warby parker

Introduction

             Founded in 2010, Warby Parker is an up and coming eyewear company that started in New York City and has grown rapidly since.  The company offers boutique quality eyeglasses and sunglasses at affordable prices, starting at only $95.  Warby Parker specializes in vintage style glasses, targeting the young, hipster, and fashionable consumer.  Having started as an online “store” where customers could order five frames at one time to keep for a trial period and try on at home, the company has recently opened several brick and mortars.  This process, along with cutting the middleman eyewear conglomerate out, has helped keep costs low and constitutes the philosophy of the company.  The company also has a similar philanthropic program like Toms, the footwear company, called “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair.”  With every pair of Warby Parker glasses bought, the company gives a pair of glasses to people around the world in need.

Warby Parker, similar to fashion company Urban Outfitters, has contributed to a mass production/consumption of kitschy, vintage, and bohemian, products making the niche, alternative lifestyle mainstream.  The particular aesthetic of Warby Parker glasses epitomizes a typical hipster’s style.  Glasses are almost a necessary accessory for the hipster, thus making the emphasis of the glasses less functional and more of a fashion statement.  Warby Parker is one of the few brands to have successfully attached its name to the hipster criteria.

Warby Parker received its initial buzz through articles in Vogue.com and GQ back in 2010.  The company has since expanded their own marketing to become an anomaly of a company by its rapid and expansive success.  Interestingly enough, WP has barely engaged in any traditional marketing tactics.  The marketing tactics they do use have gotten critical acclaim by advertising publications like AdWeek and AdAge.  Thorough analysis has shown that WP’s marketing aligns with the company’s pretentious hipster image.  The combination of social media and a value on vintage nostalgia directly targets the hipster millennial generation and urban professionals.  Because Warby Parker is a company that has grown in the Web 2.0 age, the company has successfully initiated and indirectly controlled community conversation that is positive and controversy-free allowing the brand to appear to be nothing but highly respected and desirable.

Addressing Consumers

As most brands have assigned to themselves these days, Warby Parker has created a lifestyle and deeper meaning attached with its product rather than simply presenting itself as an eyewear company.  Warby Parker has manifested a culture loop where its target consumers are already an existing culture that the brand then informs.  This existing culture is the hipster demographic.  Urban dictionary defines hipsters as,

“men and women typically in their 20’s and 30’s that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter.  Although ‘hipsterism’ is really a state of mind, it is also often intertwined with distinct fashion sensibilities. Hipsters reject the culturally ignorant attitudes of mainstream consumers, and are often seen wearing vintage and thrift store inspired fashions, tight-fitting jeans, old-school sneakers, and sometimes thick-rimmed glasses.”

This definition of hipster, however, does not fully encompass nor specify the type of hipster this brand project seeks to describe.  The term “hipster” includes subgroups like grungy hippies, punk rockers and upper middle class yuppies (young, urban professionals.)  As portrayed through their marketing, Warby Parker targets the third hipster subgroup by portraying a lifestyle that includes their creative interests and hobbies, expensive tastes, unique styles, health conscious/diverse palates and a higher calling for social responsibility.  The ideal WP consumer is intelligent, educated, successful, and entrepreneurial.  Although a typical hipster is in their 20’s and 30’s, Warby Parker’s targeted consumers range wider from 18-55.  As students or working professionals in business, music, art, education, fashion, and the like, they also have an appreciation for the outdoors on a Thoreauvian level.  Most importantly, as liberal thinkers, the Warby Parker consumer cares about their “footprint” and the less fortunate.  They incorporate green and philanthropic lifestyles into their daily routines and consumption choices.

Warby Parker currently runs several promotional outlets to represent their company and ideal consumers.  The ideal consumer is explicitly exampled in the Danielle Levitt Project on the WP website.  Danielle Levitt, a New York-based photographer, collaborated with WP to capture the Warby Parker community.  Levitt photographed New Yorkers and split them into two collections: the Sun Collection and the Optical Collection.  All members of the community are: “ … leaders in their respective fields and share Warby Parker’s belief in the intersection of fashion, entrepreneurship and doing good.”  Each individual (or couple) is photographed with their WP sunglasses or eyeglasses on.  They were given questions like: “Favorite quote?” or “What person would you like to swap lives with for a day?” in order for their personalities and interests to come through in their profiles.  Examples of the community members’ work places or careers include: Harper’s Bazaar, Invisible Children, a casting director, and a writer.  The community is ethnically diverse, successful, creative, and participate in the lifestyle Warby Parker attempts to portray as a brand.  This project specifically seeks to attract more members of the hipster community like the featured individuals.   As this project attracts more ideal consumers, the WP brand image can then become even stronger and clearer.

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker website. Hyperlink included.

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker website. Hyperlink included.

The most creative representation of the brand is through a guerilla, experiential marketing strategy the brand uses called Warby Parker Class Trip.  Because Warby Parker is an affordable eyeglass company, they have very few brick and mortar stores.  However, WP wanted to bring their showroom experience around the nation, but still within a budget.  They thought of the idea to completely strip a school bus to look like “your favorite professor’s library, complete with leather sofas, wood paneling, [and] vintage books …” and embark on their year long road trip in October of 2012.  Traveling with a 2013 Ford Escape, the team of eyewear stylists have brought with them a full selection of optical and sunwear to promote to customers who are unfamiliar with the Warby Parker brand.  Destinations have included: Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Atlanta, San Diego and Portland.

