Hyper Reality: Study Finds Absurd Parodies Resonate With Teens

Marketing to kids is a touchy subject - how young is too young? What works with teens that already have a distorted image of themselves and who, as a group, don't like being pitched? To answer those questions, The Geppetto Group, a New York-based agency and consultancy specializing in kids' marketing, interviewed more than 100 teenagers for a study entitled, "Creative Teen Advertising That Works: The Sin of Sincerity."

The study found that ads using extreme parodies and "über-authentic" or "hyper-real" situations fared best with teenage audiences, according to Chris McKee, chief creative officer, The Geppetto Group.

Among the absurd parodies that were well-received by teens were ads for Mountain Dew, Axe deodorant, and Quiznos subs. Mountain Dew is known for using extreme sports, such as snowboarding in its campaigns. McKee notes that teenagers look at these ads and think, That's me; I'm on the cutting edge of extreme,' yet realistically, the kids aren't out snowboarding every day.

Apparel brand Steve Madden used distorted and unrealistic images in a recent campaign; ads showed women with abnormally large heads atop unusually small bodies, representing society's warped view of what women should look like. The ads encourage teenagers to examine that view and find their own voice.

On the other hand, Gatorade is a prime example of an über-authentic spot. The company shows guys playing basketball, often in urban surroundings, to promote its sports beverages. It crosses the line into über-reality by using guys with cut stomachs and six-pack abs. Urban neighborhoods are full of teenage basketball games, but finding kids with six-pack abs is more of an urban legend. But, teenagers realize this too.

Marketers walk a fine line between hyper-real messages and blatant hawking. There must be a nugget of truth if advertisers want to bond with kids. "The spots need to have truth and accuracy. They need to resonate with them [teenagers]," McKee says. Amy Corr

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