Do You Think “Greek” Is ABC Family Fare?

greek-visual.jpgParenting today is a bit like watching this video of sweet puppies… Suddenly Sam “the ugliest dog in the world” pops up in your face and shocks the shorts off of ya!

Just when you’re comfy and complacent, whammo, a zinger comes your way from a brand that startles and surprises. Example?

My tween is locked into a full tilt music fixation with the Plain White Ts’ song Our Time Now. (I’m big on their Hey Delilah tune, myself) and it turns out it’s the soundtrack for the new summer TV hit, “Greek” on ABC Family. She’s never SEEN the show, but she likes the song so much she found Greek’s lyrics and soundtrack on YouTube so she can sing along karaoke style and forward it to her gal pals.

I didn’t think much about it at first, she fell in love with the song while bopping to the ABC Family commercial. But since peer buzz is already brewing and she’s already “heard some stuff about it,” I figured I’d better take a peek…Ahem. Question:

Since when is collegiate binge drinking, racy innuendo, sexcapades and the ‘partay’ scene “ABC Family” fare, folks?

Yeah. ABC Family. You heard right. Mind you, I have NOT seen the full show itself yet so will TRY to reserve judgment, but the premise and content of the promo alone brings up significant points for analysis, as you can see by this L.A. Times article, and this Common Sense Media review.

Much like the uber popular Friends sitcom of yesteryear, the promo features a zippy soundtrack set against madcap PG-13 hormone driven titillation. (in this case, an angelic nerdy bro freshman entering his ‘hottie’ sister’s school)

There’s plenty of angst appeal for ALL ages on both sides of their target market as school frustrations of “fitting in” are universal.

My guess is they strategically lobbed ‘age compression’ marketing tactics into the mix and it worked quite well for them. In fact, it’s a smashing success. (pardon the pun) Meaning? It’s pulling in ages far below its intended audience, gaining a ratings boost with content that appeals to a ‘crossover’ demographic of TWEENS.

And yes, obviously this DOES concern me…

I’m not purposely picking on Greek here, though I admit my first take is “why are we marketing higher learning as a youth alcoholic kegger blitz to young kids?” (teens, tweens or otherwise?)

What’s next, toga parties and hot tubs on Cartoon Network? Frat rushes on Nickelodeon? Alcopops on Sesame Street? (Yes, I’m stretching…but hey, not much)

I’m sure it will be justified with ‘moral of the story’ flair like most formula youth TV, (Izzy Neis has a nice list here of her top youth TV picks) but it sure seems time for some global thinking on more meaningful content.

Mind you, it’s NOT Greek to me that teens and partying premises “sell.”

In one months’ time, “Greek” has already had their initial series order of 10 episodes doubled to 10 more shows for early 2008. In fact, next week, “Rusty” the sweet academic frosh played by Jacob Zachar will be in Habbo 8/13 to chat with teen fans.

One side of me says, “well, at least they picked the wholesome character to bring into Habbo Hotel’s online virtual world” and the other side says, “yeah, but the whole Greek gonzo party-animal premise is normalizing behavioral cues that don’t need reinforced to begin with!” Sheesh. Argh.

Then there’s the tween issue…

Much like the immersive chat in Gaia online and Zwinktopia built for TEENS, younger preteens have now sifted in, getting their jollies chatting in “bubble text talk” using animated avatars that spark their self-worth when others pay attention to them. (I’ll never forget when a member of our S.Y. advisory board was ga-ga over being invited to another’s igloo on Club Penguin in ‘he likes me, he really likes me’ crush style. Surreal validation.)

I’m not going to contextualize this with ‘goods and bads’ other than to point out that each tween is different in their capacity to filter everything from language slurs and behavioral cues to offers of marriage and such all in the name of ‘entertainment.’ (some informal research on pros/cons of the quality of kids’ social interactions from “Daniela’s Lair” here)

My point goes way beyond ‘exposure’ to the parental conundrum of cluelessness, since most parents judge sites worthy based on the ‘appearance’ of wholesome fare.

