For those of you who tuned in to my column two weeks ago, I posed the question: "Is Gossip Girl What Teens Really Want?" Unlike what the show's writers and marketers apparently think, I felt the program didn't connect with the real world as teens see it. And their shock and awe advertising tactics were disturbing to me. I didn't appreciate they way the show's marketers were stereotyping teens as all about rebellion and nothing more. I'll admit I can't assume I know everything that's going on inside the heads of all young people, but it seems as if this show's producers never even bothered to speak to their prospective audience. That's why I created a thread for my buzzSpotters on Facebook. And the results are in.
While 141 teens, tweens and twenty-somethings signed up for the discussion to show their support, very few of the show's so-called target market cared to actually comment mainly because they don't watch it. The Neilsen rating numbers don't lie. Maybe about half a million of the show's paltry two million viewers last season caught some episodes. Compare that with MTV's The Hills, which has more than 4.5 million weekly viewers. And for those who say the television ratings aren't relevant because most Gossip Girl fans watch online or TiVo the show, I don't buy it. Digital views are through the roof for The Hills, and it's still one of the best -rated shows in cable television.
Even the noticeably (and considerably more "tame") Secret Life of the American Teenager, which debuted on ABC Family last month, fared better among viewers than GG. In fact, in the ratings, that show beats Gossip Girl, without the hype and media promo GG is getting. That show's first episode had an audience of 2.82 million, the vast majority of whom were within that coveted marketer's demo of viewers under 18-years old.
Said one young woman, Kidan, on Facebook, "I think teenagers like drama that we can relate to. Both shows are really dramatic, but The Secret Life is something we as teenagers can relate to."
Brittany, another teen, agrees: "Everyone I know who watches the show is 20 or above" she says with a laugh. "They definitely missed their target audience."
It could be because the characters on the show behave like they are in their early 20's, not their mid-teens. Teens and tweens like to see themselves in the characters they watch on television, and Gossip Girl is something just too remote and far-fetched to be truly compelling. Kidan went on to say that she has 20 friends who watch The Secret Life, but only five who watch Gossip Girl. "Sex is everywhere we go, and just because sex is in GG, does not mean we are going to go crazy about it!"
My point exactly. The producers of GG just don't seem to be able to grasp that teens are a lot more complex and savvy than they are being given credit for. The numbers are not supporting this idea that sex sells under any conditions to this current generation.
One would think the topic of sex is a sure seller, and it is, but I also think that consumers are so multi-faceted these days that they're not accepting the same old bag of tricks, even if it's wrapped in an attractive package. Cute clothes, hot shoes and sexy scenarios are fine, but teens today live in a much more interesting world, with numerous options and opportunities. It would behoove the old school marketers, producers and advertisers to play some serious catch up with this generation. Their dated ways are starting to show.
Of course, there's the odd exception. You know the type. They're teenage fans in tiny segments of the population -- extremely wealthy suburbs on the East Coast like Cherry Hill, New Jersey, who wear Juicy Couture and every other hot designer label. Their clothes are more expensive and their lives are far racier than mine ever was when I was a teen. They seem to be attracted to the artifice of it all. It's worth noting, however, that the teens I talk to who actually attend private school in Manhattan's Upper East Side are blasé about the show.
But here's an interesting twist. Plenty of people in their 20's and 30's had something to say about the show on my Facebook thread, and many confessed to being fans. Truth be told, in a strange way so am I. Yes, I am a loyal viewer of the show. For a 28-year old CEO who works to hard, it's total escapist fun. I went to private school, so it's fun to watch a fantasy version of what my life could have been like at that age. In an odd way, I find it to be a little like watching a 20-something version of Sex and the City, sans the wry wit and tongue-in-cheek writing. The problem is, these people are supposed to be 16!
Still, a handful of adult fans hardly explains why the show scooped up a Teen Choice Award last week. That one left me scratching my head. Sure, the actors are wildly popular outside of the show. Teenage girls love Blake Lively because she is beautiful and a total fashion plate. But how the heck can this show be described as a "breakout hit" when no one is watching?
My guess is that it's the hoopla that CW network execs have been so clever at stoking with provocative taglines like, "Very bad for you," and "Every parent's nightmare." I just read in US Weekly that they sexed up the ads way beyond the show's real content. In one ad, Blaire and Nate look like they are in the pool naked, although in fact in that scene she has on a red bikini.
Tactics like these may not bring in the viewers, but they certainly get magazine editors talking, and set off the noisy echo chamber that is the media these days. For proof of just how self-perpetuating this buzz really is, look no further than the stories and editorials generated by this very column!
This week's New York Post editorial is a case in point: (http://www.nypost.com/seven/08092008/postopinion/opedcolumnists/the_real_dirty_secret_of_gossip_girl_123665.htm) Media newsletter The Next Great Thing also chimes in: (http://www.nextgreatthing.com/wordpress/2008/08/11/omfg-who-are-you-calling-a-teen/). We may not always agree with each other, and we may have our reservations about the ethics of the show, but my colleagues and I in the media certainly have more to say about it that the teens Gossip Girl is supposed to be targeting.
Of course, everything can change depending on how many viewers the show gets once it premieres on Sept 1. Maybe it's time to stop feeding this beast. Maybe this should be my last post on the subject.
Oh, who am I kidding? If Gossip Girl's numbers are still lousy even after this all-out media campaign, watch this space!
Tina Wells, 28, founded Buzz Marketing Group (www.buzzmg.com) when she was just 16. A leading consulting company that specializes in the latest youth trends, Buzz clients include St. Martin's Press, SonyBMG, Sesame Workshop and Time Inc., to name a few. A trailblazer in her field, her list of honors include Essence Magazine's 40 Under 40 Award, Billboard's 30 Under 30 Award, and AOL's Black Voices Female Entrepreneur's Award.