September 1, 2010 It’s the first of September, as the first day of school angst bubbles up throughout the nation on either side of this ‘premiere’ week. (many have started school already, some are about to)
A welcoming ‘first day?’ Hardly. This is classic online product placement meets mean girl drek in “First Day: The Series,” an abysmal branding collaboration between K-Mart and Alloy Media. “A new series from the executive producers of Pretty Little Liars” made me wince, knowing full well that Alloy isn’t exactly on my BFF list (per my piece about their Gossip Girl show) And that they’d be bringing their behavioral blights on the trashy media landscape to relentlessly push their vapid values via digital engagement to kids.
I suppose I should be relieved this horrid absurdity is limited to a ‘merchantainment’ digital ditty rather than a full blown TV series, but they’ve hit a new low by giving us a snapshot of “what’s wrong with our culture” in a handy compressed 8-series, 8+minutes each episodic, which enables them to skirt the FTC rules of product integration by taking it online to target kids with snark, sneers and oh, yes, LOTS of sales pitches. Careful retailing industry, branding backlash could cost you even more in this recession.
Lest you think I’m exaggerating the teencentric crud and cues, here’s a transcript of some of the opening dialog, as the bonafide mean girl upends her older sibling in her own “pathetic” home: “First day of school determines who you’re gonna be friends with, which determines if a guy is gonna like you which determines if you’ll ever be kissed, because after awhile you build it up and you get all nervous, until you’re 25 and totally unkissable…and…” Yadayada. Trust me it gets even worse.
The “series” follows a teenage girl who repeatedly relives her first day at a new school in Bill Murray/media mode reminiscent of Groundhog Day. It stars Tracey Fairaway from Make it or Break It, and Elizabeth McLaughlin from Ugly Betty and The Clique.
K-Mart’s involvement is a double-whammy of socioeconomic targeting of vulnerable populations coupled with behavioral audacity to cue kids to “what’s important” for their first day of school. (namely, the pursuit of the almighty hottie, bullying, boyfriends and fashionista fails; sigh. Charming.)
Whiny colloquialisms and eyerolling sarcasm abounds, as does blatant bullying, humiliation and embarrassment—plenty of that.
Mean girl antics with exaggerated stereotyping and ‘trip over yourself looking at the cute guy’ cliches are there. (the faceplant in front of the whole school earns Cassie the nickname “Crashie”) For lunch? Rejection served with a dollop of blatant, FML level, off the chart snipery:
“Sorry, Crashie, these seats are saved for people we like.”
What else? Oh, yes…of course. Silly me.
There’s a quintessential “loser mom” who claims “you’re just like me” and proceeds to squirt mayonnaise on her daughter by accident, offering the solution, “just tell them it’s bird poop” —then reassures her with trite clichés like “Be yourself and it’ll all be fine”…(remember, cough, cough, “Be You!”)
Too cool for school? Let’s slam academics and have the teacher herself chide,
“Physics seems lame because it is. But if you’re gonna ace the test and get into the right schools, you’re gonna have to learn it.”
The teacher then degrades and berates the student, calling her out for daydreaming, “No matter how long you stare at Ryan’s back, you can’t learn physics by osmosis” etc.
Note to Alloy…playing into teen angst/frustrations and fears is no doubt research laden with ‘opportunities’…knocking kids down and grinding a stiletto into their backpack isn’t helping us shift the course of education, ya know? How about some uplifting instead of poisoning, please.
It doesn’t take much media and marketing analysis to see why my disdain for this interactive interplay is off the charts in its execution and messaging.
I get the whole ‘let’s try interactive TV’ brand play, as the right column screen (above) scrolls to show each items available to buy (bedroom linens, top, skirt, etc) but the banality and irresponsibly mean-spirited character development is so weak and predictable that the whole branded bit deploys as a spoof of itself. (comedy needs to be at least mildly amusing, this is so stereotyped it’s shamefully bad.)