In other words, to a parent’s eye, Habbo’s blocky Lego-style avatars look like ‘cartoons made for children’ not TEEN social media. Similarly…

Greek may not even get a blink from parents because it’s coming from ABC Family.

Again. Deep concern here. Why? Parents are lulled into false complacency in a reverse tweak of ‘guilt by association.’

Many give credibility where it’s not warranted and make cursory snap judgments based on branded alliances of logos over content. In other words, they see the little “ABC Family” mark and think, “ok, cool” and go back to their business.

This over-simplification is dicey media literacy at best.

People tend to be visual beasties. They rarely read anymore. (kudos if you’ve gotten this far in the blog!)

As a rule, people glom onto iconic marketing, which glosses over content and context entirely…thus, critical thinking goes out the window in favor of branding.

The prevalent mindset then becomes:

“Greek is on ABC Family so it must be wholesome, no biggie.”

“AYSO soccer logo on Capri Sun’s high fructose corn syrup pouch drinks means it must be healthy.”

“Immersive virtual worlds with cute cartoon avatars, must be for children, not just teens.”

Pediatricians handing out snack food coupons and samples often translate to ‘guess it’s okay.’ (Here’s a Wall Street Journal article about doctors pitching products)

It’s not that parents are airheads or ‘sheeple,’ it’s that we live in a highly visual, appearance-based society of time-pinched parents vulnerable to sophisticated brandwashing.

Without media literacy, the high saturation level of media and marketing offerings that APPEAR to be ‘healthy’ but aren’t can send ANY grown up into a tailspin much less a child trying to navigate best bets or what’s appropriate. This merits a heads-up. Why?

Wrong-headed assumptions can harm kids and land parents in ‘oops, how did that happen?’ mode, aided and abetted by marketer’s quest for the almighty greenback dollar.

From self-awarded snack food labels to subjective movie ratings, parents are undermined by pairings that confuse the issues even when they’re attempting due diligence!

I’ve written about this blurring of branding ethics countless times.

Look no further than the classic case of pediatrician orgs selling out their logos to sanctioning baby media, like Brainy Baby and Baby Einstein, despite new studies that have now PROVEN every hour spent watching baby videos is associated with slower language development.

That’s heinously irresponsible to me.

When parents see the logo and grab-n-go sans mindfulness, they’re buying into brandwashing that works AGAINST children’s health and well-being. Ditto the heart foundations paired with sugary snacks, or fast food give-aways of media tie-ins.

Marketers do this because it WORKS.

Evidence? Check the latest unbelievable McDonalds study from the Journal of Pediatrics showing kids believed food packaged with the big M logo actually tasted better!

Egad. This branding stuff really works.

Greek and ABC Family might want to take a closer look at the toxic trickle down impact on tweens with their pairing. C’mon, gang, do we really need elementary and middle-school kids trying to mimic frat house behavior on any level?

When you plop a brand inside trust and serve it up as healthy, there’s bound to be backlash down the line. It’s hard to discern how fast brand erosion ignites once context is unveiled. So here are some simple takeaway tips:

Marketers: The parent posse can get downright nasty when their ‘young-uns’ are put in the crossfire in Trojan Horse style. Caveat emptor.

Parents: Media literacy is a must. Content is king, ‘association’ can be misleading, and ‘appearance’ doesn’t mean squat anymore.

Kids: Media and messaging may look like a duck and quack like a duck, but it’s still not necessarily a duck!

As to how we got into this accelerated conundrum of counter-marketing vapid values through ‘always on’ parenting of media messages…I can only quote this site’s medieval proverb, “Graecum est; non potest legi.”

It’s Greek to me.

Ah, how I long for simpler times.

