I remember the days when watching something containing suggestive material was considered a privilege, not a right. Many of my preteen years consisted of begging my parents to let me watch Eric Cartman run his mouth on “South Park” or Stewie Griffin try to kill his mother on “Family Guy.” Eventually, if I was persistent enough, they would give in and let me bask in the warming glow of profanity, sexual innuendo and violence.
Here was the catch, though: I had to watch it with them. That’s right. Despite having several televisions in the house, only one was connected to cable TV (and my 10-year-old self was getting mighty tired of watching PBS up in my room). So as I watched, they judged the fact that this was what 10-year-old kids were watching (even though they were laughing as well, but that’s beside the point). In the end, I got what I wanted, but had to put up with the awkwardness when one of the characters cursed, acted violently, or (ahem) broke wind.
Fast forward to today. Last week, a colleague sent me the link to a very entertaining Facebook page. It was the timeline for Universal’s recently released movie “Ted,” written and directed by the creator of “Family Guy,” Seth MacFarlane. The material is absolutely hilarious, and, for anyone who actually saw the movie (me), it definitely rings true to the dialogue. Before you click, let me put forth the disclaimer that my employer does not condone or support any of the material on the following link: https://www.facebook.com/tedisreal.
As I found myself uncontrollably laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of Ted, it suddenly dawned on me -- teens and preteens these days have it so much easier than we did. Think about it. While television has certainly become edgier since the late ’90s, there is no comparison between what can be seen on TV and what can be discovered on the Internet. Teens simply didn’t have anywhere near as much access to this “information” back then.
Teens are constantly seeking a way to view content their parents deem inappropriate. It’s only natural. According to a study commissioned by McAfee, “The Digital Divide: How the Online Behavior of Teens is Getting Past Parents,” 71% of teens admitted that they have hidden online behavior from parents. In a separate study by Cox Communication, only 68% of parents said they have monitored their teen’s mobile online behavior. At the risk of sounding creepy or sinister, maybe the best way to get teens clicking is by pushing those boundaries. Now, I’m not suggesting leading young teens to X-rated content (I’m not that irresponsible), but giving them the sense that they are seeing something not meant for their eyes (and out of the prying eyes of their parents, to boot) could prove to be advantageous for a brand.
Take the classic example of Go Daddy. While there were no exact numbers for the amount of teens who logged onto GoDaddy.com after the airing of the site’s controversial 2008 Super Bowl ad, more than a million people went to Go Daddy before the end of the game to view racy material featuring IndyCar driver Danica Patrick. On top of the visits, the site received endless press and was talked about for weeks.
Four years later, Facebook has become a substantial marketing tool, Twitter has become part of mainstream media and nearly 50% of consumers have smartphones. Those are a lot more avenues for “naughty” campaigns to reach teens. Teens are aware that censorship of the Internet is limited. Until content on the Web is regulated in some way (hopefully never), the possibilities of what can be seen are endless. Let me reiterate this -- I am not in favor of corrupting the minds of 12- to 17-year-old boys. But as the philosophy of successful marketing and advertising starts to march towards well-executed integrated campaigns, making teens think they are going to see something they are not supposed to might send them to the mouse or phone a little bit quicker.