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker website. Hyperlink included.

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker website. Hyperlink included.

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker website. Hyperlink included.

Depending on the city, WP Class Trip visits anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks to as long as a month.  Class Trip is currently in Washington D.C. for the second time and will terminate the road trip on December 22nd 2013.  The bus meets at an open, public place on a weekly schedule, like Wednesday – Sunday from 11am – 7pm.  Photos of the WP team, customers at the bus trying on glasses, contributions from partnering businesses (like sweetgreen) and frame showcases are photographed and updated on the Class Trip site.  Photo albums of each Class Trip location are also uploaded on the WP Facebook page.  Depending on the photo album, some show customers actually trying on glasses at the bus, but other albums are solely of the WP team’s experiences in the different cities and the events they hold.  The latter albums again illustrate the tastes and lifestyles of the team and the ideal consumer.  For example, WP Class Trip had a party in Chicago:

Image

 An entire photo album was dedicated to the activities the Class Trip team did in Chicago and where they stayed during their trip:

Image

Image

In the Warby Parker Blog, a blog post was solely dedicated to the pie that the WP team ate in Chicago.  Through Class Trip, WP also helps promote other, usually small businesses throughout the country that contribute to the hipster lifestyle and have similar values.  Class Trip hits two birds with one stone by this campaign: through an authentic, experiential tactic, the guerilla marketing from city to city targets urban hipsters in other states that may want to become members of the brand community and online customers already in the brand community or first being introduced to WP are attracted by the aesthetic documentation and clever strategy of each trip.

As stated before, an important value of Warby Parker’s is “doing good” to employees, customers and the less fortunate.  Specifically for the less fortunate, their “Buy a pair, Give a pair” program helps to provide glasses for people living in developing countries without proper access or means.  WP provides funding and/or glasses to non-profit partner, VisionSpring, that trains low-income entrepreneurs in developing countries to start their own businesses selling affordable glasses.  In turn, the local economy and the well being of entrepreneurs, students and workers in the communities are enhanced due to the glasses they sell or now have.  The program website provides basic information and statistics on the need for glasses around the world.  The site states that glasses increase one’s income by 20% and that 1 billion people in the world do not have access to glasses.  WP proudly proclaims their half a million donated pairs and encourages the site-visitor to help.

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker website. Hyperlink included.

Lastly, the program states their consistent value in fashion with their donations: “Glasses are as much of a fashion accessory in poor rural communities in the developing world as they are in New York or Los Angeles.  By providing glasses that people actually want to wear, our non-profit partners maintain the dignity of their beneficiaries and ensure that the glasses will actually be used.”

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker website. Hyperlink included.

One of the original companies that started the buy-one-give-one model received much criticism for its philanthropic efforts.  Toms, another characteristically hipster brand, was criticized for actually hindering local economies through this business model.  By simply donating shoes to children in need and not acknowledging the negative effects it would have on local shoemakers, Toms has been seen to be the only ones benefiting from this marketing tactic.  Warby Parker, on the other hand, appears to be genuine in its efforts to “do good” by working with a non-profit that has a full-proof mission of building up local economies rather than inadvertently disabling them through “donations.”  WP’s “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” campaign targets those consumers who believe their consumption choices must reflect social responsibility.  Hipsters, who are progressive thinking and in a social class who have the means and time to prioritize philanthropy, are those targeted consumers.

Another representational strategy Warby Parker created was the 2012 Annual Report and 2011 Annual Report.  This feature of their website provides transparency on all elements of the company by specific date: employee information, launched collections, fun facts, customer interactions statistics, site enhancement statistics, commercial launches, Hurricane Sandy donations, and celebrity endorsements.  In a way, the site takes the opportunity to boast about the company’s success and philanthropic contributions through an “inside look” of the company.  It seeks to attract more prospective employees, customers and investors to engage with the company and its products.  For hipsters who aim to buy from only honest companies and do whatever research necessary, this site presents the information upfront giving itself a transparent reputation.

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker 2012 Annual Report site. Hyperlink included.

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker 2011 Annual Report site. Hyperlink included.

A good portion of Warby Parker’s marketing tactics in media form are on its website, like the Annual Report and Class Trip.  The site targets the older demographic who visit actual companies’ websites to research individually.  Warby Parker also utilizes several social media platforms: FacebookTwitterInstagram and their own blog.  Since their main target is of the younger demographic, these media formats are most appropriate in reaching out to them.  They all promote to and update followers on the content that the other representational strategies are creating, but with different tactics.  Facebook and Twitter are holistic – posting about new collections, news media coverage, links to recent posts on the blog, events promoting indie musicians, seasonal campaign pieces, etc.

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker Facebook page. Hyperlink included.

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker Facebook page. Hyperlink included.

Twitter is more detail-oriented and instant-updating in nature compared to Facebook, so events occurring in the moment are updated on Twitter more frequently than on Facebook.

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker Twitter page. Hyperlink included.

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker Twitter page. Hyperlink included.

Instagram, as a photo app, is obviously more photo-orientated for Warby than the other two platforms.

aur

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker Instagram page. Hyperlink included.

