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Introduction

Vice Media, Inc.’s branding is fundamentally about pushing boundaries. It is today’s avant-garde version of “the next ESPN, MTV and CNN rolled into one.” It takes an experimental and innovative approach to covering topics such as politics, art and culture – an approach that applies across all of its properties and content. A champion of the “Immersionist” form of journalism, it is an antithesis to the methods of mainstream news outlets. Vice’s success is mostly attributable to its highly critically acclaimed branding as authentic, edgy, innovative, risk-taking, adventurous, and its representation of ‘Hipsterdom.’ As the company has transitioned, so have the media formats it’s utilized, also serving as a brand tactic.

Vice – as a vehicle for vocalizing the ethos of Hipsterdom  – expanded that cultural movement and also enjoyed growth itself, as Hipsterdom has shifted further from subcultural to mainstream. Vice achieved this by executing authentic branding in line with its loyal brand community. The members of the community, Hipsters, were highly receptive to Vice’s brand messaging. As a proponent of subcultures and alternative ways of life, Vice has been the voice of this subcultural movement. It has even been widely coined “the Hipsters’ bible.” As Businessweek stated all the way back in 2005, “(Vice) reliably regards the world with unbridled ridicule,” and “it blends hip-hop and white postcollegiate hipsterism.” And, Vice has now trumpeted its alternative nature (along with Hipsterdom trumpeting Vice) into the mainstream and widened its target consumer base, accommodating the much broader demographic that identifies with Hipster aesthetics today.

What’s A Hipster?

Let’s take a closer look at Hipsterdom so we have a sharper understanding of the type of consumer, and their consumption habits, addressed in this essay:

Hipsterdom is a post-modern subculture of generally urban, middle-class, youthful people. Their identity is related to a statement by Marx: “the labour of the individual (the producer) asserts itself as part of the labour of society only by means of the relations which the act of exchange establishes directly between the products, and indirectly, through them, between the producers” (Marx, 321). Hipsters are uber-conscious of how a consumerist culture is made on the back of the marginalized laborer. That’s why they actively resist feeding into “the system” through consumption of commodities that demonstrate their sensitivity to the ethical shortcomings of the mainstream. Hipsters fetishize the “authentic” as consumers because “authenticity” is different, tasteful and culturally aware – the backbone of their social character formation. They’re eclectic sensibilities are associated with indie music, a non-mainstream fashion sense, progressive and independent political views and alternative lifestyles, and the use of irony to express their often liberal arts degree-influenced critiques of the mainstream. You can read more on that here.

How Vice Does Branding

I will now discuss the ways in which Vice has cultivated its branding. As Banet-Weiser asserts, “Brands become the setting around which individuals weave their own stories… a brand is the perception – the series of images, themes, morals, values, feelings, and sense of authenticity conjured by the product itself” (Banet-Weiser, 4). We will see how Vice’s “setting” is designed to resonate with the Hipster world as a haven for them to “weave their own stories.” Vice serves as a benchmark for an accurate definition of the aesthetic.

Vice first truly made its name producing “The Vice Guide To Travel,” where co-founder Shane Smith went to some of the most extreme, intense, and violent populated areas in the world and completely immersed himself. In “The Vice Guide To Liberia,” Smith spent days with a former warlord who killed over 20,000 people, hung out with child heroin addicts and went to Liberia’s worst brothels, among other insane activities. As username ‘basil lutfi’ aptly stated in the comments section of the official YouTube video for the full-length documentary, “shane smith you’ve got balls.” The video has received 5.85 million views on YouTube, which is extremely rare for a 53:31 minute video.

More recently, he was one of the first Western journalists to get into North Korea and film extensively. He also managed to visit North Korea again with Dennis Rodman and The Harlem Globe Trotters to see Kim Jung Un. In late 2012, when software pioneer John McAfee was making international headlines for being on the run in Gautemala after he was linked to a murder, he allowed only Vice journalists to spend time with him. These acts served to brand Vice as able to do what no other media networks can, earning its authenticity and acclaim from those who want to identify, also, as unique, eclectic, alternative and adventurous. 

Another example of Vice’s taste-making success is its fashion-themed “Dos and Don’ts” section. This section hosts many slides of two images next to each other, labeled “Do” or “Don’t,” with a snarky, witty caption explaining the rationale. Many of the photos are snapped from the seediest sections of New York City’s and L.A.’s nightlife scenes, so the results are often quite interesting. This section literally started as a snarky, condescending way of making fun of hilariously dressed weird people – and to get good content out of it. Now, in existence for over 17 years, “Dos and Don’ts” has been turned into two books and heralded by multiple major media sources. The popular style blog Fashionista stated, “Long before street style became a phenomenon there was Vice ‘Dos and Don’ts.’” It’s also gotten praise from Gigaom and Gawker. Username ‘orlana’ went as far as to state, in the comments section of the second ‘Dos and Don’ts’ book’s page of goodreads.com, “This is the only book I have ever pre-ordered on Amazon… There is a release party tomorrow! Maybe I will even go and hobnob with the hiptastic-est hipsters! And let them judge me and my terrible fashion! Okay, maybe I won’t go. But I will buy the fuck out of this book.” It should also be noted that ‘orlana’ loves the Vice content but self-identifies as not a Hipster. Her comment was made on July 10, 2012, further evidence that by that date it was common for people not strictly within that subculture to be fans of Vice.

Vice’s Hipster Fans Through Images

Another way to identify Vice’s Hipster fans is through images from Vice’s Facebook.

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We see an individual wearing a plaid t-shirt in the center-most section of the photo, with a shirtless gentleman to the right who is full-bearded and bald. Plaid shirts and the full-bearded look have historically been associated with blue-collar men who live in rural environments and work in manual labor. These two people could very well live in Bushwick and do the opposite — which is ironic.

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A wholesome family brand ubiquitous throughout America’s mainstream cultural narrative re-appropriated in a subversive and explicit way — very hipster.

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Polka dots, tattoos, nose ring, tight-fitting jeans

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More plaid and micro-brews. Brooklyn Brewery is located in Williamsburg (across the street from Vice’s Brooklyn office).

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Please see the woman to the left who stands out the most in this picture. Being in your 50s-60s and coming to a Vice party with long dyed gold hair, extremely heavy make-up, leopard pants, an oversized belt and a feathered ornament around your neck is very, very hipster.

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More miscellaneous images of Vice party-goers in hipster-esque garb.

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Resistance To The Brand

The Vice brand has also been met with resistance, mainly by communities who identify as anti-culturally elitist, and are resentful of their perception that Vice has a self-labeled, ego-centric coolness identity. One such community is the followers of the Twitter account “Vice_is_hip.” The account is a series of fake Vice headlines, with the occasional re-tweet of a real Vice headline that sounds like it could just as easily be one of the fake Vice headlines. The account is a parody of Vice’s often bizzare, gonzo-journalism focused headlines that go to great rhetorical lengths to attract readers. This is a real Vice headline: “Exploring the depressing house of Michael Jackson’s disgraced dermatologist.” This is a parody Vice_is_hip headline: “Why Suge Knight is training up his nephew to fight in LA’s underground bare knuckle Bitcoin boxing scene.” This account has 57,696 followers as of January 26, 2014 and has been profiled in New York Magazine, Ad Age and The Independent. This demonstrates there are a solid-enough amount of people out there who resent Vice’s brand identity that all these major publications felt their readers would get a kick out of this parody. Yet, it further asserts Vice as polarizing, edgy and major enough to get – albeit negative – so much action from a simple parody Twitter account.

Widening Demographics

The company’s ideal customers have become more generalized than the more orthodox-level Hipster we have discussed until this point. Vice’s target market has expanded to merely youthful taste-makers with high cultural capital. Bourdieu defines ‘habitus’ as a “system of disposition, a system that organizes the individual’s capacity to act” (Lury, 91). These peoples’ habitus situates them in a position to be first to adopt what’s cool, achieving the representation of creative, autonomous and having alternative outlooks on the world and their lives. Their habitus leads to their high cultural capital. Other people, in theory, admire these free thinkers and follow their lead. Vice has applied its identity as an alternative frame of cultural reference by expanding its taste and sensibility to coverage of fashion, photography, sports, music and food – more avenues to assert its taste into a more complete set of queues for high cultural capital lifestyle formation.

Vice has also aggressively pushed into new platforms to deliver its content. As its music blog Noisey has become more successful and Vice was dramatically helping the careers of artists it discovered, it started a record label. This label has taken musicians who were completely unknown outside of their subcultural niches and brought them into the mainstream – much like Vice’s own progression. Two examples of musicians who’ve gone from nobody to famous via Vice Records are The Black Lips (116K Facebook Likes) and Action Bronson (164K Facebook Likes), a demonstration of the brand community’s reception. When YouTube rose, Vice began its highly successful YouTube channel and downscaling of its print magazine – matching the use practices of its mostly digitally native customers. It now has the capability of executing multi-platform brand integrations as part of its business model. For example, recently, Vice promoted the movie “Bad Grandpa” starring Johnny Knoxville by presenting a “Behind The Scenes” clip from the filming. Knoxville’s character Irving Zissman then co-starred in an episode of Vice’s series “Slutever.” Knoxville was also a guest on an episode of Vice’s podcast to talk about making the movie. This promotion’s views are easily calculable – thus, easily monetizable. Also, because of Vice’s brand loyalty on YouTube (over 4 million subscribers and over 357 million all-time video views), they can promote sponsors to the same amount of eyeballs as prime time advertising spots on major TV networks, but with extraordinarily lower production and syndication costs. The three Bad Grandpa-themed videos Vice put out on YouTube did a combined 1.45 million views. Bad Grandpa was directed by Vice’s former Creative Director, Spike Jonze. After vacating this position at Vice, he later went on to direct major successful films such as Adaptation, Where The Wild Things Are, and, quite recently, Her. Jonze is yet another example of Vice’s affiliation with a person or entity before they/it went mainstream – more public representation of Vice’s early-adopter taste.

This simple conversion of loyalty to (low-production cost) equity generates major brand value for Vice. Arvidsson explains, “Brand value represents the present value of predictable future earnings generated by the brand” (Arvidsson, 238). Vice’s ability to strongly promote co-branded content parallels Arvidsson’s statement, “one should consider the ‘emotional and self-expressive benefits as well as functional benefits,’” because the proof Vice has “fostered attachments” is in the brand community’s positive sentiment towards the Vice brand. Thus, Arvidsson’s statements demonstrate to us the symbiotic ties between Vice and Hipsterdom because – as we’ve discussed – Vice’s brand community is largely made up of those who subscribe to the Hipster aesthetic.

Vice + Hipsterdom Finally Mainstream

Vice has also moved into news and political coverage in two forms: serious documentary-style coverage and snarky, opinionated pieces. One of those snarky pieces is titled “The U.S. Government Shut Down Because Everything Is Stupid.” This is reflective of that political weariness and visible lack of affiliation of the Hipsters, expressed through irony and snark. Content in this vein may alienate certain consumers but Vice is successful because it is edgy. Yes, it wants to be digestible enough to attract a broad array of demographics but shedding its polarizing nature would be shedding its authenticity, its brand identity. Vice’s news and political coverage has become so successful that they had a news program air on HBO, which was renewed for a second season and nominated for an Emmy.

Having a show on HBO and being nominated for an Emmy is a very mainstream thing to do so it may seem to not fit with their image, but it does. It’s a powerful evolution of it. What it displays is that Vice has so successfully cast away the mainstream to create its own cultural movement that the mainstream is adopting it. It’s a Hipster’s ultimate dream come true; that the world you detest and critique is telling you you’re right and that it, in fact, wants to change for you, to fit you into it.

In short, what that means is Vice won. They took their subcultural movement mainstream, still keeping its core messaging and identity in tact. That is why Vice is now a $1.8 dollar company that Fox Searchlight recently purchased 5% of for $70 million. Again, a very mainstream, capitalistic move for the leader of alternative youth media, but very much a part of the grand strategy.

Conclusion

It is impossible to present empirical evidence proving Vice is directly responsible for the rise of today’s hottest cultural movement, Hipsterdom. But, I have demonstrated how they are inextricably linked, and how being a member of the Hipster community means it’s normal to be a Vice fan, and being a Vice marketer means it’s normal to go after the Hipster demographic.

And what a demographic it now is. Identity formation used to be predicated on where you were born, what family you were born into, and what geographic location you live in. Although these factors are still major, they have never mattered less. As Sophy Bot discusses in her TEDx Talk titled “The Hipster Effect,” you don’t really know what an object symbolizes today because re-appropriation and the ability to choose is ever-growing. You may see someone with a fedora on and think they’re a Hipster but their dad could have given it to them or a girlfriend simply told them it looked good. You don’t really know. Yet, we are so quick to judge people based on what we think the object means. She goes on to say how Senator Warren Hatch recently called President Obama a Hipster – and when the president is being accused of being a Hipster you know the word has reached a major level of cultural saturation. For example, Bot stated, Googling of the word “Hipster” has doubled since 2010.

Despite the word’s negative connotation, the cultural movement is still growing. Bot asks why that is. She concludes that it’s because more people are recognizing their freedom of choice – to do what they want and be who they want to be, whatever that may look like. This freedom has led to so much personal agency in re-appropriation of cultural symbols that commodities have fluid meanings now, lacking permanent definitions. This is what Arvidsson meant by, “Consumer goods function as ‘linking devices’ that enable the crystallization of however transitory (or even ‘neo-tribal’) forms of community” (242). I cannot help hear the term ‘neo-tribal community’ and not think of Bot’s examination of Hipsterdom. However, opaque and amorphous Hipsterdom may be, it is today’s booming neo-tribal community, linked by a consumer good such as Vice. Vice too is opening the flood gates of a new era of rule breaking in self-expression. Everyone in the community is connected by their flexibility in self-expression.

Again, it’s impossible to empirically prove Vice caused this cultural metamorphosis but, as I’ve examined, it is certainly the only media source so intertwined with and influential in Hipsterdom’s saga. Bot’s message has been personified in Vice’s content since day one so it isn’t surprising the growth rate of “the Hipsters’ bible” has paralleled Hipsterdom’s. And now that we apparently even have a Hipster president, time will only tell how far the movement, and the media brand, can go.

 


Arvidsson, Adam. “Brands: A Critical Perspective.” Journal of Consumer Culture. University of Copenhagen. London: SAGE Publications, 2005. Digital.

Banet-Weiser. Authentic. New York: New York University Press, 2012. Print.

Lury, Celia. Consumer Culture, 2nd Ed. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2011. Print.

Marx, Karl. Capital: Critique of Political Economy. “Fetishism of Commodities.” Germany: Verlag von Otto Meisner, 1894. Digital.

At a market value of $68 billion (Yahoo), Nike Inc is the largest maker of athletic shoes and apparel both in the United States and in the world. As a brand, Nike’s history began in the early 1970s with the name change from Blue Ribbon Sports and the adoption of the iconic swoosh / wing logo. By the end of the decade, the company controlled 50% of the U.S. athletic footwear market. Now, Nike competes with other major athletic and general apparel brands for larger segments of the rapidly growing women’s athletic apparel market. Last year in 2012, Nike made $4 billion in sales from women’s products. Nike expects to increase that number to $7 billion by 2017. (BizJournal) Altogether, women’s products represent almost 25% of Nike’s business. And with the men’s market already highly saturated, that proportion will only be increasing.

In examining Nike, I have decided to focus on Nike Women as a sub-brand of Nike’s larger male-centric brand. As all branding serves a strategic purpose, I have identified the aim of the Nike Women brand as the creation, attraction, and retention of female consumers for the purpose of selling Nike products and increasing the value of Nike Inc shareholders. To this end, I argue that the Nike Women brand constructs itself as a feminist lifestyle of self-empowerment through fitness, which consumers buy into and adopt as their own.

To test this argument, I will be analyzing the tactics of the Nike Women brand, its advertising, its community engineering, and the organic, creative, and productive responses of women who consume Nike products and Nike’s brand message.

ADVERTISING

In her book Authentic, Sarah Banet-Weiser explains brands as “a story told to the consumer”. These brand stories are supposed to inform or affect the “way we understand who we are, how we organize ourselves in the world, what stories we tell ourselves about ourselves” (Banet-Weiser 4-5). In this capacity, branding tactics are supposed to create an effect in the consumer: some change in perspective, opinion, thought. Banet-Weiser also explains that branding “entails the making and selling of immaterial things —feelings and affects, personalities and values—rather than actual goods”. So for instance, a women’s skin cream advertisement extolling the benefits of having good-looking skin likely affects a viewer’s understanding of what women are expected to consume, may elicit a feeling of desire or want, form values about what makes an attractive woman, and the social acceptability of clear skin.

Simultaneously, branding tactics are supposed to create an understanding in the consumer about the brand itself. Adam Arvidsson explains this in his essay “Brands: A Critical Perspective” as being part of the brand manager’s role in establishing the meaning of the brand. While he identifies one main aspect of brand management as the “selective appropriation” of consumers’ ideas and interactions with the brand product (which he calls innovation), the other main aspect is to ensure that “consumers’ use of branded goods serve to reproduce the forms of life that the brand embodies” (Arvidsson 244). This is the conservation side of brand management, which defines on the part of the brand the “contours of what the brand can mean” (245). To continue with the women’s skin cream example, the content of the advertisement will play heavily in pre-structuring consumers’ understanding of the skin cream brand. Whether the advert subject is singular or with a man, what the age of the subject is (if in her teens or her forties), and the adjectives used to describe the product (“luxurious”, “natural”, “easy to use”) all help establish boundaries of meaning for the brand.

To all of these ends, telling stories, imparting values, and establishing a brand’s meaning, advertising plays a key part in Nike’s branding. It is through advertising that the majority of people are first exposed to a brand, and as narratives they can form lasting impressions on what meanings are attached to a brand. The central story of the Nike Women brand is that of female empowerment through fitness and individual accomplishment, and it is a story that fits well into a strategy of commodity feminism. Identified as a form of commodity activism by Banet-Weiser, she describes it as the attachment of feminist values such as empowerment and gender equality to products as a selling point (Banet-Weiser 19).

MAKE YOURSELF

This is certainly the case in the “Make Yourself” advertisement campaign for Nike Women that ran in 2010. The campaign was centered on a minute-long commercial featuring three female  athletes (a track runner, skier, and dancer) talking about some of their views and mantras on exercise and fitness. The commercial also featured footage of the athletes exercising, and during that footage sentences were superimposed on top beginning with the text “I’m making myself…” in a solid typeface and ending with a word such as “proud”, “shine”, and “hot” in a handwritten typeface.

(“Make Yourself” commercial)

The print and visual advertisements of that campaign were in a similar style, featuring a singular woman, usually exercising or in exercise apparel, superimposed with text in the same vein as the video commercial. A small difference worth noting however is that in the commercial the text always began with the declaration “I’m making myself”; in the print advertisements, the superimposed text will sometimes begin with the command “make yourself”.

(poster from “Make Yourself” feat. Sofia Boutella, source)

The story-telling content of this advertisement campaign presents the narrative of successful women athletes succinctly imparting their own values upon the viewer. In examining the language of their messages, we see how this campaign defines the Nike brand as one of self-empowerment, much like the defining of contours regarding the brand’s meaning as explained by Arvidsson. “Rain or shine, I push myself to the limit everyday”, says a smiling Julia Mancuso. Allyson Felix also says praisingly that there is “no better feeling than knowing that you gave a hundred percent”. A more serious Sofia Boutella says that she doesn’t believe in shortcuts because “you don’t earn anything. You have to earn it.” Combined with the graphic text that these athletes are making themselves “proud”, “shine”, and “hot”, the commercial is connecting these values of personal improvement and hard work with accomplishment, even sexual attractiveness / power.

The commercial also draws attention to the viewer’s perspective of herself by utilizing the word “you” in both the athletes’ statements and the concluding text saying “what are you doing to make yourself?” In this way, the advertisement forces the viewer to relate the values being presented by the commercial of personal improvement back to herself. This language also isolates the viewer as a singular person, and in omitting any plurality, fits well into Banet-Weiser’s concept of commodity activism. Like other activist messages, this commercial promotes empowerment (in particular through self-improvement). What separates commodity activism as different from other forms of activism, however, is that “the empowerment aimed for is most often personal and individual, not one that emerges from collective struggle or civic participation” (16). This is certainly the case in the “Make Yourself” campaign, and is even more pronounced  when considering that commodity activism positions the individual as “a flexible commodity that can be packaged, made, and remade…that gains value through self-empowerment” (17). Indeed, the message that you become “hot” by exercising and “earning it” implies the individual is indeed flexible, can be remade, and gains value through self-empowerment, fitting well into the structure of commodity activism.

VOICES

Another commercial made recently by Nike in 2012 for Nike Women was called “Voices”. In it there were featured a number of young girls and renowned women athletes speaking about their athletic dreams and the barriers that stood in their way, often in the form of male prejudice and discrimination. The video presented the girls and athletes speaking the same lines, and would show the young girls speaking while playing back the audio of the older athletes’ voices.

(“Voices” commercial)

The video is very much focused on the struggles women athletes had to (and in the presentation of young girls, continue to) overcome in order to be accepted in the arena of sports and athletics. From the very beginning, it poses the women athletes in opposition to the social dominance of men. “ Girls just didn’t run in public.“Nobody on my all boys team would pass to me.” “Dad told me I couldn’t be a boxer; he told me I was too small.” The commercial simultaneously reflects back on and draws familiar tropes and scenarios from a culturally shared history of sexism in the U.S. It’s an example of inter-textual links being used as Arvidsson described to again define the meaning of the brand. In this case, the commercial presents itself as embodying the value of gender equality, which is also a cultural material that the commercial is simultaneously appropriating. In setting a context of gender inequality and discrimination, Nike Women produces a platform “that enable[s] the production of particular immaterial use-values: an experience, a shared emotion, a sense of community” (Arvidsson 245).

Nike Women positions itself as a supporter of these women athletes, and in doing so appropriates feminist ideals of gender equality, transgressing traditional gender boundaries, and the full and equal participation of women as actors in society. The main context for Nike products as well, namely sports and athletics, is highlighted as a site of feminist struggle.

Users on the social network Reddit’s r/feminism sub forum saw this advertisement as well, and it was received with largely positive feedback. It’s evident that Nike’s intent of associating their brand with female empowerment was working; one user said “I love Nike”, and another wrote “I love Nike’s attitude toward women”. Of course, there were also some dissenters in this community. One comment which received a substantial amount of both support and opposition (in the form of votes) warned “don’t let this crap fool you”, showing that not all consumers are swayed into accepting Nike’s portrayal as a company empowering women.

EMPATHY

One of the earliest ads Nike produced aimed specifically for women was its 8-page print advertisement “Empathy.” Launched in the spring of 1991, the advertisement spanned the life of a woman from childhood to middle age. The very first page begins in bold “You were born a daughter”, and for the first several pages continues to be a series of statements all beginning with “you”, putting the the woman viewer in relation to a person, feeling, or event. Usually a statement would be followed by a similar statement with a different relationship:  “You were picked last for the team. You were the best one on the team. You refused to be on the team.” “You wouldn’t wear a bra. You couldn’t wait to wear a bra. You couldn’t fit into a bra.” Entire spectrums of adolescent and young adult emotions are passed through, until it cycles to the expected romance: “You really fell in love. You became a steady girlfriend. You became a significant other.” And then on the second to last page, with a single line of copy, came the truly empowering message: “You became significant to yourself.”

(selections from “Empathy”, source)

Interspersed between the copy on each page were images of shoes (the products) and photographs of women in action: jogging, rowing, jumping, dancing. The advertisement presented the often subordinated experience of women and girls in society and offered empowerment through fitness and rejection of traditional messages. It was a bold advertisement for a company that had little to no experience with women consumers, and hadn’t been supported by extensive market research. This first advertisement incorporating values of feminism into Nike’s brand message to women set a precedent reflected in all their subsequent women-directed ads.

In learning more about this particular campaign online, I encountered multiple blogs written by women discussing the significant impact of this advertisement on their lives. One blogger (Keka) described it as “the glossy Nike fold out magazine ad that completely changed my life.” In her blog post, she relates the stories of other women who had called Nike and the ad agency offering their support for the ad, and women who continue to “dig through boxes in their attics to find it and hand it on to their pre-pubescent daughters with tears of hope in their eyes.” Something which she herself did. A different blogger (HeyRay) also testifies to having torn out the advertisement when she first saw it and holding onto it as a keepsake.

This shared experience in the form of an advertisement in itself created a brand community of women around Nike, all experiencing shared emotions – of inclusion, of understanding, of empowerment, and of relief. As HeyRay put it, “it successfully appealed to the deep motivational pit in the souls of women across America, from teenager to middle age.”

COMMUNITY

The “Empathy” ad campaign demonstrates the ability of the brand (and indeed, the self-preserving obligation of the brand) to create a brand community of consumers. Muniz and O’Guinn define brand community in their article “Brand Community” as “a specialized, non-geographically bound community, based on a structured set of social relationships among admirers of the brand” (Muniz, O’Guinn 412). The network of bloggers admiring and reminiscing on the “Empathy” advertisement is indicative of just such a community. They are common admirers of Nike, and are not bound to a particular geography (just wherever the ad happens to go), exemplifying the “imagined” aspect of the brand community. By sharing their brand stories, the bloggers are performing an important process in creating brand community by reinforcing “consciousness of kind between brand members” that “contributes to imagined communities” (Muniz, O’Guinn 423).

One activity that women Nike consumers bond around is the Nike Women’s Half Marathon, which has been held in Washington DC and San Francisco. There were multiple meet-up groups set up for organizing runners on MeetUp.com, which are all natural sites for community building. These Nike runners also formed their communities on Reddit and Facebook, where threads and groups were formed respectively for the purpose of organizing fellow runners. The Facebook page for the Nike Women’s Marathon has over 130 thousand “Likes”.

On the photo-sharing social network Instagram, Nike Women not only has a significant official presence on its own, but here is where contemporary members of the modern Nike Women community seem to convene. Many women will take photos of themselves exercising or relaxing in Nike fitness apparel, and tag themselves as #nikewomen. Generally these women take photos as part of what they call “fitspiration”, the creation, sharing, and admiring of images that inspire fitness – hence the portmanteau between fitness and inspiration. Sometimes this will be abbreviated as “fitspo”. Some of them can be seen here:

nikewomen Instagram

ameliachai Instagram

iamjaymali Instagram

ash1y24 Instagram

morgonkaffe Instagram

caitmariebee Instagram

 

CONCLUSION

The Nike brand represents a lifestyle of fitness and sport, and Nike has effectively extended this brand to incorporate women consumers. It began as an all-male brand in the 70s that has since grown and sustained what I view to be a mostly healthy relationship with women, based primarily on the notion of individual female empowerment. The brand has been adopted by women that have fused Nike into their own expressions of “fitspiration”, a consumer community that Nike was built for and actively seeks to reproduce. In so far as these are true, I believe that the Nike Women brand constructs itself as a feminist lifestyle of self-empowerment through fitness, which consumers buy into and adopt as their own.

Arvidsson, Adam. “Brands: A Critical Perspective.” Journal of Consumer Culture 5 (2005): 244-48.

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

Muniz, Jr., Albert M., and Thomas C. O’Guinn. “Brand Community.” Journal of Consumer Research 27.4 (2001): 412-32. Print.

Why Old Spice

There are always those notorious companies that people want to work for because their offices have hammocks, it’s owned by a celebrity, or it’s the next big start-up. I wanted to choose a brand that kept their output fresh and funny for my project analysis. While I find the world of advertising to be very interesting, I prefer humorous and comedic campaigns to some of the traditional “sex-sells” hyper sexualized concepts. As my funny bone led to me to analyze Old Spice, a company specializing in men’s personal care products, I realized the main way to sell men’s bath products is through sex and I liked that Old Spice used humor instead. Old Spice is now known for an ad campaign launched in 2010 titled “Smell Like a Man, Man” or better known as “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”, a campaign garnering nearly 50 million views on this one video

Through these ad campaigns Old Spice attempts to appeal to both male and female consumers who tend to also be digitally aware consumers. Purchasers of Old Spice are likely then, to be of either gender, probably in the 18-49 demographic, and somewhere in the middle class range. These consumers have responded to the brand by boosting its online presence and forming a brand community. While Old Spice produces male hygiene commodities, their marketing tactics do not limit their consumer base to only males, but instead, works to include female buyers of their commodities as products for their men, which is very interesting for this sort of commodity industry.

 

Old Spice Reaches Out

Because of the way Old Spice markets itself, it has an intriguingly diverse consumer base. As a Proctor and Gamble company, Old Spice produces men’s bath products, or as their website says “Man Fresheners”. Generally, products like this target only male consumers but, for Old Spice, this single demographic was not enough. Through the start of their “Smell Like a Man, Man” campaign in 2010, Old Spice aims for both male and female purchasers as their ideal potential base. As their 2010 “Smell Like a Man, Man” campaign grew in popularity, the ways Old Spice connected to consumers changed.

Broadening Horizons

Sara Ashy titles her blog post “Is your boyfriend starting to smell like your grandpa?” She is one of the many consumers who immediately noticed the shift in Old Spice’s consumer base in early 2010. Before the launch of the “Smell Like a Man, Man” campaign, Old Spice was struggling to keep up in the growing market for men’s body wash and similar products.  To reach out to new and young consumers Old Spice decided to go viral, which, when done successfully can reach more consumers in the target demographic than any cable network could.  The company paired with Wieden + Kennedy for “Smell Like a Man, Man” and they decided that starting digital was the best way to target a wider and younger audience. In a quote for a D&AD case study, account director at W+K, Jess Monsey said, “With any young target audience you have to find new and interesting ways to engage with them, and with young men that means digital has to be part of your portfolio,” (D&AD Study). Creating a successful digital ad was the first step to attract a broad audience in the “Smell Like a Man, Man” campaign and Old Spice tackled the task with a notable and humorous approach.

The Old Spice Guy

As “Smell Like a Man, Man” grew in popularity, there were a series of interactive web videos where “The Old Spice Guy” would do things suggested by fans, (see videos at the bottom) though not all fans were consumers.

Celia Lury’s book, Consumer Culture, explores the concept of cultural intermediaries throughout the text as someone that can act as a translator from cultural industries to consumers who would be skilled at interpreting popular culture and consumer culture (Lury). The “Old Spice Guy”, Isaiah Mustafa became a cultural intermediary and icon almost immediately after the airing of the campaign. Aside from telling consumers how cool Old Spice made him, and could make them, he became the catalyst for the brand’s online presence. Many of the brand’s consumers engage with the brand online, however, while Old Spice created their brand page in 2009, it wasn’t until the launch of Mustafa’s campaign that the page itself went viral. It now has over 2.5 million likes. There are more than five international “Old Spice” Facebook pages with over 100,000 fans for each, and more than ten “Old Spice” pages on the site overall. The “Old Spice Guy”, Isaiah Mustafa, and even “The New Old Spice Guy”, Fabio, have individual pages (Facebook). Having an icon for the campaign made the campaign very successful. It became relevant enough to even provoke Halloween costumes (see costume 16, costume 1, costume 5) and parodies (see parody 26). The digital component of the campaign was so successful that both the online presence of the brand and the brand’s community engagement have been enduring over several years since its launch.

Old Spice’s ability to reach consumers after the “Smell Like a Man, Man” campaign was so impressive they added a B-List celebrity, Fabio, to the spokesperson position. Some consumers did not like the change from Mustafa so in true Old Spice fashion, the brand settled the issue by keeping Mustafa on for a “Mano a Mano in El Bano” series of videos where the two spokespeople challenged each other over the spokesperson position.

Many consumers did not understand the change in spokesperson, Mustafa was quite well recognized as the icon for the brand and Fabio seemed like a peculiar replacement. However, my next section of analysis furthers this point, from an analytical perspective, the campaign had started off with a shirtless man doing manly activities, what better way to appeal to women, which had clearly been an objective of the campaign (D&AD) than to add the most iconic shirtless man doing manly things: Fabio.

“Hello Ladies”

The sub-title of the 2010 campaign, “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”, shows how Old Spice works to target more than just one consuming body. This campaign targets both the key male demographic as well as a different kind of consumer than these key male purchasers; it targets women who could purchase these commodities for “their” man. The television commercials start the monologue with “Hello Ladies…” telling us specifically whom this ad is addressing and for what purpose: “Buy this product and your man could improve to be more like me, sexy shirtless guy”. By showing women what their man could smell like, Old Spice is explaining how their product solves the problem of the way these women’s men currently smell, creating a consumer culture and attitude towards the product.  Consumer attitude, coined by Zygunt Bauman, is explored in Celia Lury’s book. She cites Bauman as saying of the consumer attitude, “It means, first perceiving life as a series of problems… thirdly, trusting that for every problem, already known or may still arise in the future, there is a solution – a special object or recipe… It means, fourthly, assuming such objects or recipes are essentially available; they may be obtained for money, and shopping is a way of obtaining them,” (Lury, 25). Lury’s explanation of consumer attitude can be explained simply to say that life is a series of solvable problems we can solve by purchasing commodities and it is our responsibility to do so if we can. For Old Spice, they invoke this attitude to sway women to consume this product because their man smells either incorrectly feminine or generally poorly and Old Spice products can fix that.

This ad shows that it is the woman’s duty to solve the problem of how her man may smell, and that Old Spice is there to be the object of solution.

It makes sense that Old Spice would start to market towards consuming women. The D&AD case study explained that women did more than 50% of the body wash purchases. The case follows with an explanation, “The challenge was how to get couples to have a conversation about body wash—a low involvement product category—and persuade women to stop buying their men women’s products… The answer was a humorous monologue during which the Old Spice Guy explains: ‘Anything is possible when your man smells like Old Spice and not a lady.’” (D&AD) Lury also finds this to be the case; in Consumer Culture, she writes about women making the home and being the main purchaser of household items. Lury writes, “…It is often noted that it is women who make up the majority of consumers, in the sense that it is women who actually purchase goods on a routine basis… women typically work at transforming the goods ands services of which men as husbands, children and other dependants are the final users,” (Lury, 43-44). Women are purchasing the majority of household products, they are the ones deciding what comes into the home and deciding how their home will affect their identities so it makes sense to market Old Spice towards the home-makers as well as the final users of the product.

The Man Your Man Might Not Smell Like

It is obvious Old Spice puts in time, money, and energy on their advertising and the costs and notions of the brand reflect that. There are very few types of consumers that Old Spice intentionally does not appeal to, however, there are demographics they put in less effort to reach and attract. While it is fairly obvious that Old Spice’s key consumers are brand conscious men, the company is not trying to attract a different male demographic: the frugal, hyper-dogmatic, male consumer. That is not to say that they try to avoid this kind of purchaser; it is that they focus on consumers that put consideration into their consumption practices and do not rely on factors like convenience, price, and function. In Douglas Holt’s Does Cultural Capital Structure American Consumption?, Holt explores how these factors might be seen as low cultural-capital purchasing practices. Firstly, cultural capital as explained by Bordieu in Holt “consists of a set of socially rare and distinctive tastes, skills, knowledge, and practices,”  (Holt, 3). Holt then explores what separates the consuming practices of those with high cultural capital from those with low cultural capital and finds that purchasers with low cultural capital tend to appreciate functionality and practicality over abstraction and subjective tastes (Holt, 7).  By creating a brand ideology and concept around the consumption of their products, in addition to the price inflation brought on by a high advertising cost, Old Spice might not appeal to consumers searching for practicality in their products. While soap and deodorant are useful products, it is cheaper (link) to purchase Suave  than to purchase Old Spice. Yet Old Spice is still not the most expensive. So while the kind of guy who speeds through the aisles of Duane Reade, consuming generic brand soap, deodorant, toilet paper, and maybe even Nice! brand Wheat-O’s Cereal based on what might be on sale might not always purchase Old Spice, consumers of varying levels of cultural capital probably will.

