Seeking a Youthful Audience on the Sly

While studios can’t sell R-rated movies directly to young kids, they have more flexibility — but not total freedom — in how they market PG-13 releases to children, with some limitations on when certain ads can and can’t run. So instead of directly pitching the violent movies straight to little children, the studios are using a more subtle tactic: They let their promotional partners do their bidding through licensed toys and snacks.

So if your 4-year-old suddenly says he has to see “The Incredible Hulk” — rated PG-13 in part for “sequences of intense action violence” and “some frightening sci-fi images” — it could be that he’s seen a Hulk Airheads candy spot running in the middle of the morning on Cartoon Network’s “Robotboy.”

Teen flicks targeted at children – Los Angeles Times

I got this article via Ypulse, which forever proves a fantastic daily conglomerate of info. 

All I wanted to add to this is… this concept isn’t really new. 

When I was a camp counselor back in the late 90’s, the boys (6 – 9, with 12 – 14 year old junior counselors) ALWAYS came to work in t-shirts of content that didn’t necessarily seem age appropriate.  Godzilla, for example, was not a movie meant for children.  And yet?  WABAM… nearly ever kid at the time had a Godzilla shirt (one in my group had a Godzilla shirt with a button that made the monster yell, a Godzilla backpack, and a Godzilla lunch box).  Back when Jurassic Park came out– toys for tweens and younger littered the shelves of Venture (oh, Venture… the pre-Target of my world).  In particular – they had a giant T Rex with a removable section of his gut. 

One of my FAVORITE campers of all time was a boy named “Danny” who happened to be Autistic (seriously one of the coolest kids, period.)  At the age of 10, he was obsessed with his Hulk hands (the big green punching-bag like gloves that made noises when you socked them together). 

A few weeks ago my boss pulled me aside and asked if I thought Speed Racer was going to be a hit.  All I remember seeing dance in my wee brain was… campers in Speed Racer shirts, backpacks, and carrying lunch boxes.  Boys sitting around the lunch table talking about how fast those cars could go, and how much they wanted to race cars.  And so, without much of a thought to story, critics, etc… I nodded, “Yes, it will be successful.”  Not because of the movie NEARLY as much as the products.

I always wonder if these boys who wear the product have actually SEEN the movie?  I’m showing my age here – but I was in Junior High when Jurassic Park came out… and you know what?  The kitchen scene scared the CRAP out of me and I ended up in the movie theater bathroom, freaking out about raptors opening my bathroom stall.  How would an eight year old take such images?  And still love it enough to want the toys, shirts, lunch boxes, etc?

Sometimes I think the commercials are enough.  A thrilling taste of something they can’t have, but seems so colorful, so fantastic, so tempting.  Something they can and ponder… dream up possibilities and test their own imaginative levels of what they can understand and what they can’t deal with (and ultimately turn into nightmares).  Kids are interested (whether good or bad) in the idea of monsters, heroes, lizards, cars, dinosaurs, strength, speed, height, powers, and fantastical epics that prove YET AGAIN that anything is possible. 

I remember seeing Gremlins when I was a kid.  I’m not sure HOW I saw it (since it wasn’t appropriate and my parents were the kind that didn’t let me see PG 13 movies until I was 13… Twins being the first of that ilk, thank you Danny Devito).  Anyway… I KNOW I was scared – even of the things they DIDN’T show (like the tale of the father dressed as Santa who died because he was stuck in the chimney – dude, that scarred me and my empathy/imagination).  And yet, despite the fact I hated the actual Gremlins, I wanted my own doll Mugwah (which some of my friends had).  I wanted to be connected to this fantastical property that was touted as a Block Buster of pop culture proportions.  I probably could have done just fine with the commercials, but I still would have wanted to see the movie. 

Everything has a way of aging down, and nearly every property has more than one target audience.  We could point fingers at the industry for targeting the wrong age demo on the sly (sigh, I’m guilty of this with youtube), but really… there is a market out there, and that market = the people who are actually buying these products for their kids.  Does it make it right?  And what does “it” mean exactly?  …the industry – toy or movie?  …the stores?  …parents? …kids? 

I have no answers, and my questions go a shy more poignant that I’m willing to speak.  All I can say is… It’s a weird world. 

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