The blog, however, exemplifies the Warby Parker lifestyle more than the previous three social media platforms.  The blog is divided into five pages: to see, to read, to buy, to meet, and to do.  In the “to see” page, WP posts what its community should see which could be a new commercial, a new musician, the shoes of WP employees, videos WP employees are watching while at work, etc.  This category encompasses material produced by Warby Parker, promotions for other companies, or simply what employees are interested in at the moment.

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker blog. Hyperlink included.

The “to read” page posts photos and mini summaries of books that WP employees are currently reading or are their all-time favorites.

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker blog. Hyperlink included.

 The “to buy” page obviously posts about their eyewear collections.

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker blog. Hyperlink included.

WP posts their personal interviews with companies and interesting individuals on the “to meet” page.

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker blog. Hyperlink included.

Lastly, the “to do” page is the “travel guide” portion of the site where most posts originate from Class Trip activities, restaurants and other businesses the WP team visited.

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker blog. Hyperlink included.

The other social media platform Warby Parker utilizes to illustrate the WP lifestyle is Pinterest.  The WP Pinterest page has 74 boards that each contains pins related to the designated topic.  Some example boards are: “Meridian Collection,” “Good Eats,” “Summer Leisure,” and “Where I Close My Eyes.”

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker Pinterest page. Hyperlink included.

Besides the boards that show photos of new collections or recently opened brick-and-mortars, the Warby Parker Pinterest boards take a specific topic and post photos inspired by the brand’s image.  For example, a board called “Warby Winter | Trevor Orton” pins photos of “A lifestyle inspired by the Warby Parker Winter 2013 collection, where rustic meets modern.”  Pins include views of nature with snow on the ground, small cabins, cups of coffee, a model in a sweater, and wool socks.

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker Trevor Orton Pinterest page. Hyperlink included.

Some boards are not inspired by a certain collection or pair of glasses, but rather just the essence of the Warby Parker aesthetic.  The board, “Table Talk: Beautiful settings for meals,” for example, does not have any pins of WP glasses, but rather photos of beautiful table sets and dining room scenes of the vintage, log-cabin, and hipster style.

Image

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker Table Talk Pinterest page. Hyperlink included.

These particular Pinterest boards communicate the type of dining room or sweater the Warby Parker consumer would have or desire to have.  Through all of the Warby Parker Pinterest boards, the company can clearly portray the lifestyles of their ideal consumers.  This marketing tactic targets hipsters who already have or wish to have similar lifestyles and products.

Only a couple commercials have aired on both television and Youtube for wider exposure, reaching more target demographics than before.  (This is a clear sign that business is growing.)  Interestingly, the commercials include hipster elements like indie music and vintage wardrobes that represent the particular brand image while simultaneously contributing to the mainstream movement (via television) of hipster culture.

The keen utilization of social media reflects the company’s youth and knowledge of effective web marketing.  All of Warby Parker’s marketing perpetuates the tactic of word-of-mouth and “sharing” that the company has concentrated on from the beginning in building a trendy, quality brand image.  Although Warby Parker would never blatantly state who they don’t want their consumers to be, like the President of Abercrombie & Fitch did, WP avoids targeting those of lower social and economic statuses.  There is a level of sophistication that the brand upholds and it is constructed upon cultural, social and economic class as well as age.  WP does not target younger consumers because it is not an adolescent brand.  They also do not target older generations because they are an edgy, youthful brand, not a reading glasses sort of eyewear company.  Rural dwellers are also not the target as seen by the Class Trip destinations as they do not engage in the lifestyles of the ideal consumer.  As examined thus far, all of the Warby Parker marketing outlets work together in clearly identifying their ideal consumer and their lifestyles.

Brand Community

Due to the power of social media, many young companies have been as transparent as possible in avoiding hypocrisy, backlash, and controversy.  Warby Parker is revolutionizing such transparency as seen in their Annual Reports.  Because of the company’s transparency and effective marketing, their brand community is almost exactly who they target; there are barely any discrepancies.  WP targets college students, yuppies, and successful, working adults and those are their clienteles.  Because they have reached  hipsters, their brand has infiltrated the hipster style, stereotype, lifestyle and basis of qualification.  By being an honest company, Warby Parker has also attracted consumers who value and mostly consume from good, moralistic companies.  Lastly, as a company who started in the age of two-way communication and knows how to effectively utilize social media as well as handle the consequences of it, Warby Parker has been able to control and manage the community’s interactions with each other and with the company.

Because of their successful marketing tactics and particularly “geek-chic,” vintage aesthetic and style of glasses, Warby Parker has been successful in attracting their target consumers: hipsters.  The hipsters of Warby Parker’s community are, first of all, young to middle-aged.  As stated in Warby Parker’s 2011 Annual Report, only 3.5% of Warby Parker Facebook fans are 55 years or older.  This shows that their clientele is mostly 20 – 50 years old.  Secondly, the community is urban.  Launched in 2010, the founders moved camp between several lower Manhattan offices due to the rapid growth of the company.  Initially at Union Square, Warby Parker temporarily moved to an NYU building in NoHo.  Now its headquarters are in the West Village and their flagship store is on Greene Street in Soho.  The location of the company alludes to the target consumers: those who live in a metropolitan, fast-paced city, and are professional, stylish and culturally knowledgeable.  Their other store locations are in Boston and Los Angeles and show room locations are more varied in Philadelphia, Oklahoma City, Chicago, Miami Beach, Charleston, Nashville and Richmond.  Warby Parker’s traveling show room, Class Trip, has made stops in even more cities in the U.S.  Through WP’s physical representation, it is clear that the company aims to attract urbanites and those with similar lifestyles throughout the nation.  For those who may not live in the cities where Warby Parker has stores, show rooms or Class Trip visitations, the online shopping and Home Try-On experiences still attract another target: those who are tech savvy and participant in the generational trend of online shopping.

