Listening to Kids

The Way Kids Are...
August 1, 1998

The Way Kids Are

‘Out of the mouths of babes’ pretty much sums up Eleo Hensleigh’s Disney channel-branding adventures in listening to kids so as to ultimately yield a new net identity.

Last December, I went to my favorite annual event- ‘Group Christmas.’ Each year, I get together with an extended group of friends to celebrate our family Christmas. Boyfriends have come and gone, husbands and wives have been added and tolerated, and we’ve welcomed babies and watched them grow into kids. As Aunt Eleo, I presumed my popularity was based on my cool job status, keen shopping abilities and outrageous generosity. Last year, I found out the true secret of my success.

12-year-old Katie, who acts as the sage, ultra-mature ringleader of the kids, rounded the room putting people in context. ‘This is Aunt Eleo. Actually, she’s not our aunt – she’s Aunt Anne’s best friend, but that’s OK. She’s a good aunt. She’s cool, she listens to us. And she knows things.’

I learned that it’s not about how many presents I bring when I visit, but rather that I’d been listening to these kids. Over the years, this has built a relationship of trust and respect that’s far stronger than loot-a principle upon which we have also been building Disney Channel. Hearing kids out is something we do every day and it guides all of our decisions.

A few years ago, when we were concentrating on Disney Channel’s positioning and brand, we talked to kids and families all over the country about what was going on in their lives-What do they like to do? What do they have time to do? When do they watch TV? Who do they watch it with?

Would you guess that kids actually want to watch TV with their parents? That’s what they told us. In fact, kids said that they think it’s fun to watch TV with their families- but only if their parents have a good time too. As 11-year-old Audrey from Chicago put it, ‘I hate it when my parents make fun of the shows I’m watching. I like watching TV with them because we’re all together as a family, but only if they like it too.’

TV watching may not be my first choice as quality time for families, but studies show that it is the number one shared activity for kids and families. However, you have to provide programs that prompt questions or conversations, like animal and adventure shows. By testing interstitial concepts, we found that sometimes ‘how to’ shorts, that teach things like magic tricks, are far more interesting than high-concept vignettes. We also learned that music is cross-generational.

Another fact we’ve gleaned from kids is that today’s families come in all shapes and sizes. We wanted to be sure we reflected this diversity on air by depicting young and old parents, and blended and multicultural families. I knew we were succeeding when Colleen, the 9-year-old daughter of a colleague of mine, screened a recent round of brand identity spots with me. The spots showed a variety of families engaging in many different activities. One had a Caucasian father and an Chinese American girl playing soccer, and Colleen screamed out, ‘Look. There’s my family!’ I immediately thought, ‘Wow. It works.’ We try to be as inclusive as possible and show families that today’s kids and parents can relate to and identify with.

Entire channels can be born from kids. 10-year-old Peter, from Atlanta, Georgia, said ‘I think it would be cool for all the Disney cartoon characters to live in one place. You know, have a home.’ We thought it would be cool, too, so we created one. We call it Toon Disney.

We did, however, ignore my godson Sam when he asserted that an all-hockey channel, all Rangers to be exact, was a much better concept than Toon Disney.

Sorry, Sammy.

‘Aunt’ Eleo Hensleigh is senior vice president of marketing for Disney Channel & Toon Disney.

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