Learning matters: AQR Spark

Sharper thinking is a big deal to us. And so is industry training and learning.
We’d like to share with you our thoughts on all sessions we attend.
Because learning matters.  


February 2020: AQR Spark – Mental Health and Wellbeing

A session exploring mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. With Helen Stephens, wellbeing coach and former Research Director at Ipsos MORI.

Chloe B’s thoughts:

Mental health is an important topic of conversation and, today, it feels more relevant than ever. This week’s Spark event made us think about the different triggers that lead to workplace stress and coping mechanisms we can employ to try and manage things moving forward.

Helen made many interesting points, but here are five things worth considering to improve workplace wellbeing:

  • Foster a culture of openness and curiosity. One of Helen’s big points was around ‘unclear expectations’ either from colleagues or from clients. It’s important to make sure everyone believes they are ‘one team’ right from the briefing call and that questions can be asked without the fear of feeling stupid or naïve.

  • Switch off. Make sure you allow yourself proper time to focus on the task in hand. It’s so easy to get distracted with emails, messages and everything else going on in our home lives. Switch off emails when you need to focus, leave your phone in another room, take your lunch hour away from your desk and go outside for some fresh air – even if it’s just for a short walk. 

  • Set yourself boundaries. I know from previous experience that this can be tricky so it’s more for senior management to be in charge of. Razor is particularly good at this – we have a no early morning/late evening email policy and absolutely no emailing over a weekend. It’s important these are properly implemented as company policies and not something that’s just a ‘nice to have’ as and when it suits.

  • Surround yourself with good people. Sometimes we want to talk to people that will just listen to – rather than try to fix – the problem. Make sure you have people that you can talk to whether it’s a line manager, a house mate or a friend to help relieve some of that pressure.

  • Remind people how great they are. Once we start to lose confidence, it can lead us to believe we’re bad at our jobs. We then start to collect ‘evidence’ that proves we’re not good enough which can result in a vicious cycle. Praising people when they’ve done a good job can really give them the boost that they need.

I’m not just saying this but Helen’s reminded me of how lucky I am. I work with such a kind group of people that really care about workplace wellbeing and will go out of their ways to check in on each other. Everyone is going to feel stressed/go through busy periods at some point but it’s having people there for you that can make a real difference.

Don’t forget to check the AQR and MRS calendars for upcoming events and training!


Nikisha’s been a fantastic intern these last three months and today is her last day. We’re very sad to see her go. She has a great future ahead of her and we wish her lots of good luck for her next role. Thanks for everything, Nikisha! 
Love, the Razors. x

I always thought I’d end up teaching, or doing journalism, after my English degree; but never imagined myself in market research. Not only have I been lucky in finding such a great internship, I’ve met the most incredible bunch of people who have supported me endlessly, taken the time to teach me different things about research, and made me laugh every day (I think Chloe F was a comedian in her past life).

I’ve loved coming to work, being surrounded by positive people, and learning something new (whether it’s about research, the world, or people around me). Here are some things about research I’ve learnt which will stay with me. I hope they’ll help any aspiring researchers out there.

Always be yourself
You’re unique so use your quirks and interests to form bonds and friendships. You’ll find everyone has weird traits – in a good way (even if they do like cold samosas!). Embrace who you are, and others will too. Take an interest in those you work with. You may find someone who has similar interests or experiences but will also teach you about different perspectives.

Being able to talk to different people is a big deal in research; being able to talk freely in the office will help build your fieldwork and networking skills. During focus groups/fieldwork, you’ll find the participants have a range of personalities. Some will be willing and open to sharing their experiences immediately. But others will be naturally be more reserved and will need some encouragement to engage.

Have an open mind and ask questions
When it comes to qual, don’t ask questions that will lead participants to desired answers (even though this may often be a temptation if you have personal opinions on the project). You’ll get the most benefit from honest and accurate consumer opinions. As a researcher always ask why. Probe further to find important associations and emotions. Kenny was super great at teaching me this.

Be flexible
Every client is different. Every project is different. Rather than having the same standard methods that you might use for all projects; you should first try to understand what the project needs and adapt the research to the project. There’s no one set method. Solid research recognises the value of using multiple methods to get results.

