July 2008 – Raunchy.
These are terms used to describe a spring ad campaign for Gossip Girl, the racy flagship program of The CW network.
Making its debut in September 2007, the first season of Gossip Girl wrapped in May with a season finale that drew the show’s second largest audience ever – three million viewers. In addition, the show also scored its best teen ratings and best female teen ratings since November and October, respectively, explaining its return to The CW for a second season beginning in September.
Although the show has struggled in terms of ratings, it’s been successful in causing controversy over its content and especially its advertisements.
The show is about an elite group of teenagers who live the high life on Manhatten’s Upper East Side. Their lives consist of cruel scandals, underage drinking, illegal drug use and explicit sex which are dished out daily by the anonymous Gossip Girl through text messages and Web postings. To describe the show as dramatic is an understatement, and to describe the ad campaign as clever is tragic.
The campaign was designed to refuel an interest in the show after going for more than three months without a new episode due to the writers’ strike. It included ads, online video promotions and outdoor billboards that featured the show’s main characters in erotic poses. One ad image of two people having sex was taken from the pilot episode of Gossip Girl. Another image shows two characters passionately making out in the back of a limo. Imposed on each image are the letters OMFG or OMG.
OMFG stands for “Oh my f--king God,” while OMG stands for “Oh my God.” OMFG appeared stronger on cable and online ads while the tamer OMG version was used in some weekly magazines and on The CW network.
These letters are known as Internet speak or text-messaging shorthand. It’s a common form of communication among today’s teens and young adults.
“We spoke with more than 30 people and everyone, except two women in their sixties, said they knew what it meant, …” reported Brooke Anderson, CNN entertainment correspondent.
However, Rick Haskins, vice president of marketing at The CW, told Anderson the letters were open to interpretation.
“Some people can say, ‘Oh my frickin’ goodness!’ Other people can think it means other things,” Haskins said. “What it stands for is an explanation of surprise or ‘I can’t believe it!’”
Anderson didn’t fall for his reasoning and neither did Melissa Henson, director of public education for the Parents Television Council (PTC), a conservative watchdog group who monitors programming for indecent content.
Henson told AFA Journal, “I don’t think [The CW] truly believes it either. I think that they’re hoping to get themselves out of trouble by saying that. … The implication is clear and certainly teens familiar with that kind of text-messaging shorthand would understand fully what they are trying to say in that.”
According to an article in the April 14, 2008, issue of Advertising Age, the Gossip Girl ads were “set to appear on billboards in New York’s Time Square and in Los Angeles; on MTV, VH1 and E!; in celebrity weeklies such as People, US Weekly, Entertainment Weekly and In Touch; and online on MySpace, Yahoo and Facebook.
“Media buyers see Gossip Girl as a viable avenue to reach younger consumers, who are often hardest to reach and yet most influential,” as stated in the same article. Marketers such as Procter & Gamble, L’Oreal, Target and Johnson & Johnson cashed in on Gossip Girl in 2007, helping bring the show $28.2 million in ad dollars.
“They’re using nothing but sex to sell this program,” said Henson on the CNN broadcast about the controversial ads.
In one episode, the character Serena receives handcuffs and porn as a gift. In another episode, Chuck is shown in bed with two women. Other episodes include sex scenes, attempted sexual assault, and comments such as “Let’s catch up, take our clothes off and stare at each other.”
That’s not to mention the illegal drug use, alcohol consumption by minors and profanity throughout the storylines.
PTC goes on to describe the content of the series: “Both the drugs and drinking are presented as glamorous, easy to obtain, and part of their everyday life. … Parents on this series are also portrayed as distant, uncaring, and are depicted as using their children for personal gain and not seeming concerned about their welfare or happiness.”
After all, the world of Gossip Girl seems to be about self-gratification – both on and off the screen.
In the February 2008 issue of the gay magazine OUT, the male stars of Gossip Girl presented themselves as eye-candy in a photo spread intended to cause homosexual men to lust.
Homosexuality isn’t new to the world of Gossip Girl, specifically when it comes to the novels by Cecily von Ziegesar on which the TV show is based.
According to a review in WorldNetDaily, Gossip Girl is also “a New York Times best-selling series of 11 teen books.” Publishers Weekly calls the books “a nasty, guilty pleasure,” and Teen People magazine labels them as “Sex and the City for the younger set.”
The WorldNetDaily review is written by Floyd and Mary Beth Brown, a couple who found their 12-year-old daughter reading a Gossip Girl book she checked out from the teen section of their local library.
They found the book to be full of the “f”-word as well as much of the drug, alcohol and materialistic content found in the TV show. It also unabashedly promoted homosexuality by detailing the events of a “coming out” party that a mother threw for her gay son. This particular chapter in the Gossip Girl book ended with the saying, “The family that’s gay together stays together!”
Just as the Browns attempt to monitor the books their daughter reads, Henson encourages parents to do the same with their children’s television programs. Henson said parents would do well to contact The CW about Gossip Girl and express their concerns about the show and the ad campaign.
Although The CW’s target demographics are late teens and young adults, there is no way tweens and early teens are escaping the popular lure of its shows.
“The fact is that The CW is basically remaking itself as a primarily teen-targeted network, but a lot of the programming they’re planning for the fall season is grossly inappropriate for the young demographic that they’re trying to reach,” Henson said.
“We are zeroed in on our target demo of young women 18-34 with both new and returning series, and each programming block provides a strong promotional platform for the following night,” said Dawn Ostroff, president of entertainment for The CW, in a press release.
“Gossip Girl was the most buzz-worthy show of last season and had the highest concentration of female teens of any series on broadcast television,” she said.
Clearly, The CW’s concern is money, not moral responsibility.
The CW Television Network is a joint venture between Warner Brothers Entertainment and CBS Corporation. To contact The CW:
President Dawn Ostroff
51 West 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019
The appeal, the rationale, the denial
Female GG fan, age 19: I first started watching Gossip Girl when I saw commercials for it on The CW. The high life and drama was something I knew I would be interested in. I feel like I can relate my life to the show, and people my age enjoy watching shows they can most relate to. It seems to me like the characters are my friends. I sometimes can get advice from the show for my friends who have problems with their boyfriends. I can relate to pretty much every bit of the show’s drama on a daily basis, [and I’m not bothered by the content]. I am old enough now where I have either seen what is going on or heard about it. The only way it has impacted me is in how to handle relationships with other people. Other than that, I watch it for entertainment because I love shows like Gossip Girl.
Female GG fan, age 17: I watch Gossip Girl because I love the shows on The CW. It’s very dramatic and the things that happen to the characters on the show are things that some teenagers are faced with today. I would say that I am definitely addicted to the show. As soon as I finish an episode, I immediately watch previews for the next one. Usually I’m very excited and cannot wait for the next one to come on. Most of the time, the day after I watch it, I go to school telling everyone about it! I think shows like this are so popular because today so many teenagers are faced with problems of friends, parents, drugs, sex, and alcohol, and they think that by watching these shows it justifies what they do. I personally watch the show just for my own entertainment because I don’t believe that watching a TV show makes doing something wrong the right thing to do.