Category Archives: Consumerism


shameI went to the gym today to see what kind of prices they had. I was introduced to a well-meaning man who appeared to have a vested interest in enrolling me. However, his methods were singularly geared towards making me feel inadequate. It could be argued that I am sensitive about my body – that much is true. Nevertheless his comments were harsh, focusing on my ‘average’ body fat ratio (“Tell me, what kind of man do you want to be? Average?”) and reflecting on some perceived failure in my remarkably Spartan diet (“There must be something… pizza on the weekend? Coffee? With half & half? Well there’s your problem…”).

I felt broken down afterwards, yet left feeling a strong incentive towards ‘changing myself’ because I essentially suck, and accepting that the only place I could repair these issues was in that furnace of strutting and posturing and flexing that seems to have less to do with physical fitness and more to do with social signalling. This felt like a mixed benefit. Would it get me in the gym? Probably. Would it be fun? Likely not in the slightest.

I get his technique. It makes sense, and I am familiar with the boot-camp style of knock ’em down and build ’em up. Find a weakness and then sell the means to resolve this weakness. Even now I find myself squeezing my body to seek out some perceived flabbiness or lack of toning. This is the modus operandi of the average advertising campaign and I’m extremely aware of the shit they try to pull.

This to me appears to be entirely the wrong way to motivate others or oneself. Start with shame and you end up with a carrot-on-a-stick motivator. Additionally, all templates of shame are rooted in the child parts of ourselves, and it’s important to ask, how would we talk to a child that we wished to encourage to some form of change? As summed up nicely on a random gym’s website I found:

Think of yourself as a child, perhaps one of your own kids, who is looking to you for help getting into shape. How would you talk to them? Would you say to them “You’re fat and weak and pathetic!” and then encourage them to head off to the gym with that message bouncing around in their head? No, you’d be supportive, encouraging and positive: “You can do this!”, “Showing up is half the battle!” or “Hang in there – it gets easier!”

Self-confidence is hard to sell to, so salespeople don’t like it very much. Yet, a healthy self-esteem provides the best middleperson with which to have a relationship with ourselves. It’s the broker that helps us negotiate necessary change. If we damage that by constantly feeling inadequate, then we’ll never be content with the progress we make and never truly learn to enjoy the benefits we work so hard to achieve.

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Does she or doesn’t she?

An excerpt from What the Dog Saw by Malcom Gladwell, via Delancey Place.

An interesting examination of fashion, and how the level of self-augmentation we take for granted today wasn’t always the norm.

“In 1956, when Shirley Polykoff was a junior copywriter at Foote, Cone & Belding, she was given the Clairol account. The product the company was launching was Miss Clairol, the first hair-color bath that made it possible to lighten, tint, condition, and shampoo at home, in a single step — to take, say, Topaz (for a champagne blond) or Moon Gold (for a medium ash), apply it in a peroxide solution directly to the hair, and get results in twenty minutes. When the Clairol sales team demonstrated their new product at the International Beauty Show, in the old Statler Hotel, across from Madison Square Garden, thousands of assembled beauticians jammed the hall and watched, openmouthed, demonstration after demonstration. ‘They were astonished,’ recalls Bruce Gelb, who ran Clairol for years, along with his father, Lawrence, and his brother Richard. ‘This was to the world of hair color what computers were to the world of adding machines. The sales guys had to bring buckets of water and do the rinsing off in front of everyone, because the hairdressers in the crowd were convinced we were doing something to the models behind the scenes.’

“Miss Clairol gave American women the ability, for the first time, to color their hair quickly and easily at home. But there was still the stigma — the prospect of the disapproving mother-in-law. Shirley Polykoff knew immediately what she wanted to say, because if she believed that a woman had a right to be a blonde, she also believed that a woman ought to be able to exercise that right with discretion. ‘Does she or doesn’t she?’ she wrote, [echoing her own mother-in-law’s disdainful comment ‘Fahrbt zi der huer? Oder fahrbt zi nisht?’ and] translating from the Yiddish to the English. ‘Only her hairdresser knows for sure.’ Clairol bought thirteen ad pages in Life in the fall of 1956, and Miss Clairol took off like a bird. That was the beginning. For Nice ‘n Easy, Clairol’s breakthrough shampoo-in hair color, she wrote, ‘The closer he gets, the better you look.’ For Lady Clairol, the cream-and-bleach combination that brought silver and platinum shades to Middle America, she wrote, ‘Is it true blondes have more fun?’ and then, even more memorably, ‘If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a blonde!’ (In the summer of 1962, just before The Feminine Mystique was published, Betty Friedan was, in the words of her biographer, so ‘bewitched’ by that phrase that she bleached her hair.) Shirley Polykoff wrote the lines; Clairol perfected the product. And from the fifties to the seventies, when Polykoff gave up the account, the number of American women coloring their hair rose from 7 percent to more than 40 percent.


“Today, when women go from brown to blond to red to black and back again without blinking, we think of haircolor products the way we think of lipstick. On drugstore shelves there are bottles and bottles of hair-color products with names like Hydrience and Excellence and Preference and Natural Instincts and Loving Care and Nice ‘n Easy, and so on, each in dozens of different shades. Feria, the new, youth-oriented brand from L’Oreal, comes in Chocolate Cherry and Champagne Cocktail — colors that don’t ask ‘Does she or doesn’t she?’ but blithely assume ‘Yes, she does.’ Hair dye is now a billion-dollar-a-year commodity.

