Yes, at 25 (old enough to have an SAT score graded on the 1600 scale) I watch the CW’s Gossip Girl.
Fortunately, I’m not alone. Millions share an obsession with the high school teens of Manhattan’s elite, anticipating each scandalous episode, narrated by an enigmatic blogger against the backdrop of New York’s trendiest hot spots. On paper the concept sounds ridiculous. Yet, while pausing an episode on my iPod to arrive at a Connecticut train station, it occurs to me how progressive Gossip Girl really is.
A recent New York magazine article reports that new episodes of Gossip Girl pulled in an average of 2.5 million viewers before the writers strike, an atrocious number, considering the 23.6 million tuned into last week’s American Idol. Traditionally, this measurement should lead to quick cancellation. Yet, the new show thrived. As New York points out, new episodes regularly rotate at the top of iTunes’ most downloaded list, while hundreds of thousands watch free episodes from the network’s Web site. Personally, I think a television show revolving around a blog should have its own life online, but while Web components and a Second Life presence don’t independently make Gossip Girl a digital standout, the fact that it is the first television show to find primary traction online is a significant development in the media landscape.
Gossip Girl viewers adapt to new technology faster and use it in more ways than ever. They have at least one iPod and communicate via text message, IM and Facebook 24 hours a day. Diaries are no longer hidden under mattresses, but documented with password access through LiveJournal. They can’t comprehend a time when a handwritten middle school assignment was acceptable, and therefore naturally identify with the integration of new media social issues with classic teenage archetypes. This generation is our future.
As marketers, we will be targeting these plugged in, socially networked, skeptically over-stimulated viewers. In fact, companies are already cashing in on the show’s success through product placement and integrated Web promotions, including Verizon and Victoria’s Secret, as well as a plethora of fashion designers and retailers. So, while it’s just a mere teenage drama, Gossip Girl shatters the glass ceiling to reach viewers via multiple platforms and keeps them coming back for more. Perhaps the high school characters aren’t the only ones who should be taking notes?