tweet their tokens of affection to the star, and Justin, of course, knows this. But what do you get the guy who received a $100,000 custom car for his 18th birthday, who cites a purple pool table as his favorite gift ever, or who has the access and income to acquire almost anything he could want? In 2010, Justin took his fame to Facebook, partnering with the American Cancer Society to raise awareness (and money). While other stars simply gave away their renditions of “Happy Birthday” on TV advertisements, Bieber asked his fans to donate $1 to unlock his own version of this song (nevermind that one does not usually sing happy birthday to one’s self!). What will he do this year? We’ll watch, but we think a little birthday philanthropy could do Justin some good right about now.

Speaking of coffers, and talking of treasure, Jake also seeks to turn his birthday into ratings gold. Kids love events and, as we’ve often said, a preschoolers’ life is often punctuated by holidays and excuses to celebrate. And what better way to create news around your show than by informing viewers that it’s the pirate protagonist’s special day! Disney Jr. invites kids to wish Jake a happy birthday via videos. Check out how boys and girls got into the birthday spirit like it was their own anniversary!

So what does this mean for you?

  • Consider building your brand biography…What’s the backstory for your characters or products, and how can you engage youth in celebrating your milestones?
  • When it comes to digital, remember to rally young users to your sites. It’s your job to give them a reason to visit, don’t just create a digital presence and assume they’ll find their way to you. Promoting a cause or event doesn’t activate your audience as much as giving them something to do (and a reward for doing it).
  • Finally, remember that birthdays are big in youth culture. This might not be new, but with more and more ways for kids to celebrate (an explosion of venues dedicated to kid parties, endless theme ideas from retailers ranging from Wishworks to etsy), seek out ways to make your product or organization a part of the big days in kids’, tweens’ and even teens’ lives.