Toxic Teen Messaging In A K-Mart/Alloy Episodic: The First Day

September 1, 2010 It’s the first of September, as the first day of school angst bubbles up throughout the nation on either side of this ‘premiere’ week. (many have started school already, some are about to)

A welcoming ‘first day?’ Hardly. This is classic online product placement meets mean girl drek in “First Day: The Series,” an abysmal branding collaboration between  K-Mart and Alloy Media. “A new series from the executive producers of Pretty Little Liars” made me wince,  knowing full well that Alloy isn’t exactly on my BFF list (per my piece about their Gossip Girl show) And that they’d be bringing their behavioral blights on the trashy media landscape to relentlessly push their vapid values via digital engagement to kids.

I suppose I should be relieved this horrid absurdity is limited to a ‘merchantainment’ digital ditty rather than a full blown TV series, but they’ve hit a new low by giving us a snapshot of “what’s wrong with our culture” in a handy compressed 8-series, 8+minutes each episodic, which enables them to skirt the FTC rules of product integration by taking it online to target kids with snark, sneers and oh, yes, LOTS of sales pitches. Careful retailing industry, branding backlash could cost you even more in this recession.

Lest you think I’m exaggerating the teencentric crud and cues, here’s a transcript of some of the opening dialog, as the bonafide mean girl upends her older sibling in her own “pathetic” home: “First day of school determines who you’re gonna be friends with, which determines if a guy is gonna like you which determines if you’ll ever be kissed, because after awhile you build it up and you get all nervous, until you’re 25 and totally unkissable…and…” Yadayada. Trust me it gets even worse.

The “series” follows a teenage girl who repeatedly relives her first day at a new school in Bill Murray/media mode reminiscent of Groundhog Day. It stars Tracey Fairaway from Make it or Break It, and Elizabeth McLaughlin from Ugly Betty and The Clique.

K-Mart’s involvement is a double-whammy of socioeconomic targeting of vulnerable populations coupled with behavioral audacity to cue kids to “what’s important” for their first day of school. (namely, the pursuit of the almighty hottie, bullying, boyfriends and fashionista fails; sigh. Charming.)

Whiny colloquialisms and eyerolling sarcasm abounds, as does blatant bullying, humiliation  and embarrassment—plenty of that.

Mean girl antics with exaggerated stereotyping and ‘trip over yourself looking at the cute guy’ cliches are there. (the faceplant in front of the whole school earns Cassie the nickname “Crashie”) For lunch? Rejection served with a dollop of blatant, FML level, off the chart snipery:

“Sorry, Crashie, these seats are saved for people we like.”

What else? Oh, yes…of course. Silly me.

There’s a quintessential “loser mom” who claims “you’re just like me” and proceeds to squirt mayonnaise on her daughter by accident, offering the solution, “just tell them it’s bird poop” —then reassures her with trite clichés like “Be yourself and it’ll all be fine”…(remember, cough, cough, “Be You!”)

Too cool for school? Let’s slam academics and have the teacher herself chide,

“Physics seems lame because it is. But if you’re gonna ace the test and get into the right schools, you’re gonna have to learn it.”

The teacher then degrades and berates the student, calling her out for daydreaming, “No matter how long you stare at Ryan’s back, you can’t learn physics by osmosis” etc.

Note to Alloy…playing into teen angst/frustrations and fears is no doubt research laden with ‘opportunities’…knocking kids down and grinding a stiletto into their backpack isn’t helping us shift the course of education, ya know? How about some uplifting instead of poisoning, please.

It doesn’t take much media and marketing analysis to see why my disdain for this interactive interplay is off the charts in its execution and messaging.

I get the whole ‘let’s try interactive TV’ brand play, as the right column screen (above) scrolls to show each items available to buy (bedroom linens, top, skirt, etc) but the banality and irresponsibly mean-spirited character development is so weak and predictable that the whole branded bit deploys as a spoof of itself. (comedy needs to be at least mildly amusing, this is so stereotyped it’s shamefully bad.)

Oh, one more thing to watch for on this ‘first day’ back into the September swing of things…

To further add to the ‘engagement’  piece of the pie (which we should throw at Alloy/K-Mart in carnival booth style)…

Kmart launches Stylesip a social hub for teen girls to “share their thoughts on trends, entertainment, music and gossip.”

