CFP Blogging: Go Go, Gary!

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I've been sitting in placid unhappiness through a session on "Virtual Playgrounds and Buddybots" at the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference. One presenter after another keeps the audience in thrall with comedy-horror stories about all kinds of Barbiebots, virtual Hilary Duffs, and other fake avatars designed to lure unsuspecting kids into a state of buy-now submission. In the Q&A section, the questions and comments are all about how Canada (where such stuff is proscribed by law, apparently) is way ahead of us. Nobody is questioning this Josie and the Pussycats nightmarescape of teen brainwashing until I hear a highpitched, querulous, acidly ironic voice that can only belong to the great Gary Wolf, cutting through the haze:

"I keep hearing about this kind of direct marketing to teens and how effective it is; this idea that we're going to turn kids into these robotic buying machines is the kind of thing that really works great for a CEO making a presentation to investors about how hot his new teen site is gonna be. But is there any data out there that any of this stuff actually works? I mean, I've seen a million presentations like this from CEOs whose companies are out of business now. Is there any reason to believe that kids actually go for this stuff?" *

With all due respect to the speakers, who provided some funny descriptions of teenbots, the most memorable reply Gary received was a statistic about the rapid growth of teenage fellatio rings. Common sense momentarily prevails!

As Nick noted earlier today, it's not what toys you give the kid, it's how the kid plays with them.

* Apologies for an inept paraphrase.

NEXT: The Moon Sometimes Looks Like a C, But You Can't Eat That

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  1. How do they get from Barbiebots to fellatio? Just what are these avatars supposed to be selling, anyway?

  2. Ooh! I know the answer to that one.

    (wildly waving hand, then getting nervous when picked and answering uncertainly)

    Umm, because they’re idiots?

  3. It sounds like old people who don’t really remember what it was like to be a teenager.

    What I remember about the years between 13 and 19: Teenagers are smart. Not experienced, of course, but smart. They see right through patronizing attempts to market to their ‘age group’ Also, there’s a world of difference between a 13 year old and an 18 year old.

    One constant, though: teenagers want to be adults. Advertising that tries to use popular iconography, ‘hip’ and ‘with it’ language, and MTV-style overedited footage… mostly just falls flat. Teenagers generally don’t want to be ‘X-TREEEME’; they don’t drink Mt. Dew because people snowboard out of planes with it.

    I can remember when I was 13, Dannon Yogurt came to my junior high to promote their yogurt drink, ‘Dan-Up’. They put on an all-day event, with freestyle bikers doing improbable tricks on a hastily-assembled half-pipe in our athletic field. We drank their free drinks, and we watched the bikers, because hey, no classes. And we mocked them mercilessly, because the whole thing reeked of some ad agency’s attempt to figure out what the ‘teen market’ would go for. (I never saw that Dannon drink again; I certainly never bought it, and don’t know if it’s even in stores anymore).

    All I wanted, long ago when I was a teenager, was to be treated like a person. This is all my friends wanted, too. We responded to ads that were aimed at adults. We sneered at ads that were aimed at teens. Our race to grow up was one of fleeing from everything that marked us as ‘not-adult’.

    The lesson: market to teens like you market to adults. Don’t patronize them. And unless you think adults are mindless buy-bots, don’t assume teens are either.

  4. Dannon Yogurt came to my junior high to promote their yogurt drink, ‘Dan-Up’.

    OK, I’m all for capitalism and all that, but… an all-day Dannon-fest at school just seems… wrong.

  5. Quite right, Monsieur Isildur. As someone who is, by comparison, fresh out of his “teens” I can testify that there is nothing that used to irritate us more than people who were obviously trying (and failing) to capitalize on that which is “cool.”

    The primary objects of our sarcastic wrath, however, were “motivational” events. We had a saying (invented by yours truly): “Man, all this motivation is getting me down.”

    High schools these days (at least, mine a few years back) are chock full of pep-rallies, anti-drug crusades, thinly camouflaged religious proselytizing, self-esteem seminars, and anti-suicide conventions. Oh, the abusive sarcasm and malicious lies with which we harassed those poor kind-hearted people… it was glorious.

  6. Rhywun–

    My favorite episode of the clever and underappreciated “Clone High” involves a similar promotion for Xtreem Blu, a pasty product squeezed from a tube. After Gandhi becomes addicted and deathly ill, someone checks the ingredients: “pancake batter and blue house paint”.

  7. Not her best lyrics by any means, but anybody else familiar with this?

    “We drink and smoke to numb our pain,
    we read junk novels on the plane,
    we use authority for show so we can be a little smarter–
    We still can grow, and many do.
    It’s when we stop we can’t reach you.”

  8. all kinds of Barbiebots, virtual Hilary Duffs, and other fake avatars

    the rapid growth of teenage fellatio rings.

    Dang. I guess I was born too early.

  9. The link had a survey where they asked teenagers whether they planned on having oral or vaginal sex in the next six months.

    If a teenage male says no, he is lying. Hell, I spend most of my day planning, and I haven’t been a teenager in a long time.

  10. “One constant, though: teenagers want to be adults.”

    I’m reminded of a friend who said:

    “The high school girls all dress like collage girls, the collage girls all dress like secritaries, and the secritaries all dress like high school girls.”

  11. “The high school girls all dress like collage girls, the collage girls all dress like secritaries, and the secritaries all dress like high school girls.”

    That is all too true.

    What I found really funny was that when I went to the “fellatio ring” link, the first thing on the page I saw was a “Betty Crocker Dinner Theater” advertisement. Tonight’s special: Cock Cobbler. Get it? “Cock cobbler”?

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