Also mentioned in the 2011 Annual Report is by what means the brand community is purchasing their glasses and learning more about the company.  Of all operating systems used to visit the Warby Parker website, 48% are Macintosh computers.  When browsing, 37% of consumers use Safari, the Mac browser.  Also, 10% of all traffic originates from mobile devices.  This reinforces that WP consumers are of the younger demographic as they are characteristically tech savvy and consume mostly Apple products.  (To read more about the details of the Apple brand community, visit Jill’s post here.)  Although only a 3-year-old company, Warby Parker has also gained international attention, although does not yet sell internationally, with site visitors living in 180 different countries.

Although the main sales pitch of Warby Parker glasses is its affordable pricing at only $95 a pair, the brand has been able to sustain its “high class” image.  This is due to its frame styles, unique marketing, and targeted audiences.  As one blogger critiqued, “It’s also heavily skewed to what I would call a ‘hipster’ style.  There are a few more generic designs, but by and large, most designs are big and bold and those looking for a more subtle design may be out of luck.”  The style of frames are vintage, chic and fashion forward – not exactly the taste of the average American going to the Sears’ Lenscrafters in search of bargain reading glasses.  The marketing tactics WP uses such as Class Trip and the Warby Parker Blog would not appeal to those of lower cultural capital, who are mostly exposed to their most popular products via mainstream media like broadcast television commercials.  Therefore, the marketing tactics WP uses target those of higher cultural capital who are more educated, culturally progressive and have the same particularly hipster taste of Warby Parker.  (The differences between those of lower cultural capital and higher culture capital will be explained more in depth under the Theoretical Analysis section.)

Warby Parker first appeared in Vogue.com and GQ in 2010, introducing itself as a fashion product.  Readers of Vogue and GQ already have an affinity towards fashion, and the fashion experts who write for them only choose certain brands and products suitable for their readers.  A media kit for GQ provides insight on who their audience is.  73% of readers are male and 68% are single, which alludes to the stereotype of GQ as a gay magazine.  The average reader is around 33-years-old and earns almost $74,000 a year.  71% of readers are college educated and 29% are in professional/managerial positions, which also alludes to a target audience with higher cultural capital.  Vogue, on the other hand, targets mostly women, as 88% of their audience is female.  The average reader is 38 years old and earns roughly $63,000 a year.  68% are college educated and 67% are working part-time/full-time.  Vogue’s audience also has higher cultural capital as seen by its statistics.   Vogue and GQ’s reader demographics prove that Warby Parker strategically communicated how the brand aimed to portray itself right from the beginning.  As a fashion brand targeting successful, fashionable, working professionals, Vogue and GQ were two of the most appropriate publications to gain press from.

One of the most effective ways for brands to get mass appeal is through celebrity endorsements.  In 2011, Ashton Kutcher hosted a Warby Parker party in Los Angeles, which attracted many celebrities like Emmy Rossum and Sarah Paulson.  Other celebrities including Johnny Depp and Kanye West have been seen wearing WP glasses as well.  In March 2013, Warby Parker flagged their Preston frames in a picture of Ryan Gosling on Facebook.

ry

buzzfeed article was made acknowledging not only how well Ryan Gosling looks in Warby Parker glasses, but also his relationship with the brand in owning several different frames and being photographed in them.  The celebrities affiliated with Warby Parker are of the targeted age demographic (not Justin Bieber nor Judi Dench) and portray themselves as trendsetters in the fashion world or hipsters on the overall celebrity spectrum.  This marketing tactic persuades consumers to buy the products they see their favorite actors or musicians wearing in order to reach a certain level of status.

As previously stated, Warby Parker has successfully attached its brand to the overall definition of a hipster.  As a result, the community has not contributed additional meanings to the brand as seen through their interactions with WP’s social media.  Warby Parker’s marketing has left no holes, so whatever ancillary meanings the brand has besides being an eyewear company originates from the company and is then only expanded or reinforced by the community.  For example, the community considers Warby Parker as a philanthropic company because of their “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program.  Also, the community reinforces the brand as a lifestyle, which includes the style and artistic or outdoor activities of a hipster, because Warby Parker has brought those other elements in through their marketing.  The combination between top-down and two-way conversation has resulted in community members and journalists of publications like the Huffington Post and Time Magazine following lead of such examples by almost exclusively writing praise about the philanthropic side of the company or photographing themselves with their glasses in artistic, nature or professional settings.

