We are in an age of manufactured controversy, trendy political incorrectness, and upside-down PR. A mobile app that characterizes the female population into 24 "types" (Tree Hugger, Dancer, Princess, Goth, Out-of-Your-League Girl, etc.) is actually getting more granular than a lot of the serious demographic analyses of Americans out there. On the other hand, I don't think the Prizm segments come with little check boxes to indicate whether you "got lucky" with one of the categories. Public response is no help at all in determining the real score with AMP's guide to helping men "score" with women. The 1,100 or so votes in the App store are radically divided between those who give the app five stars and those who trash it with one. Pepsi offered a non-apology apology via Twitter the other day. "Our app tried 2 show the humorous lengths guys go 2 pick up women. We apologize if it's in bad taste & appreciate your feedback. #pepsifail"
Yeah, we're through the looking glass here.
Which usually is when I call in my own teenage focus group for a consultation.
"That's horrible," my daughter said upon loading the AMP Up program and seeing the premise. But she quickly tried to identify her own "type" and went to the "Artist" persona. Actually I thought we had settled on "Princess" a long time ago, but she always protested that I was demoting her. At age four, and after being scolded for being bratty, she declared from the back car seat, "I am not a Princess... I am a Queen!"
Once she starts drilling into the mock profiles, however, she seems to see the joke. "You know without arms you would look just like the Venus De Milo?" she reads as one of the pick-up lines recommended for Artist/Princess/Queens like her. "If a guy tried that on me, I would just think he is an a-hole."
"You asked me what I thought."
"So are you offended?"
"Not really. It is stupid."
But then she discovers the "Brag" button that lets you make notes on conquests and post to Facebook, Twitter or via email. "Eww. That's scummy!"
Yeah, speaking as Dad, that is scummy. AMP Boys, stay away from my daughter. Keeping one's oafish inner self contained to a satirical app is one thing. But I have to say there is a taste line crossed when you enable a knuckle-dragging audience to publish and proliferate their crassness across social networks.
Which is not to say there aren't some interesting branded app ideas in here. As usual, most of the press surrounding the controversy failed to crack open that app itself. The profiles often run map searches and filtered Twitter feeds that are aligned with the woman's persona. As a method for sex predators to pretend compatibility with their prey, it is detestable.
But as a way of bringing life and fresh imagination to a branded app, it is laudable. This app does some things very well. It maintains its barroom back-of-the-napkin style throughout and never kicks you out of the app to access data feeds or maps. Even the map indicators are hand-circled Xs. The information itself is quite clever -- in that informative trivia kind of way. For the Sorority Girl, you get an index that helps you identify Greek Letters. The profile for a "Married" woman has a diamond ring gauge to determine how rich her husband is and a map of local motels. Come on. That is kind of funny.
At its best, the app really does stay true to the satirical bent, because it almost seems like a send-up of branded apps struggling to find mobile utility. Its connection to being a genuine pick-up tool is so obviously tenuous that my 17-year-old got the joke in a second. She just didn't think it was all that funny.
As brands become publishers, and critics like me suggest that they take more risks in engaging consumers, then their need to poke through in the attention economy will lead to campaigns that bother some niches as surely as they satisfy others. I can't get too exorcised over this controversy, even under the cloak of Dad persona. It isn't clear to me yet that there is a controversy. There is just press coverage. I am uncomfortable with the social networking piece. And I think that one of the weird ironic twists to the new cult of male oafishness is that its practitioners inoculate their Neanderthal attitudes by pretending to mock themselves.
I get all of that. I find it regressive -- and I am thankful my daughter sees through the new generation of proud jerks.
But I think the biggest problem Pepsi has here is that the app has such an oblique connection to the caffeinated AMP soda brand that I can't imagine it does them a lot of good. Axe or Maxim, both of which have run similar "edgy" guy projects in the past, make more sense to me here, and might actually have better cover from the debate. We expect this kind of behavior from those frat boys, not Pepsi.
But back to being a Dad. I am still not worried. My girl was easily distracted from her assignment of scoping out this mobile app by another, better, satirical execution. The new hack and slash video console game "Brutal Legends" features Jack Black, who seems to have made a career of seeming disingenuous. After an hour of decapitating demons from hell much more formidable than any high school boy she has dated, she declared, "Oh, my God! Heavy metal and blood and gore. It was like they made this game just for me."
Any sweet-talking kid who thinks he will outsmart this girl with a stupid iPhone app could find himself on the mean end of a double-sided axe.