Perceptions in Advertising
Although I've never been to Europe, or outside of the Northern/Western Hemispheres, I've traveled quite a bit in the United States. So I'm pretty used to how advertising works here in the U.S. of A. One thing that was kind of interesting when we went to Florida last month was the proliferation of billboards every few miles for either churches or gun shops. But the best juxtaposition was one that I'd seen every so often, an anti-abortion billboard, right next to another frequent contender: a billboard advertising vasectomies. Who says Southerners don't have a sense of humor? In the same vein was a bridal shop in Jacksonville, conveniently located right next door to a "pleasure" shop. Florida's an interesting state, that's for sure.
Over the years, I've also heard quite a bit about how Europe and Europeans are quite different from us Americans. Someday I hope to have the chance to see this for myself firsthand, but in the paper yesterday was a rather interesting article about advertising campaigns abroad.
A French clothing company, Shai, decided to launch an internet-based advertising campaign for its clothes. This by itself isn't unusual, but the tack this particular company has decided upon is rather, um, different.
As you'll see in this article, the company in question hired a few porn stars to model the clothes, while simultaneously practicing their trade. The initial article attracted my attention, but it did make me think. Just what are we prepared to accept as far as advertising? Obviously you'd never find this in America-- we still have a Puritan ethos that shadows much of what goes on in this country (for example, lots of movies will be shown in theaters with gratuitous violence, and get a rating of PG-13 or R, but show just a flash of frontal nudity, especially MALE frontal nudity-- bam! An R, or the box-office killer, NC-17. Kind of hypocritical, I think. It's the subject of an upcoming movie, "This Movie Is Not Rated," and I'm looking forward to seeing it). Will people actually pay attention to advertising solely on the model, or how much skin they show, or if they're slender enough? For example, a lot of women's clothing models are far more svelte than the average American woman these days. How realistic is that?
Am I going to buy underwear because the model looks good? Nah, I'm gonna buy it because it's a brand that will last a while, or is in colors I like, not because the male model has perfect, white (and maybe capped?) teeth, or has a healthy bulge where it counts, or looks like he'll attract any woman he wants. Are the women I know going to buy a bra because the girl in the ad looks like she's having fun? As far as my permanent roomie goes, she'd prefer to get a bra that will last for a while-- no cheap garbage, thank you (on that note, lots of women I've talked to enjoy Victoria's Secret for that reason-- their bras seem to last forever, I've been told!).
I'll buy a shirt or slacks because it looks good on me, not necessarily because it's in style, or the ad was flattering, or was well photographed. But I know subliminally, ads do have an effect on people.
SO... back to this ad campaign. As far as I can tell from the article, people agree with me. Most will be attracted to the ads because of the action, not because of the product. As the owner of Shai admits, it's not so much about selling the clothes, it's more about building a brand, and attracting attention. "The first goal wasn't to sell directly, it was to develop notoriety," said Alexandre Maisetti.
I have no idea how much notoriety will develop, but it's obvious Maisetti didn't work for or learn from Abercrombie & Fitch, which in recent years has developed a reputation (and been scolded) for catalogs that are rather revealing. Still, revealing isn't quite the same as X-rated material.
I decided to check out Shai for myself. Again, don't click this unless you've read the warning above! It was um, illuminating, to say the least. Some of the clothing is actually rather nice. I'm not sure about the conversion rate, but knowing Euros are worth more than our currency is these days, I think I'll stick to the stores I frequent these days. After viewing the models and the materials they were, um, hawking, I left feeling that Shai has definitely earned notoriety. But will that image be one the company wants to continue to tout? Will it eventually translate into profit down the road? Or will it merely be a gratuitous, shallow attempt at delineating a line between itself and other companies in a cutthroat market?
When you go to websites, read catalogs, and pore through ads in the Sunday papers, what attracts you? What sticks in your mind? Does a company's comportment and principles matter to you? Is the message attached to and touted by a brand worth your supporting the product? Where do you draw the line, if at all?