Posted by: Laura Phillips Garner | January 23, 2010

Let’s Redefine Edgy

This ad for Gossip Girl appeared as a Times Square Billboard in April 2008.

It takes a village to raise a child, says an old African proverb.

As marketers, we need to realize that we are part of that village. This 21st century village that has a multitude of media to communicate messages, and a society that seems to think that edgy means sex and violence.

I wonder what would happen to the commercial world if every marketer looked at a potential communication as if a child might see or hear it. Many children do see sexually suggestive and violent messages all the time. Some children see these messages because their parents just don’t care. Others see them because, despite their parents’ best efforts, every message cannot be filtered. Unless, of course, those parents go to the extreme to keep their children at home all the time and turn off the television and the radio, stop all newspapers and magazines, cut the telephone—landline and mobile—and not allow any Web access.

That would hardly be the case. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2010 study on media use of children ages 8-18 released January 20 shows that young people use entertainment media an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes per day. Youth actually pack 10 hours and 45 minutes of content into that time due to media multi-tasking.

I understand that great marketing has to grab attention because so many messages inundate consumers every day that to not be something special is to not be noticed. And just like a falling tree in a forest, if a viewer or listener does not pay attention to the marketing, does the product or message exist? However, I think as a society, we must redefine what compelling marketing is. I think it does not have to involve advertisements of half-naked people on Times Square billboards. A case in point is the ad at the top of this post promoting the return of CW’s “Gossip Girl” that appeared in Times Square in April 2008.

Kidz Bop is a series of best-selling children’s albums that feature studio singers covering pop songs with an accompanying children’s chorus. An August 1, 2006, National Public Radio story featured the franchise in a story called, “Tweens and Media: What’s Too Adult?” that was part of my reading for the Emerging Media & The Market class I am taking this semester at West Virginia University. Although Kidz Bop does change some of the lyrics for its young audience, the reporter pointed out that most of the songs are “cool” and “sexy.” In response, Kidz Bop creator Craig Balsam said, “It’s hard to have a brand for kids that has absolutely no edge. I really think they would be completely disinterested.”

I’m not picking on Mr. Balsam. He has a point. The problem is that we as a society expect our products and their marketing—for kids and adults—to have an “edge,” and we often define that edge as sexy and violent.

As marketers, let’s redefine edgy—for our kids and our culture.

—Laura Phillips Garner

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