I had the pleasure to once again work with Jeffry Pilcher at The Financial Brand. Jeffry asked if I would like to write a review of ING Direct’s revamped kid’s website, Planet Orange. How could I resist? Here’s an excerpt of the review:
When it comes to engaging kids, the greatest challenge facing any financial institution is sustaining interest. With Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Disney pumping out children’s programming 24 hours a day, the competition for the attention of a 10-year old is fierce. It’s this fact that makes ING Direct’s newly redesigned kids educational website, Planet Orange, all the more impressive.
Derived from ING Direct’s “Orange” brand, Planet Orange provides learning activities and games designed to teach kids (grades one to six) financial responsibility. Although not quite as entertaining as Spongebob or Ben 10, Planet Orange nevertheless succeeds in delivering much-needed financial literacy in an interesting package — suitable for today’s media-saturated kids.
Here’s something for credit union youth marketing folks (or anyone interested in youth financial literacy):
ABC is airing a special tonight (May 29, 2009, 9p.m. ET) called Un-Broke. The special takes “an unconventional look at the fundamentals of everyday finance with all the facts about credit cards, mortgages, stocks and bonds, investing and 401k’s, in a fresh new format combining information and humor.”
The special features a great lineup of celebrities, including the Jonas Brothers, Rosario Dawson, Will Smith, Cedric the Entertainer, Seth Green and Samuel L. Jackson, just to name a few. Here’s a clip:
Come on … the Jonas Brothers talking about money? Is there any doubt that interest in personal finance is at an all-time high? This should be exciting news for anyone involved with youth financial literacy. Tune in tonight and let me know what you think.
This weekend I had a chance to watch Kids + Money, a new documentary on HBO. It’s a short film (30 minutes) that illustrates the role money plays in lives of young people in Los Angeles. I posted a trailer above. The film is a must-see for credit union youth marketing & education professionals (or anyone else involved with financial literacy). The film does a great job of exploring the money habits of today’s Gen Y. More importantly, it shines a light on the one thing many financial literacy programs overlook: the overwhelming effect of peer pressure and money.
For example, there’s Annika (12 yrs old), who describes a typical day at her school:
“At my school, you’re walking down the hallway, and you have like, fifty people just analyzing you and judging you based on your clothes. And everybody will kinda just stare you down if you’re wearing the wrong clothes, and if wearing the right clothes you just kinda get this look of approval like, OK.”
And then there’s Phoebe, 16 years old:
“In seventh grade, girls are wearing colored Louis Vuitton [bags] to carry their pencils. It doesn’t stop in high school. It doesn’t stop in your twenties. What car you drive, where you work, what kind of suit you’re wearing … it’s a whole image thing that Hollywood sort of forces you to try to fit into.”
Matthew, 17 years old, puts a whole different spin on the topic:
“It’s gotten to the point where race doesn’t matter anymore. It’s almost to the point where money is all that matters to some cliques and groups in schools. It’s a lot better than saying, oh, he’s black, he’s Mexican, he’s white, he’s Asian.”
After just a few minutes of watching Kids + Money, you may feel that your financial literacy outreach seems a bit inadequate against the pull of an Ed Hardy tank top or Abercrombie shopping spree. This inevitably raises the question: how can we help kids deal with this immense pressure to spend money?
I think we should engage younger members and be frank about the subject. We need to see the forces at work through their eyes and experiences. We can only do this if we truly understand the trials our kids are going through to be accepted. The HBO documentary is an important first step in learning about these challenges. Focus groups and research can also help uncover the subject of financial peer pressure.
Credit unions are facing a generation that spends and consumes more than previous generation. It’s an accepted part of today’s youth culture. I think Annika put it best: “I only really get the feeling of needing something if somebody else wants it.”
It’s no secret that California schools have had financial difficulties for quite some time, having dealt with years and years of budget cuts. And now with the state’s near bankrupt situation, there aren’t any signs of improvement in the near future.
So exactly how bad is it?
Tom Farber, a calculus teacher in Southern California, is selling ad space on his tests to generate revenue to buy much-needed supplies. The going rate is $10 for a quiz, $20 for an exam and $30 for the final exam (which has already sold out). The ads consist of a single line of text across the bottom of the first page. Farber so far has raised $350 which will go toward the $500 a year he typically spends on paper for his exams.
Most of the ad buys are by parents offering words of encouragement, though a few local business are also taking part. An ad run by a dentist mixes inspiration with a soft sales pitch: “Brace Yourself for a Great Semester! Braces by Henry.”
There’s no denying that teachers need to do something to help make up the difference for budget cuts. According to the National Education Association, the average teacher spends more than $400 of their own money on school supplies for their classroom. I think that figure is pretty conservative—my wife is a teacher and she’s already spent that much during the first semester!
So will this trend take off? If schools continue to suffer budget cuts (which they will), they’ll be forced to look at creative ways to raise funds (which they are). Selling ad space can help many schools fill the money gap, as well as offer advertisers access to a highly-coveted demographic: teens. The key for advertisers who decide to follow Henry the Dentist’s lead is to amp up the inspiration and dial down the hard sell. I think Peter Parker’s dear Uncle Ben put it best: “With great power comes great responsibility.”