404

Comments

  1. This show is not actually aimed at what you call tweens. The fact that ABC Family includes the “Family” is because of a contract formallity. Originally it was designed to be named XYZ (as the opposite of ABC, designed to apply to teenagers). The fact that it includes drinking, sex, and “drugs” (which I personally have never seen on the show), ultimately, it is designed as a sitcom marketed to teenagers. It’s harmless, and I speak to this as a member of the greek community. If you think that this show is honestly corrupting today’s youth, then you have another thing coming. If you want to see where the real problem lies, it’s people in their own homes, schools, and neighborhoods, not a funny tv show. If the show bothers you THAT much, block that channel. A question to ask yourself… Your “tween” has access to all varieties of shows, ones that include adults getting drunk, having sex, etc… why does this one bother you so much? I’m sure you watch these shows, and are being extremely hypocritical. Whats next, because the WB shows cartoons, Sex and the City reruns need to be taken off? Also another point to look at is the time Greek. It’s on at 9 for a reason.

  2. Absolutely agree this show is NOT aimed at tweens, it’s a sitcom aimed at TEENS unequivocally, even though it involves collegiate escapades.

    Like most aspirational marketing, it cycles ONE tier down…my point is that tossing in an ABC Family logo means you’ve now gone TWO tiers down into the tweens demographic. The fact that younger kids are buzzing about it means many have already seen it, most likely due to parent’s trust in the brand name…

    No one’s proposing censorship/channel blocking/corruption, or whatever other implications were hurled this way, nor am I even debating access, timeslot, whether the show is funny, worthy, or even well executed…I’m simply saying that ‘contractual formality’ or not, it’s out of the realm of common sense to brand it as “ABC Family” fare…

    Like the witty scripts of the WB’s Gilmore Girls (recall Rory’s lost lamb stage) or Carrie’s cosmo sipping gal pals in Sex in the City, there was never a chance they’d brand the shows as FAMILY fare…So why would “ABC Family” risk brand erosion of associating ‘wild child’ party animal rush-n-blush frat house fare positioning binge drinking and sex as a normative given for academia?

    That makes absolutely no sense to me…It’s a branding snafu pure and simple.

    p.s. btw, I never mentioned “drugs” either, no clue where you got that one; could you have mixed up your commentary with someone else’s editorial? Did you really READ the article above? It’s about inappropriate branding ethics and logo pairing…

  3. P.S. Here’s a great article about the content/age issues and content/engagement on Izzy Neis’ blog:

    http://izzyneis.wordpress.com/2007/08/13/ramble-nickelodeon-expands-through-separation/

    She’s citing the recent NYTimes piece that said, “Nickelodeon is expected to announce today that Noggin, the daytime commercial-free preschool network, and the N, a nighttime advertising-supported network for adolescents and teenagers, will become 24-hour stand-alone networks and no longer share channel space. The split, planned for the end of the year, will resonate particularly in the intense competition for the 9- to 14-year-olds and 12- to 17-year-olds, whose loyalties are now divided among Walt Disney’s Disney Channel – home of the series “Hannah Montana” and the powerhouse “High School Musical” and a sequel that is being shown on Friday – and ABC Family; Nickelodeon’s Nick, MTV and the N; and the broadcast network the CW, among others.”

    And then discusses on her blog the strategic branding split for the purpose of market clarity and content engagement, using Nick/N, CW, Disney/ABC etc.

    Here’s a brief out-take from her blog:

    “It “seems” like they’re splitting age groups, right? But really— they’re splitting content-engages. I’m not sure if that’s an appropriate term “content engagers“. The content on CW/ABC Disney is QUITE advanced & challenging in comparison with the happy-go-lucky content on Disney & Nickelodeon. What I would like to see— is research done regarding the content engagers for N & CW in comparison to content engagers for CW & MTV. The N & MTV are aiming at the same type of social challenge & sex/drama-enthusiasts… but if you asked someone who watched MTV (in that age group) if they watch The N… what would their answer be? (Me thinks it would be a self conscious no-ish). And then ask someone who watches The N if they watch MTV, they’ll have the “yes” quickly pop out. I’m really interested in the social perceptions of The N as it goes more CW/ABC Family. I can’t wait to see if there is a reaction, or a social movement, etc…”

    Anyway…I’m adding it here because I find some relevance in both the demographics and the channels themselves! Helps THIS noggin’ start seeing the complexity of the programming issues…

  4. Okay, Well I watch Greek and this is for the women who said her “tween daughter” likes Plain White T’s okay its ABC FAMILY that means at some point theres somthing on for everyone. Yes there is some crude humor, drinking, and sexual activities, If you dont want your daughter to watch it dont let her. Its a good show. This show is aimed towards teens not “tweens”.

