Showing posts with label consumer issues. Show all posts
Showing posts with label consumer issues. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

“Perfect Vodka”? Yeah, no — let’s just keep calling it Coral Sky Amphitheatre

The former Coral Sky Amphitheatre—previously Cruzan Amphitheatre, Sound Advice Amphitheatre, Coral Sky Amphitheatre again, Mars Music Amphitheatre, and Coral Sky Amphitheatre the first time—has another new name: Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre. None of us should call it that.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against Perfect Vodka, and, frankly, the next time I make the decision to morosely nurse a broken heart with liquid therapy, I’m pleased to know that I’ve got a local, non-GMO, gluten-free option to fuel some inevitably pathetic texts imploring girls from yesteryear to take me back I didn’t mean it I’m so lonely [crying cat emoji]. And really, it’s not like “Coral Sky” is a particularly inspired name.

But companies regularly spend billions to influence what we think, say, and write, and we should stop being complicit in it.

This, first and foremost, includes news organizations. No honorable journalist would do pro bono shilling for a company, and no dishonorable journalist would do so without getting paid. Yet both are more than happy to drop a company’s name in an otherwise unrelated news story about a concert or sporting event or political rally, completely free of charge, because that company paid someone else for naming rights.

Some reporters may argue that they have a journalistic responsibility to properly identify the subjects in their stories using their self-declared names. For example, UNC-Chapel Hill announced in May that a building on their campus, Saunders Hall, would be renamed Carolina Hall. Nobody would quarrel with reporters using the new name because the new name reflects the evolution of race relations, respect for the school’s diverse student population, and the general notion that it’s not a keen idea to have school buildings named after Klansmen in the 21st century.

When Coral Sky becomes Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre, however, the only thing it reflects is the gaming by marketers of what constitutes a “name.” And when a venue runs through so many “names” based on who’s giving its owners money at the moment, it cedes the right to have a name; it instead becomes an unnamed venue that has very prominent ad space available. To put it more simply, if Live Nation insisted that the formal name of the amphitheatre was “Coral Sky Amphitheatre Sponsored By Perfect Vodka,” there isn’t an editor who wouldn’t zap the last four words. How is instead calling it “Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre” any better?

This is more than an inside-baseball, ethics-in-naming-journalism issue, however. It’s about reclaiming the way we think, the way we talk, and the way we view the world around us.

It’s not a coincidence that we think we need to go to “Publix” as opposed to “the grocery store,” or that we say we’re buying “Kleenex” instead of “facial issue”; it’s a part of a concerted effort to embed brands into every aspect of our conscious life. Try going a week without using brand names in conversation. Or even a day. It’s difficult, and even if you can do it, it’ll sound very unnatural to both you and those listening to you. That, too, is not a coincidence.

What makes venue sponsorships particularly egregious is that the companies involved are asking—nay, telling—us to use a brand name for no reason other than they say so. Dennis Cunningham, the president of Perfect Vodka, is quoted in the press release announcing the name change as saying that “[g]reat music and our smooth vodka are sure to make perfect memories,” which is revealing: they’re not just buying naming rights. They’re trying to buy a space in our memories—a space that they did not earn and have no business occupying.

There’s also something very worrying about getting accustomed to viewing everything around us as a medium for advertising. When we see that even things as fundamental as names are for sale at the right price, it trains us to view the places—and, by extension, the people—around us as mere commodities to be exploited then disposed of rather than things that have value, merit, and beauty beyond generating wealth. And South Florida—which, at its worst, is marked by conspicuous consumption, bulldozers, cosmetic surgery, and McMansions—doesn’t need any help fostering a culture of disposability.

To be fair, the venue at 601-7 Sansbury Way isn’t the Grand Canyon, and “Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre” isn’t the abomination that “Arizona Presents Verizon Gorge” would be. But it’s not inconceivable that an ambitious marketing executive will see a compliant public desensitized to the banal horrors of omnipresent branding and find new, previously sacrosanct places to stick their brand names and logos. The onus is on us to head that off now.

Our thoughts, our speech, and our culture shouldn’t be for sale. Live Nation can call its amphitheater whatever it wants, and Perfect Vodka can pay whatever it wants to Live Nation, but we shouldn’t go along with it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Fallon’s Quicken Loans ad: Sign a 30-year mortgage or be an un-American pussy, brah

 


For one fleeting moment, I thought Quicken Loans’s “Buy In” (or “#BuyIn”) TV commercial, the work of Minneapolis, Minn.-based agency Fallon, was a magnificent, self-aware satire of unscrupulous lending, the devaluation of patriotism and courage, and terrible advertising in general when the voiceover actor informed us that:

None of this makes rational sense. It only makes American sense.

It turns out that it was none of those things. The commercial is as sincere as it is boneheaded, which I suppose is its own sort of magnificence. They’re right, though—no part of this ad makes rational sense.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s start with the text of the voiceover, delivered with the sort of cocky, vaguely bullying cadence you’d expect from, say, a creepy dudebro in his late twenties super-seriously pressuring his buddies to stop being pussies and just hook up with that drunk girl at a high school kegger:

The American Dream is terrifying. American history is the history of the scary thing being the exact thing we have to do: cross that ocean, walk on that moon, fly. None of this makes rational sense. It only makes American sense. 
Here, the hard things show us who we are. Leaving your job to start your own thing. Having a kid when you still feel like a kid. Signing a 30-year mortgage on a home. Scary? Sure. But no match for our colossal self-belief. We’re supposed to do scary. Without scary, we don’t get to be brave. Buy in.

No, seriously.

* * *

Art Steiber, the vice president of marketing and sponsorships at Quicken Loans, told Ad Age that the campaign is specifically intended to assuage the fears of would-be homebuyers after the housing and financial crises of the last decade. And I get it; the economy’s improving, and there are undoubtedly people for whom homeownership is feasible but are understandably apprehensive about pulling the trigger.

But let’s remember that the subprime mortgage crisis was precipitated by predatory lenders hoodwinking consumers into taking out loans that they couldn’t afford and should have never been offered. The apprehension felt by consumers that reverberates years after the recession isn’t merely a marketing challenge for Quicken Loans to solve; it’s the hard-won wisdom that many people had their lives ruined for us to learn. Indeed, that fear is a good thing; it’s the final line of defense before you get pressured into making a bad decision.

It’s unseemly for Quicken Loans to dismiss that fear so cavalierly—and, worse still, make ignoring that fear some sort of virtuous deed. Buying a house shouldn’t be some brave, capricious decision that doesn’t make rational sense; it should be the result of a sober, dispassionate, realistic analysis of your financial situation and your personal goals.

