Advertising Teen Suicide for Publicity

Disclaimer: Triggering content below regarding suicide.

I’d read about it on CNN and again on People Magazine. At first, I had no interest in the new show about a young teenager who commits suicide and leaves behind 13-tapes to explain why. I will preface in saying that I am not accustomed to sweeping things under the rug, or avoiding taboo topics. I talk about things. I respectfully ask hard and probing questions to understand why people feel the way they do. I am in the growing margin of people that believe mental illness, feminism and PTSD – among other things – need to be talked about, explored and de-stigmatized. Nonetheless at this stage in my life, with nieces and nephews in junior high and high school, and two young daughters at home, I decided to see what this show was about – by exploring hashtags. At the end of a trailer is a hashtag, #13reasonswhy.

I wanted to know what Netflix was marketing and how. Knowing that teens suffering from depression are 12 times more likely to attempt suicide (King & Vidourek, 2012) I was curious to see the types of ads produced for a show that covers a vulnerable demographic. I’ve read the op-ed of Writer Nic Sheff and his very personal reasons for why he fought to show the graphic way in which she took her life. I’ve also read why experts believe it is dangerous for young minds to watch. This week we covered Ethics and I am curious to know what you think about the ads – is this an Ethical gray area?

I am still undecided, and contending with the hashtag, #13reasonswhy. It’s the fastest way to spread information via social media, and with over 73% of teens actively using these mediums it seems like a brazen and irresponsible way to deliver the original series to an audience we already know is susceptible to influence (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith & Zickhur, 2010). I understand that it needed traction for the campaign. But, I am leaning towards the need to be more careful about the advertising and the channels used to market. What do you think? Could there have been another way to market this series without delivering it to the most vulnerable viewers?

References:

13 Reasons Why Writer: Why We Didn’t Shy Away from Hannah’s Suicide. (2017). VanityFair.com. Retrieved May 23, 2017 from http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/04/13-reasons-why-suicide-controversy-nic-sheff-writer

King, K., & Vidourek, R. (2012). Teen depression and suicide: effective prevention and intervention strategies. The Prevention Researcher, 15.

Lenhart, A., Purcell, K., Smith, A., & Zichur, K. (2010). Social media and mobile internet use among teens and young adults. Millenials. Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2-5.

Why ’13 Reasons Why’ is Dangerous. (2017). Cnn.com. Retrieved on May 4, 2017 from http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/03/opinions/13-reasons-why-gets-it-wrong-henick-opinion/

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5 Responses to Advertising Teen Suicide for Publicity

  1. Jeanette says:

    Eren,

    Great topic for the week! I have watched the series and thought it had a very powerful message, although there were certain scenes I thought was a bit vulgar. In regards to your first question, is this an ethical gray area? I think it is split down the middle between ethical and a little gray area – it brings awareness and puts people in the mind of a teenager who is expressing extreme depression and tries to find different resources to help herself. It helps others realize that they can make a difference to those that feel depress and to avoid a potential suicide victim. But this is also a very sensitive topic that people, especially parents, might feel uncomfortable viewing. The content was a little strong and towards the last episode, it was a bit difficult to watch. But as mentioned before, it shines a light and gives awareness to a topic that happens to a lot of teenagers. A perfect example is when Ellen DeGeneres came out on TV. Some thought it was unethical of her to do that, and some thought she was inspirational and brave. I think this TV show applies as well.

    In regards to your second question, (could there have been another way to market this series without delivering it to the most vulnerable viewers), I believe that teenagers are hooked on technology, and majority of the time they find their news on social media. The hashtag #13reasonswhy might have been the most logical way to bring attention to a serious issue. I’ve seen billboards with the Netflix cover of the show, but it doesn’t reach their audience, and just solely looking at the billboard, you don’t really get the purpose of the show. With the hashtag, it gives a potential viewer to explore what the show is all about before engaging in watching the show. Yes, they are vulnerable viewers, but this day in age, it is those vulnerable viewers that might be feeling those exact emotions, and the show might be an answer that suicide is not the solution to their problems; they are not alone.

    Thank you for sharing Eren. A very hot topic indeed.

    – Jeanette Y.