  5. Cool. Good to know. As I said, I haven’t SEEN it yet, and like Gilmore Girls, if the writing is good and the dialogue is inclusive I’m there…just concerned about the overall reverb in terms of the ‘binge drinking’ thing…but frankly, there’s a side of me that says common sense/untroubled kids ‘get this’ and can discern the differences if they’re in the teen (not tween 8-12) wannabe genre. I have a rather media savvy 12 year old who would no doubt see it for ‘what it is’ rather than any ‘message’ or stereotype being purported. I truly believe it’s up to the family/user/viewer.

    Just reminding parents that ABC Family is not a ‘carte blanche’ for hands-off ‘I’m gonna go do my nails’ mindsets…that’s all. Thanks for the comment!

  6. The show isnt really meant for younger teens, but for the older teen crowd. ABC family is just like all the other tv networks they have to have a station that satisfies everyone not just the younger crowd. Such as THE-N for nickelodeon they have all types of shows for teens younger & more advanced. In my opinion its good that the shows displays certain things for us as teens because those things happen to us in everyday life. Shows like GREEK or South Of Nowhere give kids like myself open-minds. Its not to say that everyone should praise people for being homosexuals, alcoholics, or sexually active but to be aware and not to always have this guard up about everything. For instance saying that these kinds of things are bad. Bad or not they are going to happen & its very crucial that kids 12 and older be aware because it starts early and doesnt get any easier as they get older. I myself am 17 and a Senior I personally love GREEK. Its very dramatic & and very realistic.

  7. Thanks, Brianna for your comments. As a realist, a pragmatist,
    and a diehard centrist that tries hard not to judge but to ‘observe and respond’ with balance, I think all shows can be ‘teaching moments’ regardless of the content if kids are accompanied, actually…

    I’ve heard enough positive things about Greek that I’m anxious to see for myself, but am steadfast in my stand that parents should NOT see the logo/ABC Family and treat it as a G instead of a PG13, that’s all.

    There’s a very big FALSE sense of comfort there. And tweens range from 8-12…mine’s on the high side, so could easily deconstruct it.

    Yes, I agree, teens and even tweens navigate life better as exposed/enlightened/aware of the human condition rather than cocooned and bubble-wrapped in silk spun splendor, because the only way a butterfly will emerge is to grow…BUT parents should be ENGAGED and not ‘checked out’ particularly if younger tweens are absorbing content without context…

    All too many people see the logo and shrug it off as ‘cartoon/mind candy’ or floof…If heavy stuff is being presented that’s “dramatic & realistic”…then parents need to be remain ‘in the loop’ for deconstruction and green light it for teens but blink that caution sign wildly when it comes to tweens…NOT the time to leave the sitter in charge and say ‘whatever’ basically…;-) That’s all I’m saying. The logo sends a false sense of security with the use of the word “Family” —Thanks for the thoughtful comment! Much appreciated! πŸ™‚

  8. Hello, I’m Rebecca. I’ve watched Greek since it started, though i am a big fan i admit there are some things that i do have problems with. Theres so much drinking, mostly underage. This new season the people in the show are being “punished” for thier drinking and rude acts but their not taking it seriously. I am 13, and i wouldnt feel comfortable with watching this with my parents.

  9. Hey Rebecca, thanks for the comment. Is that discomfort level because your parents would be judgmental, or squeamish or what? Do you watch it with friends/sibs/solo? I guess my daughter might feel the same, and Hey rebecca, this is her daughter i would totally feel uncomfortable too!!!!!!!! lol!!!!

    um…that was my dear one who hijacked my keyboard! ahem…so I guess you’re not alone in those thoughts…sigh.