This commercial, in fact, reminds me of an infamous ad from Century 21 in 2006, just before the housing meltdown. That spot—called “The Debate”—features a wife who’s bullying her husband into buying a house while their real estate agent joins in on the bullying via speakerphone. The tag-team pressure tactics work, the husband agrees to buy the house, and it’s supposed to be a happy moment—until, presumably, they defaulted on their loan a couple of years later and had to move into his in-laws’ basement. It’s pretty heinous:




Fuckin’ Suzanne and her research.

What Quicken Loans is trying to do is tell consumers not to trust their instincts. They’re dressing it up in patriotic imagery and the themes of courage, but the message remains the same: ignore the part of you that’s telling you to think this through and do it. Advertising does this all the time, of course, and it’s easy to laugh it off when we’re told to Call Today, Don’t Delay for infomercial ephemera. But when the same technique is applied to buying a house instead of a Slap Chop, just a few years after the destruction of so many people’s personal wealth stemming in part from imprudent house-buying, it’s some kind of appalling.

* * *

Let’s take a moment to recognize how wonderfully misguided this passage from the voiceover is:

American history is the history of the scary thing being the exact thing we have to do: cross that ocean, walk on that moon, fly. None of this makes rational sense. It only makes American sense.

Let’s ignore that they’ve glossed over a lot of American history with “ocean, moon, fly.” (And we’ll ignore the fact that the chronology is off; I’m pretty sure we were flying before moonwalking, both literally and otherwise.) I love that their misguided appeal to American exceptionalism included the implication that “rational” and “American” are antonyms.

More seriously, though, that passage is factually inaccurate: all those things did make rational sense. Finding efficient trade routes, beating the Soviet Union in the Space Race during the Cold War, and traveling quickly between faraway places—what parts of any of those things are irrational? Quicken Loans gives away the game inadvertently here; they know that, for many people, buying a home is an irrational decision—based more on ego and appearances than what’s best for them financially—but they try to downplay that irrationality by falsely claiming other things were irrational, too.

I don’t blame them, of course; more honest copy would read:

American history is the history of the scary thing being the exact thing we have to do: Plessy v. Ferguson, the Vietnam War, KFC Double Downs. None of this makes rational sense. It only makes American sense.

But it doesn’t quite have the same effect.

* * *

Not to belabor the point, but not everybody needs to own a home. And more importantly, not everybody needs to aspire to own a home.

One of the creepier things about the commercial is the way it presents homeownership as a necessary component of living the American Dream and, by extension, being a true American. Reinforcing the idea that there’s one single ideal life to which we should all aspire is pretty pernicious; it leads to disappointment, crippling debt, and a perpetual cycle of acquiring things to fill an ever-expanding hole in your soul.

A lot of advertising is predicated on making products seem like universal desires; it’s easier to convince somebody to want a product if they’ve already been conditioned to accept that product as something they’re supposed to want. But forced conformity is bad for us all. Don’t get me wrong; if someone chooses to want their little box made of ticky-tacky, then that’s fine, and I’m not judging—as long as it is indeed their choice and not the choice of societal pressures and terrible TV commercials.




(The commercial also presents “having a kid when you still feel like a kid” as a noble thing to do, which is also pretty messed up—being a parent isn’t for everybody and arguably isn’t for most people, and those who choose to become parents should probably at least feel like young adults before popping the little ones out—but that’s a rant for another day.)

* * *

But here’s the part of the ad that annoys me the most: they’re commodifying courage. Or, more bluntly, they’re trying to convince us that buying shit is an act of courage.

Advertising has long tried to convince us that buying shit is a legitimate form of self-expression. In lieu of developing a personality, the clothes and the cars we buy can convey that for us. In lieu of making actual choices in our lives, we can sate our need for freedom by choosing from different, mostly identical brands of cola with varying caloric content. I know, that’s nothing new or revelatory.

But there’s something grotesque about an ad like this one that tells us that, in lieu of actually doing something courageous, we can just buy something really expensive. I’ve seen a lot of ads attempt to commodify all sorts of things—love, charity, hope, security, etc.—but I’m straining to think of an ad that explicitly said, “Be brave, buy this thing.”

Sen. John McCain has talked a lot about “defining courage down”—that is, devaluing courage by using it to describe all manner of acts that aren’t genuinely courageous. While McCain’s courage credentials are impeccable1, I disagree with some of what he says; I think he defines courage too narrowly, which unfairly cheapens some of the acts of everyday, mundane bravery that are rarely applauded. Where I think he and I would have no quarrel, though, is saying that buying shit is not courageous, and the idea that it is will simultaneously make people less able to recognize actual courage and less inclined to do actually courageous things.

People have to do genuinely courageous things all the time, and not necessarily in the big, taking-bullets, rescuing-people-from-a-fire sort of way; they move to new cities, they start and end relationships, they follow their dreams and help others do the same. It’s gross to see courage so nonchalantly trivialized. Fuck off, Quicken Loans.

* * *

It’s perhaps unfair to talk smack about an ad campaign without saying what I would’ve done differently. So just spitballin’ here, but maybe something like this?

We know buying a home can be scary. We remember what it was like seven years ago. 
Buying a home might not be right for everybody, and it might not be right for everybody right now. But we’ve come a long way since 2008, and if homeownership is something you’ve been thinking about, it may be worth taking another look into it. 
Talk to your financial advisor. Talk to your family. Figure out what your goals and resources are. And if you decide that buying a home is right for you, we want to help. Call us when you’re ready. Quicken Loans. USA, all the way, numba one.

Okay, it’s not my finest bit of copywriting, but better, right?


1All right, fine, but can we at least agree that his courage credentials were impeccable pre-Palin?

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Stouffer’s mac and cheese TV commercial by JWT New York is remarkably terrible

Hey everybody, let’s talk about this breathtakingly shitty commercial, called “Breathe,” from Nestlé’s Stouffer’s, promoting their high-saturated fat, low-taste macaroni and cheese frozen dinners:


The spot, a part of a campaign by J. Walter Thompson New York that seeks to boost weakening frozen food sales, begins with a teenage girl eagerly talking about her day with her parents, both of whom appear to be annoyed that their daughter is talking to them.

“They ran into Jeff and Ash—like, literally ran into him,” the girl recounts, as the father shoots a why-the-hell-is-she-talking-to-us look to the mother, who in turn flashes an insincere smile while not even disguising her lack of interest in her child. The daughter continues—“So awkward! He spilled a little soda on his shirt!”—as a voiceover plays over her:

This story had 30 minutes left, until Kim realized that Stouffer’s mac and cheese is made with real cheddar, aged to perfection for six long months. When you start with the best cheddar, you get the best mac and cheese.

The daughter is so enraptured by the hundreds and hundreds of milligrams of sodium in her serving of hastily-microwaved food-like substance that she stops chattering about stupid teenage girl nonsense like her thoughts and feelings and the people in life about whom she cares. The father, ever the smartass, asks her, “So what about Jessica?”—to which the daughter replies, “What about her?” And just like that, Operation Get My Daughter to Stop Sharing Things with Me is a resounding success.

