Kicking Butt, Preschool-Style
Why the most brilliant show on tv is one you probably haven’t heard of.
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
You have a kid.
You can’t wait to share all the things you loved growing up with that kid.
You ask Google, “At what age can you show your kid Star Wars?”
You want to ignore the prevailing advice to wait, but in your heart of hearts you know you probably shouldn’t show your kid anything too, well, violent before s/he understands the difference between imaginary and reality.
But man are you are dying to share your love of all things geeky with your preschooler.
The author’s kid, totally PJ Masking-out.
Here at Doobry we’ve written a lot about the rise of super heroes in pop culture. What used to be niche — and, frankly, somewhat embarrassing — has entered the mainstream. Geekdom is finally cool and as parents, we can actually feel comfortable introducing our kids to all this amazing geeky stuff without worrying that they might be teased or bullied on the playground if they follow in our nerdy footsteps. This is the massive culture shift we’ve been waiting for.
But until recently, we still had that fundamental problem of age-appropriateness for our littlest ones. How could we share what we love most with our most impressionable?
Preschool super heroes: this was a huge, gaping hole in the market. And in 2015, Entertainment One stepped in to fill it.
At its core, PJ Masks is about a trio of six year old kids who solve problems perpetrated by kid villains. The three heroes — Cat Boy, Owelette, and Gekko — look like traditional super heroes, with full-body suits and face masks reminiscent of Spider-Man. But they’re non-violent, totally adorable, and their costumes are pajamas. And when you think about it, those old-school super hero costumes totally look like pajamas.
So let’s take a closer look at why these super heroes are so darn super, and what we can learn from their overnight leap to the top tier of the preschool entertainment/licensing juggernaut.
It leverages a TREND.
Super heroes are flying to the top of the charts everywhere. With massive anticipation for every next Marvel and DC Entertainment film on the way, there’s no doubt that this genre is hot hot hot. From fashion to fast food, savvy content creators and marketers are integrating the super hero trend in ways that are authentic to their brands, across channels and categories.
It fulfills a NEED in a WHITE SPACE.
There were no great preschool super hero shows before this one. Parents desperately wanted to share their love of geek culture with their little ones. PJ Masks totally stepped in filled this void.
It’s ASPIRATIONAL —but RELATABLE.
The PJ Masks are six year old kids. This is a secret core strategy for creating content targeted to kids: make your characters slightly older than your target market. That way, your audience looks up to them; they’re older so they’re cool by default. They are who the fans want to be. But the PJ Masks are not that much older than the preschool cohort of kids 2–5, so kids know they can be like them — soon.
This push-and-pull between aspiration and relatability creates a very real desire that sparks kids’ imaginations and builds deep engagement between kids and content.
It has ATTRIBUTES kids love — and parents appreciate.
So we’ve got super powers of course (flight, super strength, camouflage, speed and agility). We’ve also got silly humor, good vs. evil role playing, friendship and teamwork, and multiple villains. Speaking of villains, in almost every episode our super heroes are hindered not only by the big problem a meddling villain creates, but by the heroes’ own, still-developing social skills. The PJ Masks have to work through their own personal preschool-level issues to come together as a team and save the day. This gets a big thumbs-up from parents. And parental approval is absolutely necessary for preschool shows to get any traction — because parents still control the remote.
It’s GENDER NEUTRAL and DIVERSE.
The super heroes and villains are both boys and girls, with a wide range of ethnicities and backgrounds. This is beyond refreshing, especially for a kid-targeted super hero brand. And it makes the ancillary opportunities SO much bigger at retail — kids can easily see themselves in these characters, no matter their gender or ethnicity.
It integrates OWNABLE ICONIC ELEMENTS inspired by GENRE CUES.
We’ve already talked a bit about the PJ Masks costumes and how they reference recognizable super hero costumes. But let’s take a closer look at exactly how brilliant the character and production designs are for this brand, and how they can be leveraged beyond the show, into merchandise:
Brilliant design choice #1: Pajama Super Hero Costumes
I mean, what kid doesn’t want to wear that to bed?! Also, their costumes glow when they activate their superpowers. Yeah. That’s boss.
Brilliant design choice #2: Custom Colors
Cat Boy is blue. Owelette is red. Gekko is green. Their costumes are bright, but monotone — which means each character is strongly associated with a color. This makes them super easily recognizable to preschoolers — and stand out on retail shelves.
Brilliant design choice #3: Integrated Iconography
The design team has associated each character with an actual animal icon, placed on the above-referenced suits as well as on each character’s totally awesome bracelet — a bracelet every preschool fan desperately wants to wear because it’s the source of the PJ Masks’ powers. And beyond that, the icons are physically brought to life in the super heroes’ headquarters. Merchandising, here we come! And then the brilliant marketing team actually made the icons part of the brand logo. Those’re super hero integration moves right there.
Brilliant design choice #4: Custom Vehicles
Unless (and sometimes even if) they can fly, super heroes have super vehicles. And all great preschool shows need vehicles too, because kids are pretty much obsessed with driving and flying toys around their houses. PJ Masks invents separate vehicles for each character that reflect their individual superpowers — flight, speed, camouflage and strength. They are super cool and super ownable.
So there you have it: my rundown of what makes PJ Masks the most brilliant show on television. If you’ve got little ones, what are you waiting for? I promise: you’ll love it.