Disney’s Citizen Kid: November Media Thankfulness

disney citizen kidNov. 4, 2014 Disney’s Citizen Kid Kicks off our Media/Marketing Month of Thankfulness

I love the concept of media shining the spotlight on extraordinary kids doing prosocial things, whether it’s grassroots sites like Kids Are Heroes (a nonprofit incubator for social entrepreneurs) or our friends at PeerSpring connecting youth social projects to funding, or the commercially vast marketing machine of the Me to We social enterprise that now thrives as a corporate branding showcase far beyond Canada’s youth invigorated consciousness credo of celebrity concerts.

Sure, it takes critical thinking to deep dive who’s sponsoring what and how corporate social responsibility tethers to positive change, but when I heard one of the ‘big six’ media giants was entering the prosocial arena I saw magic pixie dust go ‘poof’ before my eyes, hoping Disney would use their colossal clout to scale the concept of “kids doing good” instead of using the platform to sell stuff.

Disney put forth their “ordinary kids doing extraordinary things” web show this past summer called “Citizen Kid”  a 21-episode original web series celebrating the vast potential in all kids, and the show itself exemplifies limitless opportunity.

From twin chefs, entrepreneurs, the youngest ever “X Games” medalist  “bringing girl power to the skate park” or the youngest African American National Chess Master in history…to kids creating countless philanthropic projects from Joshua’s Heart.org feeding kids in need, to raising money for kids’ school lunches or “Taking a Stand with Lemonade” to end child slavery, the #CitizenKid hashtag on Twitter houses everyday stories of kids being great.

It’s ‘reality TV’ of the best kind…


I love how Disney’s giving kudos to kids making change in their communities seeding stewardship and media coolness caché, but now imagine how it could escalate to be so much more…especially with their inimitable creative magic. 

What better antidote to the horrific humiliation of commercialized, Reality TV raunch-n-ratings bait of humans behaving badly than to counter-market with REAL life kids doing extraordinary things igniting high stakes drama with positive programming?

We all saw the vast viral payoff of the $100 million ALS icebucket challenge

Imagine what could happen if the ‘reality TV’ fame game rewarded productive pursuits using innovation, problem-solving, and ‘extreme’ ideas of anything goes youth imagination like the X-Prize for humanity, instead of Snooki-style degradation, shock schlock social shunning, and dumb and dumber antics of the usual canned crud that passes as a ‘performance’ and gets exported with mega distribution deals making Americans look like idiots on a global scale.

Fingers crossed that this is just the beginning of something BIG…

ck milk lifeCitizen Kid is “powered by Milk Life” as their exclusive sponsor, just like the old days of  “brought to you by” advertising.

For me that works well, (with food politics, I’m well aware some may take issue with a dairy/nutrition alliance) as I find it to be a wholesome fit to fuel both the series and the kids selected as everyday all-stars, with a power up and pour it on type of innocuous message that has universal appeal. (alas, it replaces the “Got Milk?” long running, successful milk mustache campaign)

Citizen Kid has branded a message of strength for the mind and body that applies to all participants from the get go…whereas one of my other favorite web series with empowering content, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party (“Change the world by being yourself!”) got off to a rocky start when they initially launched with a bit of a tone deaf thud being sponsored by Barbie which felt like a disconnect to me. (they’ve since teamed with less overt branding, I’ll be featuring them as a positive pick soon!)

Disney Interactive_LogoThough Disney Interactive currently has “no plans to go beyond the Citizen Kid web series right now,” I keep hoping that they’re boldly testing some new models to see what gets traction, and trend-tracking some nutritional pleas, like parents’ desire for healthier alliances on and offline.

After all, Disney has the ears for marketing and the eyes for profit to scale and sustain youth innovation far beyond any one-off viral effort of cause marketing to take the Citizen Kid concept far and wide.

Citizen Kid already uses vignettes to salute everyday kids as superheroes, but I keep hoping shows like Citizen Kid will catch on beyond a flicker of ‘awww’ moment kindling to ignite into a bonfire of a spin-off series, including full blown scripted narratives with the support of the mouse house seeding interesting and healthier tween/middle school plotlines.

Some might imply Disney seeded the  ‘kids as heroes’ real life stories to market their new Big Hero Six movie, coming out this week in theatres on November 7, 2014, but I view that more as an aligned ‘brand opportunity’…not a ‘line extension’ or leveraging of Citizen Kid. In fact, I don’t see Citizen Kid mentioned at all. (hmn, where’s the cross-promotion?)

citizen kid big hero 6 Disney HAS teamed with the XPrize challenge, the innovation engine known for creating catalysts for the benefit of humanity…but that’s a marketing fit with their Big Hero 6 movie not a Citizen Kid web series support vehicle.

To me, the XPrize Disney alliance makes perfect sense, gaining eyeballs, awareness, and ‘can do’ bigger thinking in the youth realm to harness the vast possibilities of thinkers and leaders like XPrize participant and ever amazing teen scientist Jack Andraka.

Maybe they’ll morph the two prosocial causes for pragmatics? I’d like to see Citizen Kid spin into its own ‘brand’ of ‘reality TV’ with a massive positive push that’s permanent and productive, not ancillary. Just imagine if Citizen Kid were taken beyond a prosocial (Pollyanna/do good) theme to use the ‘everyday superhero’ influence and the model as an ongoing full feature show…

Whether it’s an X-prize style STEM/Makers ‘reality TV’  competition to get kids thinking with limitless boundaries, or an edgier version building empathy via real life philanthropy casting an ‘in your shoes’ drama, or a fun, resourceful ‘MacGyver’ style STEM shero, or even simply using nature as the setting of an adventure storyline with Citizen Kids challenged by eco-stewardship dilemmas and excitement each week. (Over the Hedge, Fern Gully, Hoot, Ice Age, Happy Feet meets Finding Nemo, Chicken Run and Free Willy style eco messaging?) And hey, how refreshing if we focused on wildlife instead of tweens/teens “wild life” which we get served up by media ad nauseum…dare to be different, Disney-Start a new genre!