This ad, ostensibly targeting parents who value dinnertime as a family event, is such a complete misfire that so thoroughly misunderstands its audience that I’m genuinely curious if JWT took some side cash from Kraft to bungle it. The reality is, parents who at least make an effort to make at-the-table, TV-free family dinners a thing want to listen to their kids talk about what’s on their minds. It is, in fact, the whole damn point of a family dinner. The problem isn’t that their teenagers are sharing too much; it’s that teenagers are sharing too little or nothing at all.

Here, the daughter is happily going into detail about her life—and true, it does sound like inconsequential, high school cafeteria minutiae. But it’s clearly important to her, and when someone—especially your own child—trusts you enough to share, the least you can do is be kind enough to listen without making faces. Besides, if your kid learns that you can’t be trusted to care about small stuff, why would she trust you with the big stuff?

In short, JWT at some point pitched a commercial that essentially said, “Stouffer’s: For terrible parents1 who want their kids to shut the fuck up,” and Stouffer’s inexplicably said, “OH MY GOD, CAN WE SIGN UP TWICE?” Well done, all.

* * *

Okay, I know I bang the gender critique gong more often than I intend on this blog, but watch another commercial in the campaign, called “Cell Phone”:


A teenage girl is looking at her cell phone. When she takes a bit of her lasagna, the purported deliciousness of her unit of food causes her to put her phone down. A voiceover explains: “As Katie puts her cell phone down for the first time all week, she realizes that Stouffer’s lasagna is topped with fresh cheese that browns beautifully. Fresh cheese and a touch of aged parmesan is [sic] what gives us our irresistible flavor. When you start with the best blend of cheese, you get the best lasagna.” Her cell phone buzzes; her parents look at their daughter expectantly; the daughter ignores the phone and says, “What?”

First of all, there’s some seriously mixed messaging here: in the first commercial, the parents are trying to stop their daughter from talking to them; in the second commercial, the parents are trying to stop their daughter from talking (or texting, I guess) to her friends. Which is it? Or do parents who serve Stouffer’s just want their kids to stop talking to everyone? Geez, get your pitch straight, guys.

But more importantly, why are they picking on teenage girls here? Look, I’m not saying that Stouffer’s is a part of some conspiracy to make the world into a phallocratic dongtopia or anything2, but two commercials in the same campaign that are predicated on stopping teenage girls from talking? Two commercials in the same campaign that presuppose teenage girls just talk about silly, unimportant stuff? Pretty lame, especially if we’re trying to get girls to Lean In or Step Up or Speak Out or what have you.

(It’s worth noting that ConAgra’s Manwich has a similar, and far superior, ad campaign by DDB West based on a lot of the same ideas, including a spot in which Manwich stops a teenage girl’s texting. The key difference is that, in Manwich’s ads, the parents actually seem to care about and enjoy the company of their kids—sons and daughters. And of course, they’re narrated by Ron Fucking Swanson.)

* * *

And as long as I’m taking swipes at Stouffer’s, take a look at the Nutrition Facts for Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese, as presented on its website:


“Serving Size: 2. Servings Per Container: Not Given.” This is the opposite of helpful.

Just as confusing, despite each serving (which we know is exactly two somethings) containing 6 grams of saturated fat, the label still goes on to say that the product is “[n]ot a significant source of Saturated Fat.” Is this why Stouffer’s feels no shame about how unhealthful its foodesque offerings are—in their world, 6 grams of saturated fat apparently rounds down to insignificant? Huh.

Yes, yes, I know—this is probably the result of some sloppy coding. But still, get it together, Stouffer’s.


1I intentionally avoided making the comment that, if you’re feeding your kid frozen garbage, you’re probably a terrible parent anyway, so this ad knows its intended audience all too well—which, to be fair, would be an amazing defense of JWT’s incompetence here. But that’s not cool; plenty of parents would love to cook healthful meals for their kids, but they work two jobs and live in a food desert and are barely making ends meet and thus, Stouffer’s from Walgreens could really be the best of a limited set of bad options. Plenty of horrible parents make home-cooked meals for their kids; plenty of genuinely wonderful parents hate the fact that they’re feeding their kids frozen meatloaf and are working really hard for long hours to make sure they won’t have to in the future.

2There’s no need for a conspiracy; it already is, amirite ladies? No? Fine, whatever, I have mac and cheese and lube and pictures of a sexy Raccoon Mario girl, I don’t need you.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

No, you don’t understand! It’s a consumer protest! I swear I’m not a terrible boyfriend!


I mean, it makes sense from the retailer’s point of view: the store advertises an item at a discounted price, but you need a reward card to get that price. It’s free, the retailer assures you, and you can earn points! So you sign up, get some discounts, and maybe even get a coupon worth a few bucks after you’ve accumulated enough points.

In exchange, you’re letting the retailer compile a very specific (and creepily accurate) consumer profile on you. By analyzing your spending patterns—what you buy, when you buy it, how often you buy it—companies can figure out a lot about you: your relationship status (frozen dinner for one tonight?), your income (do you buy the store brand or the name brand?), your family situation (how many diapers do you buy?), your health issues (picking up another Abbreva and a home HIV test?), your sex life (stocking up on condoms and Plan B?), your sexual orientation (you’re a girl and you’ve purchased the last five issues of Maxim?), and who knows what else.

Better still, all that information is attached to a specific name, phone number, and address—and all this information is easily exportable to an Excel spreadsheet for the retailer to sell to another company for the right price.

In response, many people sign up with “dummy” accounts with fake names and phone numbers. Or, since many retailers let you use your card by punching in your phone number, some type in their area code plus “867-5309” (and claim that they’re named Jenny), which has almost certainly been registered by someone.

My (admittedly ineffectual) protest has been to buy products that I don’t need whenever I have coupons that make such products free or nearly free, just to screw with the profile they’ve made for me. It’s completely futile, I know, but it makes me feel a little better.

Sometimes, though, it leads to awkward, dissonant purchases. I guess what I’m getting at is, I’m pretty sure the cashier at Walgreens now thinks I’m a terrible boyfriend who’s planning the Worst Valentine’s Day Ever.

Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, KY Ultragel

Guys, they were free. Don’t be judgey.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Well, I guess I own pizza underwear now

Look what arrived in the mail today, just in time for Valentine’s Day!


On a completely unrelated note, is there a way to make my credit card company text me a riddle or something that I would have to solve before they authorize any purchases made between 2 AM and 4 AM just to make sure that I’m actually fully awake and capable of making sound sartorial decisions? I’m asking for a friend.

