Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Gross-out books get boys reading

Not into "Charlotte's Web, "Little House on the Prairie" or any of the other popular titles part of middle school curriculum? Instead, try "The Day My Butt Went Psycho" or "Getting to Know Your Toilet: The Disgusting Story Behind Your Home's Strangest Feature." Or my favorite: "Help! What's Eating My Flesh: Runaway Staph and Strep Infections!" While some of these are obviously science books with shockingly clever titles, others are just juvenile with a capital J. In last week's Wall Street Journal article Problem: Boys Don't Like to Read. Solution: Books That Are Really Gross, John Hechinger reports that "Scholastic and other publishers are heeding the research of such academics as Jeffrey Wilhelm, an education professor at Boise State University. Prof. Wilhelm tracked boys' reading habits for five years ending in 2005 and found that schools failed to meet their "motivational needs." Teachers assigned novels about relationships, such as marriage, that appealed to girls but bored boys. His survey of academic research found boys more likely to read nonfiction, especially about sports and other activities they enjoy, as well as funny, edgy fiction."

Now, as unappealing as some of these titles may seem (or not!), I believe that the power of these brands to tap into the "motivational needs of boys" that Wilhelm outlined is absolutely critical for success. Just look at the amazing success of the Captain Underpants brand. First published in 1997, the "Butt" line has now sold over 1.2 copies. It just goes to show that with kids, just as with adults, "one size fits all" branding and marketing doesn't work. It's all about understanding the nuances (and in this case the capacities for nasties) of your audience.

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