Screen shot 2013-11-24 at 9.55.42 PM

The Warby Parker community is very active on social media.  All posts on WP’s Facebook page are exclusively official posts, supporting the no “holes” claim.  There is no opportunity for random visitors to just post whatever they want on the page; Warby Parker presumably deletes outside posts.  Therefore, all brand community interaction on the Facebook page is limited to ‘liking’ and commenting on the official posts.  Depending on the post, users can be minimally active (i.e. only 15 ‘likes’ on a photo advertisement) or extremely active, like on a style choosing recommendation post (i.e. 202 ‘likes’ and 518 comments).  On a style choosing recommendation post, WP fans will vote for their favorite pair as modeled by WP employees by commenting on the post.

Screen shot 2013-11-24 at 8.48.17 PM

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker Facebook page. Hyperlink included.

Screen shot 2013-12-16 at 10.53.10 AM

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker Facebook page. Hyperlink included.

As a brand that targets fashion-forward audiences, the brand community is highly active on such posts because users want to share their opinions as “stylists.” The WP community also responds to other posts such as musician and collection introductions with praise, essentially never with criticism.  Warby Parker in turn answers questions and thanks fans via subsequent comments when asked questions and given praise.

Screen shot 2013-12-15 at 3.50.07 PM

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker Facebook page.

Screen shot 2013-12-15 at 3.51.47 PM

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker Facebook page.

The WP Twitter page is not as active as its Facebook page.  The brand’s image comes across less clearly due to the lack of visual presence on Twitter.  Thus, fans “favorite,” re-tweet and ask questions less so than on Facebook.  The sense of community is weaker on Twitter as users are not communicating with each other as much either.  Instead, Warby Parker uses Twitter mainly for blasting little bits of news.

Screen shot 2013-11-24 at 9.57.46 PM

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker Twitter page. Hyperlink included.

The Warby Parker community is very active on Instagram because the app is a visual-based app, rather than a text-based app.  The younger generation and “hipsters” utilize Instagram quite often due to the “hipster” aesthetic of the vintage-looking filters that can manipulate simple mobile photos.  WP posts photos of new glasses, style choosing recommendations, and events held at store locations.  A photo on the WP Instagram will get anywhere from 500 to over 2000 likes.  The community will leave compliments in the comments section of the photos or tag other Instagram users to attention them to see the photo.  The latter activity helps to engage a wider web of consumers through online word-of-mouth.  Many comments on the Instagram photos are questions asking how to get the specifically featured pair of frames, to which Warby Parker directly answers like on their Facebook posts.  Some posts with the hashtag #onthetable feature a pair of glasses and other related items that evoke the essence and style of the featured frames also on a table.  For example, a photograph of the women’s Welty frame in Plum Marblewood (purple tortoise) was photographed with a diary, a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows, fire-roasted marshmallows on a stick, pieces of chipotle chili dark chocolate and a vintage camera.  Not only do the items accentuate the femininity and style of the Welty frames, the purpose of including the other items is to promote the lifestyle Warby Parker has tried to establish with the brand and inspired by those particular frames.

insta 1

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker Instagram. Hyperlink included.

(Urban Outfitters has taken similar photos of different products, portraying the hipster lifestyle.)

uo

Screen shot taken from Urban Outfitters Facebook page. Hyperlink included.

As a result, Warby Parker community members will comment about the other items included in the portrayal of the WP lifestyle.  One commenter asked, “Where is that journal from!?” and another said, “I want to crawl into that picture and live there. #perfect.”  Because the content of Warby Parker’s marketing channeled through their social media is so well planned, meaningful and intentional, the community members’ interactions with the brand and with each other follow suit.

c

Screen shot taken from Warby Parker Instagram. Hyperlink included.

What makes the Warby Parker community particularly active on Instagram, however, are the user-generated posts, which are actual photos taken by the community as opposed to reactive engagement on official posts.  Even the brand community, who exercise full autonomy through this channel, follow suit to the image and marketing Warby Parker has created.  For example, community members will emulate the style choosing recommendation posts for themselves.

2

Screen shot taken from Instagram with hashtag #warbyparker included.

Proof of Warby Parker’s successful attachment to the hipster lifestyle are presented by hashtags like “#goingfullhipster.”

5

Screen shot taken from Instagram with hashtag #warbyparker included.

There is also proof of Warby Parker successfully targeting certain, desired demographics and fashionistas or trendsetters.

6

Screen shot taken from Instagram with hashtag #warbyparker included.

8

Screen shot taken from Instagram with hashtag #warbyparker included.

ootd

Screen shot taken from Instagram with hashtag #warbyparker included.

It is through the user-generated Instagram posts that the WP brand community is most clearly identified.  As seen in the posts, WP has impressively reached their exact desired market.

On Pinterest, most of the pins regarding Warby Parker are generated by Warby Parker itself.  As stated in the Pinterest section under Addressing Consumers, there is an entire Pinterest page of uniquely themed boards inspired by the Warby Parker lifestyle.  The brand community follows those boards and “likes” and “re-pins” posts from them.  However, other pins referencing Warby Parker originate from intermediaries like magazines (GQ), fashion stylists or avid pinners. Community members re-pin official Warby Parker images or upload photos of themselves wearing WP frames.

Screen shot 2013-11-24 at 9.47.54 PM

Screen shot taken from Pinterest. Hyperlink included.

Some re-pins of official photos are captioned by pointing out the hairstyles or wardrobes of the models along with or instead of the glasses, reinforcing the community’s interest in the general hipster style as well as the brand’s constructed lifestyle.

