Kel Kelly

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Pimpin’ To Teens

March 2, 2009 9:13 AM

Recently, I was logged into my fifteen-year-old son’s Facebook account. Simma’ down now…I wasn’t spying on him. He asked me to login to upload a wrestling video from his Flip. As most of you know, Facebook serves its ads based on all the granular demographic and psychographic data it pulls from your profile. Many of you will recall my previous post called Facebook Reality Slap where it became clear through the ads it served me that Facebook thought I was a fat, wrinkly, hairy woman on a surfboard. Nice. Anyhoot, it was a complete trip seeing what gets pimped to teenagers.

There was one ad that literally made me spit on my Mac when I saw it. For Shizz. The headline was “Get Cash For Your Calculator.” The body of the ad went on to say something like, “Sell us your TI-83 now for cash…You know your Mom will buy you a new one.” No shit. Forget all the subliminal messaging most brands use to pimp products to kids, these guys put it right out there and told the kids specifically what they wanted them to do.

Just a year ago, I had to buy three of these effin’ calculators for my three teenagers in high school. At $100 a pop, that total cost was the exact same price I paid for my first car — a 1969 VW bug with psychedelic seat covers and a roach clip hanging off a bandanna from the rear view mirror (everything I needed at the time). Every year I would ask what happened to the calculators I bought the previous year and I always got some lame excuse about it getting lost or being broken or having been loaned to a friend. Now I can’t help but wonder if they sold them for cash. Remember, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get you!

I clicked on the Calculator ad and really marvelled at its succinct and incredibly powerful messaging. I laughed at the “Mom will buy you a new one” message because in most cases this is true. And then I went around the track a few times to figure out whether I appreciated the savviness of the ad or whether I should be upset. In the end, I give props to the peeps who created the ad. Social media text ads give a minuscule footprint for a company to get its message across. These guys did it in a way that had great stopping power and in a way that I would imagine ignited the desired action. And for me, what the Calculator peeps did was no different than what Nike or PlayStation or any other big brand does when they advertise to tweens and teens. In the vast majority of these cases, any product being pimped is going to have to be purchased by the parents ’cause the rat-fink kids don’t have the money for things like a $125 pair of sneakers. I chuckled again when I thought of the control-freak Moms who push legislation and speak to Congress about the bad language in music. These Chicks would shit a Twinkie if they saw an ad like this. The good news is they are probably not on Facebook and have never seen this type of ad. The bad news is they probably don’t allow their kids on Facebook because in their bubble of delusion they think the only adults on it are pedophiles trolling for children.

What do you think of the Calculator ad? Smart or just plain wrong?

Posted by Kel | in Uncategorized | 22 Comments »

22 Comments on “Pimpin’ To Teens”

  1. Maria J. Skiffington Says:

    Hmmm…if I learned anything at all in my 13 years in advertising it’s this: Just because it’s smart, doesn’t mean it’s not just plain wrong.

  2. Dianna Huff Says:


    For years I’ve marveled at how companies market to kids. I love watching the TV commercials on Nick — especially the hotel ones that tell kids, “Tell your parents you want to stay at XYZ hotel.”

    And I love how LEGOS markets its Bionicle line and subtly gets past the “violent” toy factor.

    Telling kids to sell their stuff because parents will buy them new stuff goes across the line, though.

    Because my son is forever wanting to sell his things, I now make him buy his own gadgets — one, he experiences sticker shock, never a bad thing, and two, he takes better care of his stuff because he paid for it.

    (BTW, we are soul sistahs — I owned a beat up ’69 red Beetle. I dropped the engine myself and replaced the heads. I loved that car!)

  3. Kel Says:

    maria, that’s funny! you are correct…one person’s smart is certainly another person’s wrong.

  4. Kel Says:

    dianna, i agree that having kids pay for their own stuff is a great way to teach them the value of what they own. i have witnessed this with my own kids. after i read your comment i had a thought that if ebay marketed their services to kids there would probably be a huge backlash. two comments so far believe a line has been crossed. i’m on an island — the good news is that i have been alone on this island before. haha!

  5. Paula Kavolius Says:

    Great blog..I think that there is a fine line between advertising and
    exploitation – especially with teens! These folks are truly the most vulnerable and no legit company should be “preying” on their vulnerabilty! Thanks for exposing that….We have a great responsibility as parents to educate/enlighten on a mind boggling number of levels!

  6. Kel Says:

    paula, thanks for your comment. i like your insight on the fine line being between advertising and exploitation. puts it in an interesting light that makes me reflect on it from a different perspective.

  7. christian griffith Says:

    Now that I am back in the advertising agency world, I am really gravitating towards the social networks.

    I believe that social network advertising is a complete paradigm shift from traditional.

    It’s trackable, with very detailed metrics.

    It’s highly targeted.

    It’s cost effective (for now anyway)

    …but I’ve also noticed another phenom in this space…

    and that is, that sometimes too much information can work against you with clients.



    You know how often an ad will run, and you even know the general demographics of this-or-that time slot, but unless you use some slick phone number tricks, or rely on customer feedback honesty, you never really know how many people were compelled to action with your ad.

    On the web, you know.

    Depending on how granular you want to take the discussion, this isn’t always 100% true, but it’s still an obvious fact that you get BETTER metrics online than with any other traditional advice.

    …so, then, if the ad sucks – and the response poor, it’s right there for the client to see.

