What 'Star Wars,' Adele And 'The Wiz' Can Teach You About Reaching Teens ... And Their Parents

Three breakout successes rocked the media industry at the end of 2015. At the box office, Star Wars: The Force Awakens shattered opening weekend records, and is well on its way to becoming the highest-grossing film of all-time. In music, Adele’s 25 sold seven million copies in the U.S. in its first five weeks alone. On TV, NBC had some much-needed validation of its holiday event strategy with its third annual live musical, The Wiz Live, followed a week later by the TV movie Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors.The Wiz scored 11.5 million viewers and a 3.4 rating among those 18-49, ranking as the highest-rated entertainment show on NBC this season other than The Voice. A week later, Coat reached 13 million viewers.

These examples show how, in a world increasingly defined by narrowcasting, blockbusters can still exist. Movie critics increasingly lament the divide between teen pictures like Transformers and Fast & Furious, and more serious, adult-oriented films like Carol and The Danish Girl, but Star Wars shows it’s possible to market a movie to multiple generations. And while the music and TV businesses are no less fragmented, Adele’s record-breaking album and the high ratings for The Wiz and Coat demonstrate that going niche isn’t always the only solution.



These recent success stories provide some crucial lessons for marketers who want to reach teens and their parents. 

1. Provide shared experiences. 

Studies suggest that Generation Z and millennials have a much closer relationship with their parents compared to previous generations. These young people discuss their lives with their parents, and they share entertainment recommendations.

To appeal to both parents and teens, keep your assumptions in check. Older-skewing brands have more potential to appeal to millennials and Gen Z than you might think. And Boomers are more on top of contemporary culture than any previous generation that’s been in the 50- to 70-year-old bracket. To come up with shared experiences that appeal to different generations, it’s critical to engage with a wide range of your customers and learn about their motivations, behaviors and attitudes. 

2. Hire cross-generational talent. 

Part of the success of the above-mentioned projects comes from thoughtful casting. Star Wars introduced a young, diverse, twenty-something cast (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver) but also brought back all the original stars who are favorites with Boomers and Gen X (Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher). The Wiz cast an emerging talent (Shanice Williams) in the role of Dorothy and added Stephanie Mills, the Dorothy from the original Broadway production, as Auntie Em.

When promoting your brand, it’s crucial to use consumer insight to identify talent that has cross-generational appeal. The people you hire can each bring their own constituency with them, and if enough constituencies show up, you suddenly have a broad-based hit. Talk to your customers to find out which personalities are highly regarded by each demographic and to identify the traits people look for.

3. Create an event around your product or service. 

Strategic promotions can help ensure success. Star Wars was originally slated for a summer release but got pushed to winter. The move—together with the strategic release of its trailers and a no-expense-spared world premiere—proved to be a blessing, helping fuel the hype for the movie. 25 was four years in the making, but then the record label (XL) grabbed the Friday before Thanksgiving as its release date, capitalizing on the holiday shopping season. NBC also carefully timed The Wiz and Coat after the November sweep during prime holiday-shopping ad-sales season.

The lesson here: when marketing your brand, consider timing and think about creating an event. Claim a date close to a holiday or a relevant season, and promote it strategically. Emphasize to teens and their families why your event is the way they should celebrate that holiday or season together. To ensure success, do research around potential dates and the appropriateness of your brand for that moment.


In an age when of fragmented customers and audiences, the ability to appeal to multiple generations yields large dividends. Providing teens and their parents a communal experience with cross-generational appeal and the feeling of a must-see event can awaken the force in your marketing strategy.

1 comment about "What 'Star Wars,' Adele And 'The Wiz' Can Teach You About Reaching Teens ... And Their Parents".
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  1. Tom Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, January 14, 2016 at 1:52 p.m.

    It's interesting that out of all the "serious, adult-oriented films" in the marketplace -- including Spotlight, The Big Short and Concussion, which tackle large and important issues facing all of society --  the author plugs both Carol and The Danish Girl, which address smaller, individual melodramas relating to sexual identity.

    Nothing against either motion picture or the subject matter, which opens conversation and awareness and should be encouraged.

    ut there are many "serious, adult-oriented films" dealing with topics that have far broader and more immediate societal implications that should be attended by the American community as well. We are not a walled garden.  

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