Stranger Things, a show set in 1980s America, has masterfully recreated the feeling and visuals of an era that is back in vogue. In an episode of Stranger Things Season 2, one of the main characters, Dustin, is wearing a purple Science Museum of Minnesota Brontosaurus sweatshirt. The Science Museum quickly took advantage of the free PR, brought back the garment from the archives, and reprinted for public sale. The demand was so high in the initial hours of its launch, their website crashed.
But why the popularity? For some, like me, that purple sweatshirt was an instant visual reminder of my childhood – I remember seeing it around my St. Paul neighborhood – and this flashback made me feel nostalgic. Likely, this is the feeling most people had when they saw this simple, one-color vintage design. But what would inspire adults to buy one, and to the tune of $1.1 million dollars? This particular moment in our culture plays to a larger trend we’re seeing, Kidulting.
Kidulting is the recapturing of childhood experiences, which the Fruit Loops commercial from last year illustrates. While Kidulting isn’t always the antithesis of being an adult, it shows up in our lives a few different ways: as an escape or to marginalize adult responsibilities by playing Nintendo Mini or drinking Unicorn frappucinos; or it can be a way to relive or revive favorite childhood memories, like the resurgence of Care Bears, the Twin Peaks reboot, and boy band renaissance; or it can be a method of parenting, where adults and kids find experiences in which they can both playfully participate.
The Great Escape
Kidulting, as a way to escape or marginalize adult responsibilities, is directly related to #adulting, which is the new vernacular of doing what is expected of you upon becoming adult, like paying rent/mortgage, taking out the trash, cleaning your home, etc. Unlike Adulting, Kidulting is uncomplicated and never trying too hard. Gaming is a great example of Kidulting as an escape: When Nintendo released a mini version of its classic console, everyone wanted it. This key childhood memory could now be used as an adult to infuse a little more play into a world of Adulting. Same for Pokemon Go’s popularity, which was predominantly played by 25-34 year olds. Some use Kidulting as a way to minimize adult responsibilities, like consuming rainbow colored foods, making Funfetti cakes, and going to adult arcades like Can Can Wonderland, Tilt, and Punch Bowl Social achieve that and turn every day moments, or dinner out with friends, into something more fun.
Back to the Future
Kidulting, in the form of nostalgia, is all about the resurgence of items from one’s childhood that enable a reliving or reviving of memories, specifically toys or brands from the 80s and 90s. That era ushered in specific visual design and experiences that are very trendy now, due to a resurgence in fashion, music, and aesthetics. It’s the Science Museum of MN’s brontosaurus sweatshirt from Stranger Things, the launch of Land of Nod’s Care Bear Collection, making of the Rugrats’ Raptor bar, and continued popularity of Air Jordan sneakers. It’s the Twin Peaks reboot, neon everything, wild popularity of vintage Pyrex, and technology of any form from the 80s or 90s (cassette tapes, Nintendo, Sega, VHS) coming back in unexpected ways (Stranger Things DVD in VHS packaging, Sweet Saba cassette tape candy.)
And what happens when adults who Kidult, have kids? ‘Passenger Plane Parents,’ a term coined by AdWeek writer Sarah Holmes, is Kidulting in the form of parenting. It rejects the hyper-involved Helicopter Parenting style, those parents who are so involved in their children’s lives that it limited their own. Millennials, instead, favor a shared experience that the whole family will enjoy, a lifestyle that accommodates everyone. Think family-themed Halloween costumes, Friday family movie night with theater candies, pumpkin patch and apple orchard trips, Elf On the Shelf silliness, sprinkles on donuts, sundaes or pancakes, and weeknight balloon fights “just because.” They are simple, accessible, and affordable ideas that dial down the stress of their lives by infusing a little fun into the everyday. Kidulting as a parenting style is just starting to emerge as more Millennials become parents and find new ways to make joyful shared memories. As Marketers, it’s an area rich with opportunity to enable their sense of familial inclusivity.
While there are many instances of Kidulting as a way to keep Adulting at bay, bring the past closer, or infuse more play into the serious business of raising little people, Kidulting is about small moments of joy and listening to the kid in all of us. From what we’ve observed, it seems to provide a little relief to our complicated lives. This feels like the time for brands to re-frame fun just for kids to fun for all.