“Yet there was a time, not so long ago — between, roughly speaking, the start of Eisenhower’s administration and the end of Carter’s — when hair color meant something. Lines like ‘Does she or doesn’t she?’ or the famous 1973 slogan for L’Oreal’s Preference — ‘Because I’m worth it’ — were as instantly memorable as ‘Winston tastes good like a cigarette should’ or ‘Things go better with Coke.’ They lingered long after advertising usually does and entered the language; they somehow managed to take on meanings well outside their stated intention. Between the fifties and the seventies, women entered the workplace, fought for social emancipation, got the Pill, and changed what they did with their hair. To examine the hair-color campaigns of the period is to see, quite unexpectedly, all these things as bound up together, the profound with the seemingly trivial. …

“When the ‘Does she or doesn’t she?’ campaign first ran, in 1956, most advertisements that were aimed at women tended to be high glamour — ‘cherries in the snow, fire and ice,’ as Bruce Gelb puts it. But Shirley Polykoff insisted that the models for the Miss Clairol campaign be more like the girl next door.”

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Advert Dissection #1: Amstel – Savor Complexity

This is part of a series of posts that will examine video, print media and internet advertisements in layman terms as an exploration of modern consumerism and marketing, in an attempt to get to the root of the core messages that dictate or encourage modes of thinking, concepts of identity or promote values beyond the realm of simply selling products.


Design by Nick Chaffe. The campaign ran across print, radio, digital and OOH focused on four key markets: New York, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Complicated story based delivery. Draws viewer in mostly due to placement of advertisement (train, bus – when there is time to read). Mixed font size and style, using hand-written typeset and varied emphasis (underline, bold) as well as intermittent pictures and symbols. Public announcement style of ad composition. The image of the product is the only non-hand drafted element. Non-linear arrangement and rough-style composition (the landscape version of this ad is a two panel style to keep viewers orientated while reading). Use of scrolls for headers and footers.

Initial response
Relies on dissemination through retention via long-term advert exposure (average viewing of ad would be less than a second; this requires almost a minute to read). Would appeal to those who see themselves as readers. Theme is generic but interesting collection of facts and fiction. Utilizes story-telling elements.

Psychological analysis
White border draws in towards brown background (others use similarly rural schemes). Single hand written panel with well-known symbology invites viewer to recollect long forgotten schooling, or non-objective based learning.
Non-patronizing fact provision using written script, underlying the theme that complexity is desired, but not to excessive amounts, and certainly apolitical. Use of writing appeals as one would enjoy sensation of being of discerning intellect.
Adopted as a identity anchor, it would indicate that there is ‘more to me than meets the eye’, that mundanity is a ‘front’, a diversion from the complexity of the individual. Uses the tag-line ‘Savor Complexity’ to remind viewer of own complexity, despite perhaps personal insecurities that one is perhaps banal and uninteresting.
Reassuring. Humanistic, compassionate and without the heavy statistic usage of modern magazine and television media. Application of diatribe story style, drawing in elements of camp-fire and rural lifestyle, ‘a simpler’ style. Feelings of home-grown, natural elements by implementing vaguely sensational story-telling language.

Amstel sells a basic lager and wishes to appeal to a well educated (or at least those who wish to appear so), mid-twenties to late forties demographic. Avoiding the ‘Punk’ draw of PBR and the college football elements of Budweiser and Miller, it attempts to appeal to the apathetically relaxed beer drinker, unconcerned with the ‘class’ or quality of the drink they consume, but not wishing to appear completely uncultured. It uses the story telling element, so dominant in modern advertising’, that the beer comes from somewhere, that there is more to it, like there is more to the people who consume it, as direct adherence to the current societal spasm of organic-leaning, non-chemical, non-plastic ‘natural’ lifestyles people currently crave.

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Selling With Nothing

I was walking around a health-food store yesterday and I realized that the primary marketing device being used on products was pointing out what it didn’t contain.
Aluminum free
Dairy Free
Does not contain glutamates, carbohydrates, trans fats, saturated fats.”
Now without carbs/arsenic/french fries.

It’s peculiar that an item can be touted as superior, based on its lack of ingredients. Especially when we really shouldn’t be thanking the producer for its sense of responsibility, when the product shouldn’t contain the offending ingredient in the first place.

I’ve seen apples that are advertised as “Trans Fat free” when apples don’t contain it to begin with. Or sugar-free gum that uses aspartame as an alternative. Bread that contains sugar but is then low-sodium.

And I’m further dismayed to the extent that advertisers will patronize their various demographics, by selling a product minus some chemical additive, that produces no adverse effects, and that the manufacturer knows is truly unnecessary to remove anyway, by relying on the gullibility of the consumer to not look into the details.

I’ve always considered health food, or even regular food that is promoted as healthy, to be something of a niche sell, purchased by those who are more interested in the identity that the use of these types of products provides, instead of looking into the statistical evidence that proves that exercise and common sense with food is by far the best option one has to living longer and healthier. Vitamins, minerals, the absence of this and that, are only contributing factors at best, and in reality play very little part in ones sense of well-being (beyond the placebo effect of course).

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From Futurestates via zefrank.

Play imagines a not-too-distant future where video games have become indistinguishable from reality. These fully immersive games are nested inside each other like Russian dolls — each new game emerging from another and connecting backwards with increasing complexity. One moment, a player is a Japanese schoolgirl embroiled in a pillow fight with her girlfriends — and the next moment, the player has suddenly morphed into a scandalized state senator defending himself against a throng of angry reporters.

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