Screen shot 2013-11-24 at 9.48.02 PM

Screen shot taken from Pinterest. Hyperlink included.

Commenting on posts between communities is much less common on Pinterest compared to Facebook (due to general platform norms,) so community members support each other by favoriting and re-pinning posts.  The community’s individual Pinterest Boards create the dialogue for how Warby Parker is integrated in their individual tastes and lives.  For example, an avid pinner will post pictures re-pinned from other boards that appeal to their personal style in combination with uploaded pictures of themselves.  A Pinterest board called “East of LA” has both types of pins.  The pinner posts photos from other boards:

Screen shot 2013-12-15 at 4.54.00 PM

Screen taken from East of LA Pinterest Board. Hyperlink included.

As well as pins of herself:

Screen shot 2013-12-15 at 4.54.52 PM

Screen taken from East of LA Pinterest Board. Hyperlink included.

On a broader scale, such boards communicate how Warby Parker is integrated in the tastes and lifestyles of Pinterest users.

Aside from the officially produced social media that allows for online consumer interactions, Warby Parker holds events like Class Trip and recommends activities like concerts by featured musicians and art exhibitions to the brand community so they can physically come together.  Warby Parker documents such events, but there is barely any dialogue between community members about attending or experiencing the events.

The communities around Warby Parker has not exactly shifted from one type of community to another, but rather grown outward.  The initial growth was astounding.  Neil Blumenthal, one of the founders of WP, told Business Insider that in the first four weeks, their top 15 styles sold out and 20,000 people were put on wait-list because of the press received from Vogue and GQ.  With only a few employees on deck in the beginning, WP now has about 300 employees.  Warby Parker ships to all states within mainland U.S. and Canada and has built several brick-and-mortar shops as well as various show rooms around the U.S.  With the combination of more press coverage and the ability for virtually anyone to order WP’s glasses online, this has resulted in a larger brand community.  Although the brand has broadened in consumers, the core consumers are still hipsters and Warby Parker continues to market to this demographic.  In this way, Warby Parker, as stated before, has also contributed to the mass production and growing phenomenon of hipsterism, supposedly an indie (independent,) alternative and seclusive community.

Not only are there barely any conflicting community attachments to the brand, there is also minimal negative criticism towards Warby Parker.  Unlike Toms, WP’s giveback program is usually mentioned only with praise.  This is partly due to the fact that Warby Parker works with a non-profit organization already providing glasses for those in need around the world.  Also, WP never marketed themselves as the company that prioritizes giving back with every purchase as their main mission. They prioritized the affordability and style of their brand first, and then giving back as secondary, avoiding controversy and intense criticism similar to what Tom’s has received.

Through observation, the only resistance of the brand that exists is the wider resistance of the hipster movement in general.  Hipsters are notorious for being “pretentious,” so the opposition of hipsters results in the opposition of all the brands they typically consume along with the personality traits and lifestyles they have.  Other hipster brands or lifestyle practices include, Tom’s, Whole Foods, Urban Outfitters, Carhartt, drinking coffee from anywhere except Starbucks, photography, eating organic or local grown food only, etc.  Regardless, the movement towards hipsterism is much greater than its opposition, so brands like Warby Parker are therefore more relevant and welcomed than not.

As seen in the analysis of Warby Parker’s brand community, the company has effectively targeted and reached their ideal consumers.  Warby Parker has indirectly instructed the community to communicate in desired ways while leaving no room for controversy or negative criticism in the conversation.  This is achieved by full-proofing the company’s business dealings and official communications.  Most importantly, through controlled discussion platforms, Warby Parker has utilized the best marketing tactic of all: consumer autonomy.

Theoretical Analysis

What makes a pair of Warby Parker glasses more than just a pair of glasses is a phenomenon coined by Karl Marx called ‘commodity fetishism.’  Consumers ignore the use-value of the glasses as just a commodity to help poor eyes see better, but instead form an over-invested emotional attachment to them.  This emotional attachment occurs because consumers do not see the labor in producing them:

“A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the product of their labour” (320).

The relational divide between consumer and producer forces the consumers to create stories with objects themselves.  This allows for the glasses to become a part of social rituals in connecting with others as well as status markers in holding power over others.

If the consumption of commodities forms divisions of status in society, then divisions of preference develop as well.  Celia Lury describes the consequences of such divisions due to consumption.  Citing Pierre Bourdieu, Lury explains that the “ … development of the capitalist economy and consumer culture in the post-Fordist era,” resulted in the construction of a distinct middle class identity (89.)  The identity was formed by particular tastes and lifestyles where differentiations drew the lines between classes.  Although it may seem that taste is a personal preference, it is actually dictated by a shared social class.  Warby Parker attempts to portray itself as a brand that is chosen by consumers who seek individualism, but in reality, the relevance of Warby Parker glasses is due to the overall preference of the hipster, higher social class.

As stated throughout the Addressing Consumers and Brand Community sections, Warby Parker is not only selling eyewear, but also an entire lifestyle surrounding the brand.  A lifestyle, both conscious and obtainable, is a set of choices made to establish cultural identities.  Lifestyles reflect appearance, diet, leisure activities, clothes, stores, geographic location, home, attitude, relationship choices, education, religious practices, careers, travels, political affiliations, etc.  Bourdieu describes the lifestyle of the new middle class:

“Rather than unreflexively adopting a lifestyle, through tradition or habit, the new heroes of consumer culture make lifestyle a life project and display their individuality and sense of style in the particularity of the assemblage of goods, clothes, practices, experiences, appearance and bodily dispositions they design together into a lifestyle” (Lury 95).