* * *

Actually, what fascinates me most about my new pizza underwear is this warning label.

"Not intended for children 14 years of age or younger. Non nestiné aux enfants de 12 ans ou moins."

I don’t know what’s more confusing: the fact that this underwear has a minimum age requirement for some reason, or that the age requirement inexplicably drops by two years if you happen to speak French.

(They probably meant to write “non destiné,” not “non nestiné.”)

* * *

I am, of course, joking when I say that my new pizza underwear arrived just in time for Valentine’s Day, because I’m afraid I am once again single and bitter and going to shame-eat a lot of hamburgers this Feb. 14.

But I’m thinking, what if I happen to be wearing my pizza ‘pants on a date that goes particularly well? Ideally, I’d be with someone who shares my enthusiasm for pizza-themed undergarments, and the night will go splendidly.

It’s just as plausible, though, that my ridiculous underwear could put the brakes on the evening. I’m not sure what I could say to make things better, but, as is usually the case, I certainly know what I could say to make things worse. Here are five, in descending order:

5. You know what they say—even when it’s bad, it’s good.

4. Look, it may start off as a Totino, but I swear it becomes a DiGiorno once it’s heated up.
3. “Thirty minutes or less”? I’ll come in half that time, guaranteed.

2. I know you drove all the way out here, but I can’t promise a big tip.

1. You might want to dab it with a napkin first.

Before you judge me, I would like to point out my restraint by neither going for any sausage or pepperoni double entendres nor making any references to “Papa John’s” sounding vaguely phallic. And I didn’t even mention the fact that Pizza Hut kind of rhymes with “piece of butt” if you slur it.

On second thought, judge me; I guess I deserve it.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

“Plunging vertically, lightly clinking / It won’t attract anyone’s attention”

Congratulations to Apple! The company just posted the biggest quarterly profit—$18 billion—in world history.

To commemorate the achievement, here's a poem written by former Foxconn factory worker Xu Lizhi, published in the Foxconn employee newspaper.

A screw fell to the ground
In this dark night of overtime
Plunging vertically, lightly clinking
It won’t attract anyone’s attention
Just like last time
On a night like this
When someone plunged to the ground

He's a former employee because he, like many of his fellow Foxconn employees, killed himself last year after working under Foxconn's harsh and sometimes inhumane labor conditions in Shenzhen. He was 24.

While we're at it, we can also reread the New York Times's blockbuster 2012 story about Foxconn and the Apple supply chain that we all swore would make us give a shit, but then Apple came out with candy-colored iPhones the next year and we all totally wanted one. (Mine's yellow!)



It's cool, though, because that one dude who was on This American Life turned out to be a liar, which was just the perfect opportunity to stop caring.

So again—congrats, Apple!

Posted via the Blogger iOS app


Yes, Apple is far from the only company that uses Foxconn. But now that Apple is, for the moment, officially the most profitable company on the planet, it highlights how much could be done but isn't, and how few people genuinely care. (And since caring should only be measured by one's actions rather than feelings, I'm ashamed to say that I easily fall into the "don't care" camp.) And for all the talk about how Apple's $18 billion was built on good old-fashioned American innovation and gumption, it's worth remembering that it was also built on the despair and misery and sometimes deaths of Chinese laborers with few—or no—other options.

And while blame can be parceled out to Foxconn for perpetrating labor abuses and the Chinese government for turning a blind eye to such abuses, Apple and its customers deserve much of it, too. There's almost no demand for a bloodless iPhone, especially if it means paying more for it. And again, virtually every smartphone and tablet seller uses Foxconn or a Foxconn-esque supplier, but $18 billion means that Apple is in a uniquely powerful position to do something about it if they really wanted to. Or, as a former Apple executive put it in that New York Times article:
“We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they’re still going on,” said one former Apple executive who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements. “Why? Because the system works for us. Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice.”

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

It’s not the meat in your feet, but the pep in each step

I went to the mall today to exchange some shoes, and I had this conversation with a cute salesperson.

“How can I help you?”

“I bought these shoes from the website, but I think they’re one size too big. I was wondering if I could exchange them for smaller ones.”

“Sure, no problem.”

“I’m not going to lie—it’s kind of emasculating having to go one size smaller.”

She giggles and looks at the shoes. “Okay, I’ll go ahead and look for an eight-and-a-half.”

“Umm. Better just get an eight.”

Oh,” she says, with a smartass smile.

“I swear I’m usually a nine.”

“And I swear I believe you.”

Not that it matters, but for the record, I really am usually a nine… ladies.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

This McDonald’s coupon is so profoundly sad, it makes me want to cry

This McDonald’s coupon—and all that it implies—is so profoundly sad, it makes me want to cry.

"Valid February 14th only" "BURGER LOVERS" "49¢ Hamburgers & 69¢ Cheeseburgers" "Valid February 14th only" "Limit 10 per customer." "Must have coupon for redemption."


Notice that McDonald’s doesn’t even bother to use the phrase “Valentine’s Day.” It’s like McDonald’s is just saying, “You know the drill, lardass.”

And the worst part is, they cap the deal at ten hamburgers. Listen, if somebody is spending a part of their Valentine’s Day at a McDonald’s and they feel like eating more than ten hamburgers, it’s obvious it’s been a really shitty day. Just give them the fucking burgers, McDonald’s.


Anyway, this is the awkward part in which I mention the reason that I have the coupon so neatly torn out is because as soon as I saw it, I put it in my wallet because I’m about 99 percent sure I’ll be making use of it on Feb. 14. Yes, on Valentine’s Day, I will be lovin’ it because, sadly, no one’s lovin’ me. Okay, now I really am going to cry.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Aéropostale’s ridiculous product descriptions make me feel old like whoa

Shopping at any teen-oriented mall clothing retailer is usually enough to make me feel impossibly old—music that’s unfamiliar and therefore annoying, pictures of models who aren’t old enough to buy beer in Canada, and fellow shoppers who are trying to gauge whether I’m a creepy dude trolling for barely-18s or if I’m a vaguely out-of-touch uncle searching for a nephew’s birthday gift who still thinks Hollister is totes rad. (Joke’s on you, kids—the correct answer is “I am in ‘overwrought quarter-life crisis’ mode and am dealing with being closer to 30 than 20 by dressing like a 16-year-old in 2005.”)

But there’s no retail experience that makes me more acutely aware of my senescence than shopping on Aéropostale’s website. Aéropostale is definitely not for me—they’re “principally targeting 14 to 17-year-old young women and men”—and they make that clear with some amazing product descriptions for each and every one of the products they sell.