Ask for help if you need it
If you don’t understand something, speak up. Don’t pretend you know the answers. People are always there to guide and teach you on the job. For a sports project, Jill took the time to explain the rules of cricket to me using a variety of sweets – that was amazing. I’ve learned something new during every project I’ve worked on be it through someone explaining things to me or simply allowing me to watch/participate.

I worked on a mental health project during my time here and had so much support – from my backbone, Chloe B, helping me brainstorm questions to my angels, Lindsay and Kate, reading and editing my blog. Gem’s always come to the rescue when technology failed me. Everyone starts out in the same position so don’t be afraid to ask for help; doing so shows that you’re eager to learn something new and to do a good job.

Go the extra mile
Doing more for your company will benefit you in so many ways. You’ll learn more about the business and yourself while showing you’re an active learner. Whether it’s staying a few extra minutes after work to help or by writing a blog, you’re showing that you can add value. When I first started writing my mental health blog, I wrote it almost like a university essay. But taking some extra time to read through the other blogs on the Razor website allowed me to gauge the tone and style of the blogs written here. Always offer to help if you can and support others like they support you.

* * * 


First Shave

The FMCG landscape continues to change with the rise of emerging brands desperately trying to disrupt and survive in an incredibly crowded marketspace. Their fight to stand out has made our job as researchers more challenging and more interesting.

You only have to walk down supermarket checkout aisles to spot the latest snacking innovations. Established brands are now competing with a new array of brands entering the health and well-being space (Popchips, Hippeas and KIND to name a few!).

Femcare is another market being shaken up by challenger brands. It’s fascinating to watch newbies entering the category embracing holistic health care, female empowerment and fun. While we know consumers are seeking brands with empathy, clear and authentic values, it’s a big switch for consumers to start thinking about those values in the context of this category.

At Razor, we love and feel privileged to work with some of the ‘big players’; but we’re also passionate about working with entrepreneurs who inspire us and have ideas we feel truly excited by. We’re very aware of the restraints that exist within small businesses, so we developed First Shave; an approach designed to give start-ups a leg-up. (Or, if you like, a ‘first shave’ of research.)

Our method is rapid, inexpensive and incisive to support the needs of challenger brands. Recently we helped an alcohol-free spirit brand get to market and we created an innovation roadmap for a vegan brand. Exciting stuff!

So, if you’re a fledgling brand looking to back a hunch, settle an internal debate, or need to impress potential customers and investors, do get in touch. We’d love to hear from you!



The December treadmill

Have you watched this video of Money Saving Expert, Martin Lewis, doing the rounds? If not, please do so. (Don’t just read the title and switch off thinking you’ve already got the gist of what he’s going to say.)

Don’t worry, I’ve not turned anti-Christmas or anything like that. It’s December tomorrow and, I assure you, I’ll be swept up by the festive magic. What I’m talking about is the needless stress and worry usually going on behind the scenes – and it turns out, I’m not alone.

Even retailers have sensed the mood of the nation and scaled things back a bit versus last year. #EltonJohnLewis aside, there aren’t really any ‘cinematic’ masterpieces doing the rounds. (LOL at this Twitter response, by the way.)

The first time that the thought of Christmas brought me out in a cold sweat was 2014. I’d been several months into redundancy, was being anti-social, and feeling incredibly low. Then I got a Christmas job at my local department store which saved my sanity – such is the power of retail. We had a family chat agreeing to forgo presents that year and instead focus on food, games, and films. Even though I had to wake at stupid o’clock on Boxing Day to work the sales, it remains one of my favourite Christmases to date. Yes, I felt incredibly guilty about being the reason for no gifts, but taking that extra pressure away from each other was the best feeling.

It got us thinking about how we used to wait for birthdays and Christmas as children to get the treats we wished for. As adults, most of us are fortunate enough to be able to buy what we want, when we want it. So, rather than being total Scrooges and giving each other nothing, we now agree a number of gifts or a spend cap up-front to keep ourselves in check. Or, even better, we opt for event/experience tickets so as not to have to find storage space in our homes for more ‘stuff’. (The latter also doubles up as a birthday gift policy among my friends.) Happy days.

