CW's 'Provocative' Ad Campaign Targets Teens and Blasphemes God

May 6th, 2008 1:18 PM

“OMFG” is text-speak for the unspeakable. It's also the tag line for a new ad campaign aimed at teens and featuring a jumble of sexual situations, including teens undressing each other and two girls kissing. The campaign blitz is appearing in print and television, all aimed at drumming up eyeballs for the CW network's teen-themed soap "Gossip Girl."

For the uninitiated, “OMG” translates to “Oh My God” in the language of email and text messaging. The addition of the “F” means … well, it’s the word that can cost broadcasters a hefty government fine if someone actually says it on TV.

Now, of course, executives at the CW could never admit that they were actively targeting teens with such a "provocative" ad. Nor would they ever admit they were intentionally dodging an FCC fine by using the letter "F" instead of the unspeakable word. Nor would they ever consider that "F" used next to "G," which stands for "God" would be blasphemous. In fact they've gone out of their way on these subjects. But reality has a way of well, keeping it real.

  • CW insists the show is aimed at an 18-to-34 audience. But "Gossip Girl" was the top-rated new show among 12-17 year olds last fall, according to Media Life magazine.

  • In a statement carried by the Hollywood Reporter, CW said that the OMFG campaign was intended to be “provocative … and remind(s) viewers of some the ‘OMG’ moments that have made "Gossip Girl" one of the most buzzed-about new shows on television.”

  • On April 28, CNN reporter Brooke Anderson interviewed CW Vice President for Marketing Rick Haskins, who defended the campaign by saying:

  • “Some people can say, ‘Oh my frickin’ goodness’ …OMG and OMFG are just letters. Anyone you talk to—you can talk to 10 people and you’ll probably get 10 different answers.”


    An incredulous Anderson took a camera out on a sidewalk and said, “We spoke to 30 people, and all of them, except for two women in their 60s, said they knew what it meant.” Most of the interviewees had to be bleeped. One young man summed it up: “I think it’s blasphemy, actually.”

    The new ad campaign has run in Entertainment Weekly, In Touch, Soap Opera Digest, TV Guide, and People. The video ads have appeared on Bravo, VH1, MTV, E!, Style, and Oxygen.

The salacious ad campaign has drawn fire from parent groups, including the Parents Television Council (PTC), a non-partisan group that promotes broadcast decency. By contrast, the entertainment media have given tacit approval. The Hollywood Reporter and MediaPost have reported the story only in the context of cutting-edge advertising. Reuters called the campaign “sexy.”

The CW network is a joint venture between Warner Brothers Entertainment and CBS. "Gossip Girl," which is based on a teen book series about spoiled rich kids, airs at 8 p.m., which most broadcasters deem the “family hour.” The PTC review of "Gossip Girl," in which the organization gave its highest warning, reports the show regularly features foul language, teen sex scenes, teen drinking and drug use. Parents are depicted as uncaring and distant.

In an article for WorldNet Daily, Melissa Henson, PTC’s director of communications and public education, who was also interviewed on the CNN segment, said, "It's sort of like "Sex and the City" for the Clearasil set. There are frequent episodes of underage drinking, promiscuous sexual behavior, teens going to strip clubs, hanging out at night clubs. Moreover, there's really little or no discussion of consequences or risks of engaging in this behavior.”

Aside from the fact that CW is being completely disingenous about what it is doing with this campaign and the entertainment media playing it off as just another edgy step in marketing, there's another more troubling aspect to all of this. It's about how the media are talking to our kids.

Countless news reports last week featured all kinds of reporters and pundits wagging their fingers at Miley Cyrus (aka Hannah Montana) for a photo shoot that will appear in the June issue of Vanity Fair. Newspapers were quick to splash headlines across their front pages bemoaning the fact that one in four teenage girls is infected with a sexually transmitted disease.

Everyone talks about how kids are getting sexualized by the culture and how Hollywood is leading the effort. And yet ad campaigns and shows like this go on the air and there is collective cultural silence. No one looks at Mr. Haskins, from CW, and says, "Are you kidding me?" And when groups like the PTC (or MRC's CMI) do stand up and say, "This isn't good for our kids," they are regularly dismissed as angry, out of touch nanny-staters.

We're not. I love free speech and the free market of ideas just as much as the next person. And I think parents need to do a better job of turning off the television/computer/videogame system/iPod, etc and unplugging their kids from the 24/7 media onslaught to which they are exposed. But. I also think it's appropriate to call producers and Hollywood executives to task and ask them if THEY are concerned about kids. I wonder if Mr. Haskins, of the CW, were to superimpose the face of his child (assuming he has one) on the poster for this OMFG ad campaign whether he'd be discomfitted by that image? Would he be proud to hear his kids utter the actual words for the text-messaging euphemism he's plastered around the country promoting "Gossip Girls?" Would he be happy to find out his teens were smoking pot, drinking and having sex like the kids on the show he is so proud to be "provocatively" promoting?

I wish Brooke Anderson of CNN had thought to ask him that.