How LG is getting teens to think before they text

December 14, 2009: 2:26 PM ET

With its "Give It A Ponder" campaign, the handset maker walks the line between lecture and laughs

LG's viral marketing campaign is using humor to get teens to think before they text. Image: Facebook.

One in five teenagers have received a naked picture in a cell phone message. That's one scary stat that LG marketing executive Ehtisham Rabbani uncovered while researching how teens use mobile technology.

Most interesting, though, is what Rabbani did with the information. Rather than ignore the trend – or engage in a lot of hand wringing about the problems with kids today – he set out to change it. To that end, he and his team built a unique yet risky marketing campaign about bad mobile manners like sending racy pics, bullying and spreading rumors. Called "Give It A Ponder," it embraces YouTube (GOOG) videos and Facebook networks to spread its message virally online, and tries to convince teens to think before they text.

The risk? Well, as any parent will tell you, teens don't like being told what to do – so Rabbani and his team had to be sure and get the tone just right, or they'd end up alienating the very audience they are trying to influence.

"There was a certain amount of nervousness about having this conversation with teens and how well it would be received," Rabbani says. "So we did a bunch of research."

To figure out the right approach, LG set up a series of mini focus groups, interviewing young people in groups of three so they'd be more comfortable saying what they really thought. Fortunately, the teens really opened up.

Ehtisham Rabbani, vice president of marketing for LG Mobile Phones, set out to talk to teens about their behavior without sounding preachy. Photo: LG.

"What we heard over and over again was, this is a message that teens are ready to talk about," Rabbani says. "But it was important that whoever led that discussion didn't talk down to them. And it had to be somewhat humorous, entertaining, and at the same time provide kids with a guiding principle."

What they ended up with was an edgy video series starring James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio. Though Lipton isn't the obvious choice to reach a teen audience – he's 83 – he has established his comedy chops in stints on Saturday Night Live and Late Night with Conan O'Brien. In LG's "Give It A Ponder" videos, Lipton removes his beard and lends it to teens so they can stroke it as they think twice about sending risqué messages. There's nary a BlackBerry (RIMM) or an iPhone (AAPL) in sight – all of the teens in the commercials, of course, use LG phones.

The videos seem to be a hit so far. Since the campaign launched late last month, the Ponder Beard Facebook page has snagged more than 1,000 fans, and the YouTube videos have pulled in nearly half a million views. And that's just the online audience – LG is also showing the ads on the Channel One network in high schools and in movie theaters before teen-centric movies like The Twilight Saga: New Moon.

The early success is a source of satisfaction for Rabbani, who has a personal connection to the campaign. At a recent family gathering, one of his teenage nephews left the room upset after receiving an intimidating message from an acquaintance – an example of mobile bullying, which LG's survey found is even more common among teens than sending naked pics.

So Rabbani hopes LG's message about mobile manners continues to catch on – and, he insists, not just because it's good brand exposure for LG. "We have literally seen the traffic since the day we launched it go up 10x every single day," he said earlier this month. "I'm hopeful that as the word gets out it will become a destination for kids to have a conversation." It's too soon to say whether LG can convince teens to change their mobile manners. But it's certainly built some nice buzz.

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