Thursday, October 25, 2007

this is how it gets REAL (for advertisers) - consumer power

These Young Girls Are Flipping Your Brand Into the Dustbin

Women of 3iYing Launch a Viral Effort to Tell You How Bad Your Ads Are

By Ken Wheaton Published: October 22, 2007

This is one viral sensation you don't want to be part of. It's called Flip. The premise is simple: A young girl films herself flipping your brand into the dustbin because its advertising is offensive, insulting or just plain stupid.

Girl tested, girl approved: Heide Dangelmaier (center) brainstorms with 22-year-old Natalie Rodriguez (l.) and Rosaura Lezama, 20.

Girl tested, girl approved: Heide Dangelmaier (center) brainstorms with 22-year-old Natalie Rodriguez (l.) and Rosaura Lezama, 20.
Photo Credit: Andrew Walker

There are 190 such videos on a dedicated YouTube channel as of this writing. And 3iYing, the all-girl creative consultancy behind the effort, says it's received 400 entries and counting since opening up the concept to the public more than a month ago.

Brands that have been flipped include Lifestyles, Sony, Candies, MAC cosmetics and Lot 29 Juniors. Many get hit because the ads seem tailor-made not for girls but rather the lads who read titles such as Maxim or even Penthouse. Said a girl complaining about Christina Aguilera's sexed-up appearance in a Candies ad: "Christina Aguilera getting down and dirty with herself is a guy's fantasy, not something a girl wants to see." And 12-year-old Selina holds up an ad she found in a tween magazine and wonders why Lot 29 Juniors is trying to sell her jeans by featuring what appears to be a D-cup temptress (R&B artist Brooke Valentine) striking come-hither poses.

Leopard prints and pink laptops

Even when the product is for more-mature women, the advertising wildly misses the mark. One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry as 20-year-old Jennifer, with the help of other young women, takes down an ad for a Lifestyles sensual gel. The product is designed to give women better and more-frequent orgasms. So what's the problem? It features a bottle-blonde in a leopard print unitard. The copy reads, "Release your inner beast." Words the women used to describe this pictorial representation of their inner beast: "hooker," "slut," a "very low-end porno girl" and "total whore." One says the ad seems directly aimed at men. So much for the target audience. "It ended up turning girls off before it ever had a chance of turning them on," Jennifer says. Sony gets hit for featuring a pink laptop on the beach. Says 19-year-old Emily, "First of all, you would never bring your laptop to the beach." And even if you did -- and it matched your bikini -- you wouldn't leave it unattended to run off into the water.

According to a Sony spokeswoman, "While we understand 3iYing's take on this Vaio ad, we believe that ads are subjective and shouldn't necessarily be taken literally. The Sony Vaio shown in this ad is one of our best-selling models, and we think conveys the message that Vaios (especially in colors like pink) are fun and liberating." She also pointed out that the pink Vaios are part of Sony's pink-product lineup developed to support the Breast Cancer Research Fund. (Neither Lot 29 nor Lifestyles returned a request for comment by press time.)

Of course, there is a business angle to this. "We want to be advocates for girls, but we're not a nonprofit," said 3iYing founder Heidi Dangelmaier. She declined to discuss billings but said the company, which offers marketers a girl-centric mix of strategic planning, new-product creation, brand positioning, package design and creative treatments, makes money from licensing deals as well as projects.

Ms. Dangelmaier is fast-talking and passionate, someone who was pushing social networking back in the '90s, long before it was a buzzword, and throughout her consulting career has been an advocate for the girl audience. It's little wonder. She worked on her Ph.D. in the geeky but testosterone-laden field of robotics at Princeton, where she found that guys weren't necessarily sexist; they simply had no idea how women processed information or approached creativity. Not surprisingly, she went on to work with such marketers as Sega, Electronic Arts and Samsung.

Surviving 'boot camp'

For the past two years, she's been running 3iYing as a creative consultancy for brands. The company is made up of Ms. Dangelmaier and a group of girls and women ranging in age from 16 to 22, many of them recruited from art and design programs in the New York area. The girls must have the necessary skills and go through a "boot camp" program, and they're paid to work.

It's not the giggling gab-fest a cynic (or a man) might expect. And 3iYing isn't set up to be a trend-spotting shop. A recent visit to the SoHo office of 3iYing found two girls quietly working away on redesigning, the website for anything and everything related to cheerleading in the U.S.

Cheerleading, despite what some might think, is a big business, and it's taken seriously by the millions of girls who participate. Yet the old design is heavy on pink and a multitude of fonts -- a decidedly Web 0.5 affair. It looks like something someone thinks a girl should like rather than something a girl might actually like.

The company also has worked for brands such as Playtex, Rubbermaid, Merck and Unilever, doing everything from new-product development to package design. One notable project was a "modern-girl makeover" for Jones Apparel's L.E.I. denim line that included branding, positioning, identity, packaging, activation and advertising concepts. Said Ms. Dangelmaier: "It gave us a chance to show that even in an area as bloated with competitors as the denim industry, you can still create something fresh that stands out above the clutter."

Backfiring ads

The idea behind the Flip campaign -- aside from promoting the company and snagging more work -- is to help advertising stand out above the clutter for the right reasons. Marketers, Ms. Dangelmaier said, are not only throwing massive amounts of money away on bad advertising; they're angering the target audience. It isn't so much the tawdry, oversexed nature of some ads or the reliance on pink in others that they find offensive; it's just plain old-fashioned stupidity -- a creative outcome that could come only from the minds of people who have no inkling about what girls actually think.

Indeed, listening to Ms. Dangelmaier speak or watching some of the videos on the site, they're not suggesting anything radical. Get past the fact that she's a bit of an eccentric science type and that most of the girls aren't old enough to drink, and you'll hear a mix of best practices culled from traditional and Web 2.0 advertising.

The consumer is in control. Priorities have shifted to the audience -- in this case, girls. The ads and spots should be something she wants to see. The website has to be a place where she wants to spend time.

In one video, Jennifer (of the Lifestyles takedown) offers marketers and agencies an idea of what a girl wants from an ad: design, humor, intelligence, originality, truth.

Different generation

"Forget girl power," she said. "How about good ideas? That's what we want."

Beyond that, of course, is the fact that they're girls of a much different generation. It's no longer about geography or even demographics. There is a fairly dramatic difference in a 25-year-old woman who's likely just a little too old to have "grown up" with MySpace and YouTube. For those 22 and under, it's an entirely different world.

"It's not geographic borders that divide us. That girl in Ohio isn't locked away in isolation anymore," Ms. Dangelmaier said. Indeed, there's a bit of international flair to the Flips. Rosauro Lezama, a 20-year-old native of Mexico who moved to the U.S. and intends to major in marketing and graphic design, works for 3iYing and has done her fair share of Flips. The problems, she said, are universal. "They have the same problems in Mexico. I thought it would be different here."

Girls can now find their own niches, make different circles of friends. They're socializing and sharing -- and, yes, oversharing -- online. Where the 25-year-old may have written some autobiographical poetry on LiveJournal, the 20-year-old is using video to get her point across. In the process, she's learning a thing or two about media. Since these kids are using some of the same creative tools the professionals use, they have first-hand knowledge of the manipulation and editing that goes on. Dove's "Evolution" in other words, may have been a revelation to their parents, it was nothing new to girls in that age group.

Of course, there's a thriving industry built around telling marketers and advertisers how to advertise. It would probably be naïve to think a group of girls will get anyone to listen with a video camera and righteous indignation. In fact, none of the videos have approached true viral status yet.

Still, Ms. Dangelmaier said, "the humanity of the Flips might start changing their minds."