I took my family to the rodeo last night. It was not because I wanted to put on my boots and watch bull riding or mutton bustin’ (although those were my favorite events). No, we went to the rodeo because Aly & AJ were the featured performers last night. If you have a daughter between the ages of 10-14 and own a television, you likely know who I’m talking about, while the rest of you may be scratching your heads. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Aly & AJ, I will take a break from writing about bankruptcy to talk about the Disney/Nickelodeon teen machine.
In case, you may have missed this trend, there are now about a million shows aimed at middle school girls on Disney and Nickelodeon. As a result of aggressive marketing, the teen stars of these shows, rather than being snickered at for being modern Mouseketeers, are plastered all over the pages of Tiger Beat, Pop Star and similar teen girl fan magazines. (In case you may be thinking that it is really weird that I would know this, I need to point out that I spend a lot of time helping my eighth grade daughter with homework and the posters from these magazines cover every available inch of wallspace in her room).
So, what is the secret to this success?
1. The first step is finding the right niche market. Here, it is all girls all the time. .If you flip through the offerings on Disney and Teen Nick, you will find that they are predominately aimed at middle school girls. If boys have a lead role in a show, they must be cute and non-threatening and be part of a cast with strong girl characters (e.g., Dylan and Cole Sprouse from the Suite Life of Zack and Cody or Ricky Ullman in Phil of the Future). Maybe guys of this age are too glued to their Xbox to watch TV. However, middle school girls provide an eager audience. Since they are too young to drive, they spend a lot of time in front of the TV (usually while talking on the phone at the same time). They also buy the magazines, CDs and movie tickets which spin off from these shows and spend hours discussing them with their friends.
2. Second, is that it helps to have some vaguely familiar names. Thus, you will find Julia Roberts’s niece (Emma Roberts of Unfabulous), Billy Ray Cyrus’s daughter (Miley Cyrus of Hannah Montana), Haley Joel Osment’s sister (Emily Osment also of Hannah Montana) and Britney Spears’s sister (Jamie Lynn Spears of Zoey 101). I’m not sure how this helps with the kids, but perhaps it means something to the parents to know that their kids are watching the daughter of the guy who sang “Achy Breaky Heart.” (By the way, Billy Ray also appears in the show).
3. Third, cross-marketing is key. Disney in particular has mastered the three pillars of middle school girl society: music, movies and television (if they could just find a way to bring the telephone into the equation, they would be unstoppable). Aly & AJ are a prime example. The blonde sisters began performing songs on Radio Disney and in Disney movies such as Ice Princess and Herbie: Fully Loaded. The music videos from these songs play constantly on the Disney channel, promoting both the singers and the movies. Alyson Michalka played the female lead in Phil of the Future (which was tragically cut short when Phil’s father unexpectedly fixed the time machine parting the star crossed couple). The Michalka sisters also appeared in their own made for TV movie, Cow Belles, and will be appearing in a movie released for the big screen by MTV this summer. Their debut CD "Into the Rush" quickly went gold (or is it platinum by now?). Last year, I took my daughter to Houston to see Hannah Montana in concert. Hannah Montana is not an actual person, but is a character played by Miley Cyrus. In the show she plays a teen who has a secret life as a pop star. Reality imitated art when the actress had a concert tour playing her character (along with the Cheetah Girls, another made for TV singing group). Brenda Song plays a supporting role in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, but got to be the star of her own made for TV movie, Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior (no, I am not making this up).
For those of you who didn’t know this world was out there, you probably could have lived without this information. However, it is important to acknowledge genius. Only time will tell whether these stars will retain their luster after they turn 18. However, for now they are certainly enjoying their moment in the sun. My next post will be on the somewhat drier topic of administrative insolvency, professional responsibility and the art of judging.