To further add to the ‘engagement’ piece of the pie (which we should throw at Alloy/K-Mart in carnival booth style)…
Kmart launches Stylesip a social hub for teen girls to “share their thoughts on trends, entertainment, music and gossip.”
Gee, don’t do us any favors, folks. Gossip, we’ve got. Though that IS a perfect segue to a guest post by Josh Golin about same, along with this ‘don’t miss’ piece posted on the product placement/targeting teens side of the digital equation with the episodic TV, via Center for Digital Democracy.
Stay tuned for more, I have a feeling this “back to school” media and marketing ramp up is gonna get ugly.
Unlike my colleagues at CCFC (below) I DO like some branding interplays… The branding alignment with Staples (backpacks for needy kids) and this Coalition for the Homeless type of kids helping kids campaign for Project Back to School (again, branding with Staples) seems at first sniff to be a win-win…Feature on that forthcoming, need to do due diligence on the goodwashing front…But K-Mart+AlloyTV=Bleh.
Today is the First Day of Kmart’s Marketing Assault on Children
by Josh Golin, CCFC
Alloy Media + Marketing have launched First Day, its latest web series for children and teens on the Internet channel AlloyTV. An Alloy press release suggests the show will have it all – if by all you mean the full gamut of troubling trends in youth marketing.
Because First Day will air on the web instead of a traditional television channel, the FCC’s rules that dictate strict separation of commercial content and programming matter do not apply. That means that, unlike children’s television shows, First Day can feature product placement. That’s where Kmart comes in.
Not only will the characters wear Kmart’s back-to-school fashions (Dream Out Loud by Selena Gomez, Rebecca Bonbon and Bongo), but Kmart actually helped create the script for First Day, so expect the clothes to play a prominent role in the show’s narrative. And if you’re creating a Kmart infomercial, why stop there?
First Day will also feature a unique retail component in each episode. Kmart will “hotspot” its fashions throughout the series, enabling viewers to buy the inspired looks worn by the lead characters by means of a direct link to the products on the Kmart website.
Perhaps images like these that are being used to promote the same Bongo line in Seventeen magazine and Teen Vogue, two publications whose readers skew younger than their titles imply:
Or this ad that touts Bongo’s junior line for “back to school” at Kmart’s parent company, Sears:
It’s as if Kmart designed their back-to-school campaign using the exploitative marketers’ handbook. Use sex to sell tween girls on clothes.
Create “branded entertainment” so that children won’t realize they’re really watching ads. Use interactive technology so that kids can click right from the “program” they’re watching to the checkout line. Add a viral component so that children’s friendships are commercialized; Kmart is offering applications for kids to upload to their phones so they can tweet their purchases to their friends.
And of course, promote your brand in schools.
Kmart is also advertising its fall fashions on Alloy’s controversial in-school television network, Channel One.
For students in the 8,000 schools with Channel One, viewing Kmart’s ads will be a compulsory part of the school day. That’s right – Kmart will be using class time paid for by your tax dollars to promote its clothing to a captive audience of students.
Kmart clearly believes that its provocative marketing strategy will result in more sales, but I’m not so sure.
There are a growing number of parents who are saying, “if you want my business, treat me and my children with respect.” That’s a lesson that Kmart clearly hasn’t learned. Maybe we need to teach them that this fall.
Josh Golin is Associate Director of CCFC, Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. Their new blog posts are chock full of interesting tidbits that pertain to our work here, and thus will appear in reprint form from time to time when content is pertinent to a story. (printed with attribution and permission from its original source, of course!)
Thanks again, Josh. Great piece. Readers? Shall we show them this fall? You CAN make a difference with WHERE you shop to make media & marketing change. And you CAN speak out about Channel One’s commercialization turning school into a shopping mall in the classroom!
Oh, and if you’re wondering if it’s REALLY that bad? See for yourself, below: (update: oops, never mind, I tried to add it, but they made it ‘autostart’ so you have no choice to hush it, which doesn’t work for me. See what I mean? Insistent marketing.)