Gee, don’t do us any favors, folks. Gossip, we’ve got. Though that IS a perfect segue to a guest post by Josh Golin about same, along with this ‘don’t miss’ piece posted on the product placement/targeting teens side of the digital equation with the episodic TV, via Center for Digital Democracy.

Stay tuned for more, I have a feeling this “back to school” media and marketing ramp up is gonna get ugly.

Unlike my colleagues at CCFC (below) I DO like some branding interplays… The branding alignment with Staples (backpacks for needy kids) and this Coalition for the Homeless type of kids helping kids campaign for Project Back to School (again, branding with Staples) seems at first sniff to be a win-win…Feature on that forthcoming, need to do due diligence on the goodwashing front…But K-Mart+AlloyTV=Bleh.

Guess from a retailer that marketed this and a media company marketing this, it’s to be expected. Still. Not the way I want to start out the school year. Now here’s Josh:

Today is the First Day of Kmart’s Marketing Assault on Children

by Josh Golin, CCFC

Alloy Media + Marketing have launched First Day, its latest web series for children and teens on the Internet channel AlloyTV. An Alloy press release suggests the show will have it all – if by all you mean the full gamut of troubling trends in youth marketing.

Because First Day will air on the web instead of a traditional television channel, the FCC’s rules that dictate strict separation of commercial content and programming matter do not apply. That means that, unlike children’s television shows, First Day can feature product placement. That’s where Kmart comes in.

Not only will the characters wear Kmart’s back-to-school fashions (Dream Out Loud by Selena Gomez, Rebecca Bonbon and Bongo), but Kmart actually helped create the script for First Day, so expect the clothes to play a prominent role in the show’s narrative. And if you’re creating a Kmart infomercial, why stop there?

First Day will also feature a unique retail component in each episode. Kmart will “hotspot” its fashions throughout the series, enabling viewers to buy the inspired looks worn by the lead characters by means of a direct link to the products on the Kmart website.

When they click through to the Kmart website, what will they find?

Perhaps images like these that are being used to promote the same Bongo line in Seventeen magazine and Teen Vogue, two publications whose readers skew younger than their titles imply:

Or this ad that touts Bongo’s junior line for “back to school” at Kmart’s parent company, Sears:

It’s as if Kmart designed their back-to-school campaign using the exploitative marketers’ handbook. Use sex to sell tween girls on clothes.

Create “branded entertainment” so that children won’t realize they’re really watching ads. Use interactive technology so that kids can click right from the “program” they’re watching to the checkout line. Add a viral component so that children’s friendships are commercialized; Kmart is offering applications for kids to upload to their phones so they can tweet their purchases to their friends.

And of course, promote your brand in schools.

Kmart is also advertising its fall fashions on Alloy’s controversial in-school television network, Channel One.

For students in the 8,000 schools with Channel One, viewing Kmart’s ads will be a compulsory part of the school day. That’s right – Kmart will be using class time paid for by your tax dollars to promote its clothing to a captive audience of students.

Kmart clearly believes that its provocative marketing strategy will result in more sales, but I’m not so sure.

There are a growing number of parents who are saying, “if you want my business, treat me and my children with respect.” That’s a lesson that Kmart clearly hasn’t learned. Maybe we need to teach them that this fall.

Josh Golin is Associate Director of CCFC, Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. Their new blog posts are chock full of interesting tidbits that pertain to our work here, and thus will appear in reprint form from time to time when content is pertinent to a story. (printed with attribution and permission from its original source, of course!)

Thanks again, Josh. Great piece. Readers? Shall we show them this fall? You CAN make a difference with WHERE you shop to make media & marketing change. And you CAN speak out about Channel One’s commercialization turning school into a shopping mall in the classroom!

Oh, and if you’re wondering if it’s REALLY that bad? See for yourself, below: (update: oops, never mind, I tried to add it, but they made it ‘autostart’ so you have no choice to hush it, which doesn’t work for me. See what I mean? Insistent marketing.)



  1. Ugh, Bleh, and Ick. I hadn’t heard about this until reading your post. Not sure where to start with what I find most offensive. Besides the disempowering and stereotypical content of the web series that sends girls the messages that boys and beauty should be their priorities in life, I was surprised to read in Josh Golin’s post that advertisements by Kmart will be compulsory viewing for students in schools featuring Channel One.

    I just went to the Channel One site and this is how they describe their role in the classroom and with advertisers.