Old Spice purchases must be willing to pay more for a product with a brand history or ideology behind it because of the many advertisements Old Spice pays for. As such, Old Spice targets middle to upper-middle class consumers that have the sort of resources to purchase products based on brand affability and presentation but might dissuade the kind of consumers that would use department store men’s bath products. Since Old Spice’s brand image is one of masculinity and clear difference from female products and the feminine, Old Spice consumers are probably attracted to the message of distinction. Consumers of high-brow bath products tend to be women so it seems unlikely that Old Spice would attract any similar clientele. Old Spice relies on their consumers’ desires to make a heavy distinction between masculine and feminine hygiene products. As the video suggests, “Anything is possible when your man smells like Old Spice and not a lady.” They even go so far as to re-title Old Spice products “Man Fresheners”.

Why This Campaign?

As Old Spice attempted to grow, they needed a campaign that would resonate with different audiences. The “Smell Like a Man, Man” campaign is so strong because it has this resonating quality. To each target audience it can carry a different meaning but saves the company money by not doing so through multiple kinds of campaigns. Michael De Certeau talks about this in his piece, Practices of Everyday Life. De Certeau explains that every individual can both add meaning, and find his or her own, in shared objects. When viewed by men, “Smell Like a Man, Man” targeted them; it told them what they could be like and what they needed to do to become that person. For women, the subtitle of the campaign made a stronger statement; “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” became the portrayal of the man their man needed to smell like, and it explained to them how to do this. De Certeau explains how one ad could connote these multiple meanings to different users very clearly. He writes “Renters make comparable changes in an apartment they furnish with their acts and memories; as do speakers, in the language into which they insert both the messages of their native tongue and, through their accent, through their own ‘turns of phrase,’ etc., their own history,” (De Certeau, 21).

Conclusion

Old Spice’s ability to grow and reach new consumers at a pinnacle point in the brand’s history was extraordinarily impressive. Their consumer identity became very interesting as it encompassed both male and female consumers into their target demographic. Old Spice was the first men’s personal care brand that seemed to both acknowledge and encourage the fact that women held the main purchasing power over the industry and worked in ways to appeal to them. They did that while still managing to appeal to general male consumers that purchased body washes and deodorants from stores like Walgreens over department store brands. Old Spice stayed true to the masculine identity they had always projected buy still managed to attract a new and young audience. The ways Old Spice both targeted a plethora of consumers and had the ability to reach those consumers are impressive and intriguing. The Old Spice brand has made a very interesting brand community in the following of the “Smell Like a Man, Man” campaign. The brand expanded vastly from earlier in the brand’s timeline, when it was seen as a product for older consumers. Since Old Spice began work to change their image, the shift in brand community was noticed by many, some jokingly noting the transformation from the brand your grandpa smells like to the brand your boyfriend might smell like too (Ashy). Old Spice now reflects the influx of new types of consumers, younger and digitally conscious men and women and this change can be seen across multiple platforms. Overall, the company’s consumer focus is both unique and I would argue also intrinsic to Old Spice’s recent success and notoriety.

Bibliography

Ashy, Sarah http://bbrcreative.com/blog/general/is-your-boyfriend-starting-to-smell-like-your-grandpa

Certeau, Michel De. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California, 1984. Print.

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

Lury, Celia. Consumer Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2011. Print.

D&AD Case Study, http://www.dandad.org/learning/case-studies/old-spice-response-campaign

Links

http://www.oldspice.com/en-US/videos.aspx?id=LpUrz9RvuPk&ftype=1&filter=1808

http://portrayalofwomeninmagazines.blogspot.com/2009/11/old-spice-body-wash-keep-it-clean.html

http://www.oldspice.com/en-US/home-page.aspx

http://adage.com/article/adages/scandal-spice-bench-isaiah-mustafa-fabio/228827/

https://twitter.com/OldSpice

https://www.facebook.com/OldSpice

http://mashable.com/2013/10/30/last-minute-halloween-costumes/#_

http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2024939_2024940_2024975,00.html

http://2012bestofringling.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/ad-juror-craig-allen/

http://rollingout.com/culture/5-last-minute-halloween-costume-ideas/attachment/the-old-spice-guy/

http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2019781_2025588_2025540,00.html

http://www.oldspice.com/en-US/home-page.aspx

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/08/business/media/08adcol.html

http://www.rohitbhargava.com/2010/07/why-the-old-spice-guy-might-be-the-perfect-branding-campaign.html

http://www.apaceffie.com/docs/default-source/resource-library/oldspice_case_pdf.pdf?sfvrsn=2

http://newmediadl.cas.msu.edu/homework/227/64544

http://camilacabrer.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/old-spice-guy-case-analysis.pdf

http://www.youtube.com/yt/press/statistics.html

How ADIDAS Went From Sports to Hip-hop

Founded since 1949, ADIDAS is one of the largest sportswear manufacturers in the world. Although ADIDAS is most recognized for its sportswear, over time it has managed to display permanence in the fabric of popular culture. ADIDAS is a community that celebrates difference by uniting consumers with varying interests and passions worldwide. Overall, the respect for eclecticism as the image projected by the brand is mutually understood and reciprocated by consumers. The mutual embrace of eclecticism between the brand and its consumers was made possible after Run DMC appropriated ADIDAS products and initiated the formation of a popular brand community that admires the ADIDAS lifestyle in the realms of sports, fashion, pop culture, and hip-hop. Run DMC played a fundamental role in establishing ADIDAS as an iconic brand by earning the brand’s acceptance in popular culture.

Originally, the ADIDAS community was exclusively for athletes when the brand started in 1949. After the 1954 World Cup, ADIDAS footwear gained recognition. By 1967, the company expanded to include apparel. The merge of arts and sports happened in 1986 when hip-hop group Run DMC ignited ADIDAS sneaker culture by creating the song “My ADIDAS.” The endorsement by rap legends helped position the brand as a staple in urban culture and fashion. The diversity that ADIDAS symbolizes is the byproduct of a brand having gone viral unexpectedly. Without the genuine support from Run DMC, ADIDAS would probably be solely a community for athletes. The consumer community drives the messaging of inclusivity and eclecticism as much as the brand does; ADIDAS takes advantage of the meanings that were organically attached since Run DMC and cultivated over time.

(How Run DMC influenced an ADIDAS generation)

Prior to the Run DMC ADIDAS fad, the presence and circulation of a representation, in this case ADIDAS products, by the maker told nothing about what ADIDAS was to its users. The brand had been operating under the sole assumption that only athletes consumed their products. However, Run DMC appropriated  ADIDAS products, and like a rented apartment they transformed another person’s property into a borrowed space; this borrowed property was outfitted with meanings provided by Run DMC (De Certeau  xxi). After acknowledging the great manipulation by users, such as Run DMC and hip-hoppers, ADIDAS was able to identify the difference between the production of the image and the secondary production hidden in the process of its utilization (De Certeau xiii). As a result, ADIDAS embraced the identity and community that resulted from this secondary production, and shifted their messaging to include this new segment.

As much as Run DMC’s enduring promotion of ADIDAS was beneficial for the brand, the use of ADIDAS products helped Run DMC in their self-branding practices as well. In fact, ADIDAS was instrumental for Run DMC to successfully brand itself. “The practice of self-branding is […] a necessary strategy for success in an increasingly complex corporate world” (Hearn 198). Through self-commodification Run DMC used ADIDAS for its desired goods in order to create a stable identity and pursue an artificially framed style of life (Hearn 199). As a brand, Run DMC had the power to be a value-generating source that used the consumer experience in the interest of capital accumulation (Hearn 200). By constructing their identity and brand using ADIDAS products to gain cultural capital, Run DMC experienced capital gains as well.

Targeting Consumers Across the Cultural Spectrum

To maintain its clout in these diverse categories, ADIDAS continually unites sports and pop culture by featuring athletes and pop icons such as Katy Perry, David Beckham, and Derrick Rose in its campaigns. This effort to expand the brand’s relevance is due to a global brand strategy, fusing sports, music, and fashion across different cultures and lifestyles. Thereby, ADIDAS’ ideal consumer is cultured and multifaceted; ideal ADIDAS consumers live in different countries, speak different languages, enjoy different hobbies, but are universally connected through their love for ADIDAS. Further describing the essence of the brand, Patrik Nilsson, President of ADIDAS America affirms: “Today’s consumers are not one-dimensional. They live across the cultural spectrum and that’s where ADIDAS has its edge. The ADIDAS brand extends beyond sports and […] celebrates this breadth of passion from athletes, musicians, artists and beyond.”

In order to reach across consumer segments, ADIDAS goes beyond mass marketing practices. Originally, the company assumed that their customers were athletes, but after conducting research with an anthropological approach, spending 24 hours with several consumers, they found that many were training for fitness as part of their lifestyle. Thus, to better understand consumers, the company conducts anthropological research as a means of identifying and understanding consumers’ buying habits, their lifestyles, and their motivations for doing sports.

Ultimately, the ideal consumer embraces a mix of interests and passions. ADIDAS communicates this message through their ad campaigns, using 30 to 60 second TV commercials and extended online versions. Furthermore, ADIDAS hosts content on social media platforms to get fans to continue the conversation surrounding campaigns. For example, in 2011, ADIDAS asked fans to submit photos of themselves online in response to the company’s ‘All ADIDAS’ campaign for a chance to be in a commercial during the MTV Movie Awards. Below is a promotional image from the ‘All ADIDAS’ campaign, which encompasses the entire brand; the campaign includes celebrities, athletes, and regular people who literally have different passions, but have ADIDAS in common. The ideal consumer would identify with at least one of the pictures below, if not all of them. The message that is intended to resonate with consumers is: regardless of whether you are a fan of sports or music, you aspire for happiness, victory, and bliss, which is portrayed below.

Those aspirations are part of the ADIDAS lifestyle. Thus, the image below isn’t merely promoting products or celebrities, it is promoting an entire way of life that promises consumers success when they experience ADIDAS. The brand  encourages the pursuit of an expressive and liberated lifestyle that can be achieved through the use of its products. However, the ADIDAS lifestyle isn’t simply adopted, the brand and its consumers are on a mutual journey to make lifestyle a life project, displaying individuality and style in the assemblage of goods, clothes, and experiences (Lury 95). Through its commitment to fashion, ADIDAS has managed to be at the forefront of today’s rapid transformations of style. The popularization of new avante-garde ADIDAS styles is due impart to the merge with pop culture that was made possible by Run DMC. The interplay between popular style and avante-garde contributed  towards the breakdown of divisions between high culture and popular culture, the old and the new, the nostalgic and the futuristic, a set of breakdowns which characterized postmodern culture (Lury 95-96).

(All ADIDAS Campaign in 2011)

Unlike its direct competitors, Nike and Puma, ADIDAS spends less revenue on expensive athlete endorsements and marketing. Instead, ADIDAS has managed to get unpaid mention in rappers’ songs and collaborate with popular designers on projects. For example, ADIDAS by Stella McCartney appeared in London Fashion Week; the collaboration was a mix of performance clothing and high fashion. Integrating athleticism and fashion is a signature of ADIDAS that helps maintain its relevance. This particular strategy is directed at the consumer segment that is more apt to have interests other than sports. Similar strategies help ADIDAS appeal to various segments that have no connection to athletics, which is how the brand is able to attract such a broad spectrum of consumers.

Despite appealing to many different people, the sportswear company has a higher risk of failing among the unathletic. ADIDAS fashion apparel such as high-heeled sneakers helps include those who are not athletically inclined. In China where consumers don’t play as much sports as the western countries, the challenge for the sports brand is to reach the leisure market without compromising their sports positioning. Sports brands tend to ignore women, which is an influential group that ADIDAS targets in emerging global markets like China. By adjusting campaigns to reflect Asian ideals of beauty, ADIDAS is expected to be more successful than Nike whose messaging is all about performance and is driven by American sports stars like Lebron James and Kobe Bryant.

Different markets and consumer segments have different needs and ideals. ADIDAS recognizes those differences and finds new ways of accommodating different consumers, promoting inclusivity instead of exclusivity. Despite the challenges of being a global sports brand and taking on so many different markets, ADIDAS is unmatched by any other sports brand in terms of versatility.

Social Media: Where Consumers Live the ADIDAS Dream

Social media platforms house the diverse meanings that consumers have attached to the brand ADIDAS: culture, art, sport, and fashion. Pinterest best demonstrates the alignment of the brand message with consumer engagement. It is a graphic display of the entire community landscape, representing how ADIDAS is woven into the universal fabric of life. The whole spectrum of consumer posts on Pinterest looks as though it could fit into any given ADIDAS campaign, showing that ADIDAS’ marketing and advertising is representative of the community. In fact, the majority, if not all, of the pins are produced by consumers; the few ad images appear to be the same style as those that are consumer generated. On Pinterest, consumers express their love for the brand and share pictures of products they love and wish they owned. There is a clear fusion of sports, art, and lifestyle as consumers share their adoration. The lack of pictures of celebrities wearing ADIDAS reveals a pure connection consumers have with ADIDAS products and its values—freedom of expression through art, sports, and fashion.

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(Pinned ADIDAS images, hard to tell the difference between fan art and ads, if there is a difference at all)

Unlike Pinterest, YouTube and Twitter are where consumers critique the brand more severely. With the rise of sneaker culture, consumers have relied on YouTube as a preferred medium to deliver in depth product reviews. KickGenius, a respected YouTube vlogger, provides performance reviews of sneakers where he does several basketball drills and analyzes the performance of the sneakers. Recently, he posted a review of the Adidas Crazy Quick shoe, which garnered 218, 250 views. Despite admitting that the Adidas Crazy Quick shoe was better than he expected, KickGenius revealed issues with its durability.

Nike Versus ADIDAS

Durability and quality are the major concerns that consumers have expressed on Twitter and YouTube. Despite great marketing and advertising tactics, ADIDAS has yet to overcome its reputation for subpar products. Aside from frustrations with product quality, consumers also voice their negative criticisms of the athletes who represent ADIDAS. For example, @swachbarkley tweeted, “that’s what happens when you’re sponsored by ADIDAS smfh #injurynation.” Many like @swachbarkley correlate the number of athletes sponsored by ADIDAS who have been injured to the poor quality of the products.  This conflicting sentiment online leaves an opportunity for people to perpetuate the rivalry between ADIDAS and NIKE, its main competitor. Especially on Twitter, consumers poll whether NIKE or ADIDAS is the better brand.

Despite the attitude that you must choose either NIKE or ADIDAS, many consumers show an appreciation for both brands. In fact, in celebrity hauls and sneaker interviews on YouTube, celebrities such as Timothy De La Ghetto, Macklemore, and Juelz Santana praise specific ADIDAS products in addition to products of competing brands. ADIDAS is able to win the respect and validation from consumers who are loyal to other brands. By offering products that are good enough to overcome the loyalty consumers have for other brands, ADIDAS is increasing the reach and exposure of its messaging, and recruiting new members to its community.

Within the community, ADIDAS is challenged by the perception that NIKE is better because of its longstanding endorsements with more popular athletes and celebrities such as Michael Jordan, Lebron James, and Kobe Bryant. Consumers have noticed ADIDAS’ attempts to improve its roster of collaborators to win over NIKE loyalists. For example, Kanye West who has exclusively created shoes with NIKE has recently signed a contract to collaborate with ADIDAS. West’s switch to ADIDAS has generated controversy among brand citizens.

(Michael Jordan was an ADIDAS loyalist, but chose the NIKE endorsement)

Ultimately the ADIDAS consumer community is divided.  There are those who admire the brand and revel in its culture.  Others turn the Internet into a digital forum  to comparatively analyze ADIDAS and its products. Either way, the battle of the brands continues.

ADIDAS is more than its products–it is a history of meaning that is filled with customer experiences (Lury 149). Because it is valued for what it symbolizes as much as what it sells, ADIDAS has earned its place as an iconic brand. Since its inception as an iconic brand, the help from Run DMC, the stories, and the ideals of the brand build the relationship between ADIDAS and its consumers because of their perceived identity value. Those stories act as channels of self-expression, and are valuable to consumers in constructing their identities (Lury 150). ADIDAS is an iconic brand because of its successful embodiment of the ideals its consumers admire and its help in allowing people to express who they want to be.

Works Cited
De Certeau, Michel. Practice of Everyday Life.: University of California, 2011. Print.
Hearn, Alison. “`Meat, Mask, Burden` : Probing the Contours of the Branded `self`.” Journal of Consumer Culture (2008).
Lury, Celia. Consumer Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2011. Print.

Taco Bell is a popular American chain of Tex-Mex fast-food restaurants based in California. It was founded in 1962 by Glenn Bell, went public in 1970 with 325 restaurants, and now has an international presence of over 5,000 restaurants. What is intriguing about this company is the brand strategy change it has undergone in recent years, “positioning the brand for Millennials.” Taco Bell has been effective in reaching their target demographic through innovate methods, becoming a leading force in the fast-food industry.

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Favorite Bitch Collection

Momotachi • Fierce T-shirts is an American clothing and retail company founded by business partners, Miss Tiger and Khanh Tran. The company recently made its debut with three collections of graphic t-shirts that range from self-proclamations to mythical and anthropomorphic characters, all featuring textual slang prevalent in urban and queer popular culture.  The products are designed and made in the USA of a patented fabric and sold on their company website, FierceTshirt.com.  Momotachi is recognized for being made in the United States by the Save The Garment Center, a non-profit organization who advocates the preservation of products and jobs within New York City’s Garment District.  In a recent interview for Runway Passport, Momotachi’s designer, Miss Tiger stated that “This country should be self-sufficient and source within, this is why all of our shirts are made here and will always be made here at home.”  A surprisingly political statement, and more surprisingly, she didn’t drop one F-bomb in that interview.  Momotachi’s use of clever expletives combined with rich and colorful graphics, allow it to stand out among the mundane or even controversial t-shirts that flood the market.  The fact that the company uses luxurious printing processes and exclusive fabrics, in contrast with the irreverent text placed on the shirts, make it an interesting study.  Further fascinating, is that the collections are designed by a female impersonator, Miss Tiger, who is also a syndicated advice columnist and radio personality on The Derek and Romaine Show on SiriusXM.  Momotachi is unique in the t-shirt marketplace, as it uses transcultural messages combined with irreverent humor to appeal to various markets, which has resulted in gaining unintended followers of various lifestyles and thus, newly formed brand cultures within Momotachi.  Mike Featherstone’s Lifestyle and Consumer Culture  describes lifestyle as “connotes individuality, self-expression, and a stylistic self-consciousness.  One’s body, clothes, speech and pastimes … are to be regarded as indicators of the the individuality of taste and sense of style of the owner consumer” Momotachi remains neutral while letting various lifestyles assemble around a brand that offers a product in which the consumer interprets its message.

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Japan Collection

 Momotachi’s use of transcultural citations, for example, their Japan Collection includes the use of the tanuki, a traditional and mythical Japanese cultural icon, and fuses it with reggae aesthetics along with American slang.  In today’s global market, Néstor García Canclini states that the “circulation of people, capital, and messages brings us into daily contact with many cultures,” futhermore, “our identity can no longer be defined by an exclusive belonging to a national community.”  Miss Tiger is reinterpreting themes from other countries, and her defolklorized reinvented themes serve to broaden the consumer base, in which an act of cultural leveling occurs that that appeals to acts of mesticized consumption.  Cultural intermediaries translate and interpret meanings from cultural industries and they have inherent skills to interpret this to everyday consumers.  Lury describes these intermediaries as having “Positions of power and control in the mass media occupied by members of this group allowed the assembly and circulations of cultural products that embody new tastes and values.”   The brand designer, Miss Tiger, acts as a cultural intermediary who understands various lifestyles and chooses various aspects of her cultural capital gathering to present a product that appeals to high cultural capital consumers, in its individualistic aesthetics, as well as low cultural capital consumers who are attracted to the durability and sense of community or brand citizenship, that’s forged when wearing something identifiable within urban and/or LGBT communities.  Miss Tiger designing shirts is an act of further self-branding herself as a commodity which is reinforced by her other projects including her advice column(s) and radio appearances.  In terms of communities outside of their LGBT target market, Momotachi has a collection of t-shirts called, “Favorite Bitch,” possibly marketed to women engaging in commodity feminism and appealing to feminists who’ve taken claim to the word ‘bitch,’ as an act of empowerment.  Appealing to an urban market, Miss Tiger designed the NYC Collection, which remediates our ideas of traditional yard gnomes.  With no front lawn to guard, a gnome in Manhattan would find any sidewalk a welcoming place to chill.

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NYC Collection

Momotachi is a new brand, therefore, there is limited media representation on their site and social networks that determine who their ideal customer is.  On their website there is a promotional video embedded to the front page via their company Vimeo account.  In this minute long promo, the brand tells a story of what appears to be the relationship between their designer to the brand consumers.  The video contains excerpts of an attractive male model in his early twenties who is coyly posing, playing with his body in a sexually suggestively manner and modeling the various t-shirts.  The video offers an insight into who they may be trying to target, which is gay men and straight women, both of whom would be drawn to the model’s sex appeal.  Intermixed with the male model imagery, are clips from vintage cartoons which assist in constructing a narrative of how their t-shirts make you transform into a fierce person, while adhering to their ideal of attractiveness and cool.  Cue cards with the names of the company, the designer and urban slang are woven throughout these model and animated images.  Fun fact: The promo contains a highly recognizable font and cue card style used in the drag documentary, Paris Is Burning. This could be a way that the brand is signifying their embrace of a pansexual, gay, lesbian and trans demographic.  These cards also have a Japanese translation of the cue card text .  Along with the company name, the use of the tanuki and embedded Japanese text, these factors suggest that Momotachi is further emphasizing their transcultural appeal or emergence in a dual marketplace that includes Japan or Asia in general.  The name Momotachi is Japanese, however, the company offers no insight as to what it means.

The male subject in their promo and catalogue photos has an athletic build, meticulously groomed body and appears to enjoy being the subject of voyeurs, as he plays with his nipples, shows his buttocks and looks directly at the viewer in a coy and overtly sexual manner.  We find this in underwear campaigns, but it isn’t necessarily something commonplace to a t-shirt company, therefore,  Momotachi uses a commodified sex appeal to advertise and sell their products.  Typically, heterosexual men do not perform in this way to sell clothing to other guys, which makes for a very homoerotic production; displaying the sexual attraction between male members of the same sex.  The brand doesn’t directly state that they’re a gay owned company and/or specifically target gay male consumers, however, their products have a queerness about them with not only the video, but by the fact that their range of t-shirts showcase expletive gay slang packaged with highly stylized, almost cuddly anime-like graphics.  Gay men are receiving this signal, as a recent gay lifetyle blog, MiSTER SCANDAL proclaimed Momotachi as a “New gay t-shirt company!” Throughout their website one finds their creative ways of describing their products with an emphasis on gay pop cultural slang such as, their tanuki who “Transforms any occasion into an Xtravaganza!”  Taking all of this into consideration, their main target demographic appears to be a urban, hip, young, gay male, varying ethnicities, early twenties, fashionable, into street wear and most definitely gay or at the very least, a metrosexual comfortable enough in his sexuality to be okay with wearing and appreciating their brand of humor.  When further exploring their site, there is a mention in the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) that suggests girls “most often wear a size down” from their male size chart.  This indicates an attempt at recognizing that females may be inclusive to their customer base. The designer is a drag queen, so overall there’s a very open, pansexual dichotomy within the brand.  The female present in the promo video, who is grooming the male, is effective in the brand not appearing as exclusively gay themed.  By introducing the female into the narrative, it removes the potential of the brand appearing as a ‘boys club.’  Upon further exploration on the internet, I discovered their emerging female client base.  Obviously the line appeals to women and is evident on the social networks.

mister_scandal

Companies will often use their ‘About Us’ and Mission Statements on their websites as a platform to generate meaning behind their product.  It’s in this forum that consumers see, from a company perspective, how their product may fit into a particular lifestyle.  When reading Momotachi’s statement, it is clear that they are appealing to a pansexual audience in an urban setting.  They have a fun, unconventional way of approaching their brand that’s often juxtaposed with an environmental consciousness and business savvy.  This is related in the ‘ABOUT US’ description of their work environment, as having “more drama than a drag queen fightin‘ for cash, crown and prizes.”  They also describe their team as consisting of “upward mobile street thugs.”  It is apparent that they are appealing to an audience that is bold enough to wear their shirts and comfortable in social settings in which people of various sexual orientations intersect.  Clearly, they’re not looking for consumers who shop at dusty and conservative retailers.  Their mission further communicates the high quality of their products, attention to detail and eco-friendly ink.  The Mission Statement emphasizes that although they are irreverent in their designs and branding tactics, they want to be taken seriously as a competitive company.  Other than the descriptions of the graphics on their t-shirts, the only other statement that is conveyed on the site is contained in the promo video.

Miss Tiger actively promotes the brand on her personal Twitter and FaceBook social networks.  These personal accounts are the forum in which most of the Momotachi consumer interaction/dialogue takes place.  Her tweets appear genuine for the reason that she doesn’t send promotional sounding tweets, instead they are personable; exchanging compliments and even special discount codes to followers only.  The dialogue between the designer and consumers is creating a brand culture with a sense of authenticity.  Banet-Weiser cites contemporary brand culture in Authentic™: Politics and Ambivalence in a Brand Culture as “not as concerned with individual shoppers, as it is with cultivating authentic relationships with consumers and communities that work to further extend and build upon the brand individual.”  The brand itself interacts very little on their Twitter and Facebook accounts, but frequently shares Miss Tiger and customer interactions.  Momotachi appears to be neutral and proper on social networks, perhaps they’re merely observing their customers or keeping it clean.  Looking through the Twitter feeds of both the designer and the company brand, I came across interactions indicating that Miss Tiger promoted the brand during her segments on a national radio show, Derek and Romaine, which is geared toward an LGBT audience.  This further concludes that they in fact address and engage with a gay market.  SiriusXM is an ideal forum in that it allows the feisty Miss Tiger and her t-shirt company a place in which to express themselves as irreverently as possible since the satellite company does not fall under FCC guidelines.  This talk show forum allowed Momotachi to discuss and portray information of an adult nature; e.g. the expletive slang on the t-shirts.  Momotachi appears to highlight and endorse irreverent behavior as part of the lifestyle of their brand.  Although this is an endorsement they choose not to be so blatant about, as their website is very much about building a brand with no real controversy to be found within the site itself.  The website is organized in a clean and concise way, so much so that customers may not notice the hard core aspect to the shirts and actually approach the company as a retailer comparable to TopMan, TopShop or even Uniqlo.  The price point of Momotachi shirts are $50USD, suggesting they’re looking for an affluent or fashionista type of customer, reagardless of who is is.

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The company Instagram and Tumblr is very safely constructed, without any expletives or bad behavior that one might expect.  Both of these SNSs feature design sketches, CAD and vector art images and all sorts of concept images, but nothing controversial, thus performing in a way that engages the lowest common denominator of viewers.  They also use these forums to convey images of consumers who endorse the brand.  I was quite surprised to see photos of women on the company Instagram.  They’ve made no attempt to visually include or market to a female specific market, therefore, one could speculate they’re playing a neutral field until they see who the brand appeals to outside of the (assumed) gay male demographic.  Their highly stylized imagery, video and website leads me to believe that while they are testing out the waters of various customer demographics, this brand may not be trying to market themselves to the likes of a Honey BooBoo type of customer … not even their gay relative, Uncle Poodle or those not used to paying premium prices for a t-shirt.

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Momotachi is a new company, however, for a company that has no national or local advertising, they’ve received  press from OUT, a popular, national gay magazine and from the Logo owned website, NEWNOWNEXT. OUT is one of the premiere national magazines geared for a LGBT audience and offers fashion, entertainment, travel and nightlife stories.  Their feature on Momotachi, indicates that the gay appeal the company is embracing is working in their favor.  It’s also evident that the brand appeals to a gay consumer in that NewNowNext featured the line in a holiday gift guide.  Products chosen for both of these features are selected by the editors and not from any advertising on the part of Momotachi.  When visiting the Momotachi post on OUT Magazine’s FaceBook page, all the comments were from men who were either sexually attracted to the male model in the video or those commenting that they had purchased t-shirts from Momotachi.  The video has over 4000 views from a company that hasn’t done any advertising.  The men on FaceBook were coming together over a company promo video that appeared to embrace their gay lifestyle.  I think this solidifies that gay men identify with the brand.  The adopted use of the company’s combining of text and visual representations allow Momotachi enthusiasts to create their own story as they view the story to be.  As cited by Lury in Consumer Culture, “Rather than unreflectively 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, appearances and bodily dispositions they design together into a lifestyle.”

Out-Magazine-PressNewNowNext-Press

When viewing the other various social networks the brand maintains, their carefully archived Tumblr contains pictures of female consumers posing with their newly purchased shirts.  Showcasing these pictures connotes a constructed effort of Momotachi to tap into a consumer base that was not represented in their OUT magazine feature – nor any of their promotional materials.  This indicates that women are also consuming the product.  The social media interactions indicate that the female consumers are interacting with the men to form one social community around Momotachi.  The company is placing the female response on different social media networks, as it appears  they’ve tapped into an unexpected community that is consuming their products. Had they anticipated a female audience, I believe they would have included women in their canpaign ads and video promo.  Bloggers have begun to discover the brand.  UK based blogger, Sabrina Carder of The Young Eccentric, purchased a shirt and wrote a review on the Favorite Bitch t-shirt.  Sabrina picked up on the pansexual appeal and mentioned that Momotachi shirts were suitable for guys, gals and anyone in-between, while she posed in various photos while wearing the Favorite Bitch shirt.  The brand community Sabrina interrogates is diverse, as how Muniz and O’Guinn define brand community in Journal of Consumer Research, as “A specialized, non-geographically bound community, based on a structured set of social relationships among admirers of the brand.”  On the company Twitter, again, we find various tweets from female admirers/consumers of the brand.  When visiting the designer’s personal Twitter account, there are comments from both men and women.  The designer is very engaging with all consumers, creating a personal bond that most consumers do not have with a company.  This could be because it’s a new company and she is actively engaging people in order to drive sales or she is building a brand loyalty by grooming relationships with the community that is beginning to form around the brand.

TYE-Press

There aren’t any sources of resistance, other than, because of their flamboyant, often campy approach to design and slang, they may be omitting an entire audience of heterosexual men who are not comfortable wearing such shirts.  I don’t feel the ‘pretty’ male model helps to attract this demographic either.  I believe that various groups of straight men could be excluded from the brand.  It will be interesting to see if this usually privledged target market will respond and whether or not Momotachi will include them in future collections!  Right now their consumer base is forming with communities that are usually excluded from the privileged target market.  Momotachi’s brand community recalls Muñiz and O’Guinn’s theory that their “intrinsic connection that members feel toward one another, and the collective sense of difference from others not in the community.”  However, within the heterosexual male category, the brand has opportunitties to design collections that attract metro-sexuals, skaters, goths and punks.  The social fluidity within these groups could prove for a strong crossover market for Momotachi.  They have a unique opportunity to access brand citizenship into various societies because their products appeal to various demographics looking for a sense of belonging, whether it be a gay person exerting the freedom to wear products clearly representing their community, women asserting themselves as a bitch thus removing any societal misogynistic meanings behind the word ‘bitch‘ or people simply co-signing on to the transcultural messages behind some of their collections.

Bibliography

Featherstone, Mike. Lifestyle and Consumer Culture. London: Sage 1987 (P. 55)

Banet-Weiser, Sarah. Authentic™: The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture. New York: New York University Press, 2012. (P. 138)

Canclini, Néstor García. Consumers and Citizens: Globilization and Multicultural Conflicts. University of Minnesota Press, 2001 (P. 91)

Lury, Celia. Consumer Culture. Malden: Polity Press, 2011 (Pp.95, 101)

Muñiz, Albert; O’Guinn, Thomas. Brand Community: Journal of Consumer Research, Inc. Vol. 27, March 2001 (P.412, 413)

Web Links

Momotachi.com

MissTiger.com

FavoriteBitch.com

Facebook.com/FierceTShirt.com

Facebook.com/MissTigerRadio

MisterScandal.com/?tag=momotachi

NewNowNext.com/newnownext-holiday-gift-guide-perfect-presents-for-travelers-and-fashionistas/12/2013/

OUT.com/fashion/truman-says/2013/11/12/daily-crush-werk-it-bitch-t-shirts-momotachi-nsfw

news.RunwayPassport.com/post/69860041038/momotachi-by-khanh-tran-and-miss-tiger-who-is

SaveTheGarmentCenter.org/madeinusa/

SiriusOutQ.com

Twitter.com/FierceTshirt

Twitter.com/MissTiger

TopShop.com

TopMan.com

Uniqlo.com

TheYoungEccentric.blogspot.com/2013/12/abracadabra-nope-youre-still-bitch.html

WerkItBitch.com

Vimeo.com/78962914

I. A Mogul is Born

We are living in what has been aptly named the Information Age. Characterized by the drastically increased accessibility of information, the Internet and even personal computers were born within its limits, and perhaps, even define them. It began in the early 1970s, and information began to make its way across countries and even continents in record time. This revolution of communication brought with it a thirst for innovation. This desire led to a boom in technological development; everyone seeing their opportunity to be part of a burgeoning age and hoping to discover the next thing that would grow to be synonymous with connectivity. Companies began cropping up all over the world to approach this endeavor. This was no different in the United States. Among other companies setting up shop in California was Apple Computer Inc.

Since its inception, Apple Inc., now referred to as ‘Apple,’ has appropriated it to create a brand identity recognized by millions around the globe. In sync with the Information Age’s and subsequently Web 2.0’s vision, Apple has always stressed individual thought. They emphasize taking the information provided to you and doing something extraordinary with it. Ever since their breakout Super Bowl XVIII commercial titled “1984,” it has been apparent that Apple was looking for their customers to engage in the Information Age, but to participate in the subsequent revolution that followed; to break the mold, to step outside of the comfort zone of conformity. This brand identity that Apple had created for itself as the rebel company, and its clear marketing to ‘thought leaders’ and intellectual revolutionaries also shines through in later marketing campaigns such as their “Think Different” campaign. However, in recent years, specifically after Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs passed away, the company has made some drastic changes to their business model.

In previous years, Apple was in the forefront. They produced one of the first smartphones, the iPhone, and it stood head and shoulders above the rest. The iPad was the only one of its kind for a while. They were innovating faster and more frequently than other companies could keep up with. Yet, this innovation has slowly begun to decrease, and more companies are gaining momentum, putting out new products at an alarming rate. These companies are not just gaining production momentum, but they’re also gaining a larger market share. Based upon smartphone market share numbers from September 2013, the Android operating system (whose share is dominated by Samsung) surpasses the Apple iOS operating system by leaps and bounds.

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Smartphone market share broken down by operating system, source: Forbes.com

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Smartphone market share broken down by brand, source: Slate.com

In order to compensate for this lack of market share, this year, Apple released the iPhone 5C. This phone in many ways is an attempt to expand the target market and customer base that Apple already has, therefore claiming more smartphone market share back from Android phones. However, is this the best move Apple could be making? With the release of the iPhone 5C, Apple risks diluting their previous brand identity, alienating their current customers, and diminishing the social status of their products by targeting consumers with less cultural capital and sacrificing their “elite exclusivity” factor (Lury 3).