As revealed in Addressing Consumers, the lifestyle of a Warby Parker consumer is that of a generic hipster’s: someone who is relatively young, interested in indie music and art, educated, stylish, drinks specialty coffee, eats healthy, etc.  However, the most important characteristic of a Warby Parker hipster, as seen in the Danielle Levitt Project, is that they are cultural intermediaries.

A cultural intermediary is a highly skilled translator or interpreter from cultural industries like fashion or advertising that communicates with average consumers.  Lury recalls Bourdieu’s emphasis of the importance of cultural intermediaries in the emerging class fraction: “The positions of power and control in the mass media occupied by members of this group allowed the assembly and circulation of cultural products … that embodied new tastes and values …” (101.)  Therefore, due to the power and knowledge obtained and translated by cultural intermediaries, they are seen as those with higher cultural capital.  Many of the Warby Parker community members featured in the Danielle Levitt Project are fashion stylists, designers, and publication editors.  As cultural intermediaries, they represent the brand as appealing to those of high cultural capital.

Power and knowledge, or the lack thereof, are not the only factors that constitute cultural capital.  Cultural capital gives an individual access to a particular cultural class on the basis of sedimented knowledge and competence required to make distinctions and value judgments.  Cultural capital is also “ … a set of socially rare and distinctive tastes, skills, … [and] practices … ” as well as behaviors and the ability to aesthetically evaluate cultural objects on [ones] own terms (Holt 3.)  Holt discusses the three primary forms of cultural capital:

“… embodied as implicit practical knowledges, skills, and dispositions; objectified in cultural objects; and institutionalized in official degrees and diplomas that certify the existence of the embodied form” (3.)

The study Holt procured details the differences between HCCs (those with high cultural capital) and LCCs (those with low cultural capital.)  Three characteristics of HCCs that are most prevalent to the consumers of Warby Parker are: combinatorial inventiveness, omnivorousness and connoisseurship.  Combinatorial inventiveness reflects the eclectic tendencies of the HCC who must consume mass-produced goods, but combines them in ways that are unique and not traditional.  For example, the fashionista that posted a photo of her outfit pairing Warby Parker glasses with a blazer, ballet flats and skinny jeans utilizes the combination skills that only an HCC could perform.  Through combinatorial inventiveness, omnivorousness is almost an automatic result.  (Kern discusses that omnivorousness is a recent movement away from the previous snob and highbrow consumption practices of past HCCs.)  According to Bourdieu, “ … HCC ‘omnivores’ tend to like and actively consume a much broader range of both popular and high entertainments than LCC ‘univores’ (19.)  This is because “ … HCCs must interact successfully in heterogeneous social milieus, and since consumption serves as a primary interactional resource for such interaction, they tend to have more diverse tastes” (19.)  (The ‘heterogeneous social milieus’ refers to the metropolitanism of the HCC.)  While it may appear to be contradictory for Warby Parker to be a highbrow brand when their product only costs $95, it is the combination of their product with other highbrow brands that makes WP a higher-tiered brand.  For example, a Warby Parker consumer may also carry a Chloe handbag and wear Forever 21 denim jeans.  Lastly, connoisseurship is a “ … reconfiguring of mass cultural objects.  Applying a nuanced, often idiosyncratic approach to understand, evaluate, and appreciate consumption objects, connoisseurs accentuate aspects of the consumption object that are ignored by other consumers” (15.)  As seen through the Danielle Levitt Project, an ideal Warby Parker consumer may be a fashion connoisseur who keeps up to date with up-and-coming designers and trends.  The fashion connoisseur independently learns and becomes an expert on all there is to know about fashion and makes that a large part of his or her identity.

In order to understand why Warby Parker has branded itself as more than just an eyewear company, the general idea of branding must first be understood.  Lury quotes Liz Moor in explaining what exactly branding has recently become: “Moor argues for the need to ‘decouple branding from simplistic ideas about ‘commodification’ and to reveal it instead as something more akin to a managerial technique or resource that seeks to use broadly ‘cultural’ … materials for a range of strategic ends’ ” (147.)  This supports the idea that branding is about generating a meaning for consumers to have along with the product.  It illustrates this in the form of a story of how a product fits into a particular lifestyle.  Arvidsson supports this notion of branding: “In its contemporary use, the brand refers not primarily to the product, but to the context of consumption.  It stands for a specific way of using the object, a propertied form of life to be realized in consumption… The brand is a ‘platform for action’ that anticipates certain activities and certain modalities of relating to those activities” (244.)  Branding in this manner is quite effective as companies will earn brand loyalty from its consumers just because of the emotionality that is presented with the product.  Through its marketing, Warby Parker has branded itself to the hipster community as a lifestyle, so consumers who identify themselves as hipsters will consume the product for this exact reason and possibly engage in the lifestyle practices illustrated by WP’s detailed marketing.