  10. Amy,

    I think I agree with you on this matter. When I first saw previews for Greek I was pretty astonished! Without anytime to even be judgemental or close-minded as some people would say and not because of the content, but because it is airing on a “family” channel. Simple as that. I hold myself to a pretty high moral standard and I could go around in circles with many people out there on the subject of right and wrong, but I stand firm in knowing that airing a show based around beer guzzling, horny students is not family fare and has no place on such tv channel. It would be helpful too if it only was on at 9pm as someone else commented, but I dvr’d it last week so that I could see what it was like and it was on at 7pm! I agree that censorship should definitely take place in the home and that parents should pay close attention to what is going into their children’s minds because we cannot control our environment but I don’t believe in the whole self-absorbed attitude that many people have today. Which is: Worry about yourself and your own children and no one else needs to care. Personally, I don’t have children and I am only 23 yrs. old, but I care what all kids are watching and getting into out there because they will help shape the world that my children live in. For highly influential people and companies, it is their responsibility to be…well, responsible and be held accountable for what they do. Not to be cheesy and quote Spiderman, but…”With great power, comes great responsibility.” I believe that fully. Thanks, hope this helps!

  11. yeah uh no says:

    i guess that it all depends on the type of parents a kid has. it does seem that this show doesn’t really “mesh” with the overall “style” of abc family, but come to think of it, it’s not that off. more and more young teens (or tweens) are experimenting in “traditions” that were usually the practice of high schoolers or college youth.
    as a parent it’s so easy to blame everything and everyone except ourselves. the parents that “feel outraged” when they see these kinds of things on television are the same parents that let their kids go off to places and do things that aren’t meant for them.
    before pointing the finger at t.v., parents should worry about their true job: parenting.

  12. Well, parents ARE trying hard to parent, but when we get blindsided and a bit brandwashed by seeing ‘ABC Family’ and shrug it off as ‘must be fine’…without seeing how the shows have evolved and changed…like the ‘Secret Life of an American Teen’ and Greek, etc. then we’re setting ourselves up for surprises…

    One peek at the ABC Family blog and episode log lines will tell you this is not exactly ‘Eight is Enough’ or even ‘Seventh Heaven’ fare…

    http://community.abcfamily.go.com/blogs/secret-life-american-teenager/unconditional-love#comments

    If I were to go by ABC Family’s content mix of teen pregnancy and a desire for ‘unconditional love’…casual sex sans meaningful intimacy, binge drinking and party hearty attitudes, etc. then I’d mistakenly believe this was normative.

    What are the cues being sent to kids in terms of what’s valued in society? No ‘outrage’ here, just a question…

    As for parents that ‘let their kids go off to places that aren’t meant for them’ I think we have a reality disconnect here…My whole intent is to frame media literacy and warn parents that ‘it’s not Kansas anymore’ on the ol’ Disney line-up…and to pay attention!

    Parents can’t parent when they’re misled or under the impression that the media choice is something that it’s not…A preteen setting the Tivo to a ’season pass’ of My Secret Life of a Teenager may very well pass muster from a parent that sees ‘ABC Family’ on the channel logo and doesn’t dig any deeper. Big mistake…forewarned is forearmed. Know what’s being pumped out of the tube and into the brain…THEN decide whether it’s appropo for a particular child.

    No censorship. Just logic. No ‘outrage’ just a request for network responsibility and accountability in marketing practices so we know what CONTENT is coming at kids without free-associating by logo and mouse-ears as ‘family fare.’

    We need transparency, honesty and candor from the media and marketing powers that be so parents have half a chance to do their job sans misinformation…

  13. Ok I am a “tween” and I love the show And if the parnets had had any sence they teach there tween the sence of right and worng. That’s why I have so much freedom. Yea I get some parnets don’t care but mine do and they teach me about these things so I don’t do them and act like Rusty, Even, or Kappie.

  14. I agree with your parental premise, Greekfan…and yes, my parents raised me with plenty of wiggle room too, based on trust and the honor system of freedom.