II. Ephemerality or Practicality?

In previous years, Apple’s way of addressing consumers was extremely tactful. They focused in on who their target market was, and tailored their advertising strategies to reach those specific people. Looking back at previous, iconic Apple campaigns, it is clear to see who the intended consumer is. Campaigns such as ‘Think Different’ and even ‘Silhouettes’ both appealed to the innovative, creative, educated, professional adult. They combined both a call for forward-thinking and going against the grain as put forth by visionaries such as Einstein and Martin Luther King Jr. and an appreciation for the playful artistry of color and movement.

Above all, they presented the viewer with abstract concepts. They focused on ideas rather than practical advertising. And this is, perhaps, why Apple has always been able to attract individuals with “high cultural capital,” or what he terms HCCs (Holt 6).

According to Holt, HCCs whose tastes “become a realm of self-expression” (Holt 8). They are this way, claims Holt, because many of these people have had the luxury of attending higher education, and therefore have been taught to appreciate and value abstract thought above practical thought (Holt 11). On the other hand, LCCs, individuals with low cultural capital, prize practicality above all else. This, Holt claims, may also stem from an economic aspect of both sets of consumers’ lives. HCCs, afforded a higher education and taught to value abstract thought, were able to have this opportunity to attend a university because they had the financial means to do so. This means that when they were growing up, they probably were able spend money on items which appealed to their tastes, as opposed to practical needs. LCCs, Holt asserts, may not have been so well off, and they would need to purchase for practicality, not taste, and would need to make sure that what they were buying would satisfy its practical need. This often times left taste out as irrelevant to a purchase. All of these aspects of birth, education, and financial means come together to explain this clear difference in HCCs and LCCs: “HCCs’ tastes express this distance from necessity…[and] express their aesthetic sensibilities,” while “LCC tastes are organized by a desire for pragmatic solutions to basic requirements” (Holt 8).

In recent months, Apple has released advertisements for the 5C, and these mirror the latter definitions Holt puts forth.

With advertisements like this now becoming Apple’s main outreach to consumers, it is clear what they are now focusing on: practicality. While before they were highlighting the triumphs of visionaries and paying homage to art, they are now focusing on their product. Instead of the abstract idea linking the revolutionaries to the Apple products, and therefore, the Apple customer with revolutionary thought, the commercial now makes an explicit argument why the viewer should buy a 5C; no thought necessary. It portrays the 5C as a pragmatic solution to someone looking for a smartphone. It displays the features, and at the very end, shows all of the colors available, so the consumer can walk away with a consumption solution to their problem. This shift in video advertisements, the main vessel for addressing consumers, has been drastic, and has symbolized the shift in audience that the brand is trying to reach with the advent of the 5C. However, video advertisements are not the only way that Apple has shown a shift in recent years.

Another channel that Apple uses to address consumers, and example of increased practicality in the brand, is their website. Apple’s website hosts various different types of product information and ways to buy products. It also provides comparisons and ‘easy-to-understand’ guides to purchasing your first Apple product. It tries to help new and current customers buying another product answer the question, “But which one should I get?” This concept of ‘user-friendly’ that Apple has tried to embody from its inception is built right into the website. However, recently, “user-friendly” has evolved into something more. A largely trafficked part of the site is now help forums, and other community-building tools to keep Apple users, or potential Apple users, involved with other current/potential Apple customers. Although this doesn’t represent the LCCs’ desire for practicality in the same sense Holt meant it, it emphasizes the mainstreaming of Apple products’ uses. By hosting a forum where Apple technicians as well as Apple customers come together to discuss the use of a product, there is little room for re-appropriation of such products. Customers are informed how to use the iPhone by the same source, and so, Apple controls the main dialogue on how an iPhone should be used. This relates back to Holt’s concept of connoisseurship.

“Connoisseurship,” according to Holt, is a “reconfiguring” of a mass cultural object, such as an iPhone (Holt 15). This means that although there is a mainstream use for the object, a ‘connoisseur’ will “accentuate aspects of the consumption object that are ignored by other consumers” instead (Holt 15). Yet, if everyone is gaining product knowledge, and especially instructions how to use a product, from the same source, connoisseurship can become very limited. Connoisseurship, as defined by Holt is a feature that most HCCs will exhibit. Thus, if this pragmatic forum is discouraging connoisseurship, that is two aspects of the channel that appeal to LCCs and not necessarily HCCs. This leaves Apple’s addresses as an experience that, while in previous years would have resonated with individuals with HCC, now caters to a demographic that, in Holt’s view, would possess LCC.

In fact, the 5C is the embodiment of this effort to target this new demographic.

iPhone 5C, screenshot taken by author

iPhone 5C, screenshot taken by author

With the option to pick from a variety of neon colors, as well as cases that match, a younger, more ‘playful’ demographic is being addressed and encouraged to engage with Apple. This version is also ‘cheaper’ than previous models (including the 5S, a ‘higher end’ iPhone model released at the same time), enabling these younger consumers to be more likely and able to purchase the model. This shift in addressee undoubtedly means a shift in the people actually choosing to engage with Apple.

III. Quantity or Quality?

Naturally, when a target market shifts, as Apple’s has in recent times to account for the discrepancies in market share, the community surrounding the brand will change. A brand community, comprised of the customers of a brand, in many ways helps to define the brand, just as the brand chooses their customers by projecting a specific image. Historically, Apple has appealed to creative business professionals. These businessmen and businesswomen attached a meaning of sophistication, simplicity, and professionalism to the brand. The clean, sleek, minimalist design of previous models, and even the 5S, that attracted these customers also helped to shape the meaning attached to the products.

iPhone 5S, screenshot taken by author

iPhone 5S, screenshot taken by author

However, now, with the release of a colorful plastic phone at a lower price, a younger demographic is taking an interest in the iPhone, and they are attaching meanings of playfulness. These younger consumers appreciate the ability to customize, and are even compelled to purchase the 5C based upon this feature. Whether it is purchasing new cases for an existing, simple device, or buying a device like the 5C that is already designed to be different from the start, color and customization are a way to show one’s personality through consumption choices.

These younger customers the iPhone 5C attracts are also much more likely to engage in social media such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others that emerge every day. They have grown up in the emergence of social media, so many are extremely active as older generations are not.

Age breakdown of social media users, screenshot taken by author

Age breakdown of social media users, screenshot taken by author

These customers’ engagement with futuristic ways of interacting is seemingly aligning this new product and therefore, the Apple brand, with the new wave of forward-thinking technology associated with social media. Their new iPhones make their social interaction possible, branding it, and the company that creates them, as a company encouraging the social butterfly effect that teens experience.

Subsequently, these same consumers who engage with the iPhone 5C are plugged in to pop culture, either in their lives or through the social media they inhabit, and are more likely to relate its use to features of pop culture. The 5C customers are therefore more likely to be interested in and have knowledge of what’s current or trendy. They can identify what’s ‘now,’ which also brands Apple as a company in the know.

It is also Apple’s hope that getting younger consumers to purchase their products will foster loyalty, and that these consumers will become customers for life. If that is successful, a younger customer has more time to spend money on Apple products than a person of an earlier generation. Yet, does expanding this brand community and all of the potentially positive aspects that accompany it, such as sociability, worth the potential negative side effects? Celia Lury and Michael Storper both introduce concepts that make the argument that aiming for the highest quantity sold is not always the best strategy for a brand to take on.

Quality over quantity. When companies advertise with publications, many times they are either looking for a qualified audience, an audience that would be interested in buying their product, rather than just anyone who is on the site. This same principle, wanting to target specific consumers that not only would be interested in purchasing the product, but give the company’s desired meaning to a product. This includes the type of consumer who is using the product. Michael Storper discusses the term “positionality” in terms of economics, and which he then applies to consumption practices (Storper 110). According to Storper, “positionality” is the concept that “a portion of the satisfaction we get from certain kinds of goods or services depend[s] upon their position in a hierarchy of quality and status, and not on their absolute qualities” (Storper 110). This means that we not only buy products for what they can do, but we buy products based upon what they represent to us and the rest of society. Storper says this positional consumption is also based upon the meaning of an object in relation to the others in the market that are similar. This, of course, relates to the iPhone 5C’s positioning among other smartphones. Unfortunately, this comparison has not really been in favor of the 5C. Forbes, among others, have criticized the new phone for “walking the fine line between cheap and chic” (Forbes). It doesn’t demonstrate the same dedication to quality and sophistication that the previous iPhone models had. It, in order to become a more egalitarian phone at a less expensive price point, had to be altered in such a fashion that causes previous Apple customers to question what Apple was thinking. While with past models, the customer could see a clear vision of sleek sophistication, now it is clear that Apple is just trying to reach customer at any cost—even if that means abandoning its former image of an exclusive, yet high-end, brand.

In addition, it is not just the phone that has decreased in quality. As previously mentioned, Apple’s new approach to addressing their consumers tends to target, whether purposefully or not, LCC consumers. In the eyes of brands, the LCC consumer is a valuable source of income, but the HCC is preferred because of the cultural capital they possess. By possessing higher cultural capital, they have more clout within their respective communities, thus almost lending themselves to being cultural intermediaries (Canclini 37). A cultural intermediary is someone who translates trends and tastes for others within their communities. It could be a classmate, journalist, etc., they inform others on what to consume. HCC consumers, with more cultural capital, and thus understanding of consumption and tastes within a community, are more likely to be a cultural intermediary. Brands, of course, want to target HCC consumers, and thus, cultural intermediaries so that these consumers encourage others to go out and purchase the brand’s product as well. In this respect, the HCC consumer could be considered more valuable and more of a quality consumer than a LCC consumer.

Relating to this concept of an increased interest in quantity over quality of not only the phone but of the user as well, Lury in her introduction mentions the term “elite exclusivity” (Lury 3). This term, which Lury applies to a Platinum American Express card, can be understood as applying to brands whose brand community is an exclusive one based upon limiting factors. This includes, in the case of the Platinum American Express card, an extremely high monthly spend that is rewarded with this card that represents an elite status. Hermes is another brand who has built their brand around elite exclusivity. Their prices are so high that only a select few people in the world can afford them, but in addition, they limit the amount of products they sell each year. Some even claim that this is what keeps the brand’s “Birkin bag” from going out of style. This elite exclusivity is what keeps the product novel, and makes consumers jump at the chance to pay extravagant amounts of money for one. This arguably used to be true for the iPhone. When it first came out, AT&T had exclusive rights to sell the iPhone. When it was first rumored that the phone would be available on all carriers, AT&T scrambled to keep this from happening. Why? Because these exclusive rights limited quantities and allowed AT&T to charge high rates that people were more than willing to pay and attracted new customers whose sole incentive was to own the coveted iPhone. However, with the release of the iPhone 5C, the opposite of this concept of elite exclusivity has occurred. Instead of making their products less financially accessible, thus limiting and greatly refining their customer base, Apple has decided to attempt to own more of the market share by expanding accessibility to the iPhone 5C. This expansion dilutes their customer base with LCC individuals clamoring for a chance to emulate the HCC consumers. Arguably, soon enough, the iPhone will become so accessible to the public that it will lose its status that Storper has mentioned. It will lose this status and cease to be novel anymore. This novelty, this previous exclusivity, is what made Apple the iconic company whose brand community everyone wanted to be a part of. It seems as if this theory of elite exclusivity is correct, coupled with the attraction of LCC consumers and a decrease in positionality, could potentially be Apple’s downfall.

IV. Exitlude: Will Apple Survive?

Apple can easily be placed into the category of one of the most popular, prolific brands to hit the market. From the very beginning, its methods of addressing consumers and creating a brand community were unparalleled. They were innovative and inspiring, yet exclusive without being insulting. Apple was the brand that knew how to become relevant and stay relevant in the fast-paced market of today. However, post-Steve Jobs, the company’s business strategy has changed. Instead of understanding that to celebrate exclusivity, a brand must also accept a lesser market share, the brand has tried its hardest to gain more customers. The embodiment of this effort is the iPhone 5C, released September 2013. It comes in various colors, with various cases available, and is priced at a relatively lower price than the iPhone 5S, released at the same time. The 5C has opened Apple up to new markets that perhaps before it hadn’t targeted. Yet, was this this best move for Apple? It’s far too soon to tell whether or not this decision to produce the 5C will have any effect on Apple in the future. However, based upon the structure of consumer culture, they are risking their current customers, their brand image, and the perceived status of their products in consumers’ eyes. The iPhone 5C may just be Apple’s biggest mistake yet.

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Works Cited:

Canclini, Nestor Garcia. “Consumption is Good for Thinking.”  Consumers and Citizens.  University of Minnesota Press: Minnesota, 2001.  Print.

Holt, Douglas B. “Does Cultural Capital Structure American Consumption?”  The Journal of Consumer Research.  The University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1998.  Print.

Storper, Michael.  “Lived Effects of the Contemporary Economy: Globalization, Inequality, and Consumer Society.”  Millennial Capitalism and the Culture of Neoliberalism. Duke University Press: 2001.  Print.

Lury, Celia.  “Introduction: What is Consumer Culture?” and “Exchanging Things: The Economy and Culture.”  Consumer Culture.  Polity Press: London, 2011.  Print.

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Have a comment/question/other? Please feel free to submit any of these via the form below. Thanks!

 

Sony’s PlayStation 4 official brand logo

Overview
In the months leading up to the release of the PlayStation 4 (PS4) in late November of this year, Sony carried out a wide marketing campaign to sell the first “next generation” game console. In this campaign, Sony described the new era of gaming as being focused around the social capabilities of today’s technology and of course being best facilitated by the PlayStation. Despite these assertions, the future of gaming consoles is increasingly brought into question when critics consider the
proliferation of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets that have brought video games to previously untapped demographics. The PS4 brand targets adult consumers that remember a world before the iPad, in which home gaming was largely bound to the television screen. Brand managers attempt to position the target demographic not as passive consumers, but as active producers of creative content and social interaction. This strategy is enhanced through conscious appeals to nostalgia and the notion of the PlayStation gamer as a dynamic but perhaps life-long identity.

PlayStation 4: A brief genealogy

Graphical depiction of brand evolution, plus milestones and trivia; Photo credit: sonyps4.com.

The PlayStation brand can be traced back to early to mid-90s with Sony Computer Entertainment’s launch of the PlayStation console (commonly referred to as the PSX or PS1). Up until that point, Sony had been primarily known for the invention of the Walkman and co-creation of the standardized CD. Then, Nintendo and Sega dominated the video game industry; however, Sony’s competitors had a weak spot according to The New York Times: their games were stored in cartridges, which were expensive and slow to manufacture. Sony adopted the CD format, lowering the average price for the consumer and better facilitating technological access for developers. “In its first year,” the Times wrote in 1998, “Sony released about 100 games from dozens of developers.” These original games were marketed to the 15 to mid-30s age demographics since marketers recognized that competitors had a strong hold on younger consumers. Sony’s foray into this younger demographic wouldn’t begin for another 4 years, but would be wildly successful .

The original PlayStation is commonly considered one of the most successful consoles in history. At one point, Sony claimed that one in four households in America had a PS1. Sony’s unparalleled success would be questioned in 2000, with Bill Gates’ introduction of Microsoft’s own console, the Xbox. This console debuted within a year of Sony’s PlayStation 2 and heavy marketing for both devices fostered a well-known brand rivalry. The strong competition for consumers continued with the subsequent generation of gaming in the mid-2000s with the PS3 and the XBOX 360. While affordances of CD technology gave Sony a competitive edge in the early years, Microsoft’s emergence into the video game market likely pushed PlayStation to develop a stronger brand identity in order to fight off the somewhat technologically advanced (or at least technologically comparable) Xbox system and its later incarnations.

In “Brands: Markets, Media and Movement,” from Consumer Culture, Celia Lury states that marketers have found “ways to show that products are not adequately defined by their functional properties alone…. that a product’s potential existence extends beyond being a discrete physical good.” Furthermore, marketers no longer saw their role in selling a product “in terms of stimulus-response,” rather, marketing came to be “conceived as a relationship” (141). Selling this relationship to consumers has been especially important to PlayStation in the wake of legitimate market challenges from Microsoft.

As it stands today—nearly a month after the launch of Sony’s PS4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One—the final verdict is still out on which device has won over critics and consumers, but signs point to the good sales numbers for both companies. An analysis of PS4 marketing materials and community reception helps illustrate the tactics and appeal of the device, which has lead Sony to find continued success in the PlayStation brand.

Greatness Awaits

"Greatness Awaits" is the official slogan of the PS4, and featured across a variety of platforms and marketing materials.

“Greatness Awaits” is the official slogan of the PS4, and featured across a variety of platforms and marketing materials. Photo credit: playstation.com

In “Capital, Class, and Consumer Culture,” Lury discusses Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of lifestyle, drawing on the work of Mike Featherstone. Featherstone writes, “Rather than unreflexively adopting a lifestyle… the new heroes of consumer culture make lifestyle a life project and display their individuality… in the particularity of the assemblage of goods, clothes, practices, experiences…,” which brings about personal pleasure and identity (qtd. in Lury 95). Bordieu takes this theory a step farther, claiming the presence of a standard under which “pleasure is not simply permitted but demanded, so that the individual is encouraged to work at pleasure” (Lury 96).

Bordieu’s concept is reaffirmed through by the PS4 brand. When Sony began the PS4 marketing campaign, it released a teaser trailer that strongly focuses on the console’s intangible essence, rather than the physical device itself. The commercial features a suave young man in a suit delivering a confident monologue directly to the viewer. In his speech he discusses the viewer’s “greatness”—greatness of power, creativity, and innovation—and the compulsion to express it. “Speckled with cameos by [PlayStation] game characters and self-destructing set designs,” Adweek writes, “the ad ends with the actor diving into the fray to break some pirate legs and clothesline a few clowns.”

“Greatness Awaits” (1:31):

Through the process of addressing the viewer directly, the narrator interpolates the viewer into a subjectivity where one’s own “greatness” is simultaneously affirmed and understood to be repressed. In essence, one must work to achieve a more satisfying leisure and pleasurable lifestyle formation. The PS4 logo at the end of the spot suggests that Sony’s “great” new console is the catalyst required to create and express a more satisfying lifestyle.

Some brand community members have taken to the PlayStationUniverse fan forums to express their satisfaction after having used the new console. Zaxtor99 writes in his topic entitled, “Sony is BRILLIANT. They have made such a DRASTICALLY IMPROVED DualShock…,” that he feels,

…gravitated towards the PS4 not just because of the shinier graphics but more for the much better controller…It’s an addicting upgrade over its predecessor in every way, shape, and form.”

Similar technological praises are also expressed in the PS4freak’s topic, “What are your favorite features of the PS4?” ” In response to the member’s topic question, most members praise the fluidity of switching between apps, processor speed, background downloads, and other features that seem to allow the gamer to reach a greater potential.

Brand community members like those above are largely uncritical of the notion that the PS4 presents cutting edge technology and thus revolutionizes gameplay. Against this trend, one community member, keefy replies to PS4freak’s topic by saying,

WOW everything you describe i have experienced on PC 5 years ago.”

Keefy’s comment challenges the brand ideology, prompting PS4freak to respond:

Well this is a gaming console go figure. Who gives a shit what the PC could do 5 years ago. This is talking about a console that are running their own OS that isn’t Windows. I’m pretty sure we all know what that tried and true format can do. All for $400, I think I’ll take it.”

For those that accept the brand ideology, the PS4 is the access point for “greatness” regardless of whether or not the same technological affordances have been accessible elsewhere. What may ultimately be more important to members of the brand community is the lifestyle expression through the PS4, as is defined through brand marketing campaigns.

“For the Players…”
Although we may not have direct access into the minds of the PS4 brand representatives, the ideal consumer of the new console is identified through representational strategies employed by brand marketing materials. The commercial, “For the Players Since 1995,” addresses consumers quite differently than “Greatness Awaits” does. In 3 minutes and 20 seconds, it shows a young man go through different stages in his life—adolescence through established adulthood—all from the perspective of his bedroom. The ad shows the physical world outside of his bedroom window transform, mirroring changes in his room décor and apparent shifts of acquaintances in and out of his life over time. Despite these changes, a Sony PlayStation console always sits next to the TV in his room, though it too evolving with the passage of time. The viewer sees that the PlayStation changes from a PS1 to a PS2 to a PS3, each corresponding with a stage in the man’s life as he grows up. The last segment shows him playing a new PS4 with his friend from childhood, just like as they had over 15 years earlier.

The “For the Players Since 1995” (3:22):

The title of the spot clearly indicates who is targeted in the commercial: an adult PlayStation consumer that has strong brand loyalty. The representational details of the ad further indicate that the target consumer is male, with friends that share an interest in the PlayStation brand. While the consumer has grown, the PlayStation brand has also grown and changed alongside him. The ad utilizes references to iconic games and franchises throughout gaming history in an attempt to inflate the PlayStation brand as the underlying connection between these individual consumer experiences. The “greatness” of these video game franchises mirrors the “greatness” of the man’s friendship with his buddy from childhood, also facilitated by the PlayStation consoles. With the new PS4, even more “greatness awaits,” even though childhood and adolescence are left in the past.

According to Arvidsson in “Brands: A Critical Perspective,” brand managers construct “intertextual spaces,” that “pre-structure and anticipate the agency of consumers.” “Within these spaces,” he writes, “consumers are given contours of and raw material for the exercise of their productive agency.” What’s created in turn is a “set of social relations and shared meanings—a common,” that can be “a matter of participating in the creation of a collectively shared experience” or “creating a local and
specific meaningful dimension…that makes it possible to experience the brand as endowed with an authentic meaning in one’s own life-history” (Arvidsson 247-248).

The PlayStation 4 brand is readily understood through the author’s theory. Although Arvidsson may be discussing marketing events, retail experiences, and sites largely under direct control of brand representatives, marketing materials like “”For the Players Since 1995” construct the consumer’s own bedroom as a site for free labor. The commercial marks the bedroom as the location where friendships and shared memories are made through the mutual playing of iconic, culturally significant games, and of course this environment is consistently made possible by PlayStation consoles. In fact, the evolution to the PS4 and continued presence of the brand seems as natural the passage of time, bound to the consumer’s “life-history.”

A screen-cap from the "For the Gamers..." spot highlights the cross-media nostalgia strategy employed through the hashtag: #playstationmemories.

A screen-cap from the “For the Gamers…” spot highlights the cross-media nostalgia strategy employed through the hashtag: #playstationmemories.

A targeted Facebook ad to my personal account emphasizes the legacy of the PlayStation brand, and my role (as a young adult male) to produce memories along side it.

A Facebook ad that targets PlayStation fans emphasizes the consumer’s ability to conspicuously be “great” in the production of both personal memories and brand histories.

The Players: Demographics
The Alexa domain analytics tools below break down the gender and education level of site visitors to the brand’s official website, playstation.com:

Screen-cap from Alexa analytics of playstation.com, accessed11/24/13.

Screen-cap from a Alexa analysis of playstation.com, accessed11/24/13.

More in-depth tools were available for an analysis of PSU.com, the playstation fansite that features news, reviews, forums, and more. This community-centric platform perhaps offers more accurate information about those who relate and interact with the brand, unlike the varied traffic that the informational main site may attract. A Quantcast analysis of U.S. visitors to PSU.com is demonstrated in the graphic below.

Screen-cap taken from Quantcast analytics of PSU.com, accessed 11/24/13.

Screen-cap taken from a Quantcast analysis of PSU.com, accessed 11/24/13.

PSU.com findings mirror the gender and educational aspects of the playstation.com analysis, together suggesting that the brand community is indeed composed of males, ages 18-34, many of whom are currently attending or have attended college. This evidence supports the representational strategies used in the “For the Players Since 1995” spot, “Greatness Awaits” commercial (if we consider the narrator a representational figure of sorts), and other spots like “Perfect Day,” which features two men in their late 20s.

The Players: Brand Interpolation and Rejection

"I'm among you now, my brethren !" exclaims an new community member, clearly excited about expressing the PlayStation gamer identity on the PSU forums.

“I’m among you now, my brethren !” exclaims an new community member, clearly excited about expressing the PlayStation gamer identity on the PSU forums.

The brand’s emphasis on the relationship between Playstation’s evolutionary history and the consumer’s own personal growth is embraced by the brand community. For example, on Playstation.com’s Playstation General forum, ccrogers15’s topic, “What was your first dive into the Playstation Universe?” continues to be active months after its initial post in September 2013. Ccrogers15 and other members discuss their favorite games from childhood that got them “hooked on PlayStation.” This nostalgia, especially as a point for socializing production, echoes the tones of the “For the Players Since 1995” spot and signify acceptance of brand ideologies.

Though most members accept the claim that the PS4 has opened the door to a distinctly new type of gaming experience, many feel that launch title games (the first games to be released for the PS4) have not followed through on brand promises. “When do we see the performance we paid so much for?” posts jonathanm1978,

We all know that lots of games you can get as launch titles on both new consoles are also available on last generation…which begs the question ‘how much work was put into title…???'”

Duffman1986 replies,

Good things come to those who wait!

In a later post, the topic author comments:

I’ll be the first to stand up and defend Sony and my purchase of PS4. When it comes to being a fan of Sony…I’m first to say that I love the Playstation brand…not so much that I’d follow them to the pits of hell, but I’m firm into my Playstation lifestyle….since the PSone days. With that said, I don’t see the need to defend them aimlessly because they do make bad marketing decisions.”

At least partially conflicted on their attachment to the brand, some community members feel that even after purchasing the PS4 the promise of greatness still awaits.

The product’s shortcomings result from a disconnect between the sense of immediacy evoked by brand marketers in selling the console and the external technological and market drawbacks. The PS4 does provide the hardware and interface to allow gamers and game developers to create “great” experiences, but without a wide selection of unique games readily available, those that have purchased the console early on may feel let down in the time-being. For better or worse, this is representative of an effective brand strategy that has in part detached material realities from the personal lifestyle value of a product.

Furthermore, we see that the PlayStation has recently won over new community members who value of the lifestyle and identificatory elements of the brand. Language used in forum topics like PricelessBunion’s “New xbox convert” and chillighost’s “Xbox Switcher – Waiting for my PS4 🙂”  perpetuates mutually exclusive labels for Xbox and Playstation users, a binary of sorts. With the current generation of consoles (and likely the previous brand incarnations), binary discourses force reflexive contemplation of identity and allegiance for the gamer but never draw into question the necessity of the gamer identity itself.

Conclusions and Brand Outlook
Given that initial reports call the PS4’s release the “largest console launch in history,” it may be precocious to declare the death of the home gaming console. Strong consumer reception and community interaction suggests successful interpolation of the PlayStation ideology by consumers. Brand marketers may have concerns down the road about introducing the PlayStation lifestyle to younger consumers; appeals to nostalgia are likely generationally specific. However the other fundamental component to the PS4/PlayStation brand—the facilitation of “greatness” and the production of memorable, shared experiences—is more universal according to theorists like Bordieu. For the PlayStation brand to survive it must continue to sell the idea of personal and social growth for consumers, and back up this notion through hosting games to achieve this end before brand community members become disenchanted.

Text Sources:

Arvidsson, A. “Brands: A Critical Perspective.” Journal of Consumer Culture 5.2 (2005): 235-58. Print.

Lury, Celia. Consumer Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2011. Print.

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.

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Screen shot taken from Warby Parker website. Hyperlink included.

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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.

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Screen shot taken from Warby Parker website. Hyperlink included.

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Screen shot taken from Warby Parker website. Hyperlink included.

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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:

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

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Screen shot taken from Warby Parker blog. Hyperlink included.

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

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Screen shot taken from Warby Parker blog. Hyperlink included.

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

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Screen shot taken from Warby Parker Facebook page.

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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.

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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.

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Screen shot taken from Warby Parker Instagram. Hyperlink included.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Screen shot taken from Instagram with hashtag #warbyparker included.

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Screen shot taken from Instagram with hashtag #warbyparker included.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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

As well as pins of herself:

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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.

The ‘Anthropologie Woman’

Founded in 1992, Anthropologie is a branch of the Urban Inc. company, which owns stores like Urban Outfitters and Free People. It is officially described as “a lifestyle brand that imparts a sense of beauty, optimism, and discovery” to the customer. It is marketed to customers’ appreciation for “artfulness” and “good design”. Its products are consistently unique, and tend to incorporate a lot of bold prints and colors. Anthropologie is not a basics brand; in other words, it is not meant to meet customers’ foundational needs. It is an artistic brand, one that caters to the more indulgent, ostentatious consumer desires. Moreover, it is unlike most other brands in that it doesn’t use traditional marketing strategies to reach consumers. Rather, Anthropologie has a very specific target audience whose tastes they understand so well that they can cater directly to those people.

For most brands, it is an important part of their marketing to try and understand the consumers. They conduct demographic research, assemble focus groups, and hand out surveys all in an attempt to figure out what the customer wants and how to give it to them. Anthropologie, however, has taken this a step further and tried to get inside the minds and lives of their target consumers. They are trying to understand not only what these consumers want, but also who they are and how they live. This in-depth knowledge about consumers requires the brand to understand more than just demographics and buying patterns; Anthropologie must look at their customers’ habitus, as Pierre Bourdieu calls it. Habitus is the set of tastes, knowledge, and habits that an individual possesses, which helps guide his or her tastes and preferences. (Lury 91) In order to figure out what their consumers would find appealing and how to sell it to them, Anthropologie first set out to examine the habitus that drove these peoples’ consumption choices. The goal was to delve deep into their consumers’ lives and create the most accurate, extensive customer profile possible. They more they understand their customers, the better chance they have of reaching them.

The ideal Anthropologie consumer is an adult woman, perhaps in her late 20s or 30s, with money to spare. She is settled into her career and most likely holds a prestigious job that comes with a hefty salary. The Anthropologie consumer isn’t concerned with the prices, however; she is all about the design. She is a very cultured, educated woman, with a genuine appreciation for art and aesthetics. Additionally, the ideal Anthropologie consumer is a “free spirit”, a woman with an independent mind who dresses however she sees fit. Anthropologie president Glen Senk has described the Anthropologie woman as “very aware”, saying, “She gets our references, whether it’s to a town in Europe or to a book or a movie. She’s urban minded. She’s into cooking, gardening, and wine. She has a natural curiosity about the world. She’s relatively fit.” (LaBarre) The Anthropologie woman is continuously expanding her cultural horizons, whether it be through travel, reading, or perhaps even just going to the movies. Douglas Holt would argue that the Anthropologie consumer has high cultural capital – her education, her background, her worldliness, and her experiences give the Anthropologie consumer access to a certain level of culture. (Holt 3) Yet the Anthropologie consumer is omnivorous in her consumption, meaning that she consumes from many different areas of culture.  (19) The brand caters to this omnivorous consumption by carrying products that reference many different parts of culture, from travel to film to classic art.

What do you mean, Anthropologie doesn’t advertize?

You might think that because Anthropologie’s target audience is so clear and well understood, it would be effective for them to create advertising around that. However, that is not the case at all. In fact, Anthropologie does not use typical advertising to reach its customers. It doesn’t put out any print ads or produce any television commercials like so many other brands do. Instead, Anthropologie has decided to let its brand speak for itself, using the actual stores as well as social media to forge a connection with consumers. Glen Senk explained that one of the brand’s core philosophies “is that we spend the money that other companies spend on marketing to create a store experience that exceeds people’s expectations. We don’t spend money on messages — we invest in execution.” (LaBarre) Much of the reasoning behind this marketing strategy, or lack thereof, is that the brand has already narrowed in so closely on the kind of consumer they want to reach, and as a result they know exactly how to attract her.

Thus, instead of relying on conventional marketing methods, Anthropologie focuses their attention on the quality of their products and the shopping experience of their stores. Each Anthropologie store is custom designed, so no two locations look the same.  Yet, there is still an underlying theme of worldly, whimsical artistry that is distinctive and unique to the brand. For instance, the stores are lit by beautiful chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, as opposed to the bulky florescent light fixtures one might find in a Gap or other large chain retailer. The walls are lined with colorful murals and intricate paintings, making the customer feel as through they have stepped into an entirely separate world. This is reinforced by the quirky, indie music playing softly throughout the store as customers shop. There are no top 40 hits blasting from the speakers, and there are no sales posters – except for one hand-painted (or made to look like it) sign for the saleroom. The Anthropologie appeal is much more nuanced than that.

Photo courtesy of Roxy, author of Effortlessly Anthropologie blog

Photo courtesy of Roxy, author of Effortlessly Anthropologie blog

Aside from its store decorations, Anthropologie also relies on the products themselves to reach their ideal consumer. As company President Glen Senk explained, the Anthropologie consumer is very cultured and aware of the world around her, which is clearly reflected in the kinds of products sold by the brand. The clothing and house wares featured in Anthropologie tend to make references to specific cultures and their artistic trends. For many other brands, this would be a huge risk because it might alienate consumers if they don’t understand or appreciate the reference. However, it works heavily in Anthropologie’s favor because they are banking on the consumers’ comprehension, or at least their admiration, of such references. For instance, the majority of brands would be hesitant to produce and market vintage-style undergarments because they are not “in fashion” right now and would not appeal to most consumers. Anthropologie, however, is the perfect store to sell something like that because it appeals to their consumers’ quirky taste but they don’t have to go to the thrift shop to buy it. As was previously mentioned, Anthropologie consumers have high cultural capital, which is reflected not only in the products they consume but also in the way that they consume. High cultural capital consumers tend to consume products that are scarce, because they value exoticism. They enjoy consuming products that the majority of people don’t have access to or wouldn’t be able to appreciate. (Holt 13) Anthropologie consumers want to buy clothing and home décor that is going to make them stand out and distinguish themselves from other consumers.

Its lack of traditional advertising and specificity in consumer outreach is really what sets Anthropologie apart from so many other retail brands. For most brands, the end goal is to maximize profits by attracting a large number of customers. In order to achieve this, they will try to appeal to a wide range of consumers. The other strategy is to specialize in one particular product or category of products and use that as a basis for advertising. Anthropologie has taken an entirely different route and decided to focus on one particular type of customer, providing them with everything from clothes to house wares to cosmetic products. Rather than focus on creating advertising to try and reel in consumers, Anthropologie has focused their efforts on creating a shopping experience that will appeal deeply and directly to one specific kind of consumer, one who the brand has made its priority to understand. Anthropologie has its consumer base down to a t, and because of that it does not need to advertise in order bring in customers.

Moreover, Anthropologie is not necessarily interested in expanding its consumer base. Despite the potential risks of only catering to one specific consumer, Anthropologie is actually doing quite well, not only as a business but also as a brand. In the article “Sophisticated Sell”, Polly LaBarre explains that on average, customers spend longer periods of time in Anthropologie than they do in other chain stores. Additionally, customers tend to spend much more money on a visit to Anthropologie than the average customer spends per visit. Needless to say, the brand’s niche consumer approach is paying off, and part of that probably has to do with the perceived “exclusivity” of the brand. As one can see, the consumer base for Anthropologie is fairly small and very well targeted. This probably adds to the allure of the brand, seeing as the ideal consumer is someone who likes to be unique and stand out from the crowd. Perhaps if Anthropologie started advertising and bringing in different types of customers, the current ones would stop shopping there because it would no longer be different or distinctive.