  2. Steve P. says:

    Eren,

    I have not had the chance to see this series, so I would not be able to make a great contribution as I would like, but I do see the dilemma, an ethical one perhaps, in the spread of the advertisements to the specific target group. While the show might promote that suicide is not the answer, I don’t believe that every individual going through thoughts of suicide is the same. This program could easily affect them very differently, depending on their individual environment.

    The reality of this situation is that social media allows things to spread like wildfire. While Netflix could have released ads differently, there is no question they would have ended up on social media either way.

    Definitely, a very gray area when it comes to ethics.

    Steve

  3. Teresa Jackson says:

    Eren,
    While your topic is indeed considered controversial to some, I applaud your honesty and the thoughtful manner in which you approached the issue of teen suicide. I don’t know what the actual suicide rates are compared to previous years, especially as they relate to the progression of social media usage. However, in my opinion one of the best ways to raise awareness on any given issue is through education, even if it comes in the form of a television show. As painful as it may be, perhaps the level of discomfort associated discussing teen suicide can be seen as a positive step towards addressing the issues of why young people see suicide as an option.
    In a somewhat related matter, MTV celebrated its 25th year of The Real World. In the 2 season they introduced Pedro Zamora (d. 1994), who was diagnosed with the AIDS virus. Not only did they chronicle his experience of living with the disease, they showed his relationship with his partner, Sean. At the time there was a similar resistance and much outcry against the show’s willingness to openly discuss and show the life of a person living with AIDS, especially since the show was geared towards a young audience. I can recall being glued to my television each week that particular season, not because I saw show only as entertainment. It was educational because I didn’t quite understand what the AIDS virus was, even though I had seen some of my mother’s friends and colleagues succumb to the disease. One could argue that had it not been for MTV taking that risk, the dialogue around AIDS may not have reached an audience who had no knowledge of or hadn’t been impacted by the disease in one way or another.
    Despite the controversy around the topic and medium in which the message is transmitted, it raises more awareness and gets people talking.
    Thank you!

  4. Diane says:

    Hello Eren,
    I recently started to watch “13 Reasons Why” and am glad that you chose to write about it. I am riveted by the show that blends past and present into an intriguing story-line. I do not think there is anything wrong or unethical about the way Netflix has marketed this episodic teen drama. It is very well written and tackles some contemporary “taboo” issues such as cyber bullying, sexual assault, depression and suicide.

    I agree with Teresa that the best way to raise awareness is through education, and this series does exactly that. Remember, today’s teenagers are sophisticated and existential thinkers. They can handle this. They are much more mature than my generation was at this age. In my own high school experience, there was no discussion of bullying, appropriate behavior, nor counseling. This series sheds light on the importance of warning signs, early intervention and the need for resources in school.

    There are notable shows in every decade that push the boundaries. Going back to the 1970s, I think of “All In the Family” which tackled bigotry and feminism; the 1980s had “Different Strokes” which introduced two African American boys into a white, affluent family; “21 Jump Street” took us inside high schools to uncover racism, drugs, alcohol abuse and teenage sexual activity; the 1990s had “Party of Five” which exposed the issue of parental loss, depression and alcoholism.

    It is a series for all ages, and even better, there are no commercials.

  5. Violet says:

    Hello Eren,
    I admit that I have not watched this show. However, I did hear about this show from my Uber driver. Last month, I was in an Uber on my way to dinner. My driver, Shelly, was very friendly and chatty. She started telling me about this Netflix show, 13 Reasons Why. My initial thought, as she explained the concept of the show, was that the show appeared too dark and I did not understand why anyone in their right mind would want to watch a show about teen suicide. I had a change of heart when Shelly started telling me how the show really hit home with her. Shelly told me that she had attempted suicide twice as a teenager. As a parent, my heart went out teenage Shelly. She told me that she hoped that the show would bring more awareness to the issue of teenage suicide. Shelly wanted parents be see the signs of suicide before being too late to prevent it.
    After hearing my Uber driver’s experience, my thoughts of the show have changed. I believe that this show can possibly serve to educate adults on the warning signs of teenage suicide. If this show can bring awareness and help prevent a tragedy, it should be applauded.