Michael R. Solomon

Archive for October, 2009|Monthly archive page

The (Svelte) Chicken or the Egg? Does “the Media” Make us Fatophobic?

In Chapter 5 on October 20, 2009 at 3:03 pm

“The media” gets a heavy dose of  criticism when it gives us what we crave:  Images of slim, hot women or buffed men.  Most recently, Self magazine is taking the heat for placing a blatantly PhotoShopped image of zaftig singer Kelly Clarkson on its September 2009 cover.  Advertising Age shares a videotape that features NBC’s medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman berating the publication’s head during a videotaped panel session on women’s images in the media.  The editor, Lucy Danziger, defends this action because it’s consistent with Self’s message to its female readers: “…to be your all around best.” Hmm, perhaps with a little help from your friends… http://adage.com/video/article?article_id=139786

Is  Self to blame for showing us what we expect to see?  Fattism is deeply ingrained in our culture: As early as nursery school age, children prefer drawings of peers in wheelchairs, on crutches, or with facial disfigurements to those of fat children. During one recent two month period, four young Brazilian women died in widely publicized cases of anorexia, which sparked an international debate about body image and eating disorders. The first to die was a 21-year-old model who stood 5 feet, 8 inches tall but weighed slightly more than 80 pounds when she collapsed at a fashion shoot in Japan.  In one survey, more than twice as many female respondents said they were concerned about their weight than about cancer, heart disease, or diabetes. Only 40 percent said they were satisfied with their physical appearance.

Can – or will – “the media” (whatever that is) change this predilection?  In Spain, the government imposed a controversial ban on extremely thin models as measured by their body mass index, or BMI (a formula that takes into account both height and weight). It requires a BMI greater than 17.4 for female models younger than 18 years old, or 18.5 for models older than 18 years old. For a 5-foot, 9-inch model older than 18, that translates to a weight requirement of 126 pounds. Unilever, in turn, banned the use of so-called “size 0” models in its ads for products ranging from Lux shower gel and Sunsilk shampoo to Slim-Fast diet drinks.

In one of the most blatant (and effective) government-sponsored propaganda efforts in recent history, bureaucrats during World War II blanketed our country with images of Rosie the Riveter, a heavily-muscled factory worker who today might be more likely to make a guest appearance on “The L Word.”  The campaign aimed to change women’s expectations about themselves and drive them from their homes into factories to take the place of their men who were otherwise occupied on the battlefield.  Rosie’s success is but one illustration that “the media” can in fact engineer the way we think about ourselves.  But, be careful what you wish for:  Whoever is in charge gets to decide what a “desirable” body should be.

Adapted from Michael R. Solomon, Consumer Behavior:  Buying, Having and Being 9th ed, Prentice Hall, to be published January 2010.


Pepsi Scores One for Stupidity

In Chapter 5 on October 16, 2009 at 3:43 pm

Pepsi’s in the doghouse now. Its iPhone app called “Amp Up Before You Score” claims it will help men to pick up types of women, including the “sorority girl” and the “cougar” (as if Courtney Cox and her on-the-make 40 something sisters need much persuading).

The app also encourages men to kiss and tell; when they “score” they can post details on Facebook and Twitter. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703790404574471522737925470.html

Undoubtedly a lot of men will love this – even though they won’t admit it in public.  Will these guy-centric promos ever lose their appeal?   New research indicates that our brains are “wired” to react differently to males and females – and it may help to explain why men tend to objectify women.  A study that used brain-scanning technology showed photos of women wearing bikinis to a group of heterosexual male college students and tracked which areas of their brains lit up.  The activated areas were the same as those that get aroused when males handle tools.  In a follow-up study, men tended to associate bikini-clad women with first-person action verbs such as I “push,” “handle” and “grab” instead of the third-person forms such as she “pushes,” “handles” and “grabs.” On the other hand, when they saw photos of fully clothed women they reverted to the third-person forms, which implied they perceived these women as being in control of their own actions.  Female subjects who responded to both sets of pictures did not display this difference.

Whether men are biologically predisposed to objectify women or not, we don’t need a major corporation like Pepsi to hot-wire us. Will these gaffes prompt the “grownups” to step in and police what marketers do?  The European Parliament went so far as to suggest (though not yet enforce) restrictions on sexual stereotyping when it voted to adopt a nonbinding report that criticizes advertising practices. The EU singled out several spots, such as a print ad for Dolce & Gabbana that depicts a group of sweaty men in tight jeans that surround a woman wearing spike heels who is pinned to the ground.  This oversight may go a bit far: the organization  also singled out  ads for long-time spokescharacter Mr. Clean because they claim his muscular physique implies that only a strong man is powerful enough to tackle dirt.

For its part, Pepsi did try to make nice when it released this Twitter feed:  “Our app tried 2 show the humorous lengths guys go 2 pick up women. We apologize if it’s in bad taste & appreciate your feedback.”

Maybe the company needs to release a Sincerity app.

Adapted from Michael R. Solomon, Consumer Behavior:  Buying, Having and Being 9th ed, Prentice Hall, to be published January 2010.

Is Cause Marketing Just “Charitainment”?