Social Media Marketing

Even though they don’t use typical advertising strategies, Anthropologie is still interested in communicating with their consumers and creating a sense of community around the brand. One of the ways they are doing this is through social media. Digital communication is great because it allows the brand to reach a large number of consumers all at once and create a sense of solidarity regarding the brand. A brand community is an “imagined” community that is centered on a shared interest or identity, which means it can be removed from a physical space and disembedded from geographic constraints. (Muniz & O’Guinn 413) By utilizing the Internet as a marketing platform, Anthropologie can ensure that people are still exposed to the brand even if they don’t shop at the stores or physically interact with the products. The whimsical and artistic ambiance of Anthropologie’s brand is translated to their various social media profiles in order to facilitate communication with and among the consumers. The Anthropologie brand is a heavily visual one, so its message comes through the most effectively over image-based social media platforms, namely Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Anthropologie’s Pinterest presence is fairly impressive, with nearly 400,000 followers and just over 4000 “pins” to its 58 boards. Pinterest is an excellent site for building and maintaining brand community because its primary features allow users to pin and repin images to the appropriate boards. The boards are usually separated by theme or category, such as “books” or “wedding ideas”, which helps cater to specific tastes and interests. Anthropologie, for instance, has more than 50 boards with labels like “shoe spotlight” and “party style”. Consumers can look through each of the boards according to the titles that strike their fancy, and when they find something they like, they have the ability to repin it to one of their own boards, using whichever categorization and caption they please. Through Pinterest, consumers can share their personal product choices from the Anthropologie brand with everyone in their network, and connect with other customers using the repin feature. The brand’s Pinterest profile also gives consumers a sense of individuality and agency by allowing them to pick and choose which products to repin based on their personal sense of style. Consumers are able to brand themselves through their own boards, and show the rest of their followers how they are involved with the Anthropologie brand.

Anthropologie also utilizes Instagram as a platform for promoting its brand and creating a sense of community among its consumers.  Although it doesn’t post as much as it does on Pinterest, Anthropologie has over 500,000 followers on Instagram. Instagram is a very fitting site for a brand like Anthropologie because of its artistic nature. The filters on Instagram give users the ability to take seemingly “normal” pictures and enhance them to be more unique and aesthetic. This is very much in line with the Anthropologie brand, which values design and artistry. The Anthropologie profile on Instagram is basically a stream of semi-professional pictures featuring the brand’s products that have been amended through one of the artsy filters. Consumers can join the brand community by following Anthropologie on Instagram, and have the opportunity to interact with other consumers through features like hashtags and commenting.

Pictures courtesy of Anthropologie and Instagram

Screen shot 2013-12-15 at 11.52.25 PM Pictures courtesy of Anthropologie and Instagram

While the brand’s presence on Pinterest and Instagram is mainly focused on the products themselves, Anthropologie is also using social media to foster a community that is centered around a certain lifestyle. While the brand’s Pinterest and Instagram accounts feature pictures of its various products, the Tumblr blog includes so much more. The blog features highbrow drink and food recipes, many of which call for expensive and exotic ingredients, as well as indie music playlists and crafty do-it-yourself projects.  The entire blog is reflective of Anthropologie’s brand image – highbrow, artistic, and cultured. The blog serves to create a whole way of life for Anthropologie consumers, a brand community that revolves around more than just the clothes or the home décor. In many ways, Anthropologie’s blog is an extension of the ideal consumer. It includes not only the items that Anthropologie consumers purchase, but also the music they listen to, the food that they eat, and the drinks they like to mix. It essentially outlines the habitus of an ideal consumer, and invites other consumers to partake in these lifestyle choices. The blog gives consumers the opportunity to come together and create a community that focuses on an entire way of life instead of individual products and designs.

Consumer Reproduction

Anthropologie is creating an online community not just through the content they produce, but also through the content produced for them by participatory consumers. When these consumers post pictures on Instagram using the hashtag “Anthropologie” or post something about the brand on their blog, they are doing what Tiziana Terranova describes as free labor. This term is appropriate because the work that these consumers are putting in is not compensated financially, and they are providing this content willingly. (Lury 104) For instance, there are numerous lifestyle and fashion blogs dedicated primarily to Anthropologie products. A simple Internet search will result in blogs such as “Effortlessly Anthropologie”, “Anthromollogies”, and “Breakfast at Anthropologie”. These blogs usually feature product reviews, outfit ideas, styling tips, and items that the blogger herself is looking to consume. These blogs are about more than just the products, however. Often the writer will post about other aspects of her life, such as her travel experiences or a new restaurant she wants to eat at. Even though the main focus is on the products, readers are also getting a glimpse into these bloggers’ lives.

What is interesting to note is how similar many of these bloggers are to the consumer profile that was outlined earlier.  For instance, in the “about” section of the blog Effortlessly Anthropologie, blogger Roxy describes herself as an adventurer, a technology executive by trade but a “writer by passion”. She also mentions that she travels six times per year, and that she is interested in photography. She comes across as an educated professional with a creative side and an interest in exploring, which is directly in line with the Anthropologie consumer profile. Similarly, Molly of the blog Anthromollogies calls herself a “beauty seeker”, before going on to say that she is a musician and teacher and that she is married with children. Just like Roxy, she presents herself as educated, but with an eye for aesthetics. Judging by their pictures and self-descriptions, it is probably safe to say that both of these women are at least in their late 20s with college degrees, lucrative careers, and an artistic flair. They both seem very open-minded, excited to expand their horizons and try new things. These bloggers are exactly the kinds of consumers that Anthropologie is trying to attract, and clearly it is working. Not only are these women loyal consumers, but they are also helping to create a consumption community around the brand.

Picture courtesy of Effortlessly Anthropologie

Picture courtesy of Effortlessly Anthropologie

Anthropologie is one of only a handful of brands that have come to understand their consumers so well that they can make profits and build a loyal community without having to use traditional marketing techniques. The executives at Anthropologie have a very clear idea of who they want to target – she is smart, she is professional, she is creative, and she loves her individuality. This is the Anthropologie woman, and the brand executives know her inside and out, to the point where they can cater their products and consumption experience directly to her. Moreover, this strategy works remarkably well. Anthropologie is a thriving company, and consumers feel very connected to it, even making their own content based on the brand. It’s a fairly uncommon approach, but for this brand, it works.

Works Cited:

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

Lury, Celia. Consumer Culture. 2nd Ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011. Print.

Muniz, Albert, and Thomas C. O’Guinn. “Brand Community.” Journal of Consumer Research 27.4 (2001): 412-432. Print.

Introduction: The Soul Cycle experience

The relationship between the Soul Cycle brand and its consumers is unique, most notably because consumers have engaged with the brand in the exact way in which the brand intended.  Specifically, through marketing a Soul Cycle spinning class as a group experience rather than simply a forty-five minute exercise routine, Soul Cycle has been able to cultivate a loyal client base that has developed a community around the brand.  This essay uncovers Soul Cycle’s strategy through the examining the brand’s social media platform that is used in order to communicate with consumers, the program for maintaining their client base and obtaining new members, as well as Soul Cycle’s targeting specific types of consumers that promote their brand’s image and ideology.  Soul Cycle consumers have positively responded to the brand’s marketing strategy by forming strong communities revolving around instructors and studio locations, engaging with the brand and other clients through social media outlets as well as attending classes, and attributing a divine-like characteristic to the Soul Cycle experience by forming personal attachments and identities to the brand.

The following sections first define Soul Cycle’s particular marketing strategy, and then demonstrate how consumers have responded.  The three components of Soul Cycle’s marketing strategy are social media engagement, securing a loyal client-base and targeting the ideal consumer.  In general, consumers have responded to the three-pronged plan by forming a community around the brand; however, more specifically, in response to Soul Cycle’s communication using Social Media, consumers engage with the brand through social media and participation in classes.  Additionally, Soul Cycle’s strategy for maintaining existing clients and obtaining new members is reflected in consumers creating communities around the brand based on instructors and studio locations.  Finally, in an effort to target the ideal consumer, Soul Cycle customers respond to this strategy by forming an identity and community revolving around the brand. Overall, the most prevalent feature of Soul Cycle’s brand strategy and the reaction from consumers is the cultivation of a brand community.  Muniz and O’Guinn classify a brand community as, “a specialized, non-geographically bound community, based on a structured set of social relationships among admirers of a brand.” (Muniz, O’Guinn 412).  The upcoming sections demonstrate that consumers form community through engaging with the brand and other riders through online outlets as well as when they attend classes.  Whether the communities are formed about the brand in general or about specific instructors and locations, each community is participating in “the brand’s larger social construction” and playing “a vital role in the brand’s ultimate legacy” (Muniz, O’Guinn 412).

Promotional Content typically used in Soul Cycle's studio decor and merchandise.  Screen Shot taken from Soul Cycle's instagram page.

Promotional Content typically used in Soul Cycle’s studio decor and merchandise. Screen Shot taken from Soul Cycle’s instagram page.

Brand Engagement:

Dialogue between the producers and consumers are almost entirely facilitated through communication on social media.  Before further describing the details of how Soul Cycle and its clients engage with each other on various social media platforms, the significance of this type of correspondence will be explored through the findings of Alison Hearn, Adam Arvidsson and Celia Lury.  In Hearn’s research on self-branding, she explains the significance of Facebook and other social media sites in the formation of branding and the formation of self-identity.  Hearn states, “it currently appears as though social network sites are the centre of both community and commerce in the virtual world” (Hearn 210).  This statement concisely describes the rationale behind both the producers and consumers social media activity; Soul Cycle is seeking to promote commerce and customers are forming community and identity around the brand and product.

Soul Cycle communicates with consumers almost entirely through online media sources; it is important to note the lack of printed ad campaigns issued by the brand. The use of online rather than printed promotional content indicates that the ideal consumer is one who has a strong social media presence and incorporates these media outlet into his everyday life.  The fitness company has expanded to several social media channels such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and even Spotify.  However, the main web source utilized by Soul Cycle is their official webpage titled www.soul-cycle.com, which also contains their “soul blog” page.    The content on their social media sites is majority re-posting from their blog, but the integration of their media content shows consumers that they have a substantial online presence, the information is easily accessible, and the brand has a desire to interact with it’s clients.  It also shows that Soul Cycle is innovative and very much a part of the contemporary culture.   The brand uses social media in order to promote this sense of brand immersion and to perpetuate their trendy image.  Specifically, Soul Cycle’s classes have extra appeal because of the music selections that are part of each unique class’s choreography.  As a result, Soul Cycle has started reaching consumers by publishing playlists on Spotify that are a reflection of the instructors’ favorite hits or are selected by a theme.  The brand’s emphasis on music is relevant because Soul Cycle’s main locations are in Los Angeles and New York City; both of these cities have strong music cultures and thus Soul Cycle may be using this medium to connect to consumers in these locations and to keep them interested and engaged. The use of social media and online marketing reflects their interest in appealing to a younger demographic of culturally hip and tech savvy individuals.  Specifically, Hearn claims that Facebook and other social media sites are “coveted sites for web advertising” because, “corporate interests see a way to embed their brands in the minds of hard to reach teens by talking to them in ‘their online vernacular’” (Hearn 211).

Soul Cycle image promoting the brand's online presence on Twitter (Screen Shot taken from Soul Cycle's Instagram page)

Soul Cycle image promoting the brand’s online presence on Twitter (Screen Shot taken from Soul Cycle’s Instagram page)

Interestingly, Soul Cycle members interact with the brand in a way that is reflective of how the product is marketed to consumers.  Specifically, as previously stated in earlier sections, Soul Cycle’s entire marketing campaign is presented through social media and the company seeks to appeal to consumers by promoting a sense of community and brand identity.  Therefore, it is no surprise that Soul Cycle’s members are engaging with the brand primarily through social media outlets as well as forming communities based on favorite instructors and locations.  In regard to communities developed on social media, Soul Cycle has 28,904 likes on Facebook, 24,752 followers on Twitter and 22,000 followers on Instagram.  As a point of comparison, Soul Cycle’s main competitor, Flywheel Sports, has 17,505 likes on Facebook, 10,481 followers on Twitter and 6,241 followers on Instagram; this demonstrates that Soul Cycle has reached far more consumers through social media than many of the brand’s competitors have.  Beyond the standard posts by consumers documenting their status of going to Soul Cycle, members have engaged with Soul Cycle on social media in unique ways. Specifically, “participation on these sites also involves the formation of groups around shared interests and connections” (Hearn 211).  For instance, even simply entering “soul cycle” on twitter leads one to find various ways in which consumers have incorporated soul cycle into their daily lives and identity.  Fans have created twitter accounts such as @Soulcycleprobz, which indicates a sense of closure within the community because only Soul Cycle regulars would be able to understand the jokes.  Additionally, even in twitter bios members have put that they are Soul Cycle “addicts” or “enthusiasts,” and instructors are very active on twitter as well as other social media outlets.  Therefore, while on the one hand the incorporation of Soul Cycle into the online presence of clients helps to promote the brand, clients are also using their involvement with Soul Cycle to help form community and to craft digitized self-branded identities.

Since Soul Cycle is a brand that provides a service, the main activity that consumers engage in around the brand is attending the Soul Cycle classes. On occasion, Soul Cycle will sponsor a ride for a particular charity, which is a way in which consumers can engage in an activity around the brand and also feel that they are apart of a loving community.  Additionally, Soul Cycle also sponsors competitions such as their “Movember Competition” in which men submit photos of them with a moustache for a chance to win 10 free classes; the point of the Movember Competition is to raise awareness for men’s health (soul blog).  Also, the launch of the Soul Cycle clothing line has facilitated an easy way for members to feel like they are apart of a community by wearing the products.  In addition, Soul Cycle community members can be easily identified as Soul Cycle clients when they wear the brand’s clothing line.  But by far the most interesting aspect of examining Soul Cycle in terms of brand community is the fact that each Soul Cycle ride is supposed to be a community experience; therefore, it is only natural that members would form a community around the brand.  One author explains, “the exercise program focuses on the “energy of the pack” and creates a strong community bond between the riders” (prnewswire.com).  Therefore, the most effective way that the brand facilitates communication and community among consumers is by having a main component of the class structure be oriented around the idea of riding as a group activity, rather than an individual challenge.  Also, Soul Cycle frequently has themed rides featuring a particular musical artist or genre, which naturally brings people together in class who have similar interests.

The significance of the relationship between Soul Cycle and consumers in the digital realm and through participating in Soul Cycle’s classes and programs is best explained through the concept of “immaterial labor.”  Immaterial labor refers to “the practices that produce either the immaterial content of commodities, or the social context of production itself” (Arvidsson 241).   Arvidsson argues that when consumers interact with the brand through engaging in “immaterial labor,” an “ethical surplus (a social bond, a shared experience, a common identity)” is created “through productive communication” (Arvidsson 235).  In other words, consumers are not passive bystanders in the construction of brand value and meaning, but rather, through their active engagement with the brand, consumers form personal ties between the brand and other members of the brand community, which directly correlates to the “direct basis of its economic value” (Arvidsson 237).  So when critics try to grapple with why loyal customers can pay up to seventy dollars for a Soul Cycle class, the rationale is rather simple- the social relation, shared identity and emotional attachments developed through immaterial labor and direct engagement with the brand’s product justify the economic value.  Furthermore, the significance of consumers engaging in forms of “free labor” such as “participating in online discussions and mailing list, simply recommending products to their friends, or adding new cultural meaning to products” is that “free participation is a crucial part of contemporary value production” (Lury 104).  Therefore, the line between production and consumption is becoming less defined and consumers have greater influence in “transforming the commodity in use” (Lury 104).

Securing a Loyal Client-base:

Soul Cycle’s ability to secure a loyal client-base is heavily dependent on Soul Cycle’s brand image as well as the ability to create a brand community.  According to Muniz and O’Guinn, the three core community commonalities are consciousness of kind, rituals and traditions and moral responsibility.  Soul Cycle has secured a loyal clientele as well as facilitated a brand community because the brand incorporated these factors into its strategy.  The most relevant of the three is moral responsibility, which is, “a sense of duty to the community as a whole, and to individual members of the community” (Muniz, O’Guinn 424).   Moral responsibility is manifested in the overall strategy for obtaining new clients; the strategy seems to be similar to that of a “trickle down effect.”  Specifically, Soul Cycle’s marketing techniques seem to focus completely on immersing the existing clients in the brand so that they will spread the news to their friends and invite them to join.  An example of this strategy is that often Soul Cycle will send out e-mail blasts promoting that if existing clients bring a friend, the friend will ride for free.   The attempt to focus primarily on existing clients is consistent with the idea that “to insure long-term survival it is necessary to retain old members and integrate new ones” (Muniz, O’Guinn 424); this concept is linked to moral responsibility.   Additionally, the act of inviting friends to join Soul Cycle demonstrates that “moral responsibility also includes looking out for and helping other members in their consumption of the brand” (Muniz, O’Guinn 425). More broadly however, Soul Cycle also has weekly themed rides in order to keep existing clients interested and to appeal to their eclectic musical tastes.

Furthermore, many of the featured stories on the soul blog are about existing clients’ success stories.  By promoting the success stories of customers, Soul Cycle and the brand community members are engaging in the ritual component of the formation of brand communities.  Specifically, “sharing brand stories is an important process as it reinforces consciousness of kind between brand members and contributes to imagined communities” (Muniz, O’Guinn 423).  The emphasis on favoring existing clients is evident in the way in which the Soul Cycle staff is trained; for example, “Emphasis is put on making riders feel special. Every corporate employee works the front desk for a week, so that each gets a sense of who is coming and going. Instructors are encouraged to know riders’ names, to learn about their lives, and to interact with them accordingly. Favored riders may be pulled to the coveted front row or even asked to ride the instructor bike” (Morris).   This technique is supported by Lury’s claims that branding goes beyond the actual product and even transforms the actual inner-workings of the company.   In Lury’s discussion of markets and branding in Consumer Culture, she describes a phenomenon called “brand engagement” or “internal marketing,” in which the relationship between the brand and the employees are stressed in order for the employees to embody the core values of the brand; this is an important step in securing brand authenticity.  Specifically, Lury states, “the first step to creating brand authenticity is therefore to ensure that its core values are clear and have been fully internalized by those who work within the company” (Lury 145).   Therefore, much of Soul Cycle’s success in securing loyal clients is attributed to the popularity of instructors and their ability to fully embody Soul Cycle’s brand persona.   Additionally, selling fashionable soul merchandise that is themed and changes every season is also a way that Soul Cycle uses existing clients to attract new consumers; wearing a soul cycle t-shit is basically a walking advertisement for the brand.  This is enhanced by the fact that the symbols of yellow, bicycle wheels and skulls are now easily identified with the Soul Cycle brand.

Soul Cycle’s main marketing premise to secure a loyal consumer base is to promote a sense of brand community amongst customers.  The tendency for customers to form community around the brand is due to Soul Cycle’s emphasis on moral responsibility and consciousness of kind.  Consciousness of kind is, “the intrinsic connection that members feel toward one another, and the collective sense of difference from others not in the community” (Muniz, O’Guinn 413).  The concept of moral responsibility directly relates to Soul Cycle because instructors structure the class around riding as a pack; if they see certain members getting tired or giving up they will emphasize that each member has a responsibility to the other riders in the class.  Additionally, phrases such as “pack, crew, cult, posse, community, soul cycle” are printed on the walls of the studios and on some of their merchandise.  Therefore, the overall feeling of being a part of a community and for each member to have a moral responsibility to the community as a whole is intrinsic to Soul Cycle’s core values.  Soul Cycle customers also form community in separating themselves from the clientele of Soul Cycle’s competitors.  For instance, an author explains the relationship between Soul Cycle and Flywheel as, “the two companies are fierce and unfriendly competitors, with strong allegiances and a divided clientele. In a New York Times article about the breakup, one frequent spinner put it bluntly: “It’s like team Angelina and team Jennifer.” Said another: “It would be wrong to go to both of them” (Price 1).  Therefore, each company has their respective clientele and there is very little cross over because members of Soul Cycle have developed a personal attachment to the brand.  This phenomenon is supported by the tendency of brand community members with consciousness of kind to “frequently note a critical demarcation between users of their brand and users of other brands.  There is some important quality, not always easily verbalized, that sets them apart from others and makes them similar to one another” (Muniz, O’Guinn 418).

However, the most prominent way in which consumers form a community and attachment around the brand is by developing cult-like groupings around certain instructors and locations.  From personal experience, when talking to individuals who frequently attend soul cycle, the most common discussion is about which instructors they like.  Soul Cycle does an excellent job at marketing their instructors and helping consumers form attachments to them based on music tastes and fitness background; there is even an entire section of the Soul Cycle website dedicated to the biographies of the instructors.  During my visits to Soul Cycle, I have witnessed the interactions between loyal groupies and their idolized instructors and it is clear that members will go out of their way to attend classes with their favorite instructors.  One author states, “Soul Cycle customers don’t pick a class based on location or time; they pick based on instructor” (Epstein).  They will talk to the instructors after class, follow them on Twitter and Facebook and make sure they sit in the front row and get their names mentioned during class.  Soul cycle regulars are very loyal to their favorite instructors, and classes for popular instructors can fill up within minutes of the weekly sign-ups starting at noon every Monday.  As one Vanity Fair journalist explains her experience interacting with the popular instructor Stacey Griffith, “Obviously, I’d done my Googling (stalking), and I knew that she was a celebrity favorite with a cult following. It was apparently a big deal that I had gotten into her class” (Volpe 1).  As a result, communities form amongst the “groupies” of specific instructors.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWu2vPI4j2M (Promotional Video for Celebrity Instructor Stacey Griffith)

Targeting the Ideal Consumer:

The key to understanding Soul Cycle’s appeal to consumers lies within the “cultural process of branding” (Banet-Weiser 5).  Specifically, Soul Cycle has marketed their brand as an experience rather than a product, so consumers have attached social, cultural and emotional meaning to the brand and participation in Soul Cycle classes.  Banet-Weiser uses the term “brand culture” to refer “to the way in which these types of brand relationship have increasingly become cultural contexts for everyday living, individual identity, and affective relationships” (Banet-Weiser 4).   Soul Cycle does not appear to have one overall ideal consumer type, but rather there are several qualities that are key to their ideal consumer base.  One quality that Soul Cycle seems to look for in their ideal consumer is the potential for a dramatic transformation.  For instance, in their soul blog, almost weekly an article is published highlighting a client who overcame some sort of obstacle in their personal health and whose life was changed because of exercising at Soul Cycle.  Therefore, Soul Cycle is looking for consumers who have the ability to give them the publicity of a weight loss success story. The process of Soul Cycle enthusiasts sharing their success stories and Soul Cycle publishing these anecdotes contributes to the ritualistic feature of the formation of a brand community.  Specifically, “Storytelling is an important means of creating and maintaining community.  Stories based on common experiences with the brand serve to invest the brand with meaning, and meaningfully link community member to community member” (Muniz, O’Guinn 423).  Therefore, through storytelling community members can bond with each other and the personal ties between the brand and consumers are reinforced.

Soul Cycle rider Trenice lost 53 lbs since starting at Soul Cycle. (screen shot taken from Soul Blog)

Soul Cycle rider Trenice lost 53 lbs since starting at Soul Cycle. (screen shot taken from Soul Blog)

http://www.soul-cycle.com/blog.cfm?season=Summer%202013

Furthermore, the choice of locations in wealthy neighborhoods indicates that Soul Cycle’s ideal client base consists of high-income individuals.  Specifically, Soul Cycle has studios in some of the most expensive areas in the country such as, Beverly Hills, Greenwich, Upper East Side and Soho.  This also leads to the question of whether Soul Cycle is trying to avoid certain consumers.  The evidence thus far does not demonstrate any intentional discrimination of any specific type of consumer, but their choice in location and their prices seem to lead to the majority of their consumer base to be wealthy and primarily white individuals.  This assumption is based on the demographic of the studio locations as well as due to the realities of social stratification and the high prices of the classes.  Specifically, Soul Cycle charges thirty four dollars per class as well as provides the option to buy class packages in which the price per class can go up as high as seventy dollars for their most premiere package.  The premiere package includes early sign ups, priority on waitlists and even a concierge service  (Ioannou).  In order to appeal to different types of consumers, such as an Upper East Side mother riding in the morning as opposed to an NYU student spinning after school, the instructors are cast very specifically to meet the expected needs and personality of each class and studio (Morris).  Ultimately, the ideal consumer is someone who is searching for a brand identity.  Soul Cycle is seeking a consumer who will be completely engaged and committed to participating in the Soul Cycle lifestyle. In order to attract this type of consumer, Soul Cycle presents itself as an alternative type of exercise.  For instance, even though the brand was bought by Equinox, the company does not work like a traditional gym, in which each member pays a membership fee and pays monthly or yearly. Rather, Soul Cycle’s economic structure is based on a class-by-class basis and there is an emphasis on community and that exercise should be a mind, body and spirit experience.  In this way, Soul Cycle’s appeal as an alternative type of exercise with a spiritual component is similar to Banet-Weiser’s discussion of yoga and the branding of religion.  Furthermore, Banet-Weiser claims, “branded spirituality…is less closely tied to religious institutions, histories, and communal practice and more connected to individual affiliation and circuits of consumer culture” (Banet-Weiser 196).

Additionally, the kinds of consumers that are forming attachments to this brand are very consistent with the ideal consumer prototype that Soul Cycle targets.  The fan base predominately includes upper class white women, who are in search of a brand identity and community.  One author claims that Soul Cycle is simply an exercise chain for “the one percent” (Ioannu). Julie Rice, one of the founders of Soul Cycle, has even said, “there was a hole in the marketplace, especially for the female consumer, for a fitness experience that was joyful, efficient, and provided community” (Cutruzzula 1).  Fans also include celebrity clients such as Jake Gyllenhaal and Lady Gaga.  Besides the celebrity clientele and average upper class individual, the consumers who are most attached and who also receive the most attention from the brand are individuals who have attributed life-changing stories to Soul Cycle, and thus, now revolve their life around attending classes on a regular basis.  For instance, a New York Magazine article describes a woman who “arranged her schedule to have Mondays off work so that she can always be at her computer the moment classes are released… (and) she counts her instructors among her closest friends” (Morris).  Jamie, the twenty-seven year old Soul Cycle regular interviewed above, is one of many consumers who have formed an attachment to Soul Cycle and as a result have formed an almost fetishicized meaning to the brand.  Specifically, Jamie states, “I’m seven years sober. You don’t really get love and acceptance and encouragement and self-gratification from a cocktail… this is what I need in my life, and it just so happened it’s an exercise class” (Morris).  Jamie’s description of Soul Cycle helping her stay sober is fairly consistent with the meanings that the brand attempts to project and demonstrates how consumers have attached emotional meanings to the brand. Holt explains that brands like Soul Cycle have “identity value” in the eyes of consumers.  Specifically, “Acting as vessels of self-expression, the brands are imbued with stories that consumers find valuable in constructing their identities.  Consumers flock to brands that embody the ideals they admire, brands that help them express who they want to be” (Lury 150).  Additionally, Soul Cycle has gained appeal due to the brand’s assertion that it is both a physical and spiritual experience.  For instance, “through branding, the cultural meanings of spiritual practices such as (indoor cycling)…are reimagined not merely economically but also in terms of the relationship individuals have with this practice” (Banet-Weiser 196).   Soul Cycle consumers such as Jamie who have overcome addictions or those who have lost weight and reversed health problems due to Soul Cycle’s intensive routines have attributed a spiritual meaning to the brand. For example, one of Soul Cycle’s celebrity instructors describes the phenomenon as when, “the “outside person” looks better, the “inside person” begins to heal” (Grigoriadis 1); this rationale is precisely playing into the mind, body and spirit component that Soul Cycle promotes and consumers are believing.

Candid shot of the demographic of a typical Soul Cycle class (Upper East Side Location). Image source: NYT A Workout to Make Pulses and Pedals Race

Candid shot of the demographic of a typical Soul Cycle class (Upper East Side Location). Image source: NYT A Workout to Make Pulses and Pedals Race)

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/19/nyregion/19joint.html?loadDynamically=false&ribbonAdDisabled=false&_r=0

Conclusion:

The core of Soul Cycle’s branding strategy as well as the response from consumers can be summed up by three main components: brand engagement, securing a loyal client-base and targeting the ideal consumer.  By implementing this branding strategy, Soul Cycle has led consumers to attach emotional, spiritual and cultural experiences beyond the limitations of the actual physical product.  The most significant form of secondary production through the act of consumption is the cultivation of a brand community. Overall, the theories of Adam Arvidsson, Celia Lury, Alison Hearn, Sarah Banet-Weiser, Albert Muniz and Thomas O’Guinn, have significantly contributed to analyzing the relationship between producer and consumer in the case of the Soul Cycle brand.

Bibliography:

Arvidsson, Adam. “Brands: A Critical Perspective.” Journal of Consumer Culture 2005; 5;235.http://joc.sagepub.com.

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

Cutruzzula, Kara. “Meet SoulCycle’s Founding Spin Doctors.” Refinery29. N.p., 25 Aug. 2013. Web. 24 Nov. 2013. <http://www.refinery29.com/2013/08/50523/soul-cycle>.

Epstein, Rebekah. “SoulCycle’s Secret to Turning Customers into Die-Hard Fans.” Entrepreneur.Entrepreneur.com, 13 Nov. 2013. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.<http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/229905>.

Gigoriadis, Vanessa. “Riding High.” Editorial. Vanity Fair. N.p., Sept. 2012. Web. 24 Nov.2013. http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2012/09/soul-cycle-celebrity-cult-following

Hearn, Alison, “Meat, Mask, Burden: Probing the Contours of the Branded ‘Self.’” Journal of Consumer Culture 8 (2).

Ioannou, Filipa. “Soul Cycle Is a Booming Exercise Chain for the 1 Percent.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 19 July 2013. Web. 24 Nov. 2013. <http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/07/19/soulcycle-is-a-booming-exercise-chain-for-the-1-percent.html>.

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

Morris, Alex. “The Carefully Cultivated Soul of SoulCycle.” New York Magazine 14 Jan. 2013: n. pag. The Cut. New York Magazine, 16 Jan. 2013. Web. 13 Nov. 2013. http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/01/evolution-of-soulcycle.html

“Movember at SoulCycle.” Blog. Soul Cycle, Nov. 2013. Web. 24 Nov. 2013. <http://www.soul-cycle.com/blog.cfm?id=658>.

Muniz, Albert; O’Guinn, Thomas, “Brand Community” Journal of Consumer Research. Vol 27,March 2011.

Saint Louis, Catherine. “In New York, A Rivalry Shifts into High Gear.” The New York Times 10 Oct. 2010, New York ed., ST1 sec.: n. pag. The New York Times. Nytimes.com, 08 Oct.2010. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/10/fashion/10Spin.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&>.

“Luxury Fitness & Lifestyle Brand Leaders Unite – SoulCycle to Enter Strategic Partnership With Equinox to Accelerate Brand’s Growth.” Luxury Fitness & Lifestyle Brand Leaders Unite. Prnewswire, 25 May 2011. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.<http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/luxury-fitness–lifestyle-brand-leaders-unite—soulcycle-to-enter-strategic-partnership-with-equinox-to-accelerate-brands-growth-122578393.html>.

Price, Catherine. “Flywheel, SoulCycling for Uber-Competitive Sadists.” Slate Magazine. N.p.,10 Apr. 2013. Web. 24 Nov. 2013. http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/04/flywheel_exercise_craze_soulcycle_for_uber_competitive_sadists.html

Volpe, Lynden. “A SoulCycle Fanatic’s Q&A with Master Instructor Stacey Griffith.” Vanity Fair. N.p., 23 Oct. 2012. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.             <http://www.vanityfair.com/online/beauty/2012/10/A-SoulCycle-Fanatics-QA-with-Master-Instructor-Stacey-Griffith>.

Jay-Z Covers TIME’s 100 Most Influential People Issue

Introduction

As a brand (who uses cultural materials to strategic ends) and one of the leading cultural intermediaries (who is highly skilled at interpreting certain aspects of popular/consumer culture to the public) in America, Shawn Carter, or more widely known as “Jay-Z,” has come a long way with an extensive portfolio and background in building a powerful presence and influence in mainstream culture. As one of the few hip-hop artists who does not rap about sex and girls all the time, Jay-Z has steadily and tactfully used his music to build a whole cultural discourse (using songs to appropriate words to create new meaning, which from then on is attributed to him) on his growing empire of a personal brand.  Jay-Z is a mogul, and a business (note: not businessman, but a business, man – from his track “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”). His constant name-dropping of brands and collaboration with them mark “his authenticity as a self-made businessman.[1]” Jay-Z’s story is more than one of rags to riches; here is an incredible entrepreneur who exemplifies lifestyle as a conscious choice (“My brands are an extension of me[2]”) over habitus- a set of tastes, knowledge, and habits an individual possesses, which is most often born into as noted by Bourdieu (the Marcy Projects of Brooklyn), and projects it through his brand as it transitions to a sophisticated and elite brand positioning in recent years.

Addressing Consumers

Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter is regarded as the “CEO of Hip-Hop and prince of product placement;” he is like a “walking billboard,”[3] publicly associating himself with a multitude of brands. Each of these brands is embedded with its own message and ideology, which Jay-Z then appropriates when he associates with it to cultivate his own image. Jay-Z carries out what Garcia Canclini writes in “Identities as a Multimedia Spectacle” that “identity is a narrated construct” (Canclini, 95). Each selected association thus co-produces his identity and becomes “a part of his personal brand.”[4] Jay-Z maintains visibility to different kinds of consumers through getting involved in different “projects”, as he would like to call them[5]. As an entrepreneur, Jay-Z has branched out in areas of technology, software, real estate, movie production, theatre, nightlife, apparel, the arts and more. This cross-marketing strategy allows him to open up new markets and borrow (audience, messages, reputation, value, et cetera) from one another to build the empire that he rules today – this also includes shared publicity from personal association with superstar wife, Beyonce Knowles and protégé, Rihanna.

Jay-Z’s target market has changed over the years, from the Black urban middle-class community in the 90s to the black and white elites of today. It is evident from early on that he had far more than music on his mind. Having been the President of Def Jam Records and founder of Roc Nation  (Rocawear, Roc Nation Records-represents Rihanna and M.I.A. among others, Roc Nation sports agency); the co-brand director of Budweiser Select (for which he holds music festivals that his wife Beyonce Knowles headlines); a collaborator with Live Nation (publicly traded concert promoter), Reebok, Heineken, and Bing Search Engine, Jay-Z was building a lifestyle brand that addressed consumers at his level at the time. He was relatable to the young urban black male that participated in hip-hop subculture through consuming hip-hop music and apparel. Pierre Bourdieu observes that individuals try to “improve their social position by manipulating the cultural representation of their situation in the social field,” and that is just what Jay-Z did in “Justify My Thug” (Lury, 90). He created an instant connection with struggling African-Americans of lower socio-economic class using representational strategies of the hustler mentality (with songs “I’m a Hustler” and “1-900-Hustler”). “It’s the sound of a slick-talking hustler making old stories sound new and making a few bucks along the way.”[6] Nevertheless, he attached himself to an existing imagined community (imagined bond that transcends physical borders) that deeply values family and loyalty, which is telling of what he desires in his ideal consumers (emphasized in 5th studio album “The Dynasty: Roc La Familia” released in 2000). Jay-Z extends this imagined community further with lyrical references to Martin Luther King and Barack Obama in “My President is Black,”  aligning himself with the aspirational historic figures. Fluent in the language of brands, art and politics, “Jay-Z has managed to reconcile the dualities of black and white cultures, Bed-Stuy and Tribeca, art and commerce. There’s a reason why he likes to call himself, among many other things, J-Hova.”[7]

As he becomes more in the know, accumulating higher social and cultural capital (acquired sedimented knowledge and competence in making distinctions, value judgments and access to particular cultural classes) from the plethora of collaborations, Jay-Z begins repositioning his personal brand. He has gone beyond targeting the young urban market to now targeting the sophisticated elite in transforming his lifestyle brand (a good basis for social relationships, as observed by Muniz and O’Guinn) into one of luxury.