But the stress isn’t always financial. There’s also the time and thought it takes to come up with something meaningful. (We’ve all made that joke about kids being more interested in the box than the gift itself.) Sometimes, no matter how well you know someone, you just cannot figure out the right gift for them. You might come up with a fantastic idea…but then it comes in/with different colours/shapes/sizes/features and, oh my word, what would you pick if you were that person?!?! <Insert mind blown emoji here.>

Some of my colleagues will scoff at this for sure. They are skilled market researchers and know how to extract key information from people without being rumbled. You should hear the variety of conversations we have at Razor HQ. I know that our resident thoughtful present-giver, Chloë F, quietly makes a note of gift ideas all year long and springs into action when the right time comes. 

Inspired by the Fowler’s shopping skills, I made my first purchase on Instagram this year. It’s amazing what gift ideas you can pick up when scanning to see what public posts your friends have liked. It’s sneaky but it works!

Happy (stress-free, I hope) shopping! And do give us a shout if you need any ideas. We’re very good at brainstorming.



I now pronounce you big data and market research

For any laggards out there, big data is the (too large for traditional processing) collection of consumer data relating to our behaviours and attitudes – all captured through our online activity. Companies harness this info to target their desired audience(s). Big data erupted over the last decade and consumer research has never been more effective. 

Three of the companies heavily connected to this are Google, Facebook, and Amazon; all using big data and market research in their strategic decision-making – for better or for worse.

Despite concerns over privacy issues, I’m okay with this. With summer officially gone, I was in the market for a new winter jacket. After a simple Google search and visit to a few online retailers, I transferred my focus to social media where I was suddenly bombarded with adverts of furry parkas as I scrolled through various platforms. I’m now £49.99 out of pocket but am also guaranteed warmth against the chilling winds that will surround me in the coming months.

All it takes is a few searches showing interest in a set of new salt and pepper shakers to impress Grandma with my cooking skills (mainly to add some much-needed excitement to the flavourless chicken I’ve just popped in the oven), and I’m suddenly being targeted with ads for new bowls, cutlery sets, and a new blender. Some may find this annoying but, for me, it makes shopping easier and more enticing than ever. My wallet’s been dented but at least I get to make a delicious smoothie whenever I want.

Unsurprisingly, there’s been a tidal wave of conversation around big data; you have the clear benefits to business strategy and consumer needs on one side – and the societal implications of living in a big data environment on the other. 

In a highly hedonistic and post-modern market environment, I say ‘hell yeah!’ to big data.

Unlike during the 60’s, when my Grandad was told that Brylcreem was the only way to get the Elvis shine and hold, consumers now give the directions. It’s us in the driving seat and brands are our passengers. We’re creating demand like never before. Having our behaviours and attitudes mined and analysed means our needs and demands are met instantly through segmented targeting.

When I need something, I want it now (I am a millennial after all). So, it’s good to know that my data’s been collected and my needs are being catered to. (And I will get it delivered tomorrow afternoon thank you very much.)

Naturally, this phenomenon raises considerable ethical issues – particularly when companies transfer any consumer data they’re holding to external companies without prior consent. The Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal is a high-profile example. In spite of this, the collection and transfer of data across multiple industries continues and competition has never been so fierce.

Big data has transformed the quality of secondary data sources because they tell the researcher the ‘whats’ and allows them to tailor their methods to discover the ‘whys’ and the ‘hows’. 

Despite experts claiming big data could replace market research, it’s clear that a long and happy civil partnership between both will serve consumers far more effectively; not to mention, giving brands a competitive advantage.

I’ve got to go now. Instagram’s just shown me the perfect panini grill I’ve been searching for.

Virtually there

My wife accuses me of ‘moderating’ her when I think we’re just having a chat. It’s not because I’ve asked her to fill in a food diary, do a selfie video, or map a series of choices that I’ve written on index cards for what we might do this weekend…honestly, it’s not. (I only did that one time and it was very insightful.)

I bridle, but I think she has a point. For twenty years now, my job has been to put people at ease and then…get something from them. At the risk of sounding Machiavellian, this is my approach to both client relationships and market research participants (or consumers, or humans, or whatever you’re supposed to call them nowadays). 