In Chapter 1 on October 12, 2009 at 9:20 am

In a thoughtful article in yesterday’s New York Times, Anand Giridharadas discusses the issue of “buycotting” or ethical consumerism; the objective of those who strategically make (or withhold) purchases depending upon a brand’s social or environmental repercussions.  As he observes, “Today one can buy not just carbon offsets, organic fruit and recycled paper, but also a iPod whose purchase combats mother-to-child H.I.V. transmission in Africa; a sneaker from Timberland made of biodegradable wool and organically tanned leather; “green weapons” like reduced-lead bullets from BAE Systems, the British armaments maker; and fair-trade condoms, made with sustainable latex (marketing pitch: “for guilt-free lovers who want to feel good in every way”). http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/11/weekinreview/11giridharadas.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

Cause marketing is indeed the new cause célèbre – but does it have a dark side?  Giridharadas singles out the (PRODUCT) RED marketing campaign that one set of authors charged “…replaces the efficiency of tax-funded programs and transfers in improving health equity with a consumption-driven ‘charitainment’ model.”

That raised my hackles – especially since I’m working on a new partnership (via my Principles of Marketing text) to involve students in developing marketing plans for new (RED) products.  Then I remembered that just last year I provided this comment about people who buy carbon offsets to The Chicago Tribune: “…it could be counterproductive because it tends to absolve us of guilt. It’s like we’re buying forgiveness for our sins. What potentially could happen with these things is people could say, ‘I gave at the office. I bought my offset and now I can drive my Hummer as much as I want.’” http://archives.chicagotribune.com/2008/sep/21/business/chi-ym-spending-0921sep21

I still believe that allowing consumers to throw money at guilt may be counterproductive in the long run because it may interfere with deep-seated attitude change.  But this feels like a different animal to me:  The person who chooses to buy fair-trade coffee (or condoms!) or a (RED) version of a cool product still participates in the economic system; they’re just doing it in a more beneficent way.  And they can see tangible outcomes from their choices:   Since (PRODUCT) RED launched in 2006, (RED) partnerships with Converse, Gap, Emporio Armani, Apple, Starbucks, Hallmark, Dell, Microsoft and American Express (UK only) and (RED) events have generated more than $130 million for the Global Fund.

The emerging perspective that academics in our field call Transformative Consumer Research (TCR) promotes research projects that include the goal of helping people or bringing about social change.  Adherents of TRC work with at-risk populations, such as children, the disadvantaged and the disable or on such topics as materialism, consumption of dangerous products, and compulsive consumption. (RED) is a great example of that perspective at work.  Offsetting guilt is one thing.  Buying a perfectly good product that happens to be (RED) — and that results in a substantial revenue boost to a good cause for the same price — is quite another.

Adapted from Michael R. Solomon, Consumer Behavior:  Buying, Having and Being 9th ed, Prentice Hall, to be published January 2010.

Drunk barfly alert: Have you played Movie-Oke today?

In Chapter 4, Uncategorized on October 6, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Marketers continue to search for ways to let consumers experience their brands communally.  There’s a huge difference between seeing a brand and living a brand.

How about a little “movie-oke” to draw in an audience?  Coke Zero and L’Oréal just announced that they are sponsoring the Yoostar Casting Agency Tour, a nine-city event at colleges and malls.  http://www.brandweek.com/bw/content_display/news-and-features/direct/e3i470b0d4b36272857bda9d071fb01ff8a

The $169.95 Yoostar entertainment system includes a Webcam, green screen, microphones — and classic film clips minus key actors.  Participants insert themselves into scenes from The Godfather, Rocky or National Lampoon’s Animal House. They can download additional scenes for a small fee, and then share their acting debuts on social networking sites.   This could be painful!

Another tactic is to create spectacles, where the message is itself a form of entertainment.  In the early days of radio and television, ads literally were performances—show hosts integrated marketing messages into the episodes. Today live advertising is making a comeback as marketers try harder and harder to captivate jaded consumers:

  • Jimmy Kimmel did a skit on his night-show program about Quiznos Subs. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/21/technology/21iht-adco.1.13078754.html
  • In the summer of 2009 Axe body products sponsored a posh Hamptons (New York) nightclub for the whole season where it became The Axe Lounge with branding on the DJ booth and menu and Axe products in the restrooms.
  • A British show broadcast a group of skydivers who performed a dangerous jump to create a human formation in the air that spelled out the letters H, O, N, D and A.
  • Honda built a musical road in Lancaster, PA; grooves in the cement create a series of pitches that play the William Tell Overture when a car drives over them. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivX0jvR69no
  • A public health campaign to promote awareness of colorectal cancer erected a 20-foot long inflatable colon in the middle of Times Square.
  • A New York campaign for Jameson Irish Whiskey projects an ad onto a wall—an operator scans the street for pedestrians that fit the brand’s profile and inserts live text messages directed at them into the display.
  • To promote the 25th anniversary of the Michael Jackson album Thriller, which featured zombies dancing in a music video, Sony BMG staged such a performance on the London Underground. A group of “passengers” suddenly burst into a zombie-like dance before they disappeared into the crowd—and this videotaped scene was posted online. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6EDAZ3crdY The video inspired similar performances in other countries, and within a week more than a million people had downloaded these films. In a similar stunt for T-Mobile, several hundred commuters at the Liverpool rail station broke into a dance—more than 15 million people watched the performance on YouTube in the following weeks. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQ3d3KigPQM
  • In Hollywood 500 guests showed up for what they thought was the debut of a new TV series called Scarlet. The event was in reality part of a new campaign for LG Electronics’ new line of Scarlet TVs.

It pays to turn your audience into part of the show.

Adapted from Michael R. Solomon, Consumer Behavior:  Buying, Having and Being 9th ed, Prentice Hall, to be published January 2010.

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