As far as I can tell, Aéropostale is headquartered in the town of Riverdale, and everybody’s biggest concerns are running “a smooth campaign for class prez” or making “that first impression count when meeting your GF’s dad.” (Incidentally, Aéropostale’s Long Sleeve Textured Woven Shirt and Multi-stripe Crew Neck Sweater, respectively, can help with each.) Indeed, the product descriptions are simultaneously ridiculous and weirdly poignant—at least for me, each of my eye rolls are accompanied by a pang of nostalgia for the days when my biggest worries were minor enough to be solved with the purchase of affordably-priced apparel.

In any case, let’s marvel at some of these product descriptions that somebody was inexplicably given actual, spendable money to write.

Description: When that girl from first period gets flirty and a sweetie from second shoots you a smile, you know the Brooklyn Calling Star Pocket Tee is workin' its magic! With its stellar print and stylish chest pocket, this shirt has all the ladies swooning. Pair it with dark-wash jeans to turn up the charm!


Admittedly, it’s been a while since my day was divided into periods, but I really don’t remember a chest pocket being a component in making a lady—let alone all the ladies—swoon.

Description: Go into the big exam knowing you're too legit to quit, and tackle those tough questions in this Brooklyn Calling Striped Colorblock Pocket Tee! The bold, high-contrast style gives you a super-smart look, so put on your flat-brimmed thinking cap, then finish the essay while you're in beast mode.


So, I’m going to go into the big exam like MC Hammer in 1991? Does that mean I’m going to fail? And what does finishing an essay while in beast mode entail—do I use the active voice instead of the passive voice or something?

Description: If your idea of a great staycation includes comfy style and tons of video games, throw on our Aero NY Skinny Sweatpants and grab that controller! These fleecy bottoms feature a super-soft construction, hand pockets and a stretchy ribbed waist; Aero appliqués and "NY 1987" embroidery add a classic signature touch.


I really like how Aéropostale found a positive way of saying, “If all you’re going to do is be a lazy fucker in front of the TV, wear sweatpants, you big life-waster.” Jake the Dog was right.

Description: Whether you're stuck in Lametown, cruising NYC, or kickin' it in LA, our Aero Banner Logo Pullover Hoodie cuts a super-trendy look for any place in the USA! It's decked out with blocky "Aero NY-87" text and features a fleecy feel and classic kangaroo pocket.


Aéropostale: clothing for teens who hate their dumb lame town and I hate you all and none of you get me and I can’t wait until I’m 18 so I can finally get the hell out of this place.

Description: Dude, it's okay to admit when cold temps make ya shiver, but you won't ever need to when you layer up with this toasty Brooklyn Calling Long Sleeve Colorblocked Thermal Tee! Waffle-knit fabric ensures warmth, so your GF will never find out how fast you succumb to chilly air; colorblocked raglan sleeves add way-cool casual style, too.


Let’s ignore the contradictory message of “It’s okay to say you’re cold, but buy this shirt so that no one knows you’re cold” and instead focus on how brazenly manipulative this product description is—it’s a stone’s throw away from just outright saying, Buy this shirt so that your girlfriend won’t know you’re a total pussy, bro!

Description: The cosmopolitan cutie concealed on this Free State City Girl Graphic T has traveled the world lookin' for love, but you'd be the only guy to catch her eye! It features the names of some awesome urban locales; pair this tee with crisp chinos and get ready to give those smiling ladies your digits.


This T-shirt is called “City Girl,” and the description says that it “features the names of some awesome urban locales.” Serious question: Does Aéropostale think Denmark is a city?

Description: When you accept first prize for the best-decorated pumpkin in the patch, make sure you're rockin' our Solid Lace Crop Tank! You'll make a memorable impression thanks to its classic solid shade, cool lace detailing, and cute keyhole-closure back.


“Best-decorated pumpkin in the patch” isn’t a euphemism, right?

Description: Toss on this Locker Stock Xmas Games Graphic T, then polish those pong skills during all the crazy festivities! It's designed with colorful plastic cups stacked to form a Christmas tree. Don't forget to take a break and toast to your fun-lovin' bros!


This is the one that made me feel completely ancient. “Xmas games” and “pong skills” are Aéropostale’s way of studiously avoiding referencing alcohol—because, again, their target demographic is young folks between the ages of 14 and 17. In other words, I’m shopping for clothes at a store that will feature a shirt with a ping-pong ball and Solo cups but has deemed it inappropriate to actually say the words “beer pong.” Even American Eagle—for which I’m also too old—has no qualms about a Christmas-themed booze reference. (On the other hand, they also have no qualms about having Santa with a candy-striped phallus, so, yeah.)



Bah. I’m too old for this shit. I’ll be at Banana Republic.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Abercrombie & ditched: Mike Jeffries is out as CEO; I dance on his professional grave

Mike Jeffries resigned as CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch on Dec. 9.

This is certainly good news, as Jeffries is notorious for being an asshole of impressive magnitude. Under his leadership, Abercrombie & Fitch was sued in 2003 for employment discrimination for racist and sexist hiring practices; apparently, Jeffries loved him some white dudes, and this was reflected in who was hired for his stores and who got the best jobs once they were hired. (This is a polite way of saying that women, black people, Hispanics, and Asians had a tough time getting hired, and those that did often worked out-of-sight in the backroom.) The lawsuit ended in a settlement that included the company paying $40 million to discriminated workers and a revision of its hiring and promotion practices.

Jeffries also earned a lot of ire over some well-publicized remarks about who Abercrombie & Fitch’s target market is. From a 2006 interview with Salon:

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he says. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”

I mean, in a way, the candor is laudable, but yikes.

In any case, Abercrombie & Fitch’s falling profits and brand image had put Jeffries’s future with the company in jeopardy in recent years, so while his resignation happened quickly, it wasn’t exactly unexpected. To be fair, many mall clothing retailers are suffering, thanks in part to the recession and teens with lighter wallets and changing tastes.

But Abercrombie & Fitch—by far the priciest of what some1 call the Teen Mall Clothing Triple A, along with American Eagle and Aéropostale—was probably the most doomed in the wake of the recession. Abercrombie & Fitch appealed to kids who weren’t rich but wanted to appear rich; when the recession hit, the faux rich kids couldn’t afford their clothes anymore and the real rich kids weren’t buying their clothes from them in the first place. And once that became evident, fewer and fewer people felt compelled to don the moose.

So let’s take a moment to dance on the professional grave of Jeffries, a creepy dude with creepy fake blonde hair who appealed to the basest parts of American vanity and consumerism and still found a way to fuck it up. I hope he enjoys his retirement while he can, because once he passes, he will surely find himself damned to an afterlife where I presume a bunch of larger folks wearing Faded Glory-brand jean shorts and camo cargos will pelt him with copies of the September issue of Farm & Tractor Fashion for all eternity2.