That’s the job, right? To engage people in conversation and learn some stuff about them. Sure, you’re also going to turn it into insight…and a debrief…or a new brief…but it all starts the same way. With rapport.

This week, I’m interviewing women via Zoom Video Conferencing (my new favourite toy). We’re talking about weight loss and it gets pretty personal. They’re at home and they’ve not had to dress up or tidy up for the camera. I’m at home and I haven’t dressed up either (but I am doing them the courtesy of getting dressed). Our pets walk past the camera and their children can be heard arguing off-stage. It’s like life is only slightly interrupted.

And it’s great. Because it’s rapport. And because I’m good at my job, I’m really good at rapport. It doesn’t matter that there are also six clients on the call (with muted camera and microphones) and that they’re messaging me questions from the sidelines. The questions are useful and their presence is unintrusive. We’re on a level. There’s no fuss or faffing – just space to have a conversation. 

We wrote another proposal recently that recommends virtual interviews only – and I know the client is sceptical. If we don’t win it, I’ll be sad but I’ll understand. But I honestly, honestly believe that if we’re good at our jobs we can develop rapport with anyone – quickly, easily, on all our own terms. 

I’m under no illusions that virtual depths are anything new. But having been a staunch ‘face-to-face’ is best kinda researcher, I’m now changing my tune. Life is hectic, we all want market research to be easy, and none of us enjoy schlepping home from the other side of town late at night and hungry. But we do it because we believe in it.

Maybe we’re just not trusting ourselves to enjoy a different way of chatting; being mutually comfy, staring straight into someone’s eyes and talking? Rapport is what qual researchers should be really good at. So, let’s use it and make everyone’s life just a little bit easier. 

As for my wife, she’s truly excited to be going with me on an accompanied shopping trip where I shall scrutinise her choices and then buy her a coffee for a summary chat afterwards. 

Born to moderate? Moi?



Time for action

At Razor Kids, we regularly explore emerging trends, behaviours and attitudes. Recently we turned our attention towards self-image amongst girls aged 8-14 years. For the first time, we heard them starting to voice resentment towards the unattainable benchmarks (driven mainly by social media and selfie culture) on how they should look and present themselves.

As young girls become more active consumers of media – particularly on YouTube and Instagram – they’re increasingly exposed to unrealistic expectations of self-imagery. This is creating a generation that views everything in ‘real’ life as ugly – including themselves.

Whilst there’s now substantial evidence to show that too much social media can lead to poor mental health, it seems that the government and DCMS are powerless to create a regulated system to protect the young and vulnerable. It’s time to act.

If you listen to girls talk about what it’s like growing up in 2018, it sounds like a positive story on the surface. They have greater aspirations and opportunities for their careers, along with an array of positive female role models to emulate. Many cite their mums as someone they aspire to be like.

So, why do young girls still suffer with low self-esteem and poor body image? We believe it’s rooted in how they’re being exposed to unrealistic ideals on how they should look and act and in the current media environment. The ‘beauty gap’ is prolific and harmful.

‘Because people use filters and Photoshop over their pictures, it makes me think my own image isn’t good enough to please society.’
Age 12 (year 7), Brighton

Children’s media independence – and access to adult content – is accelerating them into adult worlds and norms. Previous studies we’ve worked on revealed that kids tend to get their own social media accounts as soon as they have a smartphone. This happens by year 6 for most kids in the UK, but it can also be from a younger age.

Where traditional media was once censored by responsible guardians, the present-day ownership of personal devices means very little safeguarding. In fact, when we chat to kids about this, they are acutely aware of their loss of childhood and feel slightly sad that they aren’t truly able to enjoy what they know is supposed to be a ‘special’ and carefree period in their life.

‘It’s difficult being told so many things and still not knowing who you are.
I sometimes want to be a baby again and not have to care about any of it.’

Age 13 (year 8), London

Transitioning into a teenager always comes with angst, self-doubt, and a need for peer acceptance – but this has been exacerbated for teens who are active on social media, sharing and living their lives under public scrutiny. They feel compelled to post selfies that will increase their ‘likes’, take photos to keep their ‘streaks’ up, and tell the world what they are up to and how they are feeling. Given their tender age, it isn’t surprising that they don’t all have the emotional resilience to cope with being judged so openly and harshly.

