MySpace, My Corporation, My Friend?
ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
Advertisers are trying to reach young people in new ways, like with social networking sites like MySpace. One tactic: they create personal profiles for products, hoping teens link to the products as friends. Jordan Monroe of Youth Radio says it's working - to a point.
Mr. JORDAN MONROE (Youth Radio): When it comes to advertisers on MySpace, all I can say is, operation infiltration complete. Here's Helga(ph), a character from a VW commercial. She's got a profile on MySpace, complete with zodiac sign.
(Soundbite of VW commercial)
HELGA: It's definitely sucking.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MONROE: It only pays a few minutes online for 15-year-old Eveline Martinez(ph) and her friends Myra Jimenez(ph) and Consuelo Cisneros(ph) to discover that Helga is practically a MySpace celebrity.
Ms. EVELINE MARTINEZ (MySpace User): Well, how many friends does she have?
Ms. MYRA JIMENEZ (MySpace User): Three thousand one hundred twenty-eight friends.
Ms. MARTINEZ: What does it say? They want us to add Helga, and I will drink your bathwater?
Mr. MONROE: Now, I'm no economist. But it seems to me if a commercial can make someone drink someone else's bathwater, that's some good marketing. But what about the dollars? If you can believe it, Carl Nicholas(ph) of Kaboom Advertising says companies like his don't worry about the bottom line. They're just trying to be social and use MySpace the same way everyone else does.
Mr. CARL NICHOLAS (Kaboom Advertising): To develop relationships, to expand our social network, have fun, see what's exciting and new out there, encountering people as you would in a sort of natural, face-to-face situation.
Ms. MARTINEZ: No. They're not creating a relationship with you.
Mr. MONROE: Eveline Martinez isn't impressed. She says teenagers understand advertisers' ulterior motives.
Ms. MARTINEZ: Are you going to become friends, like, in real life? We're not going to be talking to her by, hi Eveline, how are you today? Let me hear you, you know, that's - it's obvious that they're not your real friends. They're just trying to get you to buy their product.
Mr. MONROE: But many young people do interact with ad characters and products as if they have a friendship. Once MySpace buddies, you just can send each other comments, which are posted on their profile for the world to see. People are leaving messages for the McDonald's hash brown - I call him Hashie - the square burger from Wendy's, and the iPod nano - each color has his own special profile, of course.
Blue iPod gets comments like, oh, I hope I get you for my birthday. While the square burger gets comments like, dude, I just ate you, and, so why are you so delicious? I have no idea what's so appealing about maintaining a relationship with a brand-name food or a company mascot.
Luis Sierra(ph) found a practical reason to get involved with an ad profile: a bonus feature.
Mr. LUIS SIERRA (MySpace User): I actually befriend the movie "X-Men 3" because my friends told me that if you befriend them, you go from having eight friends on your main page to 24 friends.
Mr. MONROE: Sadly, Luis and "X-Men 3" soon started to grow apart.
Mr. SIERRA: I mean, I'd just go see the movie, and everybody checked back on the Web site. I guess they used me to go see the movie, and I used them to get 24 friends.
Mr. MONROE: Although many young people do choose to interact with product profiles on MySpace, it doesn't necessarily mean a friendship exists. Once the novelty wears off, advertisers risk becoming that popular kid who just falls out of favor.
(Soundbite of music)
SEABROOK: Jordan Monroe's story was produced by Youth Radio.