Sex and rebellion—is it what teenagers really want?
You may not have realized it, but marketers have their sights set on your pocketbook, and they’re willing to show some skin to prove it. Advertisers have long operated under the mantra that “sex sells” but marketing has gotten increasingly sexy and targeted at younger and younger audiences. In fact, as young women, you are the target of a new kind of advertising that is intentionally shocking and sexual. Here’s proof. The latest ad campaign for the CW's Gossip Girl doesn’t attempt to hide the fact that the show is racy. In fact, marketers for the show are so convinced that teenagers can’t get enough of steamy storylines and inappropriate themes that they’re hoping to turn it into higher ratings.
The new ads for the show partner phrases like “every parent’s nightmare,” “ a nasty piece of work,” “ very bad for you,” and “mind-blowingly inappropriate” with sexy pictures of the series’ cast. These taglines are actually taken from criticisms of the show published by the Parents Television Council and in the New York Post and Boston Herald.
The ads are shocking by design. And the reality that this type of marketing isn’t really that rare. Candies Shoe Company is sure that a campaign featuring a scantily clad Ashlee Simpson will prompt you to buy their shoes. TMobile recently launched a campaign called “Strip2Clothe.” It invited people, primarily from the youth market (that’s you), to post videos of themselves undressing. For every five views, TMobile pledged to give money to a charity for homeless people. Abercrombie and Fitch’s ads and catalogs have long pushed the envelope for sexy content.
It’s enough to make those of us who are committed to protecting your purity and guiding you toward developing a Biblical worldview want to pull our hair out. And I think we should fight for you. We should find ways to buck the culture and encourage advertisers to clean up their acts. But the tide won’t likely turn unless you to stand up for yourselves and for your generation.
It is easy to point fingers at marketers for “introducing” these topics to you. But I think it’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. When advertisers are pressed on why they offer this kind of content, they are quick to say that they are doing it because there is a demand for it. They are convinced that you think sexy is cool. That idea had to come from somewhere.
The reality is that young women are watching Gossip Girl and other shows like it. On average about 2 million viewers tune in to the show each week. Most of them are teenage girls. An average of 4.7 million viewers turn into the equally steamy “reality” show The Hills. In fact, the show’s 2008 premier was the most watched program across all TV for viewers 12-34.
And the purpose of marketing is to generate revenue. In other words, it’s their job to make money. If creating campaigns using sexy models didn’t work, they would abandon them in favor of another method.
The bottom line is that among teenagers sex is selling.
While I can understand the temptation to believe that watching these shows or buying from companies with overly sexual ads is harmless, I want you to know that it isn’t. Marketers are watching you and they want to produce what they think you will watch or buy. Believe it or not, you have a tremendous impact on whether or not this kind of marketing keeps circulating. You can make a difference in the race to determine what is culturally accepted. Each of us votes our conscience every time we turn on our TV, flip on the radio or spend our money. By watching shows or movies with questionable content, or purchasing products with sexy marketing campaigns, you are saying that these tactics are okay. By refusing to do so, and by spending your money elsewhere, you are playing no small part in turning the tide of our culture in the right direction.
I think it’s important that this blog be as practical as it is idealistic. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, but I’m also interested in hearing about pockets of culture that are doing things right. What shows do you watch that you think match up to a Biblical worldview? What products do you buy as a result of marketing that is wholesome instead of sexy? What can you do to convince marketers that young women, especially young Christian woman, don’t want to be exposed to so much skin? I have no doubt that you can make a difference. I can’t wait to hear from you.