* * *

In any case, Jeffries’s resignation reminded me of a small little project I did with a friend several years ago. We sneaked into an Abercrombie & Fitch and a Hollister at the mall and surreptitiously placed little activist flyers into their clothing. I thought we were being sneaky, until a customer asked us a question about a price, and we had to explain we don’t actually work there (“Oh, I’m sorry, I just saw you guys handling the clothes and I just assumed—my bad”).

Granted, the flyers don’t reflect my best writing or my best thinking, and rereading them, they make me cringe a bit. But I still look at them fondly, because I liked this version of myself that cared strongly about things and devised weird and quirky plans to express my opinions. Let’s take a look at a sampling of my efforts:


This one took an anti-consumerism and anti-advertising angle and, in particular, the inanity of paying a company money for the right to advertise on your body. It’s interesting that I picked $59 as the upper-limit for ridiculous prices to pay for a logo graphic T-shirt.


Here was a flyer that took a feminist tack, albeit with some sloppy, inelegant writing (if you’re going to sound cavalier about eating disorders, then your writing better be coruscating). I believe I was floating the theory that teen clothing retailers intentionally making clothing sizes inconsistent to mess with girls’ body image and sense of self-esteem, which is ultimately beneficial for Abercrombie & Fitch and other image-based retailers—a theory that, as far as I know, has no evidence behind it, but kind of plausible, right? Also, I’m not sure where I saw “Independent Grrl” booty shorts, but I think it’d be hilarious to own a pair.


So basically, at some point, I thought, “You know how to get the message out in a way that resonates with my generation? Get some John fuckin’ Keats up in this shit!” This is proof that, had I majored in English, I would’ve been the most obnoxious person ever. But still, the last line is the beginning of a burn that could’ve been decent with a bit more workshopping.


1By “some,” I mean “I.” But it is a handy way of looking at the teen mall clothing retailer landscape, right? Aéropostale is the budget choice; American Eagle is moderately priced and of moderate quality; and Abercrombie & Fitch is the highest tier. (I don’t mean this as a dig, by the way. One of my favorite T-shirts is from Aéropostale—a gift from a family friend—despite my having graduated middle school. But it's a really comfortable shirt and I love it so there.)

2That’s probably a little too mean.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Oh, Crest

Crest offers "58% more free" to make its 2.9-ounce travel-size toothpaste 4.6 ounces.


Hey, Crest, I know you had good intentions here, but I don't think you understand why we have to buy the travel size in the first place.

Staples is impressively dickish when it comes to packing slips!

Staples is pretty impressive when it comes to packing slip dickishness. Check out this question from an ordering FAQ in Staples's help section.

Can I send an order to someone as a gift and make sure the price doesn't show up on the packing slip? 
At this time, we are not able to accommodate requests to change the packing slips that are sent with orders. The packing slip will list the items, quantity and price paid. 
If you'd prefer to send an order without a packing slip, you can have your order delivered to yourself. Then you can bring it to one of our stores and take advantage of our full line of reasonably priced packing and shipping services to have it delivered to the recipient.

It's not just that Staples is inexplicably unable to accommodate a relatively simple request like, "Hey, please don't put a packing slip in the box."

It's not just that Staples can't even be bothered to throw in an "Unfortunately" or an "We're sorry for the inconvenience" when they explain that they don't have a "Check this box if this order is a gift" feature that plenty of other retailers figured out how to implement in, like, 1998.

It's that they do those things, and then proceed to suggest a "solution" that involves giving Staples more money. They took a glaring deficiency in their online ordering system as an opportunity to upsell. It's like going to the grocery store, asking for a plastic bag, and being told "At this time, we are not able to accommodate plastic bag requests -- but feel free to buy one of our eco-friendly green totes for $14.95."

That's not just dickish. That's breathtakingly, audaciously dickish, and I can't help but be a little impressed.

* * *

Okay, fine. Let's say, for whatever reason, Staples's ordering system really is incapable of indicating when to exclude packing slips. And the best solution Staples can come up with really is having the customer ship their gift to themselves, drive down to Staples, and then forward the package at additional cost to their recipient.

Why not offer an olive branch, like, "We know this is inconvenient, so if you do decide to do this, bring in your packing slip, and we'll give you a 25 percent discount off the shipping costs as our way of saying sorry"?

I mean, seriously, Staples. You do know that Amazon.com is a click away, right?

* * *

Full disclosure: I actually don't really care about packing slips. In fact, I don't get what the big deal is about people knowing the price of your gifts -- oh, what, you don't want your Adventure Time giant wall decal now that you know it was only $25.99?

And also, Staples is offering "onsite assembly" for your Adventure Time giant wall decal for $80? I take it back; now that's impressive.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Dear Tombstone Pizza

Dear Tombstone Pizza,

I know you mean well and all, but if I have had the sort of day in which cramming a frozen pizza down my gullet seems like a reasonable nutritional choice, it is highly unlikely that a salad will be a part of my culinary experience.

Love,

Joe

P.S.: "1/4 = 1 SERVING"? That's cute.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fat girl costumes

Walmart apologized Monday after visitors to its website discovered its section for plus-size women's Halloween costumes was labeled "Fat Girl Costumes."


Walmart's social media team repeatedly tweeted,

This never should have been on our site. It is unacceptable, and we apologize. We worked quickly to remove this.

or some variation thereof to customers mentioning the incident on Twitter.

Our culture is one that makes "being fat" among the worst sins a woman can commit, and the cruelty and vitriol with which the word "fat" is hurled at overweight people has made the word much more pejorative than merely descriptive. So I completely get why people found a section bluntly called "Fat Girl Costumes" cringeworthy.

But the incident made me think of this amazing scene from the third episode of the past season of Louie, Louis CK's FX show.



In the scene, Louie talks with his date about the difficulty of dating. His date, sympathetic, says, "Try dating in New York in your late thirties as a fat girl."

Louie immediately insists that she's "not fat," and his date launches into a remarkable monologue that begins with, "Do you know what the meanest thing is you can say to a fat girl? 'You're not fat.'"

So, it kind of feels like Walmart is saying "You're not fat."

I get why Walmart apologized, even beyond simple PR -- the word "fat" can be hurtful. And outside of corporate communications, I actually think there's value in what others might dismiss as political correctness; when you use a euphemism like "plus-size" instead of "fat," it can be a way of signaling, "I care about you and how you feel, so I'm going to use a word that I hope has less of a chance of hurting you." That's thoughtful, and thoughtfulness is good.

But I wonder if Walmart had tried the opposite strategy: What if Walmart kept the section titled "Fat Girl Costumes," and just said, "Hey, there's nothing wrong with being a fat girl, and we don't think it's an insult. If we change it, that's just us admitting that we think that being a fat girl is bad. So we're leaving it up."