On his eighth studio album titled “The Black Album” released in November 2003, Jay-Z “declared he was setting aside childish things—I don’t wear jerseys, I’m 30-plus / Give me a crisp pair of jeans, nigga, button up—and changed Rocawear’s look accordingly.”[8] In addition, he begins to invest in a series of projects within highbrow culture. As Douglas Holt details in “Does Cultural Capital Structure American Consumption,” characteristics of high cultural capital include abstraction, individualism, eclecticism, combinational inventiveness, tradition, authenticity, aesthetics, and overall functionality in meaning over practicality.

Jay-Z’s lifestyle website, Life+Times (where he occasionally makes personal posts), embodies combinational inventiveness and authenticity in that this is where consumers can find the direct voice of his brand (other than from his dormant Twitter account that exudes traditional sophistication by the name: Mr.Carter @S_C_) – for example, his statement in response to the controversial racial profiling case at Barneys. As the producer of the Broadway show, Fela (a musical celebrating the late Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti[9]), he is traditional; as the Chairman of Translation Advertising ad agency (in which he hopes to help companies reach the underrepresented African-American market on a more genuine level with his intimate knowledge of the culture[10]), he is interpretive; as the founder of the 40/40 luxurious sports club, he is exotic; as the executive producer of the NBA 2K13 video game and of the 2013 film adaptation of the Great Gatsby, he is eclectic; as a partner of Audemars Piguet watches, Armand de Brignac Champagne, and D’USSE cognac, he is a connoisseur. He also tapped into Barneys New York‘s luxury clientele base by partnering with the luxury department store recently to launch a series of limited edition products with elite fashion houses like Balenciaga, Balmain, and Lanvin  under the name Shawn Carter.[11]

Although he started as a hip-hop artist, Jay-Z quickly morphed into a business, using music as a medium to publicize his recent projects in performing cultural relevancy. Rather than writing press releases, Jay-Z creates songs for mass distribution so his message can be heard in infectious/creative form. He uses his songs to build credibility by telling his story (a history of his brand), which has served him in becoming an owner of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team (“I don’t think I overly thought about…whether he had good business sense,” developer Bruce Ratner says, “But I did know this: I knew his history, I knew how he started from nothing”[12]). Jay-Z addresses his target market of urban literate demographic through media formats like books, websites, commercials and social media: in promoting his twelfth solo studio album Magna Carta Holy Grail, Jay-Z made the announcement through a three-minute spot, which built momentum for the giveaways of digital copies of the album to Samsung users through an app. Jay-Z capitalized on the increasingly technology-reliant society and “changed the way a major album could be released and distributed.”[13]  His combinational inventiveness also guaranteed a platinum status for his album before it even released. From this innovative marketing scheme partnered with Samsung, Jay-Z can find out who his current audience is through the data of users’ social networks and can use this valuable information for future promotional tactics. Jay-Z also uses popular social media platforms to interpellate his audience, having hosted scavenger hunts using Instagram for his book Decoded and interacted with followers on Twitter after his Picasso Baby performance art film. It is thus evident from his recent delivery on different media formats for different brand extensions (Picasso Baby performance art film in promoting Magna Carta Holy Grail denoting abstraction and combinational inventiveness; Decoded as hip-hop literature released in enigmatic-exclusive and abstract-fashion) that Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter is repositioning his brand to appeal to those with higher cultural capital.

Jay-Z’s ideal consumer is thus the present, and/or future tense of himself; his songs are less about his trajectory of how far he has come than about where he is already, and where he desires to be. Constantly alluding to his origins in his songs, he builds connections with those who have been, or are, in his situation, now and then (he claims his collaboration with Barneys New York is for the Shawn Carter Foundation[14], “a New York-based charity which awards post-secondary scholarships to students facing socio-economic hardships”[15]). While he would not like to appeal to the disingenuous consumer; Jay-Z’s ideal consumer is a self-starter who is ambitious and attuned to cultural happenings, appreciates authentic experiences and is ultimately, a synthesis of laid-back sophistication.

Jay-Z interpellates consumers to his brand discourse through rituals of consumption, which “make visible public definitions of what is judged valuable by general consensus”  (as noted by Garcia Canclini) and “fix or anchor social relationships,” as theorized by  Mary Douglas and Baron Irshwood (Lury, 14).  Some rituals of consumption include daily grooming: from sporting Rocawear to now donning Shawn Carter; from partying with Budweiser Select beer to lounging at 40/40 club consuming D’USSE. Other rituals include gift giving (which is “seen as a powerful means of interpersonal communication or influence” because the gift receiver is invited to define him/herself in terms of the material) and rituals of possession, which involves collecting, cleaning , comparing, showing off and even photographing possessions (Lury, 14)

Brand Community

 

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“To have is to be,” as Lury characterizes of Euro-American consumer culture, that “self-identity is a kind of cultural resource, asset or possession” (Lury, 26). In the Instagram screenshots above, consumers engage with the brand as active brand citizens in the (Jay-Z)  brand community – a “non geographically bound community based on a structured set of social relationships among admirers of a brand”  (Muniz & O’Guinn, 412). Instagram User “Neothaone” showcases his consumption practice/ritual of  Jay-Z’s book, Decoded, while consuming a football game. Another Instagram user “Doncognito” shares that he reads Decoded with a glass of Merlot after a dinner at Tuscan Brio. Both users are examples of the Generation X and Y African American males that predominantly constitute Jay-Z’s market consumers. Both examples, also reveal nuances about the consumers forming attachments to Jay-Z as a brand; the former belonging to the original fan base community mainly comprised of urban African-Americans who started out listening to his music and the latter belonging to the affluent African-American community on the rise. (There is a possibility that the now rich consumers could have grown from the original fan base, but it is more likely that they boarded the ship once he started positioning himself as a luxury brand.) To his original fans, he is another living example of the American dream.

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Fans who have experienced socio-economic hardships look to Jay-Z for hope and turn him into a representative of someone who shares their roots; coming from poverty and a more racially discriminating social context than today’s, Jay-Z has a deeper cultural significance to African-Americans with the success he has achieved. He is like a spokesperson for African-Americans in mainstream culture.

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Others, who are affluent that consume his products, pay more attention to where Jay-Z is now than to his history. To this community, he is the contemporary inspiration, a style icon they respect; they, too, see Jay-Z as a representative, but of a community of rising African-Americans. This aligns more with what Jay-Z is trying to project and where he wants to take his brand, with less emphasis on history and more focus on current state. For Jay-Z, it is only natural that his brand rises to luxury with his own rise to elite status.

The collaboration with Barneys recently distinctively draws the line for his consumers. One community buys into what he is trying to project, in the direction of upscale and elite, while the other cannot even participate. Jay-Z alienates the majority of his fans/consumers in this repositioning, turning them into the “dispossessed.” Jay-Z, in creating this distance from consumers, underscores my thesis that he is repositioning to a luxury lifestyle brand, as this is a common  luxury marketing strategy, as noted by Jean-Noel Kapferer. The holiday collection “ranges from the high hundreds to about $58,000; the mogul’s core following is upset at the fact that the collection is geared toward those in a much higher tax bracket.”[16] This controversial move along with the recent racial profiling case at Barneys serve as a basis for communication and community among consumers whom were not direct fans or consumers of Jay-Z’s, but are now in on the conversation because it pertains to a larger social issue. People form communities in speculation of the event and the brand himself.

He has the potential to be an informed and articulate spokesperson…The platform of his massive fame allows him to influence the higher ups at Barney’s to do better…The overall idea is to use his power to educate. Picketing attracts attention and may make Barney’s lose a couple of zeroes in their bottom line, but a more thoughtful and strategic way of combatting this type of ignorance is through education and understanding. Jay Z is uniquely situated to accomplish both. The significance of working on the inside versus shouting on the outside cannot be underestimated. – The Inside Game: Why Jay Z Shouldn’t Back Out of Barney’s Deal by Shamara McCoy

Although Jay-Z was not directly involved in the case, he, as a public figure of a minority group collaborating with the participating store, was expected to have a reaction for the issue it stirred. He consequentially experienced some backlash online and in sales (not as a direct result to the controversy but because of his brand transition). Communication surrounding Jay-Z’s identity and his obligatory role is carried out on social media sites such as Twitter:

“JAY-Z wants u to buy a $39,000 watch from his collection at Barneys. Meanwhile most of his fan base does not make that in a year of hard work” from @rosaclemente

“I grew up poor. I can’t even comprehend this” writes @DeAndreEnrico

while @herheelsarehigh writes “I dnt understand y ppl mad at #JayZ new collection at Barney’s?! He doesn’t hav to make clothes for the poor black ppl.”

The affluent fans who have the means will “drop a few thousand dollars for a piece of Jay Z’s look.” Andrew Davey, a 21-year-old black NYU student belonging to the affluent segment of Jay-Z’s fan/consumer base was “among the few actually seen buying items in the small, black gallery on the third floor that housed Jay Z’s collection.” Davey bought three items totaling to a near $3000, and said he “liked the style … when you see it, you know it’s Jay Z.”[18] For the rest of the disappointed consumers, even if it is a negative experience, there is a sense of community that they are not the only ones feeling this way both in store and online.

Conclusion

Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter’s brand began in the music industry, in which he paved his way to become a lifestyle brand, steadily expanding to tremendous breadth using other brands to build his own empire, and arrives at a luxury standpoint in recent years. Jay-Z relies heavily on mediatization in attaching meaning through media to penetrate culture; he offers ample space for appropriation and secondary production (which is hidden in the process of its [an object] utilization in the act of consumption) of his products – consumers download/purchase his albums, go to his concerts, remix (appropriate/personalize) his music, scrutinize his lyrics and share thoughts about those lyrics and his latest moves on various digital platforms (de Certeau, xiii). Consumers also engage with Jay-Z the brand through creating fan sites.[17]  As a brand, Jay-Z is easily accessible due to his plethora of affiliate projects, and it is this ubiquitous presence as a lifestyle brand that drives both textual and non-textual  conversations in various markets (apparel, sports, beauty, music, et cetera) and on various social and cultural issues.

Jay Z embodies so much of what makes New York New York. A kid from a tough neighborhood who grows up in public housing, overcomes lots of bad influences on the street, never lets go of his dream, makes it to the top — and then keeps going, pursuing new outlets for his creativity and ambition.[19]

There is a certain grounded aspirational element to Jay-Z’s brand story; no matter how far he goes or how high he flies, his origins will always be at the root of his throne.


Web Links

[4] http://www.vulture.com/2013/07/complete-list-of-every-product-endorsed-by-jay-z.html

[5] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwYEBXN0EIw

[6] http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/27/arts/music/27jayz.html?_r=0

[7] http://www.vulture.com/2013/07/lessons-from-the-jay-z-business-model.html

[8] http://www.vulture.com/2013/07/lessons-from-the-jay-z-business-model.html

[9] http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1626972/jay-z-becomes-broadway-producer-fela.jhtml

[10] http://www.xxlmag.com/xxl-magazine/2008/02/jay-z-steve-stoute-launch-translation-advertising/

[11] http://thewindow.barneys.com/a-new-york-holiday-shawn-jay-z-carter/

[12] http://www.vulture.com/2013/07/lessons-from-the-jay-z-business-model.html

[13] http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/branding/5827366/samsungs-todd-pendleton-on-that-game-changing-jay-z-deal

[14] http://lifeandtimes.com/a-statement-from-shawn-jay-z-carter

[15] http://thewindow.barneys.com/a-new-york-holiday-shawn-jay-z-carter/

[16] http://www.xxlmag.com/news/2013/11/fans-bothered-jay-zs-high-priced-holiday-collection/

[17] www.mrcarter.org is an example of Jay-Z’s fan sites. This site features Jay-Z newest album and ways to purchase it, sites for his affiliations:powerhouse wife Beyonce and her sister solange Knowles, as well as a “family” category of links to usher, Eminem, drake, etc.  www.jayz.tickets.musictoday.com is a password-protected fan community website with stated membership benefits such as “access to Jay-Z pre-sale tickets, email updates with Jay-Z news, contests/giveaways/merchandise specials

[18] http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/jay-z-slammed-barneys-line-debuts-gleaming-window-display-article-1.1523416

Texts 

Canclini, Nestor Garcia. “Consumption is Good for Thinking.”  Consumers and Citizens.  University of Minnesota Press: Minnesota, 2001.  Print.

De Certeau, Michel. Practice of Everyday Life.: University of California, 2011. Print.

Holt, Douglas B. “Does Cultural Capital Structure American Consumption?”  The Journal of Consumer Research.  The University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1998.  Print.

Lury, Celia. Consumer Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2011. Print.

Kapferer, Jean-Noël, and Vincent Bastien. The Luxury Strategy: Break the Rules of Marketing to Build Luxury Brands. London: Kogan Page, 2012. Print.

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

Sister Sister

“guys, #coachella in #paris!!! #comingsoon #sistersister”

Who is Dannijo?

The story behind Danielle and Jodie Snyder and their brand Dannijo is the quintessential ‘American dream’ of the millennial generation: through hard work and the use of social media, you shall acquire a life of luxury.

The Snyder sisters have a had a passion for jewelry from a young age, beginning their venture when they taught themselves how to make handmade jewelry as children, playing with their father’s medical tools. In 2003, the sisters opened their first store in their hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, selling their handcrafted collection as well as a range of other fashion jewelry and accessories labels.  After a few years, the sisters found themselves in New York after graduating college and pursuing careers in fashion. While their craft of jewelry making had been a talent of the past, an opportunity to design jewelry again pesented itself through a charity organization that Danielle had co-founded while in college. The sisters collaborated on a collection for the non-profit and received rave reviews, including an endorsement from celebrity Natalie Portman who deemed their jewelry the ‘gift to give’ for the 2007 holiday season.

The enthusiastic response to their sample line in 2007 motivated the Snyder sisters to return to their passion of jewelry making. Unlike in 2003, however, the Snyders distanced themselves from retail and decided to launch a luxury jewelry brand. In an interview with  Inc., the Snyders explicitly stated their strategy of “shopping their designs to the biggest names in fashion. ‘We knew that if we were going to do the jewelry thing and not have jobs, we needed to make sure we landed great accounts.’ First stop: Bergdorf Goodman.” Through the support of A-lister Natalie Portman and a stroke of good luck, the Snyder sisters acquired an account with Bergdorf Goodman during the pit of America’s recession and the rest was history.  In an interview with Nicole Williams, Danielle said “by introducing our brand with a prestigious venue like Bergdorf, we were able to use it as leverage to open doors at other target accounts, ultimately creating a very unique and exclusive niche in the fashion-jewelry arena.” Since March 2008, Dannijo has attained huge name brand accounts such as Henri Bendel, Intermix, Harvey Nichols, and Lance Crawford. Dannijo also acquired a ranch of celebrity clientele, including Britney Spears, Blake Lively, Katy Perry, and Beyonce Knowles.

A critical analysis of the Dannijo brand has lead me to conclude that it is no coincidence Dannijo has attracted such a specific following. Dannijo is strategically targeting a very specific demographic that all lead very similar lifestyles. Their ideal consumers are upper-middle class, affluent, authentic, and educated young women. I argue that due to the limited availability of Dannijo’s high priced products, the sisters haves succeeded in acquiring an elitist community of followers that tend to have high economic and cultural capital (HCC). As an HCC consumer, this generally implies that you have a knowledge of specific cultural practices that offers you accessibility to a higher social class.  In the case of Dannijotheir consumers are both financially stable as well as culturally informed, specifically in fashion.  The sisters use a variety of strategies to address their consumers. These range from social media strategies, cross promotion, celebrity publicity, and corporate social responsibility. While Dannijo has undoubtedly built a strong following of consumers, there is no evidence to suggest that these avid Dannijo consumers share a similar bond among themselves. It is strictly the bond between the consumers and the brand that has prevailed so strongly, just as Dannijo had initially intended.

The Ideal Consumer: “Audrey Hepburn meets rock & roll”

Due to Dannijo’s high price point and extravagant pieces, it is obvious that their ideal consumer is both affluent and authentic. Dannijo is most acclaimed for their statement pieces and bib necklaces, all of which are extremely unique and attention grabbing pieces. As Rent the Runway said in their brand description, Dannijo is not meant for “the faint of heart or the party flower,” clearly implying an edgy and bold consumer. Rent the Runway’s description accurately depicts the image that Dannijo aims to project. Their ideal consumer is not a wallflower or a follower; she is an independent ringleader who aims to make a statement. As young entrepreneurs who made their own way in the big city, Danielle and Jodie very much embody their brand image. The sisters now lead rather lavish lifestyles, often seen jet setting across the globe through their Twitter and Instagram accounts. Ultimately, the Dannijo target audience consists of young women who either lead similar  lifestyles to Danielle and Jodie, or who at least aspire to lead such lifestyles. In Lifestyle and Consumer Culture, Mike Feathersone describes lifestyle as “connoting individualist, self-expression, and a stylistic self-consciousness. One’s body, clothes, speech, pastimes, . . .choice of holidays, etc.  are to be regarded as indicators of the individuality of taste and sense of style of the owner/consumer,” (55). In the case of Dannijo, the Snyder sisters quite clearly display their lifestyle via their social media accounts. Featherstone claims that rather than passively adopting a lifestyle, the ‘new heroes of consumer culture,’ are able to cultivate their own lifestyle and display their individuality through the assemblage of goods, clothes, practices, etc. Danielle and Jodie have clearly cultivated their own lifestyle as New York socialites, who were once living a simple middle class lifestyle in Florida. With that said, Dannijo is ultimately a luxury brand that will attract people who care about status. Therefore, the sisters express their own luxury lifestyle through their brand using social media platforms. These lifestyle images can be viewed both as a reflection, as well as an inspiration for, their ideal consumers.

Realin’ Them In: How Dannijo acquires their luxury-living gals

1. Do Good by Buying Good

Consumers with high cultural capital tend to be socially aware and therefore conscious consumers. Social elites tend to exude ethical consumption, which Lury defines as a “broad spectrum of practices, organizations and initiatives, and addresses a wide range of issues, including working conditions, fair trade, animal welfare, human rights and envrionmental concern,” (Lury, 177). The practice of ethical consumption by social elites was displayed in the case study “Good food, good people: Understandin the cultural repertoire of ethical eating,” in which the majority of “ethical eaters” were from a white, middle to upper class  background. Ethical consumption can also carry over into the world of fashion, a nation that Dannijo has tapped into. DanniJo advocates creating a sustainable economic opportunity for women in underdeveloped areas of the world and all packaging is handmade in Rwanda as part of their women’s empowerment initiative. Furthermore, their brand serves to attract attention to grassroots nonprofit initiatives such as Living With a Life-long Ambition (LWALA), a nonprofit that aims to involve youth in solving global issues such as the AIDS epidemic. This speaks to an extremely specific consumer who is sophisticated and globally conscious. Dannijo’s connection to non profits speaks to Banet-Weiser’s concept of Corporate Social Responsibility, in which ‘corporations use a social issue as a platform not only to sell products but to further their brand,’ (Banet-Weiser, 135). Dannijo’s CSR serves multiple purposes, it not only attracts Dannijo’s ideal consumer; someone who is affluent yet socially conscious, but it also helps cultivate an authentic relationship between the brand and the consumer by working towards a greater good together.

2. #SocialMediaStrategies

At the turn of the 21st century, Banet-Weiser noted that contemporary brand culture is “not as concerned with individual shoppers, as it is with cultivating authetnic relationships with consumers and communities that work to further extend and uild upon the brand individual,” and that individual entrepreneurs are the privileged subejction positions of the contemporary movement,” (Banet-Weiser, 138).As individual entrepreneurs, Danielle and Jodie have also succeeded in cultivating relationships with their consumers through their social media accounts. Dannijo has referred to themselves as being at the forefront of the social media and blog movement, and they have stats to prove it. Their reliance on social media is one of the ways they are extremely unique and successful in their branding strategies, thus suggesting that their ideal consumer is also a product of the millennial generation who is extremely savvy with social media platforms.

Unlike large fashion brands that often “farm out the task to digital advertising agencies,” the Snyder sister have personal control over the company’s Twitter and Instagram accounts. Rather than solely documenting their jewelry, they use their social media platforms to show their followers what they’re doing, where they’re going, while simultaneously wearing the jewelry. The jets setting sisters have documented their way through Paris Fashion Week, South by Southwest, Coachella, St. Barts, and Montauk, ‘with models, actresses, and blogger friends in tow.’ This branding strategy offers Dannijo a way to display their goods without explicitly advertising it. As a result, consumers who follow Dannijo on social media are first drawn in due to the extravagant pictures, while the jewelry is only an afterthought. As noted by the New York Times, this is one of the reasons Dannijo is able to form such intimate bonds with their customers, unlike massive brands who are disconnected to their brand communities.

What might appear to be a tourist photo of two sisters posing in front of a beautiful landscape, is in fact a clever marketing strategy for Dannijo. A closer look at the photo would should the two sisters subtly promoting their line by wearing their Dannijo jewels around their neck and arms.

What might appear to be a tourist photo of two sisters posing in front of a beautiful landscape, is in fact a clever marketing strategy for Dannijo. A closer look at the photo would should the two sisters subtly promoting their line by wearing their Dannijo jewels around their neck and arms.

One of their more successful campaigns was coining hashtags to perpetuate their brand name. Their most well-known hashtags are “#armparty” and “#putabibonit,” the latter of which has increased their online bib sales by an estimated 20 percent. 

Instagram user @genachandler shows off her outfit of the day to over 2,000 followers

Instagram user @genachandler shows off her outfit of the day to over 2,000 followers

In Celia Lury’s work Consumer Culture, she cites Tiziana Terranova’s use of the term ‘free labor’ to describe a consumer’s willingness to participate in some act of labor on behalf of the brand (Lury, 104).  Each time a consumer hashtags a tweet or Instagram with Dannijo, it is free publicity for the brand, exposing their line to hundreds of networks they never would have been able to otherwise. This can also be seen on their website.

Upon visiting Dannijo's website, consumers are prompted to upload their own photos using their signature hashtags #putabibonit

Upon visiting Dannijo’s website, consumers are prompted to upload their own photos using their signature hashtags #putabibonit

Direct access to all social media platforms via Dannijo.com

Direct access to all social media platforms via Dannijo.com

The purpose of applying Dannijo hashtags not only works to the benefit of the brand, but it also works to the benefit of the consumer. As Dannijo has grown in popularity, their image as a high-status item has become more known. For individuals who want to affirm their taste and lifestyle as a way to legitimize their own identity, they can do so by sharing their high-priced, unique, fashion-forward jewelry pieces on their social media accounts.

Instagram user @jennyozleroy shows followers her bib combined with her #gucci top - #luxurybrands #namedropping

Instagram user @jennyozleroy shows followers her bib combined with her #gucci top – #luxurybrands #namedropping

Dannijo’s social media strategies are also a useful tool for analyzing the Dannijo brand community. Due to Dannijo’s ideal HCC consumers who value authenticity and individuality, I would argue that the Dannijo brand community is extremely exclusive. In Muniz and O’Guinn’s case study on brand communities, they argue that the first element of a community is the consciousness of kind – the intrinsic connection that members feel toward one another, and the collective sense of difference from others not in the community, (Muniz and O’Guinn, 413). I think this is the quality of the brand community that Dannijo consumers can relate most with – the exclusivity.  Since the ideal Dannijo consumer values unique lifestyles as well as material goods, it would by contradictory for them to embrace a wide-ranging brand community. Dannijo’s Facebook page is a source that very much represents the tight knit brand community and also demonstrates further engagement between the brand and the consumer. Dannijo only has a select 23,000 ‘fans’ on Facebook, which is not quite as extensive as a brand like David Yurman, a jewelry brand also directed at the extremely affluent, which has 215,000 ‘fans’ on Facebook. Obviously David Yurman is a far more established brand than Dannijo and has been in existence for over two decades, however I think this comparison accurately demonstrates the exclusivity and intimacy of the Dannijo brand and brand community. Furthermore, Dannijo’s Facebook page is also a source of communication between the brand and the consumer.  Dannijo fans will comment on picture uploads, explicitly asking Dannijo questions about the merchandise. While Dannijo did not necessarily respond to this particular Facebook user, the outreach proves that Dannijo consumers are under the impression that the brand will respond to their inquiry, something you would probably not find on a Facebook page of David Yurman. However, it is noteworthy that these are instances that Dannijo uses to communicate with their consumers, not necessarily the ways in which the consumers communicate with each other. These social media interactions imply that the most communication among the brand community is not with each other, rather it is between the individual consumer and the brand. 

3: Mr. Dannijo – Cross promotion 

One of the most strategic bonds the Snyder sisters have made is with the renowned ‘influencer,’ Leandra Medine otherwise known as ‘The Man Repeller.’ Medine has one of the most influential fashion blogs worldwide and is what Nestor Cancilini would call a ‘cultural intermediary,’ someone who translate tatstes and trends for other consumers around them. This is extremely beneficial for Dannijo because thousands of consumers use The Man Repeller as an intermediary. Therefore, each time Medine references Dannijo, their brand is extended to an enourmous audience of their ideal consumers. The consumers influenced by these blogs are the young women who actively seek out fashion trends, inspiration, and ideas. The links on the Man Repeller blog all have a very specific consumer in mind – the HCC  fashionista. Many of the posts consist of high priced goods such as Alexander Mcqueen pants, Christian Louboutin heels, or a casual neck scarf by Dolce and Gabbana, a pop culture tab dedicated to posts from Kanye West to Woody Allen, and a ‘brain massage’ tab that offers advice on unpaid internships, or offers insight on the upper class with a post literally titled ‘Being Privileged May Not Be a Choice, But Acting Human Is.’ This blog is so explicitly directed at an upper-middle class, affluent, white, educated, self-starting demographic. By Dannijo networking, cross-promoting, and creativily collaborating with Medine they are tapping into an ideal network of HCC consumers that might not have known about the smaller jewlery line prior to seeing them on The Man Repeller. By constantly cross-promoting each other, the Snyder sisters and Medine have continued to expand their brand communities, while still honing in on their exclusive and authentic followers.

4: Friends in High Places

While Leandra is certainly one of the most acclaimed blogger ‘influencers’ in today’s fashion world, Dannijo has also had some of the most-followed celebrities in the world wearing their jewelry. Top A-listers include the worldwide pop star/goddess Beyoncé, as well as the reality television star Kim Kardashian. Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 12.44.09 PMHowever, it is interesting to note that only Beyoncé has been displayed on Dannijo’s blog as a featured celebrity wearing the line. It is possible that due to Kardashian’s controversial reputation they were not interested in promoting her wearing the line since Kardashian’s fan base definitely consists of a lot of LCC (low cultural capital)  followers which could contribute to diluting the brand image. Regardless, both Kardashian and Knowles have been spotted sporting the trendy line, only further heightening the Dannijo name and brand.

Dannijo’s social media platforms and cross-promotions are not only useful in displaying their products, but they are also used to directly connect with their more influential clientele. For instance, after Brooklyn Decker saw the brand on Man Repeller, Decker was able to meet the Snyders, whom promptly invited her to a private trunk show to borrow jewelry for a press junket.

Decker with Danielle and Jodie

Decker with Danielle and Jodie

Since then, Decker has stayed close with the sisters and continues to wear their line. In addition to Decker, the Snyders have also formed friendships with other high-powered celebrities and influencers such as Natalie Portman, Natalie Morales, and celebrity chef Katie Lee. These relationships (both real and virtual) have proved their success in acquiring an affluent following.  Furthermore, by having celebrities promote their brand, it attracts a different type of follower. These are the people who are more likely to aspire to the lifestyles that Danielle, Jodie, and other A list celebrities follow.

“Everyone in here looks the same!” – A concluding note on Dannijo’s brand community: 

Despite Dannijo’s high-status clientele, it is clear that these select celebrities are only a minority of their following. Rather, the  majority of their consumers within the brand community are the young HCC consumers who aspire to live the lifestyles of these renown celebs. The brand community was well represented at Dannijo’s Sample Sale last week. It was evident that the consumers were apart of the Dannijo brand community because this was a one day sale that was not highly promoted. Only avid followers of the brand would know about the sale, most likely through their social media accounts. While at the sale, I noticed that a majority of the consumers looked and dressed in a similar fashion. Everyone was young, white, well put together, and dressed in at least one luxury brand item. While shopping around the crowded sale, I heard a fellow shopper call out for her friend “Sydney, where are you?” The friend replied that she was in the front of the room, which prompted the response of “I don’t see you! Everyone in here looks the same!” I thought this personal anecdote accurately demonstrated the exclusive yet homogenous brand community of young, white, HCC consumers. Whether it was through their CSR, social media platforms, cultural intermediaries, or high-status clientele, Dannijo has clearly honed in on their ideal consumer and managed to create an authentic relationship with their avid followers which is beginning to be a necessary component of successful businesses in the 21st century.

Works Cited

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

Featherstone, Mike. “Lifestyle and consumer culture,” Consumer Culture and Postmodernism, London: Sage. 1991

Johnston, Josse, Szabo, Michelle, Rodney, Alexandra, “Good food, good people: Understanding the cultural repertoire of ethical eating,” Journal of Consumer Culture, pp. 293-318. 2011.

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

Muñiz, Albert and Thomas C. O’Guinn, “Brand Communities,” Journal of Consumer Research, 27 March, pp. 412–32. 2001.

Trader Joe’s logo (web)

Introduction

The Trader Joe’s grocery store brand is a quintessential example of successful branding. What is remarkable is that it has garnered a cult-like following without relying on mass media advertising or jumping on the social media bandwagon that so many companies have joined in order to stay relevant in our mediatized society (Silverstein). Its popularity can be attributed not only to the concurrent producer and consumer generated meanings that circulate around it, but also to two ideas it embodies (which are a part of its meanings): authenticity and cheapness.

A familiar critique of the contemporary U.S. consumer culture is that the authentic, everyday culture has transformed into a brand culture where the aloofness of profit-driven consumerism has replaced “‘authentic’ humanity” – the self, experiences, genuine values, and relationships – with branded authenticity (Banet-Weiser 3, 5, 10). Specifically in the realm of food shopping, grocery stores that brand themselves as authentic do so by offering alternative (to mass market) products which includes original, fresh, local, organic, ‘pure’, healthy, and ethnic items (Zukin 725, 738). Within this context of a brand culture, Trader Joe’s weaves authenticity into the fabric of its existence through its branding which involves: establishing an authentic space of consumption, building real, genuine relationships with its customers, and offering alternative products.

Another significant value that defines Trader Joe’s is cheapness. As society is becoming cheap, consumers are demanding lower prices and value, and cheap is replaced with positive meanings like affordability, quality, and simplicity (Bosshart 2, 31). This “Age of Cheap” has heralded a consumer democracy in which consumer goods can be accessed by all consumers from different social classes (5). The Trader Joe’s brand’s success can be attributed to its “cheap chic” ethos, which involves the adoption of the three key qualities of a consumer democracy: accessibility, or making the products easily accessible; affordability, or offering the products at affordable prices; and amenity, or delivering products that are interesting, tasteful, and good quality (7). The Trader Joe’s brand exemplifies a consumer democracy in its offering of quality alternate (specialty) and everyday products at affordable prices that all consumers can access. The immense popularity of Trader Joe’s warrants a critical examination of its branding and brand culture in relation to a consumer culture discourse. In this paper, I will analyze these aspects of the Trader Joe’s brand, which includes a look at the meanings attached to it by the producers and consumers, and argue that its values and meanings, especially authenticity and cheapness, give it a wide, non-exclusionary appeal that attracts all types of consumers.

Research Context

In our consumer culture, brands inundate the material environment (web)

In the U.S. consumer culture that we live in, brands inundate the material environment and through this immersion, they seamlessly integrate into our being (Banet-Weiser, 3). Brands, which are created through the convergence of products, marketing, and consumers, undergo branding which is not just an economic tool but also a technique of attaching meanings to products to make them more valuable (4). Thus, brands exist not only in their object and material forms (i.e. the actual physical products), but also through their metaphysical meanings – the feelings, affects, personalities, and values that are created by the producers and consumers (7). Successful branding, realized through the alignment of producers’ and consumers’ meanings around brands, gives rise to brand cultures in which brands “. . . become cultural contexts for everyday living, individual identity, and affective relationships” (4). Essentially, branding is inextricably tied to and takes part in the creation of culture, both which are actively constructed through meanings (9).

One thing that unifies humanity is our indispensable need to consume food (even the most minimal amount) for sustenance, which makes grocery shopping a typical activity that a majority of consumers partake in (Miller 69). These ideas, coupled with an interest in brands/branding, prompted me to focus my research on the well known Trader Joe’s specialty grocery store brand. My connection to this brand is that I have grown up with it in my household and have been a loyal customer at the Trader Joe’s in Union Square for the past three years while living in New York City (where I buy most of my groceries). In this paper, I draw not only from published sources but also from observations and evidence I gathered on multiple visits to the Union Square Trader Joe’s (which includes photographs of the consumer space), as well as my experiences shopping at Trader Joe’s stores.

To provide a brief history of the brand, Trader Joe’s is a privately held chain of specialty grocery stores that currently has over 365 locations around the U.S. (February). In 1958, founder Joe Coulombe opened a chain of convenience stores in Los Angeles called Pronto Market (Gardetta). But shortly after, when its funder was acquired by competitor 7-Eleven, Coulombe decided to go a different route (“Joe’s Joe”). After reading an article in Scientific American, “. . . he learned that a new class of overeducated, underpaid adults was being produced by the burgeoning college system” (Gardetta). With the intuition that this emerging, educated, sophisticated, and worldly but economically constrained consumer base had an interest in unique and specialty foods, Coulombe opened the first Trader Joe’s (named after Coulombe himself) in Pasadena, California in 1967 (“Company History”). The Pronto chain was converted into Trader Joe’s stores soon thereafter, and the brand has branched out across the nation from its southern California base since (“Company History”; Mallinger and Rossy). In 1979, Trader Joe’s was bought by Theo Albrecht, a highly successful German entrepreneur, who owns Aldi Nord, a European discount supermarket chain (“American Way”).

Vintage Trader Joe’s photos (web)

I find Trader Joe’s to be an interesting brand for several reasons. The first is because of its huge popularity. From my experiences shopping at Trader Joe’s stores in Los Angeles and New York City, I have observed that it attracts many different types of consumers. As a specialty grocery store that also sells everyday items, it seems to have something for everyone. Also, it seems for the most part that Trader Joe’s shoppers only have good things to say about the brand and its products. The various unofficial Trader Joe’s brand communities that exist via print, online, and social media platforms are a testament to the favorability of the brand. And impressively, Trader Joe’s has gained this wide following without participating in mass media advertising or social media (Silverstein). The second thing I find interesting is how it operates in order to uphold its mission of offering specialty and basic items at everyday low prices (“Our Story”). Unlike many stores, Trader Joe’s does not hold promotions and discounts or use coupons and membership cards (February). In order to give its customers the best values, it almost always bargains with and buys large quantities directly from its suppliers, discontinues unpopular items, does not charge its suppliers for shelving (thus, no fee which trickles down to the customers), and repackages most of its products under the Trader Joe’s private label (January; “Our Story”). Thirdly, Trader Joe’s is unique in that it is a nautical/tiki themed grocery store. There are no other grocery stores I can think of that play on a nationally consistent, quirky, storewide theme. Lastly, unlike typical grocery store brands, Trader Joe’s expresses itself as a fun, neighborhood and community oriented grocery store and values warm and friendly customer service (which I have experienced) (Mallinger and Rossy).