Our study found that regardless of location/family set-up/age, as soon as girls become active on social media (especially Instagram) they tend to experience feelings of insecurity and ugliness. When scrolling through posts from peers, vloggers and celebrities, they feel pressurised to be as good at everything. This relates to the way they look and dress – as well as needing to showcase cues that suggest their talent and popularity.

‘I do feel like I pressure myself. If I see someone who looks really pretty in all their photos, I look at my photos and think, why do I not look like that?’. Why am I not as pretty?’
Age 11 (year 6), Crewe

The current rhetoric preached at schools focuses on inclusion and diversity. When it comes to beauty definitions, we heard that tweens and teens have a greater regard for intrinsic values, compared to external looks and traditional norms around beauty. But media content, advertising imagery and brand messaging is out of kilter, still presenting the world with a very narrowly defined view of what is regarded as socially acceptable with idealised norms.

‘In adverts it’s always the tall, skinny and pretty people being shown. They aren’t exactly showing equality. People speak about diversity but then don’t act on it.’
Age 14 (year 9), Scunthorpe

Today’s media platforms should be used as a tool to celebrate diversity around self-image. Instead, they re-affirm a confined perspective of what is aspirational. Teens mimic beauty imagery with selfies and poses and apply ‘pretty’ filters to enhance their looks. As app technology innovates, the benchmark for how one presents themselves in public rises substantially. Sadly, girls talk about feeling ugly when they are looking at themselves in the real world. Quite worrying when you think about their identities being formed at this crucial time in their lives. We see a schizophrenic split emerge of real versus virtual identities that they are struggling to work out. It’s social media that forces them to focus on their public self, rather than their private world where they can feel comfortable and safe.

‘The way that the media describes fitting in is that you have to be ‘pretty’. You have to have the right clothes, the right body and the right face. I can definitely say that I’ve felt insecure about myself from pictures I’ve seen all over Instagram and other social media sites.’
Age 14 (year 10), London 

Some of the 12-14 year-olds we spoke to are angry. They criticise brands and posts for not presenting beauty authentically. They are confused about who are models, who are their peers, and whether the beauty they see is real or has been manipulated. The benchmarks on how they should present themselves are being pushed to unattainable limits. They lament that social media relentlessly feeds them imagery that all looks the same.

‘I think there is pressure on how I look. I think this comes from social media and magazines where models are all perfect but fake looking. They make me feel that this is how society thinks people should look and how I should look.’
Age 12 (year 7)

Currently, the icons they look up to are respected for their inner qualities, such as their positivity or supporting causes that they affiliate with. When they talk about beauty, they choose people who are brave (such as Nikki Lilly), or bold and unique (ike transgender vloggers James Charles and Patrick Starr). However, we wonder how long it will be before they drop them and move towards more ‘conventional’ models of beauty?

As sub-cultures become homogenised, it is having a devastating impact on the girls who don’t feel like they fit in. The result is a generation of girls who feel squeezed and marginalized in how they want to express themselves or develop their identity. Whilst various beauty and personal care brands have begun to challenge the status quo, the message isn’t filtering down to tweens and teens.

We have a responsibility to protect our future generation of women. For the first time, we are hearing from them that they don’t like the impact of social media and the way it creates insecurities around acceptance and belonging (a fundamental human need). This cannot be ignored. We are living in a social experiment where it’s hard to predict the future – but early signs of the impact on social media are alarming. It’s time to regulate social media and become more stringent in what children have access to.

Our full report – The Beauty Project – is now available to share.

Contact Lesley Salem, head of Razor Kids, for further details.


Digital natives

Cute little boy in headphones watching something on laptop at home

Today’s kids are growing up in a digital universe with all the power at their fingertips. We already know that the digital world is an enchanting place for kids – but it can also be a dangerous one. Cyberbullying, exposure to unrealistic images, fake news, sexual content, violent imagery…It’s a risky landscape to navigate and could have a detrimental effect on kids’ mental health.

A few weeks ago, YouTube hit the headlines for streaming a video by influential tween icon, Logan Paul. The video showed footage of what appeared to be a dead body in a location, referred to as ‘Suicide Forest’. Shockingly, not only did the video make it through the YouTube filters (receiving 6.3 million views!) but it also made it through to the top trending videos list.

