Bah, Humbug!

When I was a kid, more decades ago than I’d like to admit, I got a Christmas gift that I was really excited about. I’m a little hazy about the particulars but I’m pretty sure it was a dump truck that was meant to produce exhaust as you played with it. (This was obviously before climate change, when pollution was still fun.) On the 26th, when my grandparents came to visit, I wanted to show it to my grandfather. Unfortunately it wouldn’t work and I was really upset. He tried to fix it but couldn’t and told me it was a St. Stephen’s Day gift — one that stopped working right after Christmas.

I’ve decided that today’s Engage:Teens, coming on the day after Christmas, will look at some of the teen marketing efforts that have either stopped working, never worked to begin with, or are just plain annoying. Here are the ones that came to mind for me but I invite you to share your own if you have them.



Conflating anonymity with privacy. This year saw the growth of many anonymous messaging apps: Yik Yak, ask and backchat are just three. Anonymity allows messages to be sent without revealing your identity. Privacy allows messages to be sent within a trusted (or at least known) group. These things aren’t the same. To the extent it is possible, marketers should want to be within the circle of trust rather than lobbing messages over the transom.

Fragmentation. I blame this on Harry Potter. At some point, someone decided, “Hey, if we can split this one book into three movies, we can make more money!” That is true. But it is also true that having things broken into smaller and smaller parts is annoying. Examples of this annoying trend are the Hunger Games movies, the Hobbit movies and Facebook’s decision to separate messaging from the core app. Sure, it made Messenger one the most “popular” apps of 2014 but what choice did people have? 

Facebook wasn’t the only one to jump on the unbundling bandwagon. Foursquare was another good example. While there may be some utility in having specific functions available as stand-alone apps it’s still kind of annoying.

In-School Shopping. There have been plenty of attempts to bring marketing messages to students in school. One company attempting to do this — with a commerce andsafety hook — is Skoollive. Their digital kiosks are designed to replace paper and staple bulletin boards. They will also be able to feature ads support in-school commerce. Skoollive is free for schools but you know what they say — if you’re not paying you’re the product.

Bring a Gun to School. I’m not a big fan of firearms. I’m even less of a fan of firearms in schools. A recently released anti-gun PSA takes a terrible approach to delivering an important message. The video “Stop Gun Violence” suggests teens steal their parents’ guns and bring them into school if they don’t feel safe having them in the house. The consequences of actually doing this in real life range from expulsion to arrest to being shot. This is a truly terrible approach to addressing a real issue.

I’m certainly not against marketing to teens (far from it!) and there are plenty of great examples out there. Call of Duty’s sponsorship of Vice for Superpower for Hire shows how a brand can develop impactful content that makes sense without pandering. There are many others as well. With the year drawing to a close though, perhaps we can all take a step back to look at how we are engaging with teenagers and find ways to do it more appropriately and effectively in 2015.

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