The AdReview offspring use their cellphones to whine for money, but reserve more intimate conversations for the instant message.
"sup?", for instance.
The girls never use capitals, because, due to heavy investments in hair-care products, they cannot afford them. They do, however, encode their correspondence with innumerable acronyms and abbreviations that we strain to understand. Turns out that "sup?" is not an invitation to dine, but a greeting: "What's up?"
Likewise, "brb"means "I'll be right back" and "ttyl" means ... well, htfwik?
The problem is, apart from our children, there are plenty of adult males loitering in chat rooms out there who do know the lingo, which they use to help cultivate relationships online. And too often those relationships devolve into sex crimes.
Your kids can be innocently instant-messaging a 9th grader who is not a 9th grader at all but a sexual predator, and you might be sitting on the sofa, 5 feet away, oblivious. Thus a campaign from the Ad Council and Merkley designed to raise awareness of the problem and give parents a place to go with their suspicions.
The first spot, called "Acronyms," shows a computer monitor to the sounds of keyboarding.
LOL: laughing out loud
WTGP: want to go private?
POS: parent over shoulder
LMIRL: let's meet in real life
Then, as haunting music swells, a voice-over: "One in five children is sexually solicited online" Then onscreen: "HDOP: help delete online predators. 1-800-The-LOSS www.cybertipline.com."
The simple format is riveting, the implication of a real-life encounter chilling. More chilling still is a second spot, called "Monitor." It also begins on a computer screen, this time recording an instant-messaging exchange:
Chris98: hi jenny. how was the mall?
Jenny79: mom wouldn't drive me.
Chris98: turned 16....got MY license!
Jenny79: no way
Chris98: i can take u anytime
Cut to the other end of this conversation, where Chris98, an adult man, sits typing online. Then back to the monitor:
No, emphatically not OK. Suddenly the naive notion that you can install a porn filter and somehow keep your kids from coming to harm is exploded. Suddenly you understand how obsolete is the phrase "safe at home." And if the point isn't dramatized sufficiently, a third spot states it outright. It opens with the shot of a deserted playground. Then a municipal park, an alleyway, a schoolyard. Then, finally, the message: "To the list of places you might find sexual predators, add this one. Last year, one in five children was sexually solicited online. To learn what you can do to protect your kids' online life, visit cybertipline.com."
So often public-service advertising belabors the obvious, soft-pedals the message or tilts at windmills. Not here. If nobody ever dials the tip line, this campaign will succeed merely by jarring parents out of their slumber, to talk to their children and, yes, peer over their shoulders. The Internet doesn't molest children. People do. But if those people know how to communicate with your kids, you'd better be able to do it, too.
The Ad Council
Merkley & Partners, New York
Ad Review Rating 3 stars