And a few months ago, YouTube caused another storm for allowing violent and offensive content to slip through the net. This time it wasn’t just for the main channel but also YouTube Kids a standalone app built specifically for children and child-friendly entertainment.

It’s not only inappropriate content that is a concern. We see, from our studies, that girls as young as six are not only conscious of their body shape but tend to be unhappy with it. We’ve no doubt this is being exacerbated by the proliferation of videos and imagery they are viewing.

With the staggering growth and penetration of smartphone and tablet ownership by children, media viewing and active, digital participation has become individual and child-led. It is often unmonitored by a responsible adult. This has, not surprisingly, created tension and concern among parents, teachers, and the government with regards to how safe or appropriate the virtual environment is for young people. There’s been considerable investment in education with interventions to help safeguard children but it’s clear this isn’t working hard enough and that the problem stems from children’s homes. Last year, hype on social media led to many children watching an 18-rated, suicide fantasy series called 13 Reasons Why. By the time schools and parents had found out, it was too late. It proves that access to inappropriate content is easy and highlights the lack of involvement parents have in knowing what their kids are getting up to.

A YouGov survey from 2015 found that British parents were reluctant to have conversations with their children about what they’re up to online – waiting until children turned nine to tackle online safety, despite 91% of eight-year olds accessing the internet once a week. Since then, we’ve seen brands such as O2 and EE open the dialogue to support parents with online protection. 02 have partnered with the NSPCC to offer free online resources and workshops in schools whilst EE are also providing parents and children with tips to stay safe online. This comes after 40% of parents reported that they do not consider online safety when buying technology gifts for their children.

teenager with tablet while lying on the floor in the room

So why aren’t parents doing more?

Parents tell us that they feel disempowered and deskilled to monitor what their kids are doing online. A generational tech gap exists between kids and parents. However, whilst parents are aware of stealth tracking software to monitor their kids’ surfing and social media feeds, uptake of this is very low. A key reason for children’s online and autonomous independence stems from the fact that in many households, working parents are the norm and unable to be around as much. This has impacted on family dynamics. Parents are much more likely to expect help from their offspring around the home and in return are often rewarded with ‘screen time’. Modern parenting styles also skew towards a liberal approach of trusting their children to be responsible and behaving appropriately, especially as parents’ perceptions are that their kids are equipped to navigate online safely. And let’s not forget ‘pester power’ which is in force among hormonal tweens and teens. Tired parents find it hard to resist allowing kids to watch a video or get a social media campaign when persistently being nagged by their children – especially if they feel this will socially ostracise their kids in their social friendship circles.

Whilst we all know children under the age of 13 shouldn’t have a social media account, recent studies show that the truth is far from this. There’s a direct correlation with social media activity and smart phone ownership and in some markets, this is as young as seven years of age. But we can’t blame parents. Many social media platforms are unwilling to admit to an underage user base and squirm their way out of being responsible for this invisible cohort. However, pressure from government, children’s charities, parent and school forums is finally starting to have an effect. Facebook currently has 4,500 moderators and last year announced plans to hire more. Even before Logan Paul’s dramatic fall from grace, YouTube announced similar plans to hire thousands of new moderators.

The media giant is now said to be making changes to the way it moderates content, with a greater focus on footage that might violate their policies whilst further developing advanced learning technology to automatically flag content for removal. It will be interesting to see how future safeguards to protect young people will emerge – especially given the technical skill & knowledge, online giants must have within their reach.

But we also must be careful that support for kids doesn’t mean removing their digital access or being too stringent on restricting their online/social media activity, as there are many benefits about growing up digital and is after all, the world they will be working and communicating within, for years to come.

Teacher and kids lying on floor using digital tablet in library at elementary school

We hear from kids, parents, and teachers about the benefits digital access has brought to learning and education and enhancing children’s creativity and problem-solving skills. In this information age, kids have a genuine thirst for knowledge and the boundaries between learning and play have blurred into ‘edutainment’.  Social media platforms are helping kids understand the importance of growing diverse networks and will put them in good stead in the future and they tap into these for career and leisure purposes.  

