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Fall Television or Teen Novel?

Stop me if you've heard this one before.

By / Posted on 21 September 2011

There’s been a somewhat disturbing trend in the marketing for the new Fall television season: everything looks like the new release table at Barnes & Noble’s teen fiction section! Here, let me show you what I’m talking about:

One of those three images is the poster for a new Fall drama advertised on the sides of buses and billboards and banner ads everywhere over the past month, the other two are books on the Teen best-sellers list. Can you guess which is the TV show? The one with the least elegant type treatment and least interesting posture in its model, of course.

Teens have long been the primary demographic of much of the media, after all they are the hip-and-with-it tastemakers of the future, with one finger on the pulse of what’s cool and another tucked deeply into daddy dearest’s wallet. Book publishers figured out that the best way to speak to teens through their covers was to have dramatically shot models in fantastic scenes of otherworldly exaggeration and heightened emotion (because teens are, of course, ticking time bombs of exaggerated emotion). Teen novel sales were always good business, but things changed in recent years when teen novels became smash-hit blockbuster movies, most notably the Twilight series.

Teen novel series have already parlayed into successful television series recently, such as Pretty Little Liars and The Vampire Diaries, but television mostly stuck to the tried-and-true aesthetics of television, like the old fuddy-dutty it is. Now, though, it seems like every new show this season is modeling itself after teen literature. Look, here are some other covers from currently best-selling teen novels:

There’s a range, sure, but there are clearly stylistic threads connecting each to the others – a visual vocabulary pared down through research and trial to speak directly to the lucrative teenage market.

Okay, now here, for comparison, are some posters for new shows premiering this television season (many this week). Keep in mind that not all of these shows are actually aimed at teenagers:

Somewhat of a disclaimer: The Secret Circle is also based on a series of teen novels (though their design was rather boring and sparse), three of these shows are on The CW which seems to be the last bastion of teenage voice on network television, and both Once Upon A Time and Grimm are sendoffs of classic fables, so they can write off their style choices as mandate.

Four of the five major networks are represented here (Fox being the absentee, and the less said about Zooey Deschanel’s New Girl and Simon Cowell’s The X Factor, the better). That means that this is not just an isolated incident where one marketing team took inspiration from their daughters’ cliques but a spreading industry trend and tactic. A promotional trend this widespread is either ridiculous happenstance or thoroughly researched and planned, so the question now is whether these ads succeed in finding their audience and, if so, whether that means teens are the only demographic that matters or whether adults everywhere just want to think and act like teens again.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.