Walmart PR is not in the business of social change, so there's no reason they'd take anything but the path of least resistance. But I'm curious what would really be more comforting to a girl who's overweight: a company apologizing because "fat" is so unacceptable, or a company shrugging because there's nothing wrong with "fat."

Friday, May 13, 2011

Dove's hypocritical campaign for its “Go Sleeveless” deodorant creates insecurites

This post originally appeared on my old Joe Dellosa on Advertising blog.

► Dove is trying to invent a new, fake insecurity for women (unattractive underarms?) in order to shill its new Go Sleeveless Deodorant, completely blowing whatever credibility it had as a trustworthy brand that cares about the self-esteem of young women.

Last month, Dove (the beauty brand owned by Unilever, not the chocolate brand owned by Mars) made a stir with its Dove Go Sleeveless Deodorant. The stir was not a positive one.

The deodorant—whose name is officially stylized as “Dove go sleeveless Deodorant,” with lowercase letters to emphasize casualness of going sleeveless or something—purports to beautify women’s underarms. In addition to its duties reducing underarm odor, Dove promises that Go Sleeveless will provide women with softer, smoother, and more attractive underarms in just five days.

According to a Dove press release dated April 4, Go Sleeveless was inspired by a 2010 study conducted by Unilever with market research firms Omnibus and TNS that supposedly found that 93 percent of women think their underarms are unattractive. Dove to the rescue, right?

Well, no. Many in the media quickly (and appropriately) called shenanigans on Dove’s new deodorant and its associated marketing campaign: Slate called it yet another instance in a long line of marketing efforts designed to foment fake insecurities in women and profit off selling them a cure. American Public Media’s Marketplace did a couple of person-on-the-street interviews with women who expressed no pre-existing concerns about their underarms.

And Stephen Colbert, who’s one of the media’s most astute advertising critics, had the definitive takedown of Dove during the April 13 episode of The Colbert Report. Colbert said “women have now learned that their armpits are hideous” with Unilever’s help and called the Dove’s new deodorant a “breakthrough shame-o-vation.”



Their points are all well-taken, and this should be pretty embarrassing for Dove. After all, even if we give Dove the benefit of the doubt and say that there are probably some women who do feel concerned about the appearance of their underarms, it's audacious for Dove to present its product as a solution to some sort of universal problem affecting virtually every American woman.

What hasn’t been mentioned quite as often is why this should be very embarrassing for Dove: with this advertising campaign—a campaign predicated on shamelessly fabricating a fictitious anxiety and foisting it upon women—Dove has completely blown its brand identity as the beauty brand that cares about the self-esteem and emotional well-being of young women. Oops.

 Cam-pain for real beauty

The last time a Dove campaign got any real attention was its much-lauded and award-winning Campaign for Real Beauty, launched in 2004. In the campaign, Dove criticized our culture’s perception of beauty as unrealistic and damaging to young girls with smartprovocative ads showing the artificiality of the beauty industry.

Can't see the ad? Click here to watch it on YouTube.


In other ads, Dove hired models more representative of average women, specifically eschewing thinner, perfectly airbrushed models. (Dove later got criticized when it turned out those models' photos were retouched, just like any other model's photos.)


But even without word of the entirely-unsurprising Photoshop job, it’s easy to see why Dove launching a Campaign for Real Beauty is at least a little hypocritical. Dove, after all, is still a beauty brand, and ultimately, its goal is to sell girls and women products that will make them prettier. And that just doesn’t jibe with a “feel good about the body you have” message—because, in essence, Dove is encouraging girls to feel good enough about themselves that they don’t need to buy all those products from Dove’s competitors, but not good enough that they can forego Dove products.

Don’t get me wrong—as an advertising cynic who takes an ardently feminist approach to advertising to and about women, I really like the general spirit of the campaign. But it’s entirely insincere for a beauty company to criticize the beauty industry while pretending it’s not a part of the problem. Would we give any credence to McDonald’s running ads on childhood obesity if they didn’t acknowledge the existence of Happy Meals?

And that’s the problem with the Campaign for Real Beauty—it’s co-opting a message of positive body image for the purpose of selling products that rely on girls and women feeling that their bodies are imperfect. To put it in starker terms, it’s commodifying girls’ self-esteem by turning it into just another marketing opportunity, and that’s particularly messed up. It’s one thing, after all, to be upfront and tell girls they’re ugly and that they should buy your product; it’s quite another to pretend to be empowering and supportive while passive-aggressively reminding girls that this great new Dove cream can really help them look great.

A couple of other criticisms of Dove’s campaign: There’s the implicit message that some women are more “real” than others, and that attractive or thin women don’t count as real. I’m pretty sure pitting groups of women against each other isn’t the most productive way to go about the whole empowerment thing.

Most damningly, there’s the stubborn little fact that Dove’s parent company, Unilever, also owns the Axe brand, which has no problem celebrating supposedly “fake” beauty in its ads. This was most ably demonstrated in Rye Clifton’s remarkable mash-up between a Dove Campaign for Real Beauty ad and various Axe ads.

Can't see the video? Click here to watch it on YouTube.


Lucky for Dove, those criticisms mostly didn’t stick, and the Campaign for Real Beauty is generally regarded as a major success for Dove. Its brand image as an empowering, pro-girl image is one Dove both values and actively cultivates—it has a “Dove Movement for Self-Esteem” website and brags about its Dove Self-Esteem Fund, which supports organizations like the Girl Scouts and Girls Inc.

In fact, as recently as April 4, Dove proudly tweeted that “[e]ach time you buy @Dove, you help us and our partners provide inspiring self-esteem programs to girls”—self-esteem that couldn’t possibly be belied by a tweet calling Dove Go Sleeveless Deodorant a “must have accessory” if girls are considering going sleeveless.

 Poll dancing

So this brings us back to Dove’s new deodorant. Here’s the marketing challenge facing Dove: How do you create a fake insecurity, push it onto women, and sell them a product that will fix that insecurity, all without looking like complete hypocrites after all that Campaign for Real Beauty stuff?

The answer lies in that press release, which repeatedly notes the results of Dove’s supposed survey: “Perceptions of unattractive underarms have women shunning sleeveless attire,” the headline screams. According to the study, “almost all women feel their underarms are unattractive”—the exact figure being “93 percent,” as mentioned later in the press release.

Remember, press releases are nothing more than marketing departments’ attempts to get the attention of news outlets to do a story on their products, framed the way the marketing department would like. It may be too much to hope that a press release is simply reprinted verbatim (although, sadly, that does happen a lot), but a slyly-written release can nudge a reporter into unwittingly writing a puff piece for a product.