Trader Joe’s Addressing Consumers 

In this section, I analyze how Trader Joe’s addresses its consumers. First, I determine how the brand tries to reach potential consumers. Then I frame its ideal consumer using the consumer culture concepts of social class, habitus, taste, cultural repertoire, and lifestyle. This leads to an examination of the representational and media strategies it uses to reach its consumers. These strategies reflect the Trader Joe’s brand’s values as well as the images of authenticity and cheapness it attempts to project.

How Trader Joe’s attempts to reach potential consumers

Trader Joe’s is a unique brand in that it does not enlist help from ad agencies or PR firms for its branding (Gardiner). It does not heavily advertise in the conventional ways that most brands do, through T.V. and print advertisements and social media (Hagen; “Most Social”). Although it has a small voice through the radio and direct mails its Fearless Flyer product newsletters in certain areas, its investment in mass media is a very minor one compared to other brand’s efforts (O’Daniel). Instead, the Trader Joe’s brand’s “. . . primary promotional platform is word-of-mouth brand advocacy” (Aaronson). It heavily relies on its customers to induce potential customers into becoming Trader Joe’s customers. Thus, its success can be attributed to its high word of mouth capital (Cowie). It cultivates this asset by offering great products at great prices alongside excellent customer service, thereby converting consumers into loyal customers, fans, and even fanatics who will be inclined to share their experience with others (Cowie).

Defining social class, habitus, taste, cultural repertoire, lifestyle

Trader Joe’s offers a variety of specialty and everyday products that appeal to consumers across different social classes with various habitus, lifestyles, and tastes. Class position or social class is defined by sociologist Max Weber as “. . . groupings based not only on economic position, but also on noneconomic criteria such as morals, culture, and lifestyle . . .” – how people live and what they consume (Holt 2). Social class is linked to habitus, which sociologist Pierre Bourdieu defines as our dispositions or natural inclinations; it is the set of tastes, knowledges, and habits we possess (Lury 91-92). Even though our tastes are our own preferences and partialities, they are socially (not individually) patterned and reproduce social class (Lury 90). Habitus structures and influences our actions and consumption practices and though it seems to come from within us, it is in fact shaped during childhood by external factors such as the family and education (Holt 4; Lury 91). Although Bourdieu would argue that habitus operates unconsciously, a more updated line of thought suggests that it is consciously shaped through consumption (Featherstone 55; Lury 92). Another term for habitus is cultural repertoire, which is defined as a set of knowledges, values, habits, tastes, routines, and traditions that continuously influences our decisions and actions (Johnston, Szabo, and Rodney 298). The habitus, or cultural repertoire, is like an acquired life compass that contributes to the formation of a lifestyle, which is “. . . a distinctive set of consumption patterns. . . ” or choices we make to establish cultural identity (Featherstone 59; Holt 4)

The ideal consumer Trader Joe’s would like to reach

Trader Joe’s has a target consumer which is evidenced by the three factors it takes into account when choosing store locations: population density, distribution efficiencies, and consumer education level (Mallinger and Rossy). Focusing on the last factor, market research has shown that higher educated consumers travel more and have a taste for unique foods, and Trader Joe’s, being a specialty grocery store, tries to reach these consumers (Mallinger and Rossy).  From the beginning, founder Joe Coulombe decided that Trader Joe’s stores should be located in educated areas and opened the first Trader Joe’s in 1967 in Pasadena, California “. . . because Pasadena is the epitome of a well-educated town” (“Company History”; qtd. in “Joe’s Joe”). He further expressed, “Trader Joe’s is for overeducated and underpaid people, for all the classical musicians, museum curators, [and] journalists . . .” (qtd. in “Joe’s Joe”). Coulombe believed this “yuppie” group, whose “. . . influence [was] disproportionate to its salaries . . .” was a good target because the members like to exchange their discoveries socially (Morton). A Trader Joe’s manager echoes the same sentiment: “Our favorite customers are out-of-work college professors . . . Well-read, well-traveled, [and] appreciates a good value” (qtd. in Mcnamara). Put another way, the ideal Trader Joe’s customer is an HCC consumer who is educated, worldly and has a sophisticated taste but does not have a substantial amount of wealth. This consumer regularly shops for groceries and likes buying specialty items (which includes unique, hard to find, imported, local, organic, non-GMO, seasonal, health, gourmet, fair trade, and ethnic items) at a value price.

Bourdieu posits that consumers draw from three resources to reproduce social class: “. . . economic capital (financial resources) . . . social capital (relationships, organizational affiliations, networks), [and] cultural capital [which is] a set of socially rare and distinctive tastes, skills, knowledge, and practices” (Holt 3). Departing from cultural capital, Holt divides consumers into HCC consumers (consumers with high cultural capital resources) and LCC consumers (consumers with low cultural capital resources). HCC consumers are materially frugal and spend carefully, have racially inclusive tastes, enjoy experiencing ethnic, eclectic (i.e. interesting), exotic, and artisan foods, and favor casual atmospheres, which describes the ideal Trader Joe’s consumer (11,13). They practice combinatorial inventiveness, which is the practice of consuming goods by mixing and matching them in eclectic and unique ways (16). On the other hand, LCC consumers do not consume eclectically but rather conform to “. . . mass culture or normative local tastes” (16). Both HCC and LCC consumers place an importance on value (i.e. getting goods at reasonable prices), but LCC consumers do so because they come from a materially constrained background (8,10). HCC consumers, whose baseline needs have already been met, like to experience the world through a creative and abstract lens (11). A sign in the Union Square Trader Joe’s with the words “You don’t have to be a five star chef to eat like one!” (see Figure 1 below) further defines the Trader Joe’s customer as an HCC consumer who likes to experience unique and novel flavors.

Figure 1 – The ideal Trader Joe’s customer is an HCC consumer who likes to experience novel flavors (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe’s – photo taken by author)

Building authenticity and cheapness through the representational strategies and media formats used to reach consumers

Trader Joe’s implements many representational strategies in-store to reflect its values (producer created meanings) and establish a brand culture of authenticity and cheapness. Its utilization of media formats (which are limited, since it does not make use of traditional mass media and social media) accomplishes the same ends. 

One of the Trader Joe’s brand’s values is being a fun grocery store. Grocery stores are traditionally not themed, but the brand’s departure from this convention and its adoption of a nationally consistent, storewide tiki/nautical theme that is fun, original, and one-of-a-kind gives authenticity to the Trader Joe’s consumption space and brand. This theme pervades company jargon and employee attire. For example, the managers are referred to as “captains” and the “captain’s bell” (see Figure 2 below) is rung by cashiers to make announcements or call other employees’ attentions to fulfill customer requests. Also, the managers wear Hawaiian shirts and regular employees wear company clothing stamped with a Hawaiian flower and the Trader Joe’s logo, and fake flower leis are not uncommon accents. The seemingly lax employee dress code allows employees to bring in their quirky personalities and add more fun, life, and positivity to the Trader Joe’s consumption space. For example, employees are always dressed comfortably in jeans, sneakers, and company T-shirts and sweaters, they do not have to cover up tattoos, and they can express their quirky styles through piercings, unconventionally dyed hair, and funky jewelry. By not having to adhere to a strict, corporatized cookie-cutter employee image, the Trader Joe’s employees inject a part of their individual, real-life, genuine selves into the Trader Joe’s consumption space, and this adds to the brand’s authenticity.

Figure 2 – The “captain’s bell” (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe’s – photo taken by author)

The value of fun is also manifested through playful and colorful signs (which are also a media format) and store decor. All of the products in Trader Joe’s are accompanied by vibrant, “handwritten-like” price signs (see Figure 3 below). Trader Joe’s also displays hand illustrated chalkboards throughout its stores, which showcase a product and its value (see Figure 4 below). The seasonal decor, like the colored tinsel adorning the cash registers for different seasons, also exudes festiveness and fun. In the Union Square Trader Joe’s, various signs play on words (e.g. “lettuce” for “let us”) and New York City landmarks and articles. For example, the food sample corner follows a train station theme and is named Grand Sample Station for Grand Central Station on East 42nd Street. The sample corner is even equipped with a chalkboard time board that announces when samples “arrive” (are given out). Also, the store’s bread section signs nod to Broadway theater marquees and tickets while its bottled water section signs mimic city traffic and street signs (see Figure 5 below). These artifacts have a human touch to them and radiate the effort, care, and labor that was put into presenting them. They add a sense of liveliness, joy, and whimsicality to the Trader Joe’s consumption space and hint that Trader Joe’s is a brand that likes to have fun and does not take itself too seriously. By differentiating itself from typical grocery stores and supermarkets which are often stoic, austere, spartan, and utilitarian in nature, Trader Joe’s gives authenticity to its consumption space and brand. Additionally, the Union Square Trader Joe’s has chalkboard signs that inform customers when it and the original Trader Joe’s store were established.  This historical narration and rooting of the brand suggests to customers that Trader Joe’s prides itself on its legitimate heritage. This tactic conveys that Trader Joe’s has an established reputation, and is not an flash in the pan brand without substance, which adds to its authenticity.

Figure 3 - “Handwritten-like” price signs (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe's - photo taken by author)

Figure 3 – “Handwritten-like” price signs (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe’s – photo taken by author)

Figure 4 - Hand illustrated chalkboards are displayed throughout the store (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe's - photo taken by author)

Figure 4 – Hand illustrated chalkboards are displayed throughout the store (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe’s – photo taken by author)

Figure 5 - The signs in the bottled water section mimic city traffic and street signs (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe's - photo taken by author)

Figure 5 – The signs in the bottled water section mimic city traffic and street signs (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe’s – photo taken by author)

Trader Joe’s also expands its fun outlook by doling out seasonal items and creating new, holiday themed brown shopping bags every November-December. These representational strategies likely conjure up feelings of warmth and memories in both HCC and LCC consumers, and the customer affect that they elicit contributes to the authenticity of the Trader Joe’s consumption space and brand. The Union Square Trader Joe’s also devotes a shelf for new items which arrive daily, and this continuous delivery of novel goods makes Trader Joe’s fresh and spontaneous, which bolsters its authenticity. The fun value is even extended into the naming of many of the brand’s private label products, which are quirky (and often ethnic) spin-offs of the Trader Joe’s moniker (e.g. “. . . Trader Jose’s (Mexican food) (see Figure 6 below), Trader Ming’s (Asian food), Baker Josef’s (bagels), Trader Giotto’s (Italian food), Trader Joe-San (Japanese food), Arabian Joe’s (Middle Eastern food), Pilgrim Joe’s (Seafood), JosephBrau (beer), Trader Johann’s (lip balm), Trader Jacques’ (imported French soaps), Joe’s Diner (certain frozen entrées), Joe’s Kids (children’s food), and Trader Darwin’s (vitamins)”) (January). This special naming stamps an ethnic or cultural legitimacy onto the products, making it seem as if they were specially sourced or carefully selected from abroad. In effect, these labels connote the delivery of an authentic, quality, experience. For example, customers may believe that any of the Trader Giotto’s products will taste like their real, Italian counterparts. If the Trader Joe’s private label tags the brand’s products as “uniquely Trader Joe’s”,  the culturally and ethnically specific labels add even more authenticity to the products.

Figure 6 - Trader Joe's uses the Trader Jose's label for its Mexican food items (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe's - photo taken by author)

Figure 6 – Trader Joe’s uses the Trader Jose’s label for its Mexican food items (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe’s – photo taken by author)

Another value of Trader Joe’s is being a neighborhood and community oriented grocery store. Its hand painted murals (also a media format) unique to each neighborhood seamlessly integrate the brand with the surrounding neighborhood. For example, in the La Cañada, CA Trader Joe’s, the murals depict various La Cañada landmarks such as the Rose Bowl stadium, horse trails, and local high school; in the Union Square Trader Joe’s, the murals depict New Yorkers and Trader Joe’s employees walking around in the neighborhood, New York City buildings including the Empire State building, street performers, Union Square Park, and Trader Joe’s employees in Union Square Park (see Figures 7, 8 below). By literally depicting the community in the store, the brand communicates to customers its oneness with and belonging in the neighborhood. In a looping pattern, the customers (who are usually from the community) identify with the familiar references and connect with the brand, strengthening the authenticity of the Trader Joe’s consumption space and brand. This value is further extended through a page on the store website (another media format) describing its commitment to feeding the hungry and donating to the community. The Trader Joe’s brand’s charitable outreach in its immediate communities and its openness to donation and neighborhood involvement requests show that it cares about others and not just its own success, which adds to its authenticity.

Figure 7 - A mural depicting New York City buildings, including the Empire State building (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe's - photo taken by author)

Figure 7 – A mural depicting New York City buildings, including the Empire State building (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe’s – photo taken by author)

Figure 8 - A mural depicting Union Square Park (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe's - photo taken by author)

Figure 8 – A mural depicting Union Square Park (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe’s – photo taken by author)

A third value of Trader Joe’s is offering friendly and helpful customer service and making customers feel welcomed. This is evident in the upbeat manner of the employees who are unpretentious and always willing to help customers. For example, employees directly lead customers to or bring them items they are looking for or other available options they have. And when customers are looking for an item that is not on the shelf, employees often take an extra step and check in the back. At the Union Square Trader Joe’s where the lines are usually long, the employees come around and ask waiting customers if they need anything else. The Trader Joe’s employees also do not hesitate to strike up conversations with customers (especially at the check-out registers). For example, I have conversed with employees at check-out on multiple occasions and they always seemed to honestly care about the conversation which was often on how my day was going. Sometimes the conversations continued even after I was finished checking-out regardless of there being long lines behind. It is evident that the Trader Joe’s brand encourages employees to genuinely care about its customers and the real, down-to-earth employee-customer relationships that are established (whether briefly in the moment or long-term) give authenticity to the Trader Joe’s consumption space and brand. The brand’s value of offering friendly and helpful customer service and making customers feel welcomed is also revealed through its no hassle return policy (in the Union Square Trader Joe’s, this is boldly proclaimed high on a wall in the checkout area as well as throughout the store – see Figure 9 below) and its food sample corner where customers can try out new foods, grab mini cups of coffee, and make their wait in line a little less boring (see Figure 10 below). Trader Joe’s cares about giving its customers a great shopping experience and this sincerity adds to its authenticity. Also, the Union Square Trader Joe’s has a mural of the employees with the words “We’ll see you soon!” that bids farewell to exiting customers. This encourages them to view Trader Joe’s as a neighbor and feel like they belong in the consumption space, and this furthers the brand’s authenticity.

Figure 9 - Trader Joe's boldly proclaims its no hassle return policy (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe's - photo taken by author)

Figure 9 – Trader Joe’s boldly proclaims its no hassle return policy (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe’s – photo taken by author)

Figure 10 - The Grand Sample Station food sample corner - photo taken by author)

Figure 10 – The Grand Sample Station food sample corner – photo taken by author)

Lastly, it is Trader Joe’s mission to offer its customers quality specialty and basic items at everyday, low prices  (“Our Story”). Many of the Trader Joe’s brand’s product signs note the product’s quality (e.g. freshness, use of natural ingredients, artisanal characteristics) and value (see Figure 11 below) and its hand illustrated chalkboards exclaim the store’s emphasis on value or a particular product’s value. The Union Square Trader Joe’s has a price scanner with a sign that reads “Prepare to be astounded at how low [the price] is!” (see Figure 36) and encourages customers to bring their own grocery bags to enter the “bring your own bag” raffle system for a chance to win a $25 store gift card (see Figure 1). According to a Trader Joe’s employee, ten winners are chosen every three weeks (Amankwaah). The Trader Joe’s brand’s “no-nonsense” approach to offering quality products at consistent and low prices without the frills of spontaneous pricing (having simple pricing) makes it a “cheap chic” brand. Customers can trust Trader Joe’s for having good deals all the time and feel good about the value they get, and this customer trust adds to the brand’s authenticity.

Figure 11 - Many of the Trader Joe’s brand’s product signs note the product’s value (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe's - photo taken by author)

Figure 11 – Many of the Trader Joe’s brand’s product signs note the product’s value (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe’s – photo taken by author)

There are several other media formats that Trader Joe’s uses. One is the local radio in certain areas. These announcements involve “. . . ‘ real Trader Joe’s crew members telling real stories about Trader Joe’s products’ with honestly [sic] and authenticity” (Heiligman). These stories, held up by truth and genuine affect, diminish the ultimate profit-driven goals of Trader Joe’s, and instead add to its authenticity. Another media format is the Fearless Flyer product newsletters, which come in print form (see Figure 12) (Amankwaah). These quarterly newsletters are available in-store and also direct mailed. Inside, one can find product descriptions for new, seasonal, and regular items and Trader Joe’s recipes alongside Victorian style illustrations. These “vintage-style” newsletters likely appeal to HCC consumers, who have connoisseurship, or detailed information on certain categories of their consumption. For example, an HCC consumer who is a Trader Joe’s connoisseur would not just consume Trader Joe’s products eclectically, but want to know their story, which the Fearless Flyer newsletters provide. The narrative product “back stories” found within these old fashioned newsletters give the Trader Joe’s products individual character (Zukin 736). The distinguishable quality of the Trader Joe’s brand’s “one-of-a-kind” products stand in contrast to the hackneyed and banal mass market food products, furthering the brand’s authenticity. Trader Joe’s does not blatantly sell itself because it passes on large scale advertising and instead opts for locally disseminated radio messages and newsletters. Thus, it comes across as an intimate store, somewhat like a trusted “mom and pop” business, and this gives it authenticity.

Figure 12 - A Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer newsletter (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe's - photo taken by author)

Figure 12 – A Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer newsletter (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe’s – photo taken by author)

Through its representative strategies and media formats, Trader Joe’s communicates its values (producer created meanings) to consumers which are: being a fun, neighborhood and community oriented grocery store, giving its customers quality specialty and everyday products at consistently low prices, offering friendly and helpful customer service, and making customers feel welcomed. Put another way, its branding informs consumers within the Trader Joe’s authentic space of consumption that the brand offers alternative (specialty) and basic products that are good quality, tasteful, and accessible through their affordability, and that it cares about establishing genuine relationships with its consumers and the community. Thus, it establishes a brand culture of authenticity and “cheap chic”.

The Trader Joe’s Brand Community

In this section, I examine various aspects of the Trader Joe’s brand community. I explicate what kinds of consumers form attachments to the Trader Joe’s brand, the meanings they ascribe to it, and how they engage with the brand. In addition, I analyze how the Trader Joe’s brand serves as a basis for communication and community among consumers and how that creates authenticity and cheapness around the brand.

An all-inclusive brand: the consumers who form attachments to Trader Joe’s and the meanings that are created, which include cheapness and authenticity

As a brand that delivers to the fundamental, human biological need for food in its most basic essence, Trader Joe’s would like to reach any consumer. Though its ideal customer is an HCC consumer, Trader Joe’s does not leave out the LCC consumer. It includes all consumers by offering a wide selection of specialty items for HCC consumers, and an array of everyday and typical items that appeal to both HCC and LCC consumers. For example, specialty products such as its Purple Wild Rice, Dried Kimchi, Coconut Cashews, Kale Chips, Stroopwafel Caramel Bites, Chia Seeds, and Jojoba Oil have a higher appeal to HCC consumers while more everyday, mass culture, and typical American products such as its Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, Ground Black Pepper, Whole Milk, bananas, pretzels, and Bath Tissue (tissue paper) are purchased by both HCC and LCC consumers. The Trader Joe’s brand’s products include not only food items, but also household, beauty, pet, and health supplement products, which appeal to customers with habitus, tastes, and lifestyles relevant to those products. For example, HCC dog owners who have a taste for organic products may buy the Organic Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe Sticks for their loyal companions. Put simply, the consumers who form attachments to the Trader Joe’s brand are LCC and HCC consumers from different social classes (e.g. age, race, academic capital, economic capital, etc.) with various lifestyles (e.g. diet, physical activity level, occupation, family/living situation, etc.) and habitus/cultural repertoires and tastes (e.g. cooking from scratch or with frozen foods; consuming typical, American foods or eclectically; etc.).

The meanings that these consumers attach to the brand indicate the type of consumer they are and why they shop at Trader Joe’s. Both LCC and HCC consumers attach the same meanings to the Trader Joe’s brand such as: value, cheap, affordable, reasonable prices, organic, natural, quality, fresh, good food, variety, healthy, nutritious, fun, friendly, and convenient. However, unlike LCC consumers who like Trader Joe’s first and foremost for its value, HCC consumers place equal importance on Trader Joe’s for its value and its essence as a specialty grocery store that offers alternate products (specialty/eclectic foods). The image that Trader Joe’s attempts to project (through its values/producer created meanings) is a fun, welcoming, neighborhood and community oriented grocery store that delivers quality specialty and basic products at everyday, low prices with friendly and helpful customer service. And the meanings that both HCC and LCC consumers attach to Trader Joe’s align with the authentic and “cheap chic” image that it cultivates. But the attached meanings and brand image align more truly for HCC consumers since they are looking for specialty items, unlike LCC consumers. And as customers interact with the Trader Joe’s brand through their consumption, these meanings are reproduced in a cyclical manner.

How customers engage with the Trader Joe’s brand

It is in the arenas of what is bought and what is cooked (how the customers engage with the Trader Joe’s brand) where the mark between HCC and LCC consumers becomes clear. Value aside, since both types of consumers find value at Trader Joe’s, LCC consumers buy familiar, typical, and “safe” (American) food items. They do not do not like trying unique foods (i.e. non-American foods) and therefore do not (or rarely) consume any specialty items or use their food purchases in an eclectic way, by combining them with other groceries to cook unconventional, ethnic, or “new” recipes, in a secondary production. Here, secondary production is defined as something that is produced in the act of consumption (which can be physical or abstract) (de Certeau xiii). For example, LCC consumers may put their Trader Joe’s purchases through a secondary consumption by making typical American meals. In contrast, HCC consumers are omnivorous and buy a mix of familiar, typical, and “safe” (American) food items and specialty items. Having an omnivorous taste means having an eclectic collection of tastes drawn from all social classes (Peterson and Kern 901). Opposite from LCC consumers, the omnivorous HCC consumers like trying unique foods and buy the Trader Joe’s brand’s specialty items or consume their food purchases in an eclectic way. Thus, HCC consumers are also mestizo consumers because they have an eclectic collection of tastes and consume from different cultural categories (Canclini 93). HCC consumers put their purchases through a combinatorially inventive secondary production, which involves appropriating Trader Joe’s products to produce their own original, unique, fusion, and/or ethnic dishes. For example, an HCC consumer may appropriate, in a combinatorially inventive secondary consumption, the Trader Joe’s brand’s fresh produce, meats, rice varieties, and sauces by combining them with items from Indian markets to cook different American-Indian fusion dishes. Here, appropriation refers to the practice of adopting products to fit one’s interests through one’s own rules (versus assimilation which is the practice of adapting to the existing meanings of the products and using them in their “intended” ways) (de Certeau xiv). In sum, the ideal Trader Joe’s customer is an HCC consumer who belongs to any social class that has an omnivorous and mesticized taste for quality specialty and typical products at a value price. Regularly shopping for groceries is a part of his lifestyle, which leads him to Trader Joe’s where he shops for any combination of its specialty and everyday items. And his habitus, or cultural repertoire, makes him consume his purchases in an eclectic way. In a more general sense, the common ways in which HCC and LCC consumers engage with the Trader Joe’s brand are through shopping and purchasing items at the store (a primary and direct consumption) and then using the items in a secondary consumption. Through a secondary consumption, both types of consumers reproduce (largely unconsciously) the Trader Joe’s brand’s meanings of authenticity and cheapness for themselves, which attaches them to the brand and makes them frequent customers.

Authenticity and cheapness created through the Trader Joe’s brand’s own brand community and unofficial Trader Joe’s brand communities

Trader Joe’s has garnered a cult-like following all due to its loyal customer base and the word of mouth buzz it generates (Scott). By offering great products, value, and excellent customer service – by simply “. . . just [being] an incredible brand” – Trader Joe’s maintains its high word of mouth capital. This in turn ties Trader Joe’s consumers across the nation, who share a love for Trader Joe’s and its products, into a Trader Joe’s imagined community (Scott). Imagined communities, a term coined by Benedict Anderson, are large communities (e.g. nations) where their vast size makes it impossible to know everyone, yet, members within these groups, whether they are strangers, acquaintances, friends, or related, feel connected (Muniz and O’Guinn 419). And brand communities, which are most often imagined communities, are “. . . specialized, non-geographically bound [communities], based on a structured set of social relations among admirers of a brand” (412). They are communities where people convene through their common consumption of a brand. By spreading how great the Trader Joe’s brand’s products, prices, and customer service are with other consumers inside and outside the store (which several surveyed customers practiced), the customers participate in and strengthen the Trader Joe’s brand community while spreading its values, namely authenticity and cheapness.

Trader Joe’s directly contributes to the building of its brand community by maintaining a friendly and welcoming space of consumption through its neighborhood murals and friendly employees. It also accomplishes this through its philanthropy in the neighborhood. On its website it affirms:

We don’t call ourselves ‘Your Neighborhood Store’ just because it sounds catchy. We are committed to being good neighbors, and to us that means taking part in and giving back to our local communities . . . we handle all requests for donations and involvement in community events in our stores. Whether it’s a silent auction to benefit a local elementary school or a health fair sponsored by a community hospital, your neighborhood Trader Joe’s is the place to go (“Neighborhood”).

By being open to consumers, considering all their donation and neighborhood involvement requests, and coming across as a caring and reliable supporter, Trader Joe’s simultaneously strengthens its authenticity and brand community.

Trader Joe’s also indirectly serves as a basis for communication and community among consumers. Although its only official online presence is its website, there are many unofficial, online Trader Joe’s imagined brand communities that exist. And “100% of [its] presence on social media channels is initiated and maintained by fans of the brand”, which compensates for its lack of direct social media involvement (Spector). These unofficial online and social media brand communities are fan created, and a Google search found them to exist in the form of and within: websites (e.g. traderjoesfan.com which offers product reviews and recipes); blogs (e.g. eatingatjoes.com which gives product reviews); Facebook pages (a search yields over 1,000 pages with the largest page having over 80,000 Likes) for Trader Joe’s in general, specific Trader Joe’s products, and calls for bringing the store to certain locations; Twitter handles (e.g. @WhatsGoodatTJs which reviews Trader Joe’s food items); Pinterest pins of products; Youtube videos (which include store hauls and product reviews); Foursquare pages (e.g. for the Union Square, NYC Trader Joe’s); and Yelp reviews (e.g. for the La Cañada, CA Trader Joe’s). In addition, many unofficial Trader Joe’s cookbooks exist in print (e.g. Cooking With All Things Trader Joe’s Cookbook), which are accompanied by online reviews (such as those on amazon.com). Through their involvement in these online and print platforms, Trader Joe’s consumers can share their enthusiasm for the Trader Joe’s brand and its products, learn information (such as finding out about new products and recipes), make recommendations, voice opinions, and ask questions. Through the Trader Joe’s own brand community and the consumer created brand communities, Trader Joe’s consumers and employees are brought together into a conversation. Because interaction takes place with real people and emotions, feelings, and opinions are exchanged, the meanings surrounding Trader Joe’s, especially authenticity and cheapness, are further established.

Conclusion

The Trader Joe’s brand’s success can be attributed to its high, customer word of mouth capital. As a grocery store that offers alternate (specialty) products, its ideal customer is an HCC consumer who is educated, sophisticated, and worldly, but economically constrained. However, it appeals to both HCC and LCC consumers across different social classes with various habitus/cultural repertoires, lifestyles, and tastes. The HCC consumer has an omnivorous and eclectic taste, is a mestizo consumer, and appropriates Trader Joe’s specialty and everyday products in a combinatorially inventive way, unlike the LCC consumer, who has a “safe” taste and assimilates to the brand’s ordinary products in typical ways. Through its representative strategies and media formats, Trader Joe’s communicates its brand culture values (producer created meanings), namely authenticity and cheapness, to consumers. Both HCC and LCC consumers reproduce these meanings through a secondary consumption of the products. Though Trader Joe’s actively builds its brand community, it exists in larger part through the unofficial Trader Joe’s brand communities that are created and maintained by current and potential customers. The involvement of the consumers in these unofficial Trader Joe’s online and print community platforms creates an exchange of affect that further contributes to the brand’s authenticity and “cheap chic” image. Essentially, the Trader Joe’s brand’s successful branding involves an adherence to the values of a consumer democracy, establishment of an authentic space of consumption, possession of a strong, authentic brand community, and maintenance of coinciding producer and consumer meanings. Through a coalescence of these tactics, Trader Joe’s stands as an all-inclusive brand that attracts all types of consumers.

 

The authentic and "cheap chic" Trader is a space for all types of consumers (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe's - photo taken by author)

The authentic and “cheap chic” Trader is a space for all types of consumers (Union Square, NYC Trader Joe’s – photo taken by author)

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It’s almost impossible to live anywhere in the developed world without knowing about Disney, and especially about Disney Princesses; Forbes reported Disney Princess as the biggest selling entertainment product of the year, making 1.6 billion dollars in merchandising in 2011 (2012/2013’s numbers are not yet available). Disney started the Princess line in early 2000, when Andy Mooney was hired to save Disney’s failing consumer-products division; he said the magic struck when he went to see a performance of Disney on Ice. The New York Times reported in 2006 how it all started:

“Standing in line in the arena, I was surrounded by little girls dressed head to toe as princesses,” he told me last summer in his palatial office, then located in Burbank, and speaking in a rolling Scottish burr. “They weren’t even Disney products. They were generic princess products they’d appended to a Halloween costume. And the light bulb went off. Clearly there was latent demand here. So the next morning I said to my team, ‘O.K., let’s establish standards and a color palette and talk to licensees and get as much product out there as we possibly can that allows these girls to do what they’re doing anyway: projecting themselves into the characters from the classic movies.’ ”

The current Disney Princess lineup.

Since its inception, Disney Princesses have gained a worldwide brand community of primarily girls and women. Disney has focused on projecting a positive union of these girls, to promote femininity and togetherness of women. But not everything is a fairy-tale ending: despite Disney’s top-coat of empowering girls, their product has always come first, and they’re not as progressive as they seem. Disney uses their Princess line to brand femininity and sell an idealized female image, while empowering girls with their product promise of a “happily ever after”. However, operating under the notion of post-feminism allows them to use women’s self-esteem as a marketing tool, without contributing to real feminism. While other fans have banded together to understand the controlling undertones, younger fans susceptible to the cultural brainwashing, along with parents and older fans, are crying out for a middle ground of feminism combined with ‘Disney Magic’

THE DISNEY MARKET

As a brand, Disney Princesses does a lot of outreach to get through to their market; it’s one of the reasons they have been so successful over the years. From the brand’s point of view, consumers are everywhere, and by presenting their brand as something that’s necessary to families, they often manipulate children’s wants to sell their product.

Disney’s ideal consumer for their Princesses line is children from the ages of 4-12, but their Princess brand specifically targets little girls. With the main characters of the brand being female, Disney makes them up to be hyper-feminine accepted ideals of beauty and womanhood. In writing stories of female power and adventure, they give an ideal for girls to work towards and give them an idol to follow. In addition, Disney markets their Princess line by comparing using their products to the girls’ adventures. For instance, on their store website under the costumes section, the description for a Rapunzel dress reads: “Your artistic dreamer can paint a fairytale picture in her imagination and make it come true with this glamorous Rapunzel Costume”. The others are the same; Cinderella’s gives the best description, saying “She’ll live happily ever after in the world of her imagination dressed up as her favorite Disney Princess”. In this way, Disney equates imagination to their costumes and products, and makes it seem (especially to children) that the products are needed in order to have fun and experience happiness. This is especially so they can play on family tropes; Disney’s secondary marketing target is adults 35-55, because they are aware they are the money-markers.

Another thing Disney uses to make its Princess line appealing to women is adding traditional feminine stereotypes to its products. Every Disney Princess doll is covered in glitter and each design, even if it varies in skin tone or hair color, is traditionally pretty, with a slender waist and bigger hips and breasts. 8 out of the 11 have long hair (two more with longer hair that’s tied up), and only one of them has hair that isn’t ‘European’ or traditionally smooth. Lury talks about this in her book Consumer Culture, stating “The operation of the male gaze means that women are conventionally depicted in quite different ways from men- not because the feminine body is different from the masculine body – but because the ideal spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the female is designed to flatter him.” (Lury, p. 128). Women are always built in the way that is attractive to men, and Disney keeps with this program, despite its supposed ideas of female strength.

Disney uses tactics of female empowerment and girls’ self-esteem to sell their products. On the front page of their Princesses page on their store website they feature an advertisement they put out recently about “what it means to be a princess”. The one minute advertisement (that can be viewed below) encourages power and strength; it shows many girls and young women following their hobbies and having fun with each other, with activities that involve surfing, reading, and archery. Interspersed within the video are clips from different Disney Princess movies, along with girls wearing Disney product and costumes from the movies. Even though Disney is showing off female power in terms of being independent and strong, they equate these to their product and make it seem as though to create the fantasy, the products are necessary.

In order to spread the visibility of their Princess line, Disney’s main tactic is movie-making. The stories they tell aren’t created by Disney; every Princess story is an old fairytale that Disney has animated and created their own characters for. By telling an old story on their terms, they can create the characters and control the marketing as they see fit, allowing Disney to make new characters and new stories whenever they want, since they always have a starting point. From the films, they can market dolls, clothing, accessories, costumes, shoes, jewelry, toys, and anything else they can think of to ‘re-create’ the story in small, easy-to-purchase pieces. In addition, Disney will hire actresses to play these characters in their theme parks, giving a real-life equivalent for these girls to experience. By making their product an ‘experience’ instead of just a product, and marketing the sets, Disney makes it so you have to buy everything to achieve the unrealistic standard they create using movie magic. Disney creates over-the-top standards, and then sells products claiming to fulfill these standards, even though they will never get there, because no product will equate reality to a movie. As John Berger summarized in Lury’s book, “The publicity image steals [a woman’s] love of herself as she is and offers it back to her for the price of the product”. (Lury, p.126).

The main demographic Disney doesn’t market to with their Princess line is men and boys. Every image for their product marketing is girls and women, even for things that can be used by both genders, such as plush toys or slippers– the only thing that makes it “for girls” is the product design. This is a line marketed very specifically to women and girls, and men are left almost entirely out, with the small exception of the Princess’ love interests throughout their movies. Disney has taken an extra step to making it about women especially with their last film, Brave (who had no love interest and whose only male connection was with her father), and especially with their newest movie, Frozen, whose main characters are two sisters. Despite this, Disney does take the time to make dolls and merchandise of these men, but it isn’t for the men; it’s still for women. Disney focuses on one ideal of a woman’s life- that to be fulfilled, a woman can be strong and brave, but should also be in love and be incomplete without a man. Even in Frozen, where the main interest is the sister’s relationship, an entire song (listenable below) is dedicated to the fact that one of the main girls, Anna, needs to get married. They make their movies like they market their product- no set is complete without a trophy husband for a woman’s adventure. Even though this seems like a feminist ideology, this is a pitfall of post-feminism. In Banet-Weiser’s book, Authentic Disney does a lot to reach out to their consumers, but their biggest outreach is through their films, and it shows their ideologies best. Not counting Frozen (which has just premiered), there are 11 Disney Princesses; out of these, 10 of them found their prince to live happily ever after. 7 of them are white (and once Frozen’s princesses get added to the lineup in 2014, 9 out of 13 will be). All of them are conventionally attractive. Through their movies, Disney creates an ideal of women and of life and then markets their products towards the women they hold up to these adventures. They keep their consumers in a cycle of needing and wanting, and creating further adventures that people never knew they needed. All in all, Disney Princesses takes young girl’s self-esteem and dreams and make them marketable into products- all of wish are branded by Disney, for purchase from their website and theme parks.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE FANBASE?