    My disconnect is the following:

    1.) Not all ‘tweens’ have the discernment that you do, and instead see the behavior as ‘just what kids do’ giving it a nod to normalcy…that’s not only a huge distortion of the reality, but a dangerous tinkering with the truth by loading ‘media peer pressure’ stress and expectations (media as the ‘super peer’) on young kids unnecessarily.

    2.) Parents who think ABC Family is a ‘safe zone’ of ‘family fare’ because of the name alone are getting sidewinders landing on them by hearing tween talk and yak backs about characters in the show drinking/partying, who’s hooking up with whom, yadayada when it’s not remotely age appropriate nor something they’d condone if they ‘knew’ this was the show’s premise.

    Adults are lured into complacency remembering the ‘old’ ABC Family fare…and Disney ties…this is a NEW flavor…complete with teen pregnancy (My Secret Life as a Teenager etc.) and dialing down the age threshold of who’s watching what…

    3.) Yes, the Greek kids are in college…older teens, young adults…NOT tweens…but the behavioral cues are being instilled that ‘this is what college is like’ etc. and teens aspirationally ‘act out’ media at ever younger ages…you know that! Just look at all the mini-Hannah Montanas in the K-5 playgrounds when the show is ‘supposed to be’ more for TWEENS.

    In marketing we call it a ‘dialed down demographic’ or ‘age compression’ meaning they’re squishing the content into a format that appeals to the next youngest age group who then mirrors the antics accordingly. (you’ve seen this in retail, haven’t you among your peers? Limited Too thongs for tweens? Or Victoria’s Secret ‘collegiate’ PINK line which high schoolers/middle schoolers (and yes, now TWEENS) are snapping up with their own cash?) This is what we call “aspirational marketing” or what you kids might call the ‘wannabe’ mentality.

    THAT is the problem I have with tweens watching the show…Not all of ’em have parents as ‘hands-on’ as you do to ‘teach them’ what NOT to do…go hug ’em for me!

    You’re a lucky tween! Have a great 2009 and thanks for taking the time to comment. Come back anytime, and if you’d like to join our tween team to sound off with YOUR views, we’d love to have you onboard…Leave me a comment and I’ll send you the service application! πŸ™‚ Best, Amy

  15. The thing is, a number of the shows on ABC Family have content which doesn’t exactly fit the definition of wholesome. I remember watching the pilot for Kyle XY, and the teen daughter was waking up in her bed with a boy she had just spent the night with (he then sneaked out of the house to avoid discovery by her parents). Another scene had her kid brother (seemed to be about 12 years old) going into the bathroom with an adult magazine to masturbate. And this was just within the first few minutes! The title of the ABC Family channel is very misleading parents need to be aware that they need to supervise what their kids are taking in so they can provide parental guidance about some of the situations which are being portrayed.

  16. I couldn’t agree more…that’s why I wrote the post! Thanks, Marc.

    p.s. I personally think the ‘Family’ name is deceiving to the point that it’s fouling up the demographic expectation universally, and why parents like me are advocating a huge HEADS UP and a RENAME even…

    As a name generation/branding pro, I strongly feel it falls into the “abysmal mistake” category, regardless of the reasoning (contractually or otherwise) behind it. The added alliance with the Disney/ABC group further misleads (and I’d say even constitutes brand erosion)

    In short,if it’s targeting teens 16+ (according to the network) then the name needs to reflect same…that’s a much more mature audience than a tween/twelve demo…and even then, it falls into the vapid values category in terms of content/cues, imho. But hey, I’m not the morality police, I just would like transparency and candor so I can make the choice for myself (and my family!) πŸ™‚

    Thanks for taking the time to comment…Come back again!

  17. Along these lines, here’s an interview from YPulse.com with the woman responsible for the programming, Vickie Collier, of ABC Family, who discusses their ‘strategy’ behind Greek, etc.

    Opinions?

    http://www.ypulse.com/ypulse-interview-vickie-collier-vice-president-digital-media-disney-abc-television-group

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