So why does Dove want to emphasize the results of its market research so badly? (You don't see Mountain Dew putting out press releases stating that “90 percent of men think that Baja Blast is the most extreme flavor” when they roll out a new flavor.) Because that’s the way it can get out of looking like a bunch of self-esteem-crushing hypocrites. By pretending that Dove Go Sleeveless Deodorant is merely addressing a well-established problem rather than inventing one, Dove gets to shrug off criticism by saying, “Hey, we’re just responding to women’s needs.”

And it kind of worked. In a March 30 Wall Street Journal article, the “93 percent” statistic is repeated uncritically:

Dove Ultimate Go Sleeveless, which hits U.S. stores this week, claims its formula of specialized moisturizers will give women better-looking underarms in five days. It was inspired by Unilever PLC research that found 93% of women consider their armpits unattractive.

To its credit, the Wall Street Journal does cite the company as the source of the finding, and three paragraphs of the story are used to explain that being seen as fabricating a need is a risky strategy. But the reporting does, without question, take the company’s word that the research inspired the product, rather than raise the possibility that this purported “research” could just be another component of the marketing campaign.

On the other hand, WNBC, the NBC affiliate in New York City, just went ahead and handed Dove free ad time. During WNBC’s LX New York (which is admittedly more an entertainment and lifestyle show but is still hosted by what appear to be journalists), the host conducted an interview with Dove spokeswoman and Gossip Girl star Jessica Szohr about the deodorant. And by “interview,” I mean “hackish shill-session.”

Can't see the video? Click here to watch it on YouTube.


Consider this example of sparkling journalism from the clip above:

WNBC Host: A lot of women, apparently 93 percent of them who responded—

Szohr: Feel uncomfortable.

WNBC Host: Yeah!

Szohr: Yeah.

WNBC Host: Which I was kind of surprised by.

Szohr: Yeah. And this product basically, if you—when you use it, within five days, you get softer, smoother underarms. So that way, when you use halter tops, or tank tops, or dresses that show that area, you can feel comfortable and not self-conscious.

WNBC Host: So if people join in this campaign, they get to go shopping with you, maybe?

The press release offered by Dove doesn’t offer too much in terms of details about the survey itself; this is the entirety of the information about the survey:

Through a Unilever, Omnibus and TNS Research International the go sleeveless: Uncovering Underarms. An online, anonymous survey was taken by 534 women, ages 18-64 to gather insights on understanding the level of anxiety women feel about the appearance of their underarms.

And that’s not helpful. It’s journalistically unsound to cite poll results in news stories without seeing the complete questionnaire and results. Trusting a company to interpret results in an unbiased matter is foolish, and trusting a company’s poll as legitimate without at least giving it a once-over is just silly. This is doubly true when a poll itself is used as a cornerstone in an actual marketing campaign.

Plus, it’s unclear as to whether or not this poll is statistically valid. Dove wrote its press release suggesting some of its results can be generalized to the population (“93 percent of women think their underarms are unattractive,” Dove writes, and not 93 percent of women surveyed), but other statistics use the qualification (“Over half … of the women in the study”; “1 in 3 of the women studied”). The online nature of the survey raises more questions about the poll’s validity, too—the validity of online polls is often questioned due to issues with random sampling and self-selection bias.

So, I emailed Unilever and a media contact at Edelman (Unilever’s PR firm) and asked for the full questionnaire, with the exact wording and order of the questions, as well as the full results. I also asked very specific questions about the poll’s methodology, including if a random sample was used, how participants were recruited for the poll, and what the poll’s margin of error was.

After some friendly emails back and forth, Annette Evans of Edelman wound up emailing me this statement:

Thank you for your inquiry regarding the testing methodology of the go sleeveless: Uncovering Underarms study. This study was conducted by an independent third party market research supplier, to gather insights and provide statistically sound evidence.  This online, anonymous survey was taken by 534 women aged 18-64. The survey is statistically sound and adhered to industry-recognized guidelines and the highest quality standards.

Which is basically what the press release said. I emailed back, reiterating my desire for the full questionnaire and results and repeating my questions about methodology; alas, I didn’t hear back.

To be clear, I don’t blame Evans for sending an incredibly (and, more likely than not, deliberately) unhelpful statement. She’s just doing what her client likely instructed her to do. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if I were the first person to ask for the full questionnaire and results—that would explain a lack of even a boilerplate, “sorry, we’re not releasing that” refusal.

But here’s the thing. If Dove is willing to release a part of its market research—the part that helps its marketing effort—without letting reporters see the whole picture, it makes it look like Dove is actively hiding something. And if Dove is unwilling to answer very basic questions about the poll’s methodology, it makes the whole marketing campaign—as well as Dove’s brand image—look completely bogus.

(For a detailed explanation on why I think it's so important to get the full questionnaire and full results from Dove, please click here.)

 Why this matters

With its campaign for Dove Go Sleeveless Deodorant, Dove appears to be trying to both manufacture and profit from the insecurities of its female customers. Dove is in the beauty industry, so that isn’t surprising.

It shouldn’t even be surprising that Dove is doing this after its whole Campaign for Real Beauty nonsense. A company that harshly criticizes the beauty industry while pretending that, somehow, it’s exempt from the criticism is hardly a paragon of consistency or self-awareness—and no number of donations to the Girl Scouts can change that.

What this should make abundantly clear is that “brand identity” or “brand personality” are meaningless concepts—or, at least, they should be. I don’t really get this tendency to anthropomorphize companies, but we should knock it off: by and large, companies exist to make money, and any personality they show is merely a means to that end. Nike isn’t an athletic company any more than Hallmark is a sentimental company. They’re companies. They make money. They assume whatever identity they feel best helps them make money.

And yes, this includes Dove. I don’t doubt that there are people who work for the Dove brand that care about the self-esteem and body images of young women; I would presume that many of its employees are women who have daughters. And I don’t doubt that many of its employees are earnest in their efforts to use the marketing resources of Dove to do a little good.

But we shouldn’t confuse those employees with the brand or the company. Dove makes its decisions based on what can help them sell enough body wash, deodorants, and creams to keep Unilever profitable. The Campaign for Real Beauty wouldn’t exist if Dove didn’t think it'd help Unilever make money, just as Dove Go Sleeveless Deodorant wouldn’t exist if Dove didn’t think it’d be profitable.

On one hand, I’m tempted to just shrug and chalk it up to the amorality of big business. But on the other hand, I’m pretty annoyed that Dove’s presumption that the cause of helping girls develop a healthy body image is a purchasable commodity, to be bought when it suits the brand’s marketing goals and dropped when it doesn’t.

The people at Dove who actually care about young women should be embarrassed by this campaign, and the people who actually believe that Dove cares about young women should be disabused of that notion.

And at the very least, nobody should be stressing out about their underarms that much. I mean, even before this product came out, Jessica Szohr hardly seems to be losing sleep over hers…


…so neither should you.

You can email me at jdellosa@gmail.com, or tweet me @JoeDellosa.