Growing independence is also helping them learn to self-regulate their behaviour and abide by their own standards of what’s right and fair.

They are a generation of kids who have greater awareness of what’s going on in the world and are deeply moved by the negative impact that man is having on the planet and want to change this. Access to personal technology has also helped them develop new and far reaching friendships. We’ve heard from families about how connected they feel with each other through chatting on social media platforms, allowing continual, intermittent exchanges about what’s going on in their life or troubling them.

The government’s Internet Safety Strategy consultation came to an end last month. It will be interesting to see how we find a way to balance the benefits of children being online or on social media with safeguarding them more effectively.

Lesley Salem, head of Razor Kids appeared as a panelist at the 2018 MRS Kids & Youth Research Conference, exploring ‘the role of research in protecting and empowering young people online’. If you have an idea on how your organisation could get more involved in sharing significant trends around children’s online safety or could have an impact on policy, we’d love to hear from you.


Buzzfeed – reactions to Logan Paul
Buzzfeed – parents’ reactions to Logan Paul 
Mashable – YouTube changes
The Guardian – YouTube accused
Polygon – YouTube
Campaign – O2 and NSPCC
EE – staying safe online
EE – press release
The Guardian – moderating social media
The Telegraph – moderators allowed Logan Paul video


Same same but different

‘Imagine you’re doing a weekly shop of supermarket own brand products.

At checkout, you’re allowed to exchange just one product for a branded label. Which would you pick?’

Last week we hosted a wonderful work experience student who asked us this question on her last day. It created quite the discussion amongst us – including whether we think Generation Z* are less brand loyal than Millennials…and I’ve been mulling this over ever since she left.

Now I have to admit that I only know a small handful of Gen Z’s. And the majority of my research has focused on Millennials and their predecessors, so I feel a little out of touch with this cohort!

What I can glean (and I’ve more to learn), is that Gen Z are set to be a super-charged version of Millennials and will pose a greater challenge for brands to engage and retain.

I say super-charged Millennials because in a lot of ways Gen Z are looking for the same things – only, seemingly, amplified tenfold! For instance, they choose brands that are authentic, they want fast and friction-free customer service across channels, they favour experiences over possessions, they’re driven by content that engages and entertains, and they feel empowered to create change in the world.

However, there are two fundamental differences (no doubt there’ll be more!) that mean brands will have to work harder and find new ways to market to these consumers to stay relevant:

1. Gen Z are the first true digital natives. They’ve grown up (almost from the get-go) with easy and immediate access to the internet and it’s become an integral part of how they live their lives. They’re addicted to tech. I’d argue that this means they’re:

  • Exposed to a wider variety of brands – which will likely engender a natural promiscuity in buying behaviour. Thus making it harder to generate loyalty.
  • Likely to tune out of lot of advertising and focus on what feels relevant to them. The rise of influencer marketing is a clear reaction to the demand from consumers – and most likely much of this cohort – for relevant, credible content that feels more authentic (even if it’s not!). And this is only likely to continue.
  • More focused on the present and judging brands on what they see and hear in the moment; placing less stock in brand heritage.
  • Looking to connect with brands that help them develop their own online image and enable them to connect with others through content and experiences.

2. They’ve grown up in the aftermath of the recession. They’re facing the prospect of huge university loans and a seemingly impenetrable housing market, which will no doubt make them more budget conscious. Brands will have to work much harder for a share of wallet.

So generating loyalty among Gen Z is definitely a challenge and brands will have to stay ahead in the marketing game to stand out from the crowd. Indeed, Gen Z is less motivated by loyalty programmes than Millennials, which means some brands may have to take a fresh approach to building loyalty with this generation.

However, it is clearly not an impossible feat. You only have to look at user numbers for Snapchat and Instagram or the success of brands like Nike and Forever 21 with this generation to see that loyalty is achievable.  The question is what are those brands doing exactly and how are they doing it? It’s time more brands tried to find out.  

