Challenging Cool, Talking Real

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Platypus Research’s Joanne Cliff broached the topic of using ethnography with kids and families at last weeks' MRS Kids and Youth conference….

In the kids and youth market we hear a lot about ‘cool’.  We speak to ‘cool’ kids, the ‘thought leaders’ so that we can understand what they want from brands and organisations. We do this with the assumption that if we get it right for those most aspirational little people, we’ll get it right for them all.  We screen out children from research groups who are not confident and talkative in the hope that we will have a nicely behaved set of children who will give us those gems of quotes to back up a marketing or product strategy.  But in understanding those ‘cool’ kids, have we lost sight of what real kids are like? Are we missing out on understanding the full spectrum of kids and their interests, personalities and very different experiences? And is this effecting the way kids feel about brands as a result?

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Understanding REAL kids

It’s really important that we understand the full range of kids. Not just the cool ones.  In a survey recently conducted by Platypus with 1000 children aged 8-16 years we asked ‘what makes a brand cool’?  Half said it was ‘a brand that understands me and helps to show who I am as a person’.  In order to do that we need to understand the full range of personalities and experiences. 

But how do we truly understand real kids?

  • Step 1 Identify the commonalities

There certainly are many common themes unifying children.  Wherever in the world, children are similar in many ways. These needs drive the basic similarities and behaviours of all children.  Maslow’s needs based hierarchy demonstrates the need for the basic physical comforts but also the need for love, connections and achievement that underpins children and is useful to refer to as the basic principles for engaging with children.

Although children’s needs are the same, in terms of how children behave and think, there are many differences to consider.

  • Step 2 Represent our diverse society

Children are shaped by their backgrounds, social environment and the people they spend their time with.

19% of the UK population are dependent children.  They come from a diverse range of regions, ethnicity and cultures, family structure and affluence.  All of which have huge impacts on a child’s experiences, attitudes and behaviours.  Unless we don’t take into account these different backgrounds we can’t say we fully understand children.

With two out of five children not living in the traditional family unit and almost a third of children classed as living in poverty we need to ensure we are representing and understanding these different backgrounds in order to reflect the true picture.

With 18% of primary school pupils that have a first language that is not English it is clear that this diversity is not something that can be ignored when researching children’s lives, nor can it be tackled with standard recruitment practices or research approaches.

  • Step 3 Understand children’s experiences and influencers  

Children spend most of their time at home, in school, or online.  Spending time with children in their homes is one of the most valuable approaches for really understanding the details of childhood.  Not only are children more relaxed in home and find it easier to open up and chat, but collecting observations from within the home environment gives us a really detailed picture of interests, family structure, online behaviour and routines as well as giving the opportunity to speak with family members – whether it’s a mum and dad, single parent, a range of siblings, stepparent etc. 

The same applies to school. When we consider that around 20% of a child’s waking hours are spent at school it’s easy to see that without understanding what goes on at school we’re only understanding part of a child’s experiences. 

School is often the place where friendships are formed… and broken, teachers and pupils are on the rollercoaster ride of education together and pastoral care deal with the fall out of stresses from the pressures from school and home that are an ever increasing part of children’s everyday lives.

  • Step 4 Acknowledge and explore individuality

There are some truths about kids that we can’t ignore such as the fact that gender and age can have a massive impact on what a child is like.   Segmenting by age and gender is really useful exercise for understanding top level differences but can be harmful in that we can then gloss over the fact that children of the same age are not all the same.

Different types of personality exist across childhood, irrespective of age.   It is in exploring and understanding those personality types and highlighting that all kids are unique that we can really begin to say we know kids and we can engage effectively with them.  That means asking not just the cool kids to take part in research.  It also means employing developing a detailed framework for collecting the information that matters on personality and interests in order to draw out those differences and create a meaningful segmentation.

A common practice in recruiting for kid’s research is to screen out any child that is not confident or talkative.  There are around one in three adults that are classed as being introverts, and that is likely to be much higher in children. In addition, 16% of school aged children have a special education need with problems in communication and speech being a key need. 

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So, it’s clear that there are challenges and changes that need to be made in order to conquer the four steps to understanding real kids. However, with a focus on more inclusive recruitment, creative, ethnographic and interactive approaches and asking the right questions in the right way it’s certainly achievable.  




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Guest Sunday, 18 February 2018