for sale on Alloy website
June 12, 2008
CLEMSON — Photos of
the Jonas Brothers. Hairdo trends. Gossip about chicks
on “The Hills.” The content of alloy.com isn’t
Shakespeare, but it seems innocent enough entertainment
for teen and pre-teen girls.
Yet looking closer, there’s something else going on,
according to Sharon R. Mazzarella, a professor of
communication studies at Clemson University. Mazzarella
warns that while sites like alloy.com are dressed like
information hubs, they’re designed to push brands.
“I was surprised at how much cross-pollination there
was,” Mazzarella said. “Alloy.com for example began as a
clothing catalog much like someone might get an L.L.
Bean catalog in the mail. Then, they created this Web
site, with pull-down menus that allow you to shop for
clothes and read things about style and celebrities.”
Here’s the rub: alloy.com’s parent company, Alloy Media
& Marketing, also publishes books (a series of which
inspired “The Gossip Girls” TV show). “The Sisterhood of
the Traveling Pants” movie? Same deal.
“Kids don’t just sit and watch TV like we baby boomers
did and then go buy the cereal they see advertised,”
Mazzarella said. “Marketers know they can’t reach these
kids though TV ads. They have to go where the kids are,
and they are online, where they’re not just seeing
“The content on these Web sites can keep them online for
hours at a time, through message boards, gossip news and
other columns. They keep you in this commercial world.
Kids are more immersed in commercial messaging than they
ever were before.”
The impact, Mazzarella said, is a childhood for sale,
with kids becoming brand conscious at an earlier age.
As of press time, Alloy Media & Marketing and alloy.com
did not respond to The Daily Journal/Messenger’s
requests for comments in regards to Mazzarella’s study.
Mazzarella believes public places for children are
disappearing, making youth-oriented Internet sites even
riper for marketers.
“The playgrounds, the malls, they’re not considered safe
anymore. But these Web sites are basically saying, ‘You
are welcome here. We care what you have to say,’”
Mazzarella said. “Everyone is all worried about
middle-aged perverts; well marketers can also be cyber
While Mazzarella does not believe alloy.com or similar
sites are dangerous to children, she thinks parents need
to be aware of their intent. Then, parents can help kids
disseminate information on sites more accurately. The
eight- to 13-year-old is a coveted demographic — but
this insight is important for the entire family.
“In addition to a disposable income of their own, this
age group influences millions of dollars in parental
spending a year,” Mazzarella said. “If you can reach
that market no only do you create brand-loyal customers
for the rest of their life, it also influences what
Mazzarella’s research is multi-tiered. Assisted by
Clemson communication studies student Allison Atkins,
Mazzarella combs through the content on “tween”-centric
sites, pulling down every pull-down menu and visiting
every link. In addition to looking for commercial
saturation, Mazzarella also checks for body image impact
and other contemporary issues.
“It’s almost like reading a novel in English class and
interpreting the hidden messages,” Mazzarella said.
The biggest hurdle for Mazzarella isn’t funding or
obscure material. It’s language. At 48, the professor is
well outside the sites’ pre-teen target audience.
“I have to look up things: the slang and pop culture
references,” she said.
The other half of the study involves looking even
deeper. Mazzarella examines Web content from the parent
corporations — like Alloy Media & Marketing. She scours
stock reports and information posted online for
investors, which can reveal how a girls’ site fits into
a broader plan.
“You see it’s just this circle,” Mazzarella said. “The
toys kids play with, the sheets they sleep on, the lunch
boxes they take to school, the magazines they read;
they’re all being produced by the same companies.”
Youth culture is a recurring theme in Mazzarella’s work.
Her previous research includes a study on fan sites. In
particular, Mazzarella examined sites dedicated to actor
Chad Michael Murray, known for his roles on TV shows,
like “The Gilmore Girls” and “One Tree Hill.”
Said Mazzarella: “When I was a girl, you would clip out
photos of celebrities and put them on your wall. Now
girls create Web sites for the dreamboat types.”
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