Cracking the kid code

Being in the kid business, there's one thing you can be certain of: they are a moving target. So what does a snapshot of today's kids look like? They are tech savvy, globally aware, and brand conscious. They collect Yu-gi-oh cards, play video games like Golden Sun, and are active members of the Neopet community. They're a fickle bunch and cracking their code is the ultimate challenge.

Being in the kid business, there’s one thing you can be certain of: they are a moving target. So what does a snapshot of today’s kids look like? They are tech savvy, globally aware, and brand conscious. They collect Yu-gi-oh cards, play video games like Golden Sun, and are active members of the Neopet community. They’re a fickle bunch and cracking their code is the ultimate challenge.

Enter YTV’s team of trend-hunters. Equipped with information from a variety of sources – including the annual YTV Kid & Tween Report, Yabber.net (our online kids’ community), and S.W.A.T. (our kid advisory panel) – these cool-seekers can be found where kids are: on the street, at the malls and on the Net. Here are some of the most recent findings:

Crossover artists

Since the early ’90s, the increasingly sophisticated tastes of young consumers have demanded a wider range of music genres, such as urban and rock music. The music industry has responded with a flood of artists who are crossing over into new genres that appeal to diverse audiences:

* Avril Lavigne, the ‘not-so-pop’ pop star, breaks barriers in both pop and rock charts with a straight-up attitude and skater-punk look that make her pop sound appeal to the rock crowd too.

* Kelly Osbourne, the 17-year-old, pink-haired daughter of rocker Ozzy appeals to kids because of her down-to-earth, refreshingly real personality. Kelly’s face has been plastered all over youth media since her performance of Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach at the MTV Movie Awards.

Asian invasion

The ongoing interest in all things Asian continues to grow beyond Asian-inspired graphic T-shirts and hot TV properties such as the WB’s Samurai Jack (launching on YTV this fall) and Columbia Tri-Star’s Jackie Chan Adventures (returns to YTV this fall). Adorable and cuddly character-branded merchandise is on the rise:

* No doubt you’ve noticed Mashimaro (CLKO Entertainment), the latest cutie from Japan; he’s a white bunny character who has taken over mall stores and squints at you from backpacks everywhere. Mashimaro’s soft, plump marshmallow body belies his tough character – he’s lonely, negative and downright miserable – and he’s knocked Hello Kitty off her throne as the hottest character in Korea.

* Pucca (Vooz), a romantically aggressive female hero with love on her mind, is another hot merchandised character. She first appeared in a Korean digital mobile phone game and expanded onto the Web through humorous Flash cartoons and branded accessories, which can be found in malls and specialty Asian gift stores.

* Originally featured in an illustrated book and now a TV series (launching on YTV this August), Hamtaro, a pet hamster, who hangs out with his pals, the Ham-Ham Gang, has a loyal following in Japan and is gaining momentum here in North America. Hamtaro toys by Hasbro and Nintendo video games will be available in Canada this fall.

The ’80s all over again

The ’80s are back, embraced by a generation that didn’t experience the decade the first time around:

* The big toy companies are rolling out the red carpet for the reintroduction of hit action figure properties from the ’80s: Masters of the Universe (Mattel), GI Joe (Hasbro), and Transformers: Armada (Hasbro). In addition, many more properties are being re-launched including Micronauts, the space figure toys with interchangeable parts. Based on the Marvel comic book series, reproductions of the vintage figures are available now, and a new line of figures will be released in 2003.

* Plus the decade of over-indulgence returns to this season’s fashion. Kids have embraced asymmetrical tops, glammy glitter, rubber bracelets, and studded or fringe suede belts.

Comic crossover

Super-hero comic book characters dominate the big and small screens for kids. True, comic book characters are nothing new in the movie business, however the trend continues to explode as more and more comic characters make the transition from paper to screen.

Upcoming movies include:

* X2 – the sequel to X-Men, stars the same cast as the original

* The Hulk – featuring our favourite nice-guy-cum-monster

* Catwoman – stars Ashley Judd as the femme feline

* Fantastic Four – a group possessing unique powers as a result of an experiment gone wrong

Other hot trends on the horizon:

* Toys with interchangeable parts, such as Stikfas (Hasbro). Kids have been spotted collecting these customizable, poseable 3′ figures with snap-on parts.

* Fame becomes reality. From karaoke toys with blue-screen video technology, to dance video games, to reality TV, the goal of stardom has never seemed so achievable for kids. Enter Fox’s American Idol, the latest music-based television show to transform an ordinary person into a star.

Susan Schaefer is VP marketing, television at Corus Entertainment. She can be reached by phone at 416-530-5125 or by e-mail at Susan.Schaefer@corusent.com.