The Warby Parker brand community is a strong one, but not ordinary by traditional means.  A brand community is a “ … specialized, non-geographically bound community, based on a structured set of social relationships among admirers of a brand” (Muniz 412.)  Indeed, the Warby Parker brand community is not geographically bound as Class Trip, the various show room locations in the U.S. and the home try-on feature exhibit.  The social relationships of the Warby Parker community, however, do not reflect the type of community Muniz discusses.  The referred social relationships are ones that are true, face-to-face, and interpersonal relationships.  The relationships of the Warby Parker community, however, are minimized to mostly web-based ‘relationships.’  Because of the targeted web-savvy, younger demographic and the strong domestic-wide element of the brand itself, traditional and interpersonal social relationships are difficult to form through Warby Parker.  Instead, the brand community mostly communicates ‘at’ each other through one-way comments, like the style choosing recommendation posts.  In regards to the two criteria of a community, ‘consciousness of kind’ and ‘shared rituals,’ the Warby Parker community sees the latter more clearly than it feels the prior.  It is more difficult to “feel” a connection with other members of a community through mediated forms, but community members can still see shared rituals when photos or videos are posted online.  Due to the differences of WP’s brand community compared to other brands, Warby Parker focuses more on cultivating relationships with consumers on an individual basis and vice versa.  Although this may seem problematic, this exactly reflects the connoisseur’s practice of individual activity.

One of the most effective marketing tactics Warby Parker utilizes is its “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program.  The reason why it is so effective is because of its current, cultural relevance where many brands are aiming to “do good.”  Also, the targeted consumers of Warby Parker find “doing good” more relevant than perhaps other demographics.  Sarah Banet-Weiser describes this new consumer trend: “Consumers movements are now often branded movements, with connections and intersections with the corporate world and a focus on the individual consumer who ‘does good by buying good’ rather than on community politics such as equal access to the market or labor concerns” (138.)  Josee Johnston explains what has caused this movement by discussing the notion of “ethical consumption.”  She defines it as, “ … a key way in which individuals understand and find solutions to social and ecological problems” (294.)  She goes on to explain that, “Consumers are encouraged to join social change projects via their consumption habits, such as protecting the environment by eating organic foods or drinking shade-grown coffee” (294.)  In a consumerist society, people find “doing good” through consumption more convenient and beneficial than participating in community politics.  Through the “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program, Warby Parker consumers can help find solutions for the social problem of the less fortunate not having access to proper eyewear.  As progressive, “worldly,” and more educated thinkers, hipsters often choose to consume with deeper meanings than simply for the best price or convenience.  For example, it is stereotypical for hipsters to eat only organic and local to support small businesses and not from corrupt, mass-producing grocery conglomerates.  With the general reasoning of “doing what is right,” hipsters are willing to consume products that are aiming to “do good” no matter what they are or what the costs may be.  Knowing this, Warby Parker attaches this other stronger, emotional element to their brand hoping to attract more consumers by encouraging them to “do good.”  Consuming ethically is therefore a hipster characteristic and that is why Warby Parker, a hipster brand, participates in this movement.

Conclusion

As stated throughout the project, Warby Parker has achieved overall success for several reasons.  The company has successfully reached its exact target audience through carefully constructed marketing and this has resulted in its rapid growth.  Warby Parker has also engaged in the recent, mass trends of the general hipster movement and ethical consumption.  Not only has this engagement benefited the company, but Warby Parker has also contributed to the deeper market philosophies.  Most importantly, as evidenced throughout this brand analysis, Warby Parker has successfully initiated and indirectly controlled community conversation that is positive and controversy-free, allowing the brand to appear to be nothing but highly respected and desirable.  The company’s knowledge of Web 2.0 has aided what Arvidsson describes as creating an “inter-textual commodity” through “brand management.”  This commodity is “ … a mediatic space that anticipates the agency of consumers and situates it within a number of more or less precise coordinates.  Within those coordinates consumers are free to produce the shared meanings and social relations that the branded good will help create in their life” (245.)  Indeed it is through the mediatic space of social media that Warby Parker has allowed its community to interact with agency, but in a controlled manner.  Warby Parker plants the shared meanings and social relations that grow between community members.  It has also given representations of a lifestyle to its members that they can then adapt into their own.  It is mainly because of their impeccable brand management that Warby Parker has become so successful.  As the company expands even further and the consumer society observes its efforts to sustain success, it may become a model for all other retail companies.

Bibliography

Arvidsson, Adam. “Brands: A Critical Perspective.” Journal of Consumer Culture 5 (2005): 244-55. Print.

Banet-Weiser, Sarah. Authentic TM: Politics and Ambivalence in a Brand Culture. New York: New York UP, 2012.

Holt, Douglas B. “Does Cultural Capital Structure American Consumption?” The Journal of Consumer Research 25.1 (1998): 1-25. JSTOR. Web. 25 Sept. 2013.

Johnston, Josse, Szabo, Michelle, Rodney, Alexandra, “Good food, good people: Understanding the cultural repertoire of ethical eating,” Journal of Consumer Culture, pp. 294. 2011.

Lury, Celia. Consumer Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1996.

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof.” Capital: Critique of Political Economy. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing, 1907, pp. 320. Print.

Muñiz, Albert and Thomas C. O’Guinn, “Brand Communities,” Journal of Consumer Research, 27 March, pp. 412. 2001.