Category Archives: youth culture

Disney says no to advertisers, yes to future profit

Parents watching the latest rerun of High School Musical on the Disney Channel might be surprised to note, they won’t see any commercials during the breaks — at least not for cereal, toys, or college savings funds. Disney is the rare cable network not to take paid advertisements, and instead runs promos for its own programming to feed itself.

This is revolutionary, given the stakes. Television and cable are filled with the implicit bargain of viewers getting something for almost free — in Disney’s case, the cable subscription really costs about 80 cents per month — in exchange for watching ads for products they may or may not want. By passing up this advertising market, Disney shows big restraint. Its audience is huge. The Jan. 20, 2006 premiere of High School Musical drew a 5.7 household rating and was viewed by 7.73 million people. Average daily ratings hover around 3MM viewers. Consider that the Cartoon Network took in $398 million last year in ad revenue, and TNT $1.05 billion, and you gotta admire Walt.

Instead, Disney pushes its own programs, DVDs, and merchandising tie-ins — and then uses the stay-tuned platform to launch its future revenue streams via stars such as Zac Efron, Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Miley Cyrus, and whoever else will become the next Britney Spears. High School Musicals 1 & 2 are today promoted in 34 nations (Poland, China and India), and all these young Zacs drive the cross-sales, music, concerts and movies for the Disney of tomorrow.

It’s a brilliant case study of Disney giving up the short-term view of today’s ad dollars to build a marketing funnel for the next 10 years of pop profit. Advertisers may want in — and occasionally a Kellogg’s or Yoplait sneaks aboard as a Disney Channel sponsor. But for the rest of us, Disney is keeping the kids all for themselves.

The social network of children says ‘Peace Out’

There is a theory that the reason boys and girls have different strengths in academics — boys score higher on math and spatial relations, girls score higher on verbal memory and object location recall — has nothing to do with sex or gender. It has to do with puberty.

Studies have shown that math aptitude tends to rise for both sexes every year until a boy or girl hits adolescence. Something about the flood of hormones changes gears in the brain, and once sex attributes appear in the body, the mental development for math and geometry seems to slow down.

OK. Now think back to 7th grade. Girls hit puberty several years before boys on average. Which means that boys have a few precious years to continue to advance in math, while girls’ minds change to more adult matters. Remember? The boys who hit puberty first banded together on the football team, while late bloomers huddled in the chess club. The girls who hit adolescence first joined sports teams too and were more socially outgoing, while late bloomers wrote in journals.

We find this concept interesting, because it points to a deep shift that divides children from men and women. It’s not about sexism — it’s about hormonal timing. And if hormones split our reasoning, then there are two main social cultures in the world — adults vs. children. Children, if you will, are their own society with mores and slang and values, and when children grow up, they leave that continent behind.

This unique social culture of children also gets passed down from generation to generation. The famous poem “Ring Around The Rosy” has its roots in the Great Plague of London in 1665, where children in streets saw rosy red rings on the skin (ring around the rosy), sweet herbs stuffed in pockets to heal (pockets full of posies), and cremation of dead bodies (ashes, ashes, we all fall down). Children have passed that rhyme to their friends, onward, for more than 400 years.

All of this explains why one of our sons looked at us in church, slammed his fist on his chest, waved two fingers and said “peace out.” We haven’t said peace out since the 1960s, but on some level, in the sub-youth culture, the cool phrase continues to be shared below the adolescent radar. We’ve heard silly old jokes from 7 year olds that we haven’t heard since we, too, were age 7. It’s interesting to think that viral or word of mouth marketing isn’t just about the network, but about the years in which the network passes through the generations.

Unfortunately, as today’s youth get more of their mindset from media — television, internet, radio, and text messaging — the historical culture of children may be eroding. Kids only have so much room in their heads. If our adult influence pushes them to buy more video games and spend less time chanting outside, the thread of history may be broken. Children will become little adults, chasing the same iPods that we want, too, and no one will recall the good old bubonic plague.

Hope it doesn’t hurt the math scores.