    No ambiguity.

  8. Kel Says:

    christian, sounds like you have been drinking web 2.0 dog food and washing it down with web 2.0 koolaid. you go brother! you’re my kind of guy.

  9. Graham Says:

    All I have to say is WOW. The fact that advertisers get straight to the point and say “Mom will buy you a new one” is pretty (pardon the phrase) ballsy if you ask me. I guess we are so used to subliminal advertising that when advertisers come out with blatant calls to action that persuade viewers or in this case facebook users to choose a particular product or service, it comes as a shock. I say smart advertising, but wrong for telling kids to dupe there parents into buying more and more calculators.

  10. Kel Says:

    graham, ballsy is right! the question is whether it is really any different — or worse — than the subliminal messaging by other companies. judging from the comments many peeps feel it crosses a line. does it exploit as paula states above or is it more honest because it doesn’t try to hide its intent? i’m sure we will hear more…

  11. Karen Says:

    Plain wrong. Parents have to be pretty savvy these days to compete with this sort of devil on the shoulder of their kids. It probably works great, but promotes entitlement & unethical behavior. I employ a lot of young people, primarily college aged, and a common challenge is their overwhelming sense of entitlement and frayed logic when it comes to right and wrong. It’s epidemic. And they really don’t get it. I say business and ethics can co-exist, and I’m far from one of those PMRC moms you decribe from the late 80′s (I actually formally protested record labeling as a teen). Just because speech is free, doesn’t mean we don’t have any responsibilites to say (and do) the right thing. These kids grow up someday, and maybe will be managing our 401Ks, our IRAs, you see where I’m going with this. Bigger picture, this is just wrong.

  12. Kel Says:

    karen, i love, love, love that you say what you feel and stand by it. i believe your comment about entitlement is right on. these kids are in for a rude awakening when they realize mommy and daddy lost a boatload in the stock market and the party is over. these kids have no survival skills because everything has been handed to them. it’s pathetic. i think my perspective is that i believe there are more important things to be concerned with when raising teenagers. there are bigger decisions they will need to make that could affect them for a lifetime. i most def roll with more than many parents, but hold the accountability bar high when it comes to respect, honesty, accountability and integrity. to me selling a calculator is almost laughable. if the kids are getting good grades, are respectful to all, and are charitable to those in need then i could care less if they sell a used calculator for $50. one of the things we do as a family is to find someone making minimum wage and give them $100 just to make their day. it’s a blast and the kids love it. by the way, everything i am saying now is said with a very respectful tone. i value the difference in our opinion. just trying to expand on my view. as always, i thank you for taking the time to post. peace out.

  13. Karen Says:

    That is why I love the blogging medium so much. Discussion, discourse….it’s all good.

  14. LBrown III Says:

    So are there moral or ethical lines in marketing anymore? Cause it seems that this is an example of one, that maybe 10 years ago, would have gotten the intern fired. No?

    For the record… I still have the original calculator that I bought from my friend who sold it to me at a reduced price and told his parents that his was stolen. He got a new one within the week.

  15. Kel Says:

    nothing but love karen!

  16. Kel Says:

    lbrown, that is hilarious! just curious…what is your friend doing these days? i do think that every year the advertising bounds get pushed and the lines get blurred. if we woke my grandfather up from the dead he would be shocked at today’s advertising. because the change is slow and over a longer period, most of us adapt. think boiled frog theory.

  17. LBrown III Says:

    The high school calculator salesman is currently a pharmaceutical salesman in the deep south. I guess it was his calling.

  18. Kel Says:

    lbrown, pharma sales is a good gig! i’m sure selling you his calculator was the crack needle that got him hooked on sales. ummm…i think i just called you an enabler. haha!

  19. christian griffith Says:

    something to think about:

    my wife’s agency has a client that produces a controversial product.

    the art directors created a hilarious spot, that was teetering on the edges of good taste.

    the client wouldn’t approve it.

    the art director’s posted it to YouTube and it became the #1 video within a week with millions of views.

    If you were the client, what would your reaction be?

  20. Bobbie Carlton Says:

    Interesting post. For the last few years I have been working in the kid/tween market for a company with a social responsibility focus. In terms of marketing online to kids, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. 1) There are actually laws out there which directly address this kind of advertising to kids (check out the Children’s Advertising Review Unit of the BBB for the work they do.) While no one has found this particular advertiser yet, doesn’t mean they won’t. 2) While “control freak parents” may think they are keeping their kids off Facebook and other social media, um, good luck. Today’s kids are digital natives and know more ways to get themselves connected and on-line that any non-digital natives can conceive of. Assume your kid is there.

  21. Kel Says:

    christian, i would never do something on my client’s behalf that they did not want me to do. there are no exceptions to this principle. glad it was a success, but agency’s have no right to put something out there without the client’s approval. i’m happy it was a success and didn’t blow up in the agency’s face like a stick of dynamite — it would have tanked their reputation and possibly their entire biz.

  22. Kel Says:

    bobbie, thanks for pointing out the legal implications to this approach. i’m sure my readers appreciate the insight. i agree 100% that kids will always find a way to be on places like facebook. as a parent, i embrace social media as yet another way to stay connect with my three teenagers. it offers far more good than bad. teenagers crash cars, but is that any reason to never let a kid drive? i don’t think so. we have to hope that as parents we raised them to know the difference between right and wrong. outside of that, everything is beyond our control.

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