*There are never clear cut dates for generations so, for arguments sake, let’s assume that we’re talking about anyone born between 1995 – 2012

All I want for Christmas

As a keen observer of kids’ trends over the past couple of decades, Lesley Salem’s noticed very little shift in the play drivers behind children’s gift choices – particularly at Christmas time. Of course, technology is ever-present and impacting on toy design. However, much of what’s on this year’s wish lists are merely iterations of traditional play…

Promoting care and nurture

Kids develop their understanding of other’s needs, and demonstrate love and care, through role-play. Therefore, dolls and animals have always dominated in children’s play choices. AI and robotic technology have transformed the market, so today’s toys are able to learn, evolve, and be more responsive to their owner. Young children have animistic thinking and believe objects are living, so AI and robotics have created more realism and are able to inspire loving moments and emotional bonds with children by responding to touch.

Popular examples include Luvabella Doll which has over 100 phrases and different facial expressions, Zoomer Chimp and FurReal’s Roarin’ Tyler the Playful Tiger learn commands and tricks over time, encouraging longevity of play. These kind of toys are not ‘just for Christmas’.

Promoting fantasy play and safe risk-taking

Some parents might feel uncomfortable purchasing toy weapons but it’s natural instinct (particularly for boys) to enjoy fantasy play involving weapons and super hero role play. It’s critical to their development with regards to safe risk-taking. It also allows kids to feel empowered in a world where they have little control.

Nerf guns continue to storm in sales but desire for action and love of cars are combined with this season’s Nerf Nitro LongShot Smash. Kids can design their own stunts and fire foam cars with powerful, high-performing Nerf blasters. The set includes two foam cars, plus a long-jump ramp for long-distance jumping challenges. Lazer X is another game expected to do well this Xmas and is a twist on laser tag. The set is designed for two players. Each player wears a chest plate that has energy for 10 lives. The experience is likened to being inside a video arcade game with various features that stimulate the senses.

Star Wars continues to be a popular franchise and with Hasbro’s Bladebuilders, users can choose between being a goodie or baddie and customise their weaponry in over 100 different combinations.

The joy of the unexpected

More than ever, kids love games that have an element of surprise or randomness in them to provide unexpected, shared experiences. Combined with humour, games like Pie Face and Toilet Trouble (both by Hasbro), work on the principle that after some time, one unlucky player will either get whipped cream or toilet water splashed on their face. Other toys are also tapping into the idea of surprise. L.O.L. Surprise! by MGA Entertainment is expected to surge this Christmas. Kids are encouraged to peel through layers to reveal treats and accessories before reaching a mystery doll in the middle. As there are so many different combinations, this has also increased its value as a collectable. Then there’s Hatchimals Surprise by Spin Master Toys; small eggs that hatch over time to reveal a unique animal inside.

Promoting skills

The lines between education and entertainment have merged, so edutainment is an important trend to the toy industry. LEGO Boost allows kids to build and code interactive, motorised robots and models with distance, colour, and tilt sensor technologies.

Mattel’s Bloxels allows kids to create and animate play spaces, characters and objects, enabling them to become the artist, game designer, storyteller, programmer, publisher and player in their very own virtual reality.

Cozmo by Anki joins a range of friendly robots that explore the environment, repeat phrases said by their owner, and show off their epic moves. Kids can take advantage of Cozmo’s Code Lab feature which enhances its movements, actions, and animations. SAM Labs is a bit like Meccano for the internet generation. It teaches kids how to code and also develops STEM skills. It includes a light sensor, a tilt sensor, a motor and buzzer.  

Little stars

Kids are growing up in the selfie era, following YouTubers and watching talent shows, so it’s no surprise to see a rise in toys that promote kids’ starring performances. DreamWorks’ Trolls Selfie Karaoke Mic Stand and VTech’s Kidi Super Star are definitely something the parents can mess around with when the kids have gone to sleep!

What about gender neutral?

With all the chat this year on the importance of promoting gender neutrality in play, there’s little evidence of this in toy packaging this Christmas. Cars, weapons, and gaming toys still feature traditional ‘boy’ colours and male models whilst dolls and performance toys come in pinks and purples with female models on the packaging. The reality is, from our research, that whilst girls are more open in their play choices, boys are very traditional and steer clear of anything that has a hint of ‘girl’ on it.  Media, parents, schooling and other cultural/socialisation mechanics have a long way to go to make play more gender neutral.

*Lesley Salem heads up Razor Kids, our specialist kids and family unit. You can reach her on [email protected] .