A teaser for Steven Levitt’s “Freakonomics” blog in The New York Times today caught my eye: What do Freakonomics and “High School Musical” have in common? Levitt’s initial answer is that both efforts became surprise hits that had little reason for mainstream success.

[Sidebar: because he thought the movie was “shockingly awful,” Levitt ends with a bit of humor by hoping that his book and the Disney movie have actually nothing in common. That’s ok: Mr. Levitt is not a member of the target audience – his kids, however, are completely addicted.]

For you non-fans, High School Musical was a made-for-TV movie that debuted in January 2006 to an audience of 7.8 million viewers. It’s made about $100 million in DVD and soundtrack sales so far. HSM2 drew 17.2 million viewers on its first night last month, and the soundtrack is #1 on the Billboard chart. And if you really want to drive yourself crazy: IMDB claims the original soundtrack took five days to make…I wonder if the success of a franchise that is so innocent – that harkens back to a much more wholesome, optimistic time – seems remarkable to anyone else. The news and adult conversation today are replete with terrorism, recession, lead paint, political hopelessness and schadenfreude. My mother thinks we should move to Canada. What’s with all these happy, singing kids? Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of the compelling book, Generations, and the new Millenials Rising, think they have the answer. Howe and Strauss show how today’s pre-teens and teens are distancing themselves from their parents and the recasting the very image of youth from downbeat to positive, altruistic and engaged. The evolution is most profound with younger kids, who are moving away from even older teens’ more violent and sexually-charged world. Over time, these 12-15 year olds will not only entirely recreate what it means to be young but could become our next “great generation,” a la Franklin D. Roosevelt, and bring society back to a more honorable time.

What does this mean for marketers? What product and service categories could take particular advantage of this phenomenal evolution, and how do we get from hip-hop here to a more fanciful future?


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