The Disney Princess brand may be one of the biggest brands to have such an involved engagement with their fans. With a product-producing timespan of over 75 years (spanning from the 1930’s through now, including the newest film, Frozen, that premiered last week) it’s easy to see how the Disney Princess brand spans generations and has been around for longer than most of its fan base’s lifespan. With years and years of ideas, merchandise, and advertising, Disney has had a lot of time to build their Princess brand, and the community has had a lot of time to solidify the way it sees and experiences the brand. Despite the brand not becoming unified until 2000, being able to draw on this long history was a bringing-together of their same branding techniques across separate movies; the same idea of promoting the women and their adventures, despite being part of the ‘male gaze’.

While the Disney Princess brand is primarily marketed to young girls- and young girls are still a large part of the brand community- a new vocal majority of the Disney Princess brand are teenagers and young adults, specifically from the ages of 15-30. These are the people that grew up during the “Disney Renaissance”- the time period ranging from 1989-1999, where Disney produced 5 of its iconic 11 Disney Princess films. Because their first encounters with Disney were right around when Disney solidified their Princess brand in 2000, there’s very little dissonance between what the brand projects and what people experience in the brand community. There are more Disney Princess fanblogs on the internet than could be surveyed and accounted for, such as TheDisneyPrincess, Disney Princess Things, Hell Yeah Disney Princess, Those Disney Princesses, Glitter Disney Princesses, Disney-Princesses, and Little Girls With Disney Princesses. Even though these are an extremely small sampling, they all enforce the same idea of the Disney “magic” that’s been instilled by the brand. As Hell Yeah Disney Princess notes in their blog description, the blog is “Dedicated to the Disney artists whose creativity and talent allowed us to believe in magic and dream about someday becoming princes and princesses.” Disney emphasizes that any and all girls can be princesses, and that the potential for this magic can become reality, as long as you follow and pay attention to the example they’ve set forward- and in order to get you there, you should buy their products. The Disney Store has their own blog, The Buzz, which has a section for Princess-related news. With each news article, Disney links products, linking the experience to things you can buy. People are invited to interact with each other, and the blog, through their comments section, where people leave messages about their thoughts on the post. Meanwhile, the tumblr blogs interact with their fans by posting gifs, merchandise, music and commentary and having their followers ‘reblog’ it from them. However, since Tumblr is a more mature site (you have to be over 13 to sign up for a blog), fans have a more mature discourse on the Disney Princess line. For instance, fans often enter into discourse about the true Disney Princess message; for example, this post is one of many that discusses what Disney was really portraying for the Disney Princesses. Many of the fanbase will also joke about the shortcomings of the male princes, or of Walt Disney’s original intentions for Cinderella. While it cannot be said definitively what Walt Disney would say about the modern-day treatment of the Disney Princesses, the modern-day Princess fanbase seems to have agreed that even if the films have their shortcomings and may not be perfect, there are still valuable things to be gleaned from their messages. De Certeau writes about this, stating “Words become the outlet or product of silent histories. The readable transforms itself into the memorable (…) a different world (the reader’s) slips into the author’s place. This mutation makes the text habitable, like a rented apartment. It transforms another person’s property into a space borrowed for a moment by a transient.” (De Certeau, p. xix). Even if Disney does pretend to promote feminism and steps back on its word, the fanbase steps forward to fill in the cracks.

The brand community surrounding Disney Princesses is very much a buying and owning sort of community. Disney releases new products for its Princesses all the time; for instance, its biggest seller, the poseable, Barbie-style dolls, have movie releases (the first dolls made when movies premiere), and “Classic Dolls” (the dolls that fit in a set, with the same models as the other Princesses). Check out Amazon, Target, or Toys R Us for examples; all of their top sellers are either dolls or doll accessories. The Classic Princess dolls get re-vamped every few years, to reflect new outfits, movie anniversaries, or new redesigns. For instance, a very popular Disney blog, Disney Dolls and More showcases doll collections from all across the internet, including re-paints and customized dolls. In this way, the owning of these dolls is ritualistic; Lury writes about possession rituals, stating “‘Possession rituals’ is the term used by McCracken to refer to rituals involving the collecting, cleaning, comparing, showing off and even photographing of possessions (…) These rituals allow the owner to lay claim to a kind of personal possession of the meaning of an object that is beyond simple ownership. They are a way of personalizing the object, a way of transferring meaning from the individual’s own world to the newly obtained good…” (Lury, p.14-15)

To have a complete Disney doll collection is a feat- to have multiple releases of a doll is almost unheard of and costs a lot of money. Many collectors have Disney dolls- even I collect my favorites from each release (though I have nowhere near the amount of many collectors). There are collector subsets much like this one for almost every kind of Disney merchandise, including plush toys, dinnerware, outfits and clothing, miniatures, figurines, and films in different releases or cases; just one scan of DisneyBloggers blog complilation site, , Disney Princesses is very much a brand put forward by its merchandise, and fans are considered more important the more merchandise they own, and how hard it was for them to obtain. Muniz and O’Gunn talk about this ‘legitimacy’ concern in branding. “Legitimacy is a process whereby members of the community differentiate between true members of the community and those who are not, or who occupy a more marginal space. (…) Brand communities are generally open social organizations in that they do not deny membership, but like most communities they do have status hierarchies. Ostensibly, anyone who is devoted to the brand can be a member of the community, regardless of ownership. However, the devotion to the brand must be sincere and for the right reasons. Differentiating between those who are true believers in the brand, and those who are merely opportunistic is a common concern voiced by brand community members. (Muniz and O’Guinn, p.419). In the Disney Princess community, your ‘legitimacy’ is determined by the merchandise you own.

While the standard brand community of Disney Princesses is very positive, with such a large brand comes a large opposition. It’s hard to tell how much opposition there is in Disney’s brand community because of the strength the Princess line carries; most opposition is drowned out by the overwhelming positive. Many blogs that stand in opposition to the Disney Princesses have much less to do with their products and much more to do with the ideas that Disney puts into its Princesses line. For instance, the blog Disney Princess Recovery is a blog run by a mother that intends to bring about ‘recovery’ in her child; she claims her purpose is to “reclaim my daughter’s imagination after it was hijacked by Disney Princesses.”. Even if the opposition is big, the scope of the Disney Princess brand and its community is so large, it’s hard to see where the problems lie.

Through Disney Princesses’ emphasis on merchandise and their continuous re-releasing of new products, it’s easy to see where the hook of the company comes in. Combined with well-liked values of female strength and empowerment, it’s easy to see how Disney gets so much support for its Princess line; there’s something for every type of girl, old and young, to celebrate throughout the generations and be made part of their family. As long as Disney can keep producing Princess movies that are likeable, there’s no reason to think this brand will weaken anytime soon, and the community may just grow larger with each new generation introduced into the Disney Princess state of mind.

Works Cited

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

Certeau, Michel De. “General Introduction.” Introduction. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California, 1984. N. pag. Print.
Lury, Celia. Consumer Culture 2nd Edition. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2011. Print.

Muniz, Albert M., and Thomas C. O’Guinn. “Brand Community.” Journal of Consumer Research 27 (2001): n. pag. Print.

Lulu Who?

Lululemon Athletica is a female, workout-clothing brand that is primarily known for it’s yoga clothing.  Lululemon is recognized for its high quality products, but the yoga community it supports and has become part of, is the fundamental and significant quality of the brand. As such, Lululemon is a very well defined brand and has created a new market in workout clothing, supplemented with an established story of who they are and what they stand for, that has allowed them to witness immense success and loyalty amongst their consumers who want to attach the lulu brand image and identity to themselves. At the heart of the brand’s essence, it’s the yoga lifestyle, identity and cultural loop that have been instrumental in its success. Lululemon has monetized on the growth of yoga (and yoga communities) and demonstrated successful strategic branding to become synonymous and iconic in the yoga world. Their holistic integration with the spiritual, yogic world has allowed their brand to act as a desired, fully encompassing and attachable identity and narrative for their consumers that further drives their loyalty and growth.

The Ideal Lulu Consumer & “New Age Spirituality”

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Lululemon’s advertising focuses on the spirituality, yoga narrative and lifestyle, rather than the products.

Lululemon has filled a void of alternative female workout clothing by embracing the culture of yoga in North America and is monetizing on the branding of the consequent lifestyle and image it’s established. Lululemon is not a luxury brand but neither is it extremely affordable. Lululemon’s strength and brand distinctiveness lies in how they’ve extracted, translated and embedded spirituality and other characteristics of yoga and the yoga communities into their branding. As the Western world embraces and obsesses over the Eastern practice and culture of yoga; lululemon has taken an aggressive approach in creating a synonymous relationship with it, as its first and foremost a workout-clothing brand specifically for yoga.

Sarah Banet-Weiser in her book, Authentic, illuminates the current phase of  “new age capitalism” we’re witnessing, which is essentially the expansive commodification of eastern spirituality. She emphasizes that “yoga in the US has transformed from a relatively small practice, with clear Hindu roots, meant to promote a state of stability, calm, introspection and reflexivity, to a full-fledged trendy business available only to those with financial and cultural means to support it” (Banet-Weiser, 192). Lululemon, as identified by Banet-Weiser, has seized this opportunity and monopolized by establishing a new market for yoga wear, guided and developed around the spirituality and practice, becoming a significant and recognizable part of the rapidly rising, yoga culture. Consequently, this also strengthens the claim that to know and consume lululemon, one must significantly know, appreciate and understand yoga (culture) to understand the cultural value and make the substantial financial decision.

Evermore, working within and as a part of this new, commodified culture of yoga and spirituality, lululemon’s ideal consumer is certainly athletic but assumably more sophisticated as lululemon’s brand identity isn’t solely married to the product quality and the durability they promise, but also the yogic lifestyle that’s the defining and blatant element of the brand’s identity, that raises their prices. As Banet-Weiser illuminates that spirituality itself has been branded, lululemon is succeeding by attaching themselves with this greater brand of spirituality and the ultimate exemplification of spiritual branding; yoga. The ideal consumer for lululemon, that is much in line with Banet-Weiser’s assertions, would hence be able to afford lululemon while desiring and participating in the yoga culture, spiritual identity and lifestyle narrative the brand has created in conjunction. Additionally, their ideal target can be identified as mostly female, active/athletic and educated, high cultural capital consumers (HCC).

Cultural Capital, as Holt synthesizes Bourdieu’s idea, are “ a set of socially rare and distinctive tastes, skills, knowledge and practices” that are usually dictated by presuppositional “generative social psychological structure” called habitus (Holt 3). Consumers due to their elite position and background/habitus acquire high culture capital. As Holt illuminates in his piece, “Does Cultural Capital Structure American Consumption?”, HCC’s are drawn to and value eclecticism, individuality/identification, exoticism, aesthetics and connoisseurship, of which many can be recognized and acknowledged in the lululemon and spirituality/yoga branding. Consumers are allured by the brands aesthetics, eclectic and exotic, eastern spirituality and practice, and attach the lululemon brand and lifestyle to depict and define their personal identity. Arguably, it has also become an iconic brand in the world of athletic/yoga wear, as the customers value lululemon “as much for what they symbolize as for what they do” (Lury 149).

To more accurately understand lululemon’s target customers it’s most appropriate to study the representational branding strategies lululemon uses to reach these consumers. These strategies depict the ideal audience they’re trying to reach as the strategies illustrate their detailed, communication tactics.

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The lululemon manifesto

Firstly, the lululemon manifesto is a very essential and revealing representation and document for the brand.  The manifesto can be seen in their stores and frequently on their recyclable bags that customers receive with their purchase. The manifesto includes quotes such as, “friends are more important than money”, “the pursue of happiness is the source of all unhappiness” and “breathe deeply and appreciate the moment. Living in the moment could be the meaning of life.” These quotes and the mere presence of their manifesto illustrates the spiritual nature and identity of their bran, the lifestyle they participate with and share, coupled with the positivity they exude. Their ideal consumer would appreciate and form a connection with this manifesto that is a result of their yoga centric lifestyle and identity.

The ideal consumer lululemon hopes to reach, additionally, would also have some background of the history of yoga and the rich Indian spirituality, that would further inspire and excite the consumer to participate and develop an aligned and long lasting identity. To this point however, Banet-Weiser states that, “the decoupling of Hinduism from the practice of yoga makes it something that can be sold as a particular sort of branded commodity to a wide audience of consumers while retaining the spiritual mystique of Hinduism” (Banet-Weiser, 194). Interestingly, the manifesto depicts this phenomenon as the brand maintains a broad appeal of spirituality and mystique of Hinduism that is appealing and appropriated for the North American and high cultural capital audience (Canclini, 38). Yoga and Eastern spirituality is “deterritorialized”, as it’s taken from India and adapted and modified for the West (Canclini, 92), by which it’s appropriated and simplified to fulfill the spirituality needs of the West, through the process of eliminating the true Hindu yogic and spiritual principles for a more relatable, western, modern and positive ideology of spirituality.

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A woman practicing yoga in the window display of the lululemon Toronto store provides exposure and intrigue to the brand, but ultimately attracts the target consumer.

Overall, lululemon wants to highlight and emphasize the yoga culture and spirituality to ultimately make it deeply synonymous with their own culture and identity. The heavy importance and weight placed on spirituality can be can be furthered noticed by their in-store endeavors. The lululemon store employees are called “Educators” who are expected to be much more than salesmen as they’re required to embody the narrative and the yogic lifestyle. Further, lululemon has a program called “gift of yoga” which features free classes that they routinely hold in their showrooms and offer online. The store décor is also aligned with the sentiment of the manifesto and the yoga culture, as the stores feature bright colors, inspirational quotes, knowledgeable educators and occasionally educators, experts, and lululemon ambassadors practicing yoga in the window displays. The yoga in the window displays additionally also assists in drawing the right audience/customer who is intrigued and appreciates the practice of yoga. Henceforth, Lululemon is a place to participate with the yoga culture not only through purchase, but also through education, observation or even the act itself.

#LululemonMarketing

Lululemon employs a few, different and purposely chosen media formats to reach their customer base. The media marketing campaigns align with their yoga and spiritual philosophies and continually enhance and support their image and brand identity.  To interact with their consumers and to converse about the spiritual fitness lifestyle, lululemon has created a robust social media program. It is of significance to observe that lululemon doesn’t spend much or any time on traditional media as their target audience characteristics feature tech savvy and modern hence, positioning their focus online and in store.

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Screenshot of lululemon #thesweatlife page that features pictures tagged by customers displaying their participation in the lifestyle through working out, traveling, wearing lululemon etc.

Lululemon is successfully present on Facebook and Instagram with major followings and ongoing conversations. They created the hashtag #thesweatlife allowing consumers to share their brand and yoga experiences, which they also feature on their website. With the hashtag they ask consumers, “how they live their #sweatlife” allowing consumers to bond and interact with the brand much after the purchase. It exemplifies their mission to demonstrate the expansive qualities of their branding. The social media program is very interactive and provides inspiration and tips that their consumers would be interested in and would want to engage with. To further support the development of local yoga culture and institutions, lululemon athletica also created a cellphone app called “om finder” which allows users to find yoga classes, teachers etc. and provides tips and tricks from local yogis. This app seamlessly displays their dedication to the yogic lifestyle and the cultural loop their profiting on. As they state on their website, the app and lululemon are “supporting your yoga habit since 2013.”

Lululemon’s social media program certainly does allow them to engage and interact with their loyal and established consumers but their Instagram also draws a younger audience. Creating #thesweatlife and now launching a new program #letsgetfullon provides a relatable entry for a younger, millennial audience as these hashtags spark their interest and welcome their participation. It allows millennials to interact with yoga and the brand in a way that is more attuned to their comfort and communication methods. For example, millennials post pictures of them living the lululemon lifestyle/ “the sweat life” as they post pictures after their workouts, after a healthy meal, a meditation session or even just with lululemon clothes on. Further, lululemon reposts the pictures posted by their consumers on their sweat life website page, demonstrating the value and power of the collective lifestyle and way of living. Additionally, though the app was a very strategic move to create a symbiotic relationship with the yoga culture and empire, it also provides visibility and brand awareness to consumers who want to try yoga and enter/become a part of this culture. It continues to maintain their relationship with the loyal yogis and participants while drawing in new audiences.

Lastly, lululemon also has a blog that is a central part of this discussion. The lululemon blog is the ultimate illustration of the living, breathing qualities a brand can possess. It features articles supporting and describing the athletic and spiritual lulu lifestyle, featuring lululemon products, with blog entries such as “how to layer for winter running” and “where to travel.” The blog goes one step further than the social media profiles as it captures the essence of what it means to have the yoga and lululemon lifestyle. It translates the philosophies of the manifesto with real experiences and discussions featuring stories and entries about inspirational lululemon customers, the lifestyle, the products, yoga, and style. The blog covers and captures the dynamic 360-degree identity of the brand.  It allows new customers to begin a bond and understand lululemon while it allows other customers to continuously participate, share and celebrate the same identity and lifestyle.

In conclusion, lululemon atheletica establishes their brand as a way of life that can be illuminated through the way they address their consumers. It’s about the yoga, the spiritual living, and the product but it’s more about the complete, transformative and embodied lifestyle. Ultimately, though this deep integration with the western yogic lifestyle has been their winning accomplishment and is successfully embedded in all their representational and media strategies, it does however, isolate and not appeal to certain consumers. Yoga and lululemon require a significant time and financial commitment and the overwhelming yogic and spiritual culture could also be off putting to some depending on their athletic activities and views. Conversely, lululemon through their communication and branding tactics could ultimately be attempting to maintain their brand authenticity and narrative by drawing in a customer base that, if not similarly participates, is at least inspired and appreciates the culture.

Luluheads Unite

Lululemon’s success and trajectory to becoming a billion dollar empire is undeniably a result of their brilliantly encompassing, well-defined lifestyle branding. From the conception of the yoga wear company, the brand has established an image centered upon yogic and spiritual lifestyle that is cohesive and inherent in all their marketing and visual tactics. Consequently, their established lifestyle has lent itself incredibly well to creating and maintaining loyal, expanding and robust brand communities in North America.

Lululemon’s brand community and the loyal consumers that are key participants of those communities, completely align with the image the brand attempts to project. The consumers that engage and form attachments to the brand are the brand’s target consumers, who are living or are inspired by the lululemon lifestyle. These high cultural capital (HCC) consumers for the most part actively participate or try to participate in the spiritual, yogic/workout-centered, healthy lifestyle, lululemon depicts and is defined by. “Luluheads” are what the “Lululemon’s New York community-relations director calls the brand’s fans” who sincerely wear, share, participate and represent the brand (Urstadt). The consumers that form communities truly relate to the image and lifestyle of the brand and ultimately, want to attach those meanings and identity to themselves. As Canclini eloquently suggests, “identity is a narrated construct” and in our capitalistic world, our consumption truly narrates and depicts our identity (Canclini, 89). The brand community members share a passion, appreciation and dedication to yoga/working out, spirituality and healthy living and consequently the ability to participate in the pricey and encompassing lululemon brand culture for which they want to be identified by.

The lululemon brand hence serves as a basis for communication and community among consumers, which has been a definite strategy of their brand development.  The brand lifestyle and culture is not only inherent with their store, employees and website, but also with the free community, yoga events and their social media marketing initiatives. The lululemon brand allows likeminded and devoted yogis and athletes to come together and share the healthy and spiritual lifestyle that has primarily caused them to identify with the lululemon brand. Lululemon further capitalizes on these communities and maintains their engagement by curating social media initiatives that foster communication between and with these participants who want to share and communicate their lifestyle. Additionally, lululemon’s brand communities are established and strengthened in spaces and platforms for health and workout conscious consumers to communicate and unite.

Lululemon has significant followings on several of the social networks their consumers and brand communities are present on. Through their active presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, lululemon is able to keep their consumers engaged, united and enhances their brand communities. Blogs and social media allow consumers to unite together and share their love for lululemon, but also allow lululemon to curate and perpetuate the conversation. Their hashtag, #thesweatlife and draws a lot of engagement and gained popularity with over 40,000 posts on Instagram. Consumers share images and moments that illustrate participation in the lululemon lifestyle, keeping them involved and bonded to fellow “Luluheads.” The consumers share not only the products they’re wearing and profess their love, but they also are always participating and sharing an integral part of the lifestyle and culture.

Lulu Events

Additionally, the free events and yoga classes held by lululemon are also essential events that further aid and exponentially strengthen their brand communities. Lululemon was very strategic in understanding the wealth and importance of holding regular, free yoga sessions at all their locations. Yoga classes and institutes are locations where consumers bond and create the lululemon brand communities, as everyone is clad in the designated lulu uniform. By maintaining a clear and increasingly inherent connection and attachment between the yogic lifestyle and lululemon, these events are strengthening and growing the brand communities of the consumers buying into the lifestyle. Further, lululemon is also expanding into the increasingly popular, spinning culture (thanks to Soul Cycle), as they believe their HCC consumers would also be interested and attracted to this growing workout and we can notice new brand communities uniting around this up and coming activity that is encouraged by the lululemon brand itself. Ultimately, this is a key recognition to highlight, as the brand communities for lululemon are deeply tied to and around the practice of yoga/working out and additionally, the spiritual and healthy mindset. Lululemon’s community is hence developed and united online on blogs and social media, where consumers can display their passion and lifestyle for the activity and the brand, and also in yoga centers and new niche workout locations, that develops the lifestyle.

Is Lululemon’s Dedication to Spirituality and the Yogic Lifestyle Off-Putting? 

Though lululemon has an abundance of strong and loyal consumers and an established brand community, it also faces much resistance and aversion, especially in the recent past. Ultimately, the very tactics of branding spirituality and yoga that grow and maintain their target market and customers are deemed off putting by the others. First and foremost, the high prices and the yogic identity have constructed lululemon to be an aspirational brand that is specifically targeted towards high cultural capital and wealthy consumers. Additionally, because lululemon does have a rich culture and lifestyle supported by many dedicated fans and loyal consumers, many find it to be cult-like and hence, off-putting (Sacks). For example, in a forum discussion titled, “Why is lululemon so damn expensive?”, popular negative comments took over the conversation. Some mentioned they don’t like the “brand name thing” and majority critiqued the price stating how it wasn’t worth spending my “next paycheck on.” The price and the yogic and spiritual lifestyle ultimately act as discriminating and exclusionary factors creating resistance from people unable to participate and/or purchase. The brand henceforth, is seen as snobby, pretentious, overpriced and unwelcoming.

Undoubtedly, these attachments have fostered the creation of many vocal, anti lululemon groups who view the brand very negatively, unable to understand or appreciate the brand that they see as very pretentious due to the inauthenticity driven by it’s capitalistic and HCC qualities. As one blogger exemplifies, “lululemon is pop culture’s answer to wearable spirituality” and you’re surrounded by nothing more than “an aura of faux enlightenment”, a sentiment shared by many on several, different social platforms (“Why I dislike Lululemon more than ever”). Banet-Weiser could lend some insight to this as she states that “the branding of yoga repurposes Indian religion as “authentic”, in which the practitioner, not the actual practice, is “ authentic” (Banet-Weiser, 194). In the translation of the yogic culture and the brand to the HCC branding of lululemon has ultimately, lost the true Indian sentiments and religious value. Additionally, this loss and lack of authenticity also receives resistance from consumers who dislike yoga and the yogic culture. As lululemon has a deep attachment and relationship with the yogic culture and lifestyle, they are faced with the same aversion and critique. Yoga, as exemplified by Banet Weiser, has established a type of brand identity in the West that has garnered much resistance for its inauthenticity and similar pretentious qualities that is directly applicable to lululemon. Branding of spirituality essentially “is a process that exceeds Orientalism, as it is animated and enabled by advanced capitalist culture” causing such a reputation for ultimately being a “watered down”, westernized money-driven scam (Banet-Weiser, 184).

Interestingly and likewise, there is also a definite community of consumers who practice, enjoy and appreciate yoga but who are very against and dislike lululemon. Essentially these yogis also question lululemon’s authenticity and integrity, as they believe their practices are against the true yogic principles and are capitalist and are dishonestly exploiting and commercializing the practice and culture. As one consumer eloquently summarizes this belief, “Yoga is supposed to be about asceticism, not expensive accessories”, arguably adding to the brand’s inauthenticity (Urstadt). Hence, these communities of consumers who practice yoga build their identity and prove a point by not consuming and purchasing lululemon.

Conclusion: The Lulu Recipe

Lululemon as exhaustively illustrated is a dynamic brand with truly encompassing marketing, branding and advertising strategies. Though arguably the success of lululemon can be linked to the cultural context and the timing of emerging in the era of “new age spirituality”, the brand has sustained and progressed by their dedication to creating an authentic and encompassing narrative and story. Lululemon’s authenticity is ultimately, not judged with the authenticity of eastern spirituality, but it’s their brand mission and lifestyle they must strengthen and maintain as they have. Today, lululemon is identified as the brand in the yogic community, and as the brand grows, its identity is only strengthened. There deep dedication to maintaining their spiritual and yogic driven, high culture identity ultimately, maybe off-putting to some, but as it globally expands its positive vibes and lifestyle are rapidly gaining loyal adopters as the brand make it very seamless to attach meaning and become part of the community and adopt the lululemon lifestyle.

Bibliography

Arvidsson, Adam. “Brands: A Critical Perspective.” Journal of Consumer Culture (2005).

Banet-Weiser, Sarah. Authentic. New York: New York UP, 2012. Print.

Canclini, Nestor Garcia. “Consumption is Good for Thinking.” Consumers and Citizens. University of Minnesota, Print.

Canclini, Nestor Garcia. “Identities as Multimedia Spectacle.” Consumers and Citizens. University of Minnesota, Print.

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

Lululemon Athletica. Web. 10 Nov. 2013. <http://shop.lululemon.com/home.jsp&gt;.

Lury, Celia. Consumer Culture. 2nd ed. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2011. Print.

Pfennighaus, Michelle. “Just a Suggestion: Reversible Pants.” Web log post. Find Your Balance. N.p., 23 Nov. 2008. Web. 10 Dec. 2013.<http://findyourbalancehealth.com/2008/11/just-a-suggestion-reversible-pants/&gt;.

Rupp, Lindsey. “Lululemon Courts Wall Street Jocks to Broaden Yoga.” The Business of Fashion. N.p., 25 July 2013. Web. 09 Dec. 2013. <http://www.businessoffashion.com/2013/07/lululemon-courts-wall-street-jocks-to-broaden-yoga-image.html&gt;.

Sacks, Danielle. “Lululemon’s Cult of Selling” Fast Company. N.p., Apr. 2009. Web. 24Nov. 2013. <http://www.fastcompany.com/1208950/lululemon%25E2%2580<http://www.fastcompany.com/1208950/lululemon%25E2%2580%25 99s-cult-selling>.

Smith, Kyle. “Lululemon’s Chip Wilson Should Keep Annoying Millions Of Potential Customers.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 21 Nov. 2013. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.<http://www.forbes.com/sites/kylesmith/2013/11/21/lululemons-chip-wilson-should-keep-annoying-millions-of-potential-customers/&gt;.

“The Lululemon Manifesto.” Lululemon Athletica. Lululemon Athletica, n.d. Web.<http://www.lululemon.com/about/manifesto&gt;.

“Why I dislike Lululemon more than ever.” Fired For Now’s Blog. 31 Mar. 2009. Web.24 Nov. 2013.<http://open.salon.com/blog/firedfornow/2009/03/ 31/why_i_dislike_lululemonmore_than_before>.

Urstadt, Bryant. “Lust for Lulu.” NYMag.com. 26 July 2009. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.<http://nymag.com/shopping/features/58082/index1.html&gt;.

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       Zara is a mid-price point lifestyle brand that manages to maintain a consumer base that successfully spans age, socioeconomic and geographic boundaries. Through the employment of high-status cultural intermediaries and a ubiquitous brand culture, Zara sustains the image of a brand that possesses high cultural capital and is competitive with today’s luxury brands. If we are to perceive as true Douglass Isherwood’s notion that the essential function of consumption is its capacity to make sense, Zara’s success is a no-brainer; luxury-esque fashion at an exponentially lower price point is exactly what today’s fast-fashion consumer is looking to purchase into. Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of cultural capital lies at the basis for understanding Zara’s ability to maintain the sensation of a luxury brand as it fruitfully provides embodied high cultural capital to its customers, which is rare in a mass-market consumer environment.

The Consumer

       The ideal Zara customer is a fashion-conscious, cosmopolitan, sophisticated woman. The price point is a bit higher than budget but lower than luxury so the company attempts to gain consumers from both ends of the spectrum; the budget consumer sees the items as a splurge while the luxury consumer sees them as a steal. The mix between trendy and classic pieces, which include “instant fashions” copied from the runway shows as well as a line of basic pieces for all seasons, allows for the age range in customer to vary.

       The ideal consumer for the brand must know the trends and be willing to hunt for them. “To consume is to participate in an arena of competing claims for what society produces and the ways to use it,” states Néstor García Canclini. This principle is at the foundation of Zara’s consumer acquisition technique.  Instead of accepting that luxury items are only produced by luxury brands and that purchasing them is the only way to achieve a high status from clothing, Zara customers question this logic and are willing to accept that in spending less, they remain able to be relevant to the wealthy, well-dressed set. In doing purchasing this way, Canclini asserts that such consumption serves to appropriate meaning onto the items consumed which, again, the Zara consumer model supports. With such a fast-fashion brand, the shopper feels as if they must buy the product then and there in order to make sure it doesn’t fly off the shelves; Zara consumers capitalize on sales and new merchandise by taking advantage of the fleeting quality of the clothes and accessories. Also key for fashionistas is knowing that not everyone will be wearing the same thing as they are, a real fear when wearing clothing from a fast-fashion retailer. Zara avoids this by upping the price point more than an H & M, for example, thus limiting just slightly the consumer base for more popular items. In facilitating this sort of consumer awareness, Zara assuredly promotes its sales with this in mind; by retaining sales to only twice a year, the sense of immediacy in purchasing becomes evident.

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       One of the most well known activities for the Zara brand community is the biannual sale. It occurs around January and June worldwide and, as an avid shopper and Zara customer, I have never seen such a coming together of shoppers outside of perhaps Black Friday. Advertorial-esque pieces written about the Zara sale enforce the concept of buying things quickly because they might not last as well as buying in bulk during one visit. A search for #zarasale on Twitter results in hundreds of posts in different languages and from disparate origins around the globe, projecting the mayhem that is the sale. Purchased items are pictured time and time again, the word “obsessed” is overused, and all participants attempt to pertain to the Zara community, even in a way so small as a Twitter post. The overwhelming expected recognition of the Zara sale on Twitter relates to the success of the sale in bringing consumers together; no one is posting that they are surprised that the Zara sale is happening, they are posting that they are participating in it and, in doing so, are expecting others to recognize that their participation in receiving a great deal from this well-known retailer will insure their augmented cultural capital.

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       Perhaps the most noticeable consumer engagement aspect of Zara is that of fashion bloggers. Beginning with such prominent faces as The Man Repeller, Leandra Medine, Zara has become a quick street style and blogger favorite for mixing with luxury items. Medine titles one article, “Where Zara Wins: Is The Real Luxury of Shopping in Zara?” The article depicts Zara pieces next to luxury ones which have clearly been mimicked by the former and poses the question to readers that if luxury means having the ability to choose, then it could be that Zara, with lower price points for just as trendy items with a shorter production time, is the more luxurious option of vendor. With the support of such a cultural intermediary and street fashion advocate as Medine, consumers are given the idea that they should become members of the brand community as well and, even better, that they can afford to do so. The list of bloggers who support Zara wares goes on, from Fashion Toast and Victoria Tornegren to the Haute Pursuit and Sincerely Jules.

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       Comments from readers on the aforementioned article include “Unfortunately not all of us are born with trustfunds. Hence the choice is not a choice, it’s the only way to get access to fashion forward clothes,” and “The point about easily spending $100 at Zara is too true. Last time I was there I purchased a skort and a thin-strapped tank and it cost $97. They are pricey to the average person!” The takeaway from such comments is twofold: firstly, even amidst blatant comparison to designer items, consumers consider Zara to be an aspirational brand in terms of price and trend and, secondly, that Zara is a validated method used by consumers to purchase into the luxury fashion identity. Here we are brought back to Bourdieu and his understanding of cultural capital. Cultural capital as access into the hierarchy of society is cultivated by consumers as their purchasing decisions are influenced by the potential resulting outlook on their individual self that will come from having made such purchases. Embodied cultural capital, the most desirable variant in that it indicates knowledge of how to use something not just knowledge that the purchase should be made, is achieved in a Zara purchase thanks to the support of such high cultural capital influencers as fashion bloggers. To further serve in this conceptualization, Celia Lury’s “culture loops” can be employed to examine the process of the meanings carried by Zara branded products. Ever since the cultural material of high cultural capital and trendiness were attached to Zara, well-priced luxury goods are compared to the brand constantly. Zara is often the first brand considered when a customer is looking for such an item and, as time goes on, the items gain more meaning as accessible luxury goods.

       Due to the popularity among fashion bloggers, I personally have seen Zara become a sort of status symbol for college-aged and career women looking to assert their unique style in a professional environment. Instead of settling for the objectified cultural capital perhaps associated with clothing from H&M or Urban Outfitters, Zara consumers believe that by purchasing into the brand, they are gaining embodied cultural capital in this sphere of the fashion industry. This aligns perfectly with the image that the brand attempts to project in creating a luxury sensibility by way of mid-range clothing.

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       It is interesting to consider the way that brands are portrayed online in methods that are out of their control such as celebrity use of their items or fashion shots taken by simple customers. In Zara’s case, the Pinterest tags for the brand yield what seem like high fashion, high quality images. It seems that there is a mutual agreement among Zara consumers that the brand represents a high cultural capital sensibility of fashion and, for this reason, the brand image is perpetuated in these beautiful, professional-looking images. This search led me to think about why the brand community would be content with continuing to enable such a brand identity when, in reality, Zara is not a luxury brand and I believe that this occurs because Zara represents a new sector of the fashion business that mixes the high and the low and has created a previously unconsidered sense of style. This new sector stems from an increasing propensity towards omnivorousness in today’s consumer society. In relation to the Peterson and Kern study discussed in class, lessened exclusivity of the most coveted fashion trends, combined with the generational politics of pop culture (and, therefore, pop fashion) accepted as more than just a phase, and the change in status-group politics which appropriates high-brow culture to that of low-brow and vice versa all contribute to increased omnivorousness. It makes sense that a brand which transcends the label of strictly high or low fashion would thrive in such a changing retail landscape. Thus, Zara consumers and brand community members continue to report fashion bloggers and celebrities wearing the clothing to secure the brand’s position in the greater market. This sort of unintentional, native advertising is the result of great product and smart designers with a quick turnover process for making goods and, I believe, will be emulated by many more brands as the fashion industry progresses.

       According to socialmention.com, the word “Zara” is mentioned on average every 11 seconds on the internet. The sources through which “Zara” is most mentioned are photobucket.com, youtube.com, answers_wiki.com, flickr.com and facebook.com. Such a social media presence exhibits the great desire for consumers to expose their relationship with the brand in order to perpetuate the connection and sense of community that comes along with buying or talking about Zara products. 

