"These kids looked like they were lined up for a concert by Pearl Jam or Nine Inch Nails," the exec later said. Since alternative rock bands don't usually attract the kind of fans who flock to G-rated, animated movies, and since the exec handles creative on a huge national brand that counts 16-19-year-olds among its prime targets, he decided to learn more.
"I think there are implications for our client," says the exec, who has begun informal research to discover what draws these kids to Aladdin. He is not alone. A number of agency executives believe the long, late-night lines outside the film may offer insights into the psyche of the teenage consumer.
So far, Aladdin has taken in $156 million in the U.S. When the final count is in, it is expected to surpass Home Alone 2 as the top grossing film of 1992. And while Disney's analysis of audience demographics remains proprietary, the studio does admit that Aladdin has been a hit with teenagers, and teenage boys in particular. "Aladdin is a teenage boy," says a Disney spokesman, "and the humor is sophisticated. There are the Arsenio Hall-type of references and there is the wit of Robin Williams (the voice of the genie)."
Darryl Mobley, ceo of Qualitative Think Tank, a research consultancy specializing in kids and minorities, has looked into the Aladdin phenomena and believes there is more to it than that. The dynamics of the Aladdin crowd are much different, he says, in that "typically the guy gets drawn along to a love story. But in this case, they're coming on their own."
Mobley's research shows the underlying themes in Aladdin appeal to teenagers--even the most cynical and anti-establishment. "There appears to be a sense among kids that nobody is in charge because everything is OK," Mobley says. "Be it condoms in schools, gay rights, animal rights--every possible thing is OK. And because it is, they are yearning for some sense of what rules do apply. Aladdin simply speaks to that desire. It sets standards by which people find love, people have families. There's honor, there's integrity and it's telling kids that living within those rules is OK."
At its most fundamental level, Aladdin is the story of two kids, from what could be characterized as dysfunctional families, who fall in love and live happily ever after. He is from the other side of the tracks, she is to the manor born. There are tests of truth and character for both Aladdin and his significant other, Princess Jasmine. And in the end, love and honor win out.
"The message is that there is goodness and wisdom in the world," says Steve Hayden, chairman/ceo of BBDO Los Angeles. "That's very reassuring to a kid who's carrying a .357 Magnum around because he's afraid to go to school."
Indeed, most of those examining the teenage-Aladdin connection say kids are not going for the fantasy experience. Rather, they are taking the underlying themes and using them to frame their own hopes and dreams. "Aladdin is the classic story of poor boy does good," says Irina Heirakuji, associate planning director who works on Sega of America at Goodby, Berlin & Silverstein. "It's inspirational in terms of not letting your environment and current circumstances keep you from attaining your dream."
When Heirakuji talks to teenagers between the ages of 14 and 16 about their dreams, she finds them to be surprisingly traditional. "They do say, 'We want to be married and have a family and be happy,'" she says. "They don't talk very much about money as being important, but being happy."
In Aladdin, Mobley believes, kids find a blueprint for values they hope will lead them to a better place. "For many, their family structure is not ideal," he says. He also suggests that while these values are helping to drive up Aladdin's box office, they are likely driving down the performance of other fare, such as Madonna's Body of Evidence. "Madonna has continued to stretch the bounds to where she's out of bounds," he says. "Even in the Fox shows, with all the kids with attitudes (Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place), at the end of the year the story lines went to traditional themes."
As for the New York exec, he's found two things his client can learn from Aladdin's success. First, that even rebellious teens may have traditional yearnings that advertising can tap. And second, "Even though (teenagers) can sound really media savvy," he says, "they are, after all, still kids."
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)