    “Channel One News, now a division of Alloy Media + Marketing, is the top source of high quality, unbiased news and information for young people. Our 12-minute show includes two minutes of corporate sponsorships, which allows us to bring the program to schools cost-free. We follow strict guidelines as to who may participate as sponsors, and ensure distinct separation of editorial and advertising.”

    Who is really overseeing this relationship and what exactly do these “guidelines” entail? Disturbing to say the least.

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  3. EXACTLY Deborah…and you nailed it on the ‘oversight’ issue as it’s now prompted me to do a ‘deep dive’ and connect the dots here, particularly in the schools realm, because frankly…there are some HUGE disconnects.

    When Scholastic has to be pressured to remove ‘Bratz’ from their book fair turned toy chest, and Channel One is owned by Alloy, the corporations selling insecurities for profit are in full infiltration mode…and it’s the fox guarding the henhouse.

    The fact that they can put their game face on to get into the schools is over the top absurd…

    As you know, I understand the ‘advertising as monetization vehicle’ …But when it starts seeping into learning environs with toxic cues to boot, Houston, there’s a problem…

    The FTC and FCC have been rendered toothless by their OWN bedmates in corporate allies (e.g. net neutrality great example) so it’s time to wake up some sleeping giants for a consumer rebel yell.

  4. The irony is that I remember when one of the most painful things a popular girl could say to another girl was “Where do you buy your clothes? K-Mart?” Adds another layer to my reaction to this marketing approach.

  5. heh. Oh, Nedra that is SO true…

    For me, the big box bit is particularly hard to ignore, as when I work with ‘at risk’ kids and socioeconomic pockets, there’s a direct correlation between the branding proliferation and the consumption cues.

    Whether it’s the fact that there are ‘characters’ on every solid color tee at Kmart it seems (just TRY to find plain ol basics) or the junk food/healthy eating merchandising corollary…the cause and effect is insidious…

    Brands equate to $$$ social status, etc. so you’re right, they try to stay AWAY from Kmart and shop the fashionista fare…equally lousy messaging, and prolly why we still have kids shooting each other over tennies and tech…sigh.

    This is a double whammy to add the ‘mean girl’ and BF toxicity into the mix to boot…Bleh.

  6. In Australia students are required to wear uniforms, and in public schools the uniforms are basically just collared shirts, and trousers, shorts or skirts, and the only thing that’s specific is the colours. For example, if your school uniform states white top and grey bottom, you can wear a white polo shirt and grey trackpants. It’s not trendy, but it’s practical and economical because you can buy these schoolwear staples at any department stores including K-Mart for as low as $2. Would this idea be popular with US parents and schools?

  7. I will give a young woman’s opinion: I’m 19, I’m a college student, and I really like First day webseries, I think It’s entertaining, and specially IT’S FICTION!
    Ladies, come on! You overanalize what’s just a story! and they included some merchandising too, so what?. It might be something new for all of you, maybe because It is a new way of promoting products, I mean I never see this before, and I just watch ome new episode, close the site, and go upstairs to my room to keep studyng. Is it that bad? that an 8-minute webserie entertains me for a little while?

    I love wearing clothes, and clothes do not determine who I am, nor who anyone is. I think all of you must be older women and maybe have daughters, which is perfectly fine, and I really respect that. But times have changed, and not all teenage girls are so silly to feel the way you say they feel after watching, again, A FICTIONAL WEBSERIE!

  8. Actually, this is a youth driven org, w/a teen advisory board, I’m just the ‘older woman’ in charge of media analysis (and yes I have a daughter) 😉

    Sure not trying to tell teens how they feel, and am glad that you have the critical thinking skills to see that it’s a product placement webisode of pure fiction, most DO. I DO. The messages being presented are belittling to teens by portraying them as stereotyped boy crazed fashionista morons (their words not mine)

    The merchandising is simply a forerunner to ‘interactive TV’ where you can point and pause to get goods and services pronto, and it sure as heck doesn’t belong in SCHOOL environs via Channel One.

    We don’t send kids to get educated in how to shop. But sadly, as this post proves, it’s getting closer to that by the day:

  9. I like how you actually presented all of these stuffs. All I can say is that sometimes media goes beyond the limit. As a business graduate, I can say that this is somewhat distasteful marketing concept of those marketing people behind it. I must still go for those that can appeal most people, that’s an ethical business for me no matter if it’s a fiction or not because influence is still an INFLUENCE.

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