Who are these kids of the ’90s? How do they differ from children of other generations? ‘The Way Kids Are’ is a regular series of columns in which we invite readers to help us understand kids. Each column will begin by describing a recent experience with a child, followed by an analysis that will examine what this teaches us about children today. Submissions can be made by contacting editor Theresa Dillon by phone: 416-408-2300, fax: 416-408-0870 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Little Julian dropped by my studio after school to see what I was up to. He was a quasi-celebrity in our neighborhood, thanks to being the first on our block to know about and own some Mattel Street Sharks, the male action licensed property I created.
‘Sorry Julian, no more new Street Sharks to give you, but take a look at this cool Yosemite stuff I’m working on for The Parks Company.’
‘Yo Semitty?’ he asked. ‘They some kind of hip hop group?’
‘Yosemite National Park. El Cap, Half Dome, Mariposa Grove,’ I rattled off, but still no flicker of recognition.
I pulled out my book of Ansel Adams photos, but Julian turned up his nose. ‘Couldn’t they afford color?’ he sniffed with sarcastic sympathy.
Rather than argue artistic merits with a kid who thinks black and white is something Nickelodeon does to old TV shows to make them funnier, I started stacking books full of color photos of Yosemite and other national parks in his lap, flipping them open to the more spectacular scenes.
He stopped at the pictures of Redwood National Park. ‘Cool, I’ve seen this place with the giant trees before.’ But it wasn’t because he had been there with his family. ‘I know, in The Lost World! Dinosaurs were running all through that forest. Remember?’
I told him I did remember because I had actually been there, seen and touched those real trees that were the oldest living things on Earth. I told him it was one of the coolest places on the entire planet and that we were lucky because it was only about a five-hour trip away. I said he should get there as soon as he could. He looked at me like I was out of my mind.
‘Yeah, right. I’m still only eight years old, you know.’ And with that, his attention span maxed out, he was on his skateboard and out of there.
Julian doesn’t know it yet, but the future of America’s national parks depends on kids like him and the rest of Generation Next.
The same kids who have already guaranteed the futures of the Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Barbie, Sega, Sony and Nintendo franchises could do the same for Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon and the other national parks.
And they will, if my Parks Company partner and I do our jobs correctly. That job is to make the national parks cool for kids.
We have all the equity and assets any classic entertainment property could hope to possess. Excitement, adventure, bigger-than-life visual icons, heroic stars and worlds full of unlimited appeal. Once kids are properly exposed to the property, our approval ratings are a lock.
So The Parks Company is working with the parks in the same way we’d approach any entertainment property-creating a branded image and a branding experience, positioning the parks and promoting them in terms that today’s consumers understand and relate to. But first, we’ve got to redefine the image of the parks.
Once upon a time, the national parks were America’s original theme parks, places kids dreamed of visiting with their families. But today, for too many people, parks are just another drive-through destination location. With the competition for travel and leisure opportunities, the national parks have suffered badly in the marketing, awareness and media exposure arenas.
But we’ve found that once you expose young consumers to the power of the parks, and focus the message on the exclusive greatness that they hold, they look at the parks in a different way. And once they do, knowing that The Parks Company voluntarily donates a percentage of our profits back to the parks becomes almost as important as the fact that we’ve created a line of national park-themed merchandise that lives up to our pledge of ‘Only The Best for Our National Parks.’
Teddy Roosevelt urged Americans to preserve and protect the parks for our children and our children’s children. We couldn’t agree more. But The Parks Company adds one more responsibility as part of our mission: to also promote the national parks and give them at least the same level of appreciation, love and appeal as Disneyland, Niketown and Warner Bros. Studio Stores.
My partner and I have been using our talents for the last 15 years to help build brands that have made our clients rich. Now we’re trying to give something back to build a brand that will make all of America richer.
It’s not going to be easy, and if we’re going to succeed on a level that allows us to fulfill our vision, we’ve got to win over Julian and all the kids like him. We may not know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.
And if that means we have to personally take him to experience Yosemite and show him the waterfalls, mountains and giant redwood trees, then that’s what we’ll do. After all, he is only eight years old.
Joe Galliani is the creator of the Street Sharks characters and a founding partner of The Parks Company. He is based in California.