Commentary

6.5 Million People = 6.5 Million Potential Advertisers

We all have a favorite pair of jeans. They're faded from wear, and fit perfectly every time. When we wear these jeans, they don’t say: "I never shrink in the wash." What they do say is: "I’m from the GAP."

It is no new idea that our bodies are walking billboards for advertisers. Strolling through campus, every purse, coat or pair of sunglasses is affixed with some characteristic emblem or name brand. More than anything, these symbols “tell” our peers something about us. Designer boots say something very different than $5 snow boots from the local consignment shop—both are fine, but the message is very different. By choosing to wear either, I am saying something specific to my peers about myself. Yeah, I know people say that they don’t care what others think, but if you deliberately dress against a certain trend or wear a “Screw Bush” t-shirt, you're saying something to people and expecting a reaction.

It’s really interesting to think about how our clothing has become a central means of persona-creation. Without opening our mouths we communicate our socio-economic status, favorite shopping spots, and our priorities. We have realized that our clothes speak for us now.

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This is why the (Product)RED campaign could be so effective. This ad campaign hosts products whose companies donate a portion of their profits to the Global Fund for eliminating AIDS. But buying something (RED) is more than just buying something for a great cause. Say I buy the new $300 (RED) phone with matching Bluetooth headset. A total of $23 goes to the Global Fund. I could make a $300 silent contribution to the fund instead and the donation would offer a dose of the warm fuzzies, but the phone tells everybody that I care about Africa. We are marketing ourselves and building personal images for others based on the products we buy.

The specific products we buy from campaigns like (Product)RED also say something about us. It used to be that a 10 cent piece of ribbon would let everyone know our social concerns—now it is an Emporio Armani polo shirt. This could also be an effort by marketers to reinvigorate campaigns likes this. Every cause has its own ribbon now - it’s overdone. By changing their strategy, marketers for (RED) target an audience of consumers with a disposable income—people my age and younger who are desperate to establish individuality. We don’t remember the advent of the red ribbon campaign, but are super excited to sport our new (RED) iPod.

I do not mean to degrade campaigns like this because I think we do advertise ourselves with clothing in general.

Brands have become more important than the physical product because names are associated with price tags. The bigger the supposed price tag, the better the wearer looks. I had a friend tell me once that the $400 designer purse she’d purchased was pretty hideous—but she bought it anyway. We will buy knockoffs which replicate famous patterns so that people think we can afford the originals. As a reaction, we have become adept at recognizing the slight differences between real and faux designer products—I have a friend who “specializes” in spotting Faux-ie Vuittons, for example. Each of us constructs a persona through our purchases. Marketers should be rejoicing because it seems this makes their job easier. We still look to commercials and magazine ads to see what the Spring clothing lines will look like. But we also just look to one another because impressing our peers means knowing what they’re wearing. We can’t market ourselves without knowing our competition, right?

4 comments about "6.5 Million People = 6.5 Million Potential Advertisers".
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  1. Michelle, February 21, 2007 at 2:03 p.m.

    I have mixed feelings about this campaign: On one hand it irritates me that people would rather buy a $300 phone knowing that only $23 is actually going to the Global AIDS Fund so that they can look good by broadcasting their "conscientiousness" via the red phone, rather than giving the full $300 to the Global AIDS Fund.

    On the other hand, perhaps the campaign is more about attracting contributions from people who would not typically think of giving ANY money to an AIDS fund if they were not presented with the opportunity to look hip and conscientious in doing so. $23 is better than $0 I suppose. And in that case, it is quite effective.

    I think that's where my irritation really lies though; in the self-serving nature of the contribution process. It seems like a trendy and shallow way to relieve guilt about world problems. But, then again, if you were going to spend $300 on a phone regardless, maybe this is just a way to feel better about spending so much on a phone - knowing that at least a portion of those proceeds will go to a good cause. Not that I'm one to talk with my HTC Hermes . . . but at least I didn't pretend that by buying my expensive phone I became a global humanitarian for all to see.

    I'm still torn on this one. It seems to be more about looking good that doing good.

  2. Josh, February 21, 2007 at 2:58 p.m.

    Michelle,

    Couldn't an argument be made that all action is self-serving? Certainly the charitable of time get some sort of fulfillment out of their work, or they wouldn't keep coming back. The people that travel to Africa to build houses or help out with aid end up weighing the cost to their personal finances and enjoyment in lost time/work versus the fulfillment of their work in Africa. And for those that go, obviously the work in Africa option gives the most personal reward. For those whom it does not give more reward, they don't go. The fact that this scales to financial donations or even the small motivation to purchase a red colored iPod instead of a white one -- should that really be a bother?

    I think the ultimate take-away from the "RED" branding is that a helpful organization is getting funds. The ends are the important part - the motivations fueling the ends are far less important to T-cells methinks.

    But really I just wanted to say I'm entirely jealous of your HTC Hermes.

  3. Michelle, February 21, 2007 at 3:37 p.m.

    I see what you are saying, but the difference I see is in the "Everyone knows how much I care now" not the "this is deeply fulfilling to me because I am helping people." Essentially The T-cells would technically be better off with the whole $300 rather than the $23 - but then you wouldn't have the "status symbol" that the red phone becomes.

    Maybe I'm being too cynical about the whole thing and should just be happy that people are choosing to buy a cell phone that at least contributes some funds rather than none.

  4. Josh, February 21, 2007 at 6:19 p.m.

    Yes, but that's just human nature. The majority of people generally react to things away from what we consider to be the ideal thing to do. The Milgram experiment was one great clinical example. It is disheartening, but ultimately unlikely to change.

    And while yes, T-cells would like $300 versus $23 given a choice between the two, doesn't RED really represent the "long-tail" of charitable contributions, netting the funds that would otherwise fall short of Africa and instead make their way to Hong Kong for imitation Vuittons as Amanda suggests are all the rage?

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