The options are endless for Citizen Kid spin-offs; from eco, energy, and entrepreneurial ventures to philanthropy and prosocial problem-solving. Who knows where they take it if they choose to…Even if it’s a hands-on ‘brand extension’ into their theme parks or media channels spotlighting real life local kids on the spot. (candid camera for do-gooders)

thankfulSince we’re focusing on “thankfulness” in media and marketing all November with positive picks to elevate and celebrate the lesser known ‘brands’ and creative productions deserving of applause, I’ll close with a loud, “Encore, Disney!” as Citizen Kid exemplifies the “More Like This Please” Twitter hashtag that we hope to see stick around for long, repeated runs.

Please add your own suggestions and additions for positive picks in the comments…let’s make that spotlight shine bright! Without further ado, here’s more about Citizen Kid from an e-interview with Disney Interactive’s Josh Mattison, VP, Alliances and Sponsorships to kick off our “positive picks” month:

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: Your “Milk Life” sponsorship conjures visions of yesteryear with the “Brought to you by” sponsor model of a TV series… What criteria does Disney use to ‘match’ sponsors, and what other product categories/examples of healthy partners do you see as viable sponsors for ‘original kids programming’ like the Citizen Kid/Milk alliance?

ck josh mattisonJosh Mattison, Disney Interactive: Disney Interactive has moved away from the traditional web display ads and towards an integrated sponsorship model with select advertisers. We’re seeing that this model creates a better experience for our guests. As the #1 digital destination for families, we only want to connect our guests with brands that have value for them.

With sponsored campaigns, we are able to better align branded messages with information that parents care about. The Citizen Kid program and Milk are both focused on empowering kids and families. Citizen Kid inspires kids to power their potential by encouraging them to embrace their interests and talents. Milk is focused on fueling active, successful days by encouraging families to start every day with milk. It’s a great fit.

As for criteria, Disney Interactive looks at sponsors on a case-by-case basis, but in general, we’re always asking “what value does this brand offer families?” To remain true to what Disney represents, our actions have to live up to the examples in the stories we tell. Our commitment to kids and families has to extend beyond entertainment to the world they live in. We have a role to play in creating the better tomorrow we’ve helped people imagine. Citizen Kid is a great example of a program that inspires kids to be there best and make a difference through using their unique skills and abilities.

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: How has the interactive/web effort been received? How have you used the Disney clout to cross-promote content in terms of visits and viewership? How/where do you specifically promote Citizen Kid?

Josh Mattison, Disney Interactive: The web effort has been a success by our measures. Yes, because we are part of the Disney family, we are able to spread the Citizen Kid message across various programming and we’ve seen positive feedback and viewership as a result. The most effective way for us to promote Citizen Kid has been through social marketing and sharing of the content. We leverage all Disney social channels where appropriate to promote Citizen Kid.

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: Are there plans for partnerships with corporate social responsibility (CSR) orgs and change agents that are eager to tell their story through your platform? (e.g. Ashoka changemakers contests,  or Youth Venture branding, or more with the Xprize, like real life teen hero Jack Andraka, etc)

What does this sponsored content model look like in terms of investment in series and where do you see this going? (For instance, your 8-series “It’s a Small World” animated series is sponsored by Rosetta, the language learning platform to open minds to new cultures…With the Citizen Kid series sponsored by Milk Life, are there plans for more of a large scale streaming effort?

Josh Mattison, Disney Interactive: With Citizen Kid specifically, we are excited to shine a spotlight on the incredible work young people are doing around the globe. We will continue to seek out opportunities to share these stories. In general, Disney has incredibly diverse CSR programs across our many platforms, collaborating with different organizations and NGO’s to bring these to life.

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: Would Disney ever consider getting into the web series/reality TV show market, promoting solutionary styles like we suggested in this STEM/fem forward ‘reality TV’ style challenge to get kids thinking about education as applied science for the future!?

Josh Mattison, Disney Interactive: Unfortunately, I can’t speak to future plans around content programming, but we’re open to many different formats and subject matters.

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: Thanks for your time, and giving us a glimpse of where this ‘could go’…It’ll be interesting to see what Disney’s role will be in building web series, or using specifically sponsored platforms.

 The marketplace momentum with original kids’ programming is gaining in quality streaming content, like the Amazon Kids’ early childhood preK educational and developmental shows like Tumble Leaf and Creative Galaxy…

Whether Citizen Kid’s short snippets thread into a mini-series of inspiration that expands into a more robust offering remains to be seen, but that’s the kind of ‘reality TV’ we could all use to lift the human spirit, raise collective consciousness, and market hope to the next generation.

“The Kids Are Alright…” In this series, anyway…


Add your suggestions/Enter to Win!

packaging-girlhood2.jpgWhat are some of YOUR positive picks to share this November in our ‘thankfulness’ bundle of media and marketing efforts for kids?

Tweet your ideas to me @ShapingYouth or leave your thoughts in the comments.

How are we ‘Packaging Childhood’ and what messages could we put forth for a healthier tomorrow?

Leave your ideas and enter to win a copy of “Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketer’s Schemes” or Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons from Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes” (note your preference in the comments; we’ll have a book drawing every week this month of positive picks!)

Visual Credits: Thankfulness graphic (big bonus finding this fun, SOHP site “Society of Happy People!) All other screen shots from their respective Milk Life, Disney Citizen Kid sites, and Twitter bio.


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