Brands in the kids’ space have historically known how to appeal to both girls and boys using a particular set of market strategies and marketing tactics. But recent observations surrounding Disney’s Frozen suggest we need to revisit some of this “common sense” moving forward. What once would have been classified as a “girls’ movie,” appeals strongly to young boys (and even to older boys).
Marketing to Kids – What Worked in the Past
A few years ago, my colleagues and I worked on a Kid’s Landmark Study for Good Humor Breyers, known for Popsicle, along with a number of other iconic kid brands.. At that time, the Popsicle brand marketing approach was to appeal directly to kids ages 6 and under.
In advertising, Popsicle focused on an 8-10 year old boy as the protagonist in most of spots. Industry wisdom held that, in these age ranges, boys are aspirational to girls, but girls are not aspirational to boys. Another time-honored strategy was to feature a slightly older kid than the core target. This campaign was designed to speak to both boys and girls ages 6 and under. (Since that time, Popsicle has undoubtedly evolved its marketing strategy, with a recent spot showing a boy and a tooth fairy.)
Marketing to Kids – Looking to Future Trends
Released November 2013, Disney’s Frozen has become a cultural institution.
The movie features female leads (Elsa and Anna) and their development, with male characters like Olaf the snowman (who likes warm hugs), Sven the reindeer, and Kristoff supporting their journey. There’s even the double-crossing handsome male character, Hans, who is no Prince Charming. With these female leads in mind, the assumption might be that Frozen is only aspirational to girls, and not to boys, in line with conventional thinking.
The movie’s influence continues on, since it is a favorite, and children tend to watch their favorite movies over and over. In 2014, kid’s expert KidSay Research reported in its Trend Tracker that Frozen was the #1 movie (by far) among younger kids age 5-7 and also older kids age 8-15.
Not surprisingly, Frozen’s popularity was fueled by girls, with 46.3% of girls ages 5-7 naming Frozen as their favorite movie, compared with 2.7% of boys in the same age category. Similarly, 19.4% of girls ages 8-15 said Frozen was their favorite, compared with 3.0% of boys. Still, this means that a lot of younger brothers, and young boys are watching Frozen regularly, and enjoying it.
Frozen Halloween costumes were very popular last year. Disney reported that 3 million Frozen role-play dresses (Elsa and Anna) were sold in 2014., and that these were hot sellers among girls.
Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that the Frozen story is appealing to young boys and is quite popular with them. This insight was prompted when talking with Hispanic kindergarteners at the Los Angeles Elementary School, as part of the Reading to Kids program. The two boys in my small group both reported that they will be Olaf this Halloween. And a search of Amazon reveals dozens of Olaf costume options and hundreds of customer reviews and pictures of boys aspiring to be Olaf.
Next, in talking with Amanda Cullen of Zoo in a Jungle Marketing, she mentioned that her twin sons, age 2, both demand Olaf underwear:
“I was surprised how emphatic they each were about Olaf when we went underwear shopping. They pushed aside options like Thomas the Tank Engine and Sesame Street, insisting on the ‘snowman!’ I guess I should have known, since ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman?’ is one of their favorite songs.”
Another friend reported that her neighbor’s son, age four, attended a girl’s birthday party where all the girls were Disney princesses, and so he now has his own Elsa costume.
To be sure, young boys still enjoy traditional male favorites, like Star Wars’ Darth Vader and Batman, and the National Retail Federation reports these are top kids’ Halloween costumes this year (along with the addition of a new favorite: Minions).
Still, I am intrigued by Frozen and Olaf’s appeal, and wonder if this might suggest a change in boys’ attitudes and preferences. It’s a trend worth watching, and it seems marketing to kids might see some strategic changes in the near future.