       With almost 20 million “likes” on Facebook and 814,000 followers on Instagram (just the English versions) Zara’s far reach among consumers becomes clear. On Facebook, there are thousands of likes and comments on posts by Zara, which are in turn “liked” by other participants; such constant back and forth between consumers is not something that we see occurring for strictly luxury brands as the sense of exclusivity and the desire to purchase items that are actually not shared by anyone else is their purpose. Search #Zara on Instagram, the fashion sets’ social media platform of choice, and one will come across over 3 million tags for the brand. These include items purchased and in-store visits, items desired and outfit of the day shots in a plethora of languages and styles.

       Zara, with the connotations it maintains today, has only been around for a relatively short while but I believe that with the rise in social media and fashion bloggers, the community has grown to include a very fashion-conscious set of women and men. The community has grown to include men and children over time, as well as younger consumers as the price point becomes extended with greater offerings in both directions.

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       The conflicting community attachment I often see with Zara is the wide age range of the community. Girls as young as high school wear the clothes while older women also shop there. While this might be usual in a department store setting, it is often strange to see a 50 year age gap in the dressing rooms, even with the large store sizes and vast styling choices. I believe this is mediated with the range given by the brand in product categories, in that the clothing ranges from club-wear to sophisticated, corporate-ready garments. I wonder, however, whether or not it is sustainable for Zara to continue to provide for such a wide range when it might become uncomfortable for either side with the increase in awareness of the rest of the brand community through the internet and social media. I found no evidence of resistance against Zara. Truly, the brand has not been around long enough to gain an opposition force as many other brands might have. Only the future will tell whether the decisions made by the brand will negatively affect the brand community.

The Strategy

       Zara does not have an advertising budget; the household name doesn’t find it necessary to advertise when so many people already maintain brand awareness. The finances are instead allocated to purchasing brick and mortar locations that improve upon the company’s image of “affordable luxury.” By locating Zara stores in close proximity to luxury labels, which the brand emulates in the design, process is the method by which Zara sustains the perception of high quality, fast fashion. Even in online posts, such as on Tumblr, there are posts which link Zara to high fashion luxury retailers as these stores were visited in the same shopping trip. Subsequently, the high cultural capital achieved in shopping at Chanel, for example, is transferred to a much less costly Zara purchase.

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       The brand attempts to make the clothing seem ubiquitous, thus marketing to those who claim to be in the know of fashion and, therefore, must know the brand that everyone is wearing. In capitalizing on blogger product placement, for example, a reader with less means than is required for the luxury pieces a bloggers wears might feel comfortable going out to purchase just the Zara skirt or handbag from a story they see online. Banet-Weiser explains the success of a cultural “story” in attachment to a brand; if the two are able to coincide and combine in meaning, the customer will connect not only with the brand but also with the lifestyle that it promotes. Again, Zara is not just selling a less expensive version of luxury products; the company is selling the ability to belong to the high fashion word without strict financial means. Word of mouth is also huge in this case; the Zara sale is famous across continents and it seems that everyone makes several visits to find the best merchandise at a lower cost. This process of making the name seem like it’s everywhere, without forced advertising, allows Zara to be represented as attainable but desirable.

The Media

        Zara maintains an online, E-commerce site utilized to spread brand recognition and product knowledge. More interestingly, Zara is a favorite among fashion bloggers; the Man Repeller, Late Afternoon and Atlantic-Pacific blogs, preferred reads for the fashionista crowd, often feature Zara products in their outfits of the day or trend stories. Whether these items are gifted or purchased is unknown but the illusion of high cultural capital remains because such influential and affluent people in the industry are choosing to wear such pieces in their daily lives.

       In many articles, the Zara shop windows are discussed. This format for depicting the brand image is an underrated one in today’s digitally focused society but the brand places great importance on the impression given by the shop windows. In dictating trends and outfits tastes in this public way, any passerby is able to better understand the Zara vision.

       The Zara website utilizes photographic images of the clothing to show the product. There is also a lookbook online and a “campaign” which shows the clothes depicted in a more street-style sensibility. On the website, there is a link to “apps” which Zara has for a multitude of smart phones. Of course, the brand also controls a Facebook page, Twitter account, Pinterest board, Youtube channel, and Flikr. They also have an Instagram account but no link to it on their website which is curious. In using such social media as their most direct access to consumers, Zara as a company indicates clearly their target consumer: a young, fashionable woman who understands the brand’s ability to reinterpret trends. Additionally, Zara seems to be appealing to this consumer because they are the ones with the purpose to continue to post on said sites about the brand in order to perpetuate the image even futher.

       Inditex, the parent company of Zara, maintains 6,009 stores in 86 countries; in 22 of these countries the brand has an on-line E-commerce store. The younger consumer in places such as rural America use the website often to buy into the brand when there isn’t a store readily available to them. Zara consumers average 17 store visits annually while most other retailers average 4 visits per customer. This means that maintenance and merchandising of Zara stores is a huge priority for the brand in maintaining loyalty with consumers; shoppers expect a clean, interesting store design that can be expected to showcase the outfits and products of the moment.

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       With the ability to complete the entire design and production process for an item in less than 2 weeks, Zara’s goal is to move product and boost sell-through percentages in the short term. For this reason, I do not believe that Zara would exclude any customer base from their desired consumer. The stores cater to men, women and children, which allows a variety and more of a lifestyle feel than just a clothing brand. With varying price points and product categories, Zara’s goal is to have something for everyone. The question then arises, however, how to maintain a sense of high cultural capital when appealing to a mass audience. I believe that this is achieved in locating stores in urban areas where the more fashionable demographic would have express access. Smaller towns likely do not have a Zara in their mall or shopping center because Zara has focused primarily in gaining customers who are fashion-knowledgeable or at least cosmopolitan in nature. In theory, Zara’s expansion will lead them to open many more brick-and-mortar stores, presumably stretching into smaller, more rural locations but evidence to this being a priority is non existent at the moment. For now, the brand is centered on expanding the existing consumer base by spreading their message of aspirational luxury.

Bibliography

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

Lury, Celia. Consumer Culture. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1996. Print. 3 Dec 2013.

Changing Highbrow Taste: From Snob to Omnivore
Richard A. Peterson and Roger M. Kern
American Sociological Review , Vol. 61, No. 5 (Oct., 1996), pp. 900-907

 

Website Links

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/11/zaras-big-idea-what-the-worlds-top-fashion-retailer-tells-us-about-innovation/265126/

http://www.slideshare.net/irwanarfandi/zara-retailing-case-report

http://www.zara.com/us/en/lookbook-c471503.html

http://www.1to1media.com/weblog/2011/05/guest_blogger_jeanne_bliss_how.html

http://elle.co.za/zara-sale/

https://twitter.com/search?src=typd&q=%23zarasale

 

 

Brand Project: Kiehl’s 

 

            In American society, there are a plethora of brands for consumers to choose from when they go to make a purchase.  Many brands go to great lengths in order to create a brand community (a “specialized, non-geographically bound community, based on a structured set of social relations among admirers of a brand”) in order to reach, appeal to, and satisfy their targeted demographic of consumers (Muniz and O’Guinn).   They also use a variety of marketing strategies (to promote their products) and different techniques to provide consumers with a certain sense of personal connection to the brand.  Kiehl’s, a cosmetics and beauty products brand, is no different in their goals and the strategies that they employ in order to gain the attention and loyalty of consumers.  The brand, in its long and unique history, has used many interesting techniques to sell their quality products to their targeted consumers, while also creating its own brand community and bettering the world.

 

Expanding Target Audience

 

            Originally, the Kiehl’s brand generally sold itself to a very narrow and limited demographic – middle to upper-class women.  The prices and uses of their products generally appealed more to this demographic than others.  The predecessor of Kiehl Pharmacy, Brunswick Apotheke, started up on Pear Tree Corner in the East Village of Manhattan in 1851 (it wasn’t until 1894 that the apothecary transitioned owners and was renamed “Kiehl Pharmacy”)(“Heritage”).  It supplied a wide variety of beauty and skin care products that appealed to the women of the time and for quite some time; these goods were primarily sold to female consumers.  However, in the early 1960s, Keihl’s began to re-shape many of their ideas and expanded the demographic of their targeted clientele beyond the wealthy females it had always typically attracted and appealed to.

            The price of their products remained relatively high, which continued to limit the type of people who could afford to purchase their goods.  By keeping their prices expensive, they avoided the type of people that they might not wish to appeal to or associate with (such as members of lower classes).  Because of this, their products continued to attract almost exclusively to those with higher incomes in the middle and upper classes.

            However, in the early 1960s, they developed a line of products specifically for men (“Heritage”).  This drastically widened the range of consumers that they appealed to.  Kiehl’s no longer selling beauty and skin care products that are exclusively geared towards women; males now make up nearly 50% of Kiehl’s current consumers.  They continue to produce and come up with new products that have a more masculine appeal, which keeps up their male clientele.  In the same way that men are targeted, Kiehl’s produces new lines and products that appeal to their more feminine demographic.

            Another type of consumer that this brand appeals is people who care about the environment and wish to use natural products.  Kiehl’s stands firm in its belief of using only pure and natural ingredients in the goods that they produce.  They use creative remedies that have a strong botanical influence.  Without the use of chemicals or chemically made ingredients, their products are healthier for and easier on consumers’ skin and hair.

 

Marketing Strategies and Social Awareness

 

            According to Sarah Banet-Weiser’s book, Authentic™: The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture, as mainstream media began to educate society on the importance of caring for the environment in the first decade of the 21st century, many brands started to “go green” in order to cater to developing cultural awareness (Bonet-Weiser 149).  This is a part of branding politics, which allows companies to get ahead by discovering and catering to the evolving ethical and cultural priorities of consumers.  So in 2009, Kiehl’s introduced and re-use and recycle program that encouraged eco-friendliness.  They have since taken great pride in their environmental awareness stance when it comes to their products.  In order to increase awareness of their environmental priorities and support, Kiehl’s provides information on their products, as well as throughout their stores and online.

            Kiehl’s does not follow the typical type of marketing (Sullivan).  For decades, they have relied almost solely on advertising through word of mouth from satisfied customers.  In the 1970s, they began to offer free samples of their products.  These generous samples turned out to be a wonderful marketing strategy, as their products were met with instant approval from those who tried them.  Their reliance on consumers working as salespeople by recommending products to others that they interact with is a unique, but solid way to market their products.  According to Celia Lury’s Consumer Culture, using consumers as marketing tools is a relatively common and effective strategy (Lury 156).

            The brand has also gained popularity and recognition through its involvement in charities, communities, and its support of different causes.  As each new store opens, Kiehl’s works to help improve the community surrounding the location.  When it opened a store in the Upper West Side, the company focused on making improvements to a local playground.  They’ve generously provided textbooks and information on their products to several different medical students at Stanford.  They’ve also sponsored events such as ultra-marathons, the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, the Waterkeeper Alliance, and the Rainforest Alliance.  By supporting these causes and organizations, Kiehl’s not only spreads word of their company but also makes a difference in the world.

            Although the brand typically sticks with more traditional and conventional forms of advertising, they have also seen the value in social networking and other forms of modern marketing.  They’re on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube.  By adapting and using these mediums, they’re able to reach a younger clientele.  Their Twitter feed and Facebook page give information about current events that they’re participating in and different promotions or products that they’re currently offering.  On Pinterest, they post photos and descriptions of their products, as well as links to purchase the goods.  Their Instagram allows them to post photos of community events, their different stores, products, and other random pictures of the things that they’re involved in.  Their YouTube channel allows them to put up videos of different events, store openings, product promotions, and involvement in events.  By utilizing their profiles on these social media sites, the company is able to reach and inform a larger number of consumers and potential consumers.

            Kiehl’s also uses other forms of digital marketing, including electronic newsletters and promotions sent to their email subscribers and exclusive offers via SMS marketing.  According to blogger Derek Johnson on Tatango, Kiehl’s experienced a 73% redemption rate for a promotion they did about receiving texts to notify customers of different sales or promotions (“Tatango”).  Advertising with in-store signs, email alerts, and notifications through their social media sites, the company offered these texting notifications and nearly 73% of customers agreed to participate.  In a later survey, it was found that a vast majority of the people who signed up for these alerts (nearly 90% of the subscribers) made a Kiehl’s purchase within six months of receiving the advertising texts.

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            The demographic of consumers who are forming attachments (or perhaps even mild addictions) to the Kiehl’s brand and its products are, as previously discussed, middle to upper class men and women.  The website conveniently requests those who leave product comments to also provide their gender, age category, and length of Kiehl’s consumption, to provide others with a better understanding of the review.  By looking at the comments and feedback for available products at the Kiehl’s website, female consumers are far more likely to actively participate in discussions and comments involving product purchases, uses, benefits, and downfalls.  The overwhelming majority of women participants (especially between the ages of 30 to 45) suggests that this specific demographic is significantly more involved and attached to these products.  One such user, “Sensitive”, who describes herself as a long-time loyalist to the brand, left the following review for Kiehl’s Powerful Wrinkle Reducing Cream: “I have been using this cream at night for 3 months. I have noticed a marked improvement in my skin. It looks firmer, brighter, less wrinkled. I am 49 and I have taken fairly good care of my skin but the Kiehl’s products really have improved my overall skin and complexion.”  Although middle-aged females tend to be the most active participants, users outside of this gender and age range also actively leave comments and reviews, which hints that many different consumers are buying, using and enjoying Kiehl’s products.

            There are some consumers who tend to flaunt and regularly buy or use Kiehl’s products in order to establish or show off their social status, which is a type of “self-branding” or establish a certain identity by using the product (Hearn).  Because Kiehl’s is known as a high-end producer of cosmetic products, there are some consumers who buy their products solely to add to their image.

            However, most consumers claim that the products themselves really do show results (Kiehl’s).  Many loyal (as well as new-found) buyers have come to realize the outstanding quality of the items that Kiehl’s produces.  Through word of mouth, generous samples, and frequent public reviews, one meaning that is undoubtedly attached to this brand is quality.  It is virtually impossible to find a negative review of Kiehl’s on the internet, or from any reliable consumer of the brand.  Kiehl’s also provides generous samples of products to customers that enter their stores, claiming their faith in the legitimacy of their products will bring samplers back for more (Kiehl’s).  This matches up well to the image that the brand projects by their price range and by the superior, natural ingredients that they boast of using in all of their products.

 

Engaging Consumers in Various Activities

 

            Consumers are also highly encouraged to engage in multiple activities that are sponsored or put on by the company.  One such program that is currently taking place is the “Recycle and Be Rewarded” incentive (Lamb).  Kiehl’s has taken their environmental values a step further by involving their consumers in taking action.  With this program, customers are rewarded for bringing back their empty bottles of Kiehl’s products to be recycled.  With every full-size bottle that is returned, one stamp is given out.  After receiving ten stamps, customers are rewarded with a travel collection product (“Recycle and Be Rewarded”).  By providing the opportunity for customers to be active participants in saving the earth, as well as by presenting knowledge of the environmental state, Kiehl’s promotes a much broader cultural awareness that is beginning to become a prominent issue in today’s society.  This program helps consumers to engage not only with the brand, but also with the environment and their community.

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            Kiehl’s also provides the opportunity for their consumers to interact with and participate in events for other non-profit organizations and causes.  In this way, many customers have become actively involved in saving other aspects of their communities.  One specific example is their pet adoption program (Vesilind).  Kiehl’s sporadically teams up with local animal shelters to host pet adoptions within some of their stores.  For customers who successfully adopt an animal, they receive an entire gift box of Kiehl’s products, as well as a forever friend.  If consumers are unable to make an adoption, but still give a $10 or more donation to the shelter, then Kiehl’s hands out a single item.  This event allows consumers to involve and participate in community activities, while improving the life of an animal.

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            Another famous activity that is put on by Kiehl’s is the annual LifeRide, which benefits amfAR (the foundation for AIDS and HIV research (“LifeRide”) and brings motorcylcle-riding consumers together.  The motorcycle rides, which  usually take place during National AIDS/HIV Awareness Month, cover several states and make stops at multiple different Kiehl’s locations.  Kiehl’s uses the race as an opportunity to raise awareness for the cause, as well as to donate large sums of money to amfAR.  There are often several celebrities who participate in the ride, which encourages everyday customers (as well as other celebrities) to get involved.  Kiehl’s also creates a specific line of products specifically designed to promote this event, of which a certain percentage of the profit is donated to the cause.  Another interesting aspect to this event is Kiehl’s opportunity to team up with other companies and communities, such as Harley Davidson  (“Motorcycle USA”).  This allows members of different demographics to support amfAR, as well as to be introduced to Kiehl’s products when they might not have been in the original demographic that Kiehl’s targets or typically sells to, such as bikers.  This is a good way for the Kiehl’s brand to develop communication and community among different types of consumers.

 

Brand Community

 

            Kiehl’s also serves as a basis for communication and community among consumers.  The original Kiehl’s location, which was established in 1851 in New York’s East Village, was on a block called “Pear Tree Corner”.  Peter Stuyvesant, a Dutch immigrant, planted a pear tree in that location in 1647 (“Kiehl’s”).  The tree was destroyed over two hundred years later, in 1857, after a wagon accident.  Kiehl’s petitioned to plant a new pear tree in the same location in 2003 (“The Villager”).  The re-planting of the pear tree was a community event that included Kiehl’s president (Philip Clough), the granddaughter of Kiehl’s founder, as well as several of New York’s government officials, and members of the community.  This event brought many together to talk about and enjoy the re-established pear tree that once again graces Pear Tree Corner.

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            The communities around this brand have not shifted over time, but expanded over many smaller communities throughout the world.  Kiehl’s now has stores and communities across the United States, as well as many other countries.  With each location, Kiehl’s reaches out to the communities and cultures around them.  With their growth and development, the brand continues to positively impact the world and its environment.

            Kiehl’s consumers and the participants of their events have contributed to the brand value of the company.  Many of these people share in the values, beliefs, commitments, and communities that the brand stands for, which is what makes up a huge part of the value of a brand (Arvidsson).  In this way, the Kiehl’s community has developed an even stronger base of loyal consumers, who actively pursue and support Kiehl’s.  When consumers feel connected on an ethical or moral level to a brand, they are more likely to remain loyal to the brand.

            Kiehl’s has proven itself, over the course of its one hundred and sixty years, as being the producers of quality and effective beauty, skin, and hair care products.  It’s a well-known and loved brand, especially among its targeted demographic and expanding array of users.  By using personalized, specific methods of advertising, providing service to different communities, and sponsoring certain events, the brand has sufficiently created brand community.

 

 

WORKS CITED:

Arvidsson, Adam. “Brands: A Critical Perspective.” Journal of Consumer Culture 5 (2005): 235-

                  258. Web. 2 Dec 2013.

 

Banet-Weiser, Sarah. Authentic(TM): The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture. New York:                  NYU Press, 2012. Print. 2 Dec 2013.

 

“Harley-Davidson Rentals Revs Kiehl’s Liferide.” Motorcycle USA. 02 Aug 2013: n. page. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.

Hearn, Alison. “’Meat, Mask, Burden’: Probing the Contours of the Branded ‘Self’.” Journal of                    Consumer Culture 8 (2008): 197-217. Web. 2 Dec 2013.

 

“Heritage.” Kiehl’s. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov 2013.

Lamb, Rachel. “Kiehl’s boosts recycling campaign via in-store, QR engagement.” Luxury Daily                   17 APR 2012, n. pag. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.

“LifeRide.” Kiehl’s. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov 2013.

Lury, Celia. Consumer Culture. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1996. Print. 3 Dec 2013.

Muniz, Albert M., and Thomas C. O’Guinn. “Brand Community”. Journal of Consumer Research

27.4 (2001): 412-432. Web. 2 Dec 2013.

 

“Recycle and Be Rewarded.” Kiehl’s. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov 2013.

“SMS Marketing Case Study – Kiehl’s Experiences 73% Redemption Rate.” Tatango. N.p., 17 Jul                 2013. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.

“‘Stuyvesant’s pear tree’ replanted on 13th St..” The Villager. 73.29 (NOV 2003): n. page. Web.                 21 Nov. 2013.

Sullivan, Deirdre . “Kiehl’s executive reveals secrets of guerrilla marketing to fashion club.”     Wharton Journal [University of Pennsylvania] 10 Apr 2006, n. pag. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.

Vesilind, Emili. “Kiehl’s hosts the first of many animal adoption events on Robertson   Boulevard.” Los Angeles Times 28 FEB 2010, n. pag. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.

 

Web Links:

http://thevillager.com/villager_29/stuyvensantspeartree.html

http://www.tatango.com/blog/sms-marketing-case-study-kiehls-experiences-73-redemption-rate/

http://archive.is/NZqqg

http://www.luxurydaily.com/kiehl%E2%80%99s-boosts-recycling-campaign-via-in-store-qr-engagement/

http://www.kiehls.com/Recycle-America/recycle-america,default,pg.html

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/alltherage/2010/02/kiehls-hosts-the-first-of-many-animal-adoption-events-on-robertson-boulevard.html

http://www.kiehls.com/LifeRide/liferide-2013-desktop,default,pg.html

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/harley-davidson-rentals-revs-up-kiehls-liferide-for-amfar-218099421.html

C. Wonder Brand & Concept:

C. Wonder is a relatively new fashion retailer founded by Christopher Burch, also co-founder of Tory Burch LLC, in 2011.  The “C” of C. Wonder stands for customer, representing the brand’s dedication to providing an outstanding service experience for its target consumer.  This brand was launched in particular manner to create a “retail experience that transports women into a world of luxury and surprises.” C. Wonder is hopeful that any late twenties to middle-aged working woman will find everything she needs and desires at this store; from a cocktail party dress and a pair of earrings to go with it, to bed sheets and even a bejeweled collar for her new puppy, C. Wonder aspires to offer timeless and practical elements of everyday life with a modern and fresh twist.  Everything about C.Wonder is reflective of an all-encompassing lifestyle brand and a brand that can offer everything a workingwoman would want and deserve.  The brand embodies the idea of wonder and hopes to integrate its products and services into a woman’s everyday life by prioritizing how she feels, how she can be helped, how can she be made comfortable and most importantly, how she can be made to feel like “our girl,” which is the brand’s main focus.

Image(Store entrance, Google Images)

From its inception, C. Wonder has prioritized becoming a multi-dimensional lifestyle brand for working women from the age of 28 to 45.  The brand was conceived with the notion of collaborating inexpensive yet luxurious products with a beautiful store setting in hopes to build a brand community of empowered and independent women.  C. Wonder has invested a lot of time and expenses to redefine “the meaning of value retailing with a luxury approach…” and offering innovative approaches to its “unique online and in-store retail experiences” (Think PR).

C.Wonder seems to devote their brand name and image to the idea of personalization.  The core of the company’s infrastructure is developing and maintaining consumer-brand interaction.  The company has always kept in mind that consumers are increasingly not only wanting, but also expecting individualized interactions and messages with brands themselves. With this in mind, the C.Wonder brand has been taken under Responsys Inc.’s wing, a company dedicated to creating and successfully executing marketing campaigns for the biggest brands across all media platforms: email, social, mobile, display and web.  Knowing that nearly half of consumers will be less responsive to “mass-marketed” messages and more than half of consumers are likely to purchase from brands that send out personalized messages is critical enough for C. Wonder to rely on innovative media strategies rather than traditional ones (Responsys, WSJ).  With the help of Responsys, C.Wonder is able to “build consumer profiles with rich data, design experiences that unfold over each customer’s lifetime and then deliver personalized messages and offers” (Responsys, WSJ). Instead of solely relying on public relations, C. Wonder is making use of integrated marketing communications, which combine public relations with direct marketing and sales promotion across mobile, print, web and social media.

C. Wonder Takes On Social Media/Publications:

Katherine Bahamande, ECP Global Ecommerce and Operations at C.Wonder, has said that the mobile media platform is changing the way consumers shop and purchase with their brand and “is a vital part of the multichannel strategy” (Reaching, MHI).  While C.Wonder has always had a Mobile First Mentality, Chris Burch said himself that mobile will be the brand’s main focus in 2014.  This approach is to meet the ever-growing activity and demand from busy working women using mobile devices to make purchases during their coffee runs, lunch breaks or even mid-day breaks.  Prioritizing mobile attracts the brand’s target audience that may not necessarily have spare time to visit the store and can instead rely on their smartphones to shop, look up ratings and make purchases. Social media is being used to actively attend to consumer needs and inquiries as well as using this information to integrate customer dialogue into the brand, furthermore creating a retail or e-retail experience that is more intimate and individualized.  Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are all social media outlets that help C. Wonder create “customer acquisition, brand building, and general dialogue around their brand and products” (Reaching, MHI).  These media formats are used to create a “buzz” around the brand and to attract potential consumers to exploring what Wonder has to offer.  Mobile is pretty much a game changer and is transforming our shopping experiences.

C. Wonder has been big on utilizing social media platforms to announce different campaigns and attract attention from the public.  The brand has a big online presence on media channels including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, where shoppers can personally address interests, requests and concerns with the brand.  These different forums allow consumers to actively engage with the brand so that they are ensured an experience of wonder.

The C.Wonder Twitter profile has well over 10 thousand followers, Instagram with 35 thousand and Facebook with 155 thousand followers.  These numbers represent at least a part of C.Wonder’s brand community and consumer base that are actively participating and engaging with the brand.  Active commenters on different media outlets can be referred to as cultural intermediaries who, according to Nestor Garcia Canclini in Identities as a Multimedia Spectaclepossess a lot of knowledge about the products/services of the brand and are sharing it to the public. These intermediaries act as the messenger in between the producer and consumer.  With the help of these people, mass media is used as a tool to encourage or discourage consumption of a certain product or service.

From looking at the brand’s Facebook page, it seems as though consumers are constantly leaving comments about their amazing or, oppositely, horrible experiences with the brand.  Some shoppers directly post their experiences with subpar customer service and feelings of being disappointed at the poor quality of clothing.  A snarky example of this kind of customer engagement I found is a C. Wonder Facebook post of a Grace Kelly quote and a shopper’s comment directly quoting the same line, saying “’Don’t be like the rest of them, darling…’and stand behind your product. Such a shame, I love C.Wonder but won’t be spending my holiday shopping dollars with a company that doesn’t back defective products.” (When I tried going back to this post, I found out that the site manage must’ve taken the entire post down for whatever reason.  Probably taking on the role of damage control…)

By contrast, there are customers who have enjoyed their shopping experiences and purchases who leave positive and encouraging feedback that the brand and other potential customers can benefit from. On C. Wonder’s Yelp page for the Soho location, many customers seem to comment on the amazing personalized customer service they had received. According to one pleased shopper, the sales representative was not only helpful with just finding sizes and directing her to the section she desired, but also went “above and beyond to find a large, adorable box, take all of the tags off, and arrange them creatively, complete with packaging tissue, ribbon, and an embossed sticker to seal the package…at no extra cost (Yelp).” Also, this particular shopper referred to her sales rep by her name, Esther, which shows that the usual employee-consumer association at any other shop is turned into a employee-consumer relationship where the customer can feel comfortable and at home, which is exactly what C. Wonder hopes to attribute to their brand name and image.  Judging from the responses to customer feedback , C.Wonder generally does a great job at responding and compensating for customer’s dissatisfactory experiences.

Image(Screen Shot, Yelp)

When C.Wonder has special offers or events that they are hosting, consumers actively participate and in turn create a buzz around the brand.  For example, the brand hosted  “The Get Prepped Instagram Challenge” this last September where its followers were asked to submit their preppiest outfit for a chance to win $500 dollars to the store.  Comments show excited followers who were already “planning” their outfits.  These kinds of activities allow customers to create a relationship with the brand.  C. Wonder’s preppy outfits, jewelry, iPad cases, for example, create a community of women who share the same sense of style but not necessarily the same occupations.  Women who shop at C.Wonder come from different backgrounds and different interests; the brand can serve as a common thread between these diverse group of women and allows them to create relationships with not only the employees but also with one another.  With the different kinds of events the brand hosts at their flagship stores (as seen in pictures on Instagram and Facebook), women seem to come, let loose, and enjoy their time as their minds slowly stray away from the corporate world for a minute.

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(Instagram post)

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(Screen Shot, Instagram)

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(Facebook)

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(Facebook)

C. Wonder has also hired PR agencies that promoted the brand through massive media coverage including product placement as well as store grand opening and features in popularly consumed publications such as Instyle, House Beautiful, The NY Times, O, the Oprah magazine, People StyleWatch, and the Wall Street Journal.  The magazines that featured these articles on C. Wonder are definitely strategized and make sense for reaching target consumers.  The target consumer for publications like the Oprah magazine and House Beautiful is working, middle-aged women with some disposable income and matches the age group and social qualifications that C. Wonder is catered towards.  I think that it is important to realize that publications such as Teen Vogue, Elle Girl or Seventeen are not the ones featuring articles on C. Wonder.  This brand has a very specific target consumer base and thus all the marketing strategies that are all modified to fit into the context and make sense to the potential consumer.

With the various methods in which C. Wonder addresses its consumers, there is a higher chance of receiving customer feedback.  As mentioned in Lury’s Consumer Culture and expanded on in Adam Arvidsson’s Brands: A Critical Perspective, consumer practices add value to the brand.  So consumers engaged in C. Wonder’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram pages, are all contributing to the company’s brand equity.  Arvidsson adds that, “brands build on the immaterial labor of consumers: their ability to create an ethical surplus (a social bond, a shared experience, a common identity) through productive communication” (235).  He also argues that a brand’s assets are “produced by consumers themselves” (239).  The more loyal and passionate C. Wonder consumers are essentially un-paid ambassadors of the brand without them even knowing it.

C. Wonder Community: “Wonder Women”

Before we go into C. Wonder’s brand community, I’ll first explore the concept of Alison Hearn’s “self-branding” in Meat, Mask, Burden, and how consumers use the C. Wonder brand to create their “selves” and in turn form a community around it.  Hearn points out that the process of “self-branding” erodes the distinction between notions of the self and capitalist processes of production and consumption; the two become blurred.  Self-branding is vital for a successful career in a ruthless corporate function and one must be carefully branded in a way that makes him or her attractive and useful.  According to Hearn, we see the “self” as a commodity and a brand subject to transaction and exchange.  In this way, we are able to generate value for ourselves.  The consumers of C. Wonder are usually fully integrated in this raw and corporate world and just like others, feel a need to “sell” themselves by focusing on a professional appearance.

Workingwomen who are independent with a sense of style and a taste of luxury are the primary consumers that are forming attachments to the brand. These women want to present themselves as smart, professional and fashionable ladies of the office that shouldn’t be overlooked.  They have a “shared consciousness” which is one of the markers of a community, according to the essay Brand Community written by Albert Muniz and Thomas O’Guinn.  Their sense of style and likeness towards a luxury yet affordable brand creates an“imagined community” where members share similar attitudes, rituals and traditions.  Loyal members continue to purchase products from C. Wonder as a ritual that reinforces and sustains brand culture. Pinterest is a great example of a media outlet where consumers post their outfit details courtesy of C. Wonder. Consumers share how they coordinate and wear C. Wonder pieces and in that way, become cultural intermediaries, as defined above. The C. Wonder Pinterest board is an excellent source to help visualize the C. Wonder woman style and to see the community the women create around the brand.

Image(Pinterest)

With such a specific target consumer base, I find it very likely that C. Wonder would not appeal to shoppers outside this exclusive category.  In my opinion, I think it would be harder for teenage girls and even women in their early twenties to find a relationship with this brand because the store environment, types of clothing, range of products from apparel to home décor, reflects woman with a job, house to decorate, dog and maybe even a child. This is a brand that creates an environment full of products clearly appealing to a certain age and gender group; and this is why I feel that C. Wonder has potential to create such a grand brand loyalty and community.

C. Wonder Is Your Next Vacation Spot:

What makes the C. Wonder community so attractive to working women?  We all know that taking a vacation half way around the world from your job is far more than just ideal.  However, not all circumstances allow for this kind of breather, and when you’re in need, sometimes even just a quick shopping break will do.  As Michel De Certeau explains in Practice of Everyday Life, there is always a “secondary production hidden in the process of its [object’s] utilization,” (xiii) basically meaning that we are producing a secondary meaning such as identities, communities, culture, lifestyle, habitus, etc., in the act of consumption. Our consumer and personal identities merge together as the products we consume inevitably reflect who we are and make up our embodied cultural capital.  In the case of C. Wonder, women want to be able to come to a place where they can momentarily disassociate themselves from the stress at work and made to feel as if they have really come on a wonderful vacation.  And as Michael Storper puts it in Lived Effects of the Contemporary Economy, consumer identities are made as a method of coping.  Just as some may argue that shopping is less expensive than a therapist, Storper emphasizes the importance consumers place on emotional fulfillment rather than a functional fulfillment.  Consumption has become more of a ritual than something done out of necessity as people started to create identities through the ways and things they consumed.  Storper also highlights that consumption is never pushed onto people and, in fact, sustains itself by becoming an intimate part of our lifestyles.

C. Wonder consumers are attracted to the idea of escaping reality for some time to shop and feel pampered.  Consumers are reminded that a LBD (little black dress) occasion awaits and the idea that maybe their professional outfits could use a break  C. Wonder acts like a revolutionary lifestyle brand that solely dedicates everything to a working woman who, at the end of her long day, desires to live and breathe feminine chic.

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(Time for a break!, Facebook) 

Works Cited:

Arvidsson, Adam. Brands: Meaning and Value in Media Culture. London: Routledge, 2006.

Clark, Priscilla P. “Book Review:The Practice of Everyday Life Michel De Certeau, Steven Rendall.” The Journal of Modern History 58.3 (1986): 705. Print.

García, Canclini Néstor, and George Yúdice. Consumers and Citizens. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2001. Print.

Hearn, Alison. “Meat, mask, burden: probing the contours of the branded self,” Journal of Consumer Culture, 8 (2), pp. 197-217. 2008.

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

Muñiz, Albert and Thomas C. O’Guinn, “Brand Communities,” Journal of Consumer Research, 27 (March), pp. 412–32. 2000.

Storper, M. “Lived Effects of the Contemporary Economy: Globalization, Inequality, and Consumer Society.” Public Culture 12.2 (2000): 375-409. Print.

Web Links:

http://www.cwonder.com/

http://www.toryburch.com/

http://www.cwonder.com/aboutus

http://www.thinkpublicrelations.com/casestudy_2.html

http://www.responsys.com/

http://online.wsj.com/article/PR-CO-20131003-908679.html

http://www.mediahorizons.com/blog/item/211-reaching-the-integrated-shopper

https://twitter.com/cwonderstore

https://www.facebook.com/CWonderStore

http://instagram.com/cwonderstore/

http://www.yelp.com/biz/c-wonder-new-york-3

Introduction

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(New Era Google+)

New Era first gained popularity in the 1930s as a sporting headgear brand, along with the rise of baseball, attaining the baseball fan community as its primary consumer group. After shifting brand identity to a baseball cap provider, New Era’s dominance over the sports arena continued to grow, but in the 90’s, New Era started to push its identity beyond the baseball world. Through such course of history, New Era not only has become a major provider for official football caps as well, but also has come to embrace hip hop artists, dancers, skateboarders, and other people engaged in the “street culture” as a consumer group that makes up a significant part of its brand community. Today, with the emergence of the snapback hat as a trending fashion item, New Era earned a more diverse range of consumers while maintaining its initial target consumer group, and the diversity of the brand community led to the expansion of the narrative of the New Era brand. The examination of how New Era interacts with its consumers, we see that New Era approaches consumers as a malleable brand that transforms according to how the consumers interact with the brand. Such approach has shaped New Era into a brand that is valued by multiple groups of consumers, exceeding its identity as simply an official MLB hat brand.
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Success and Limitations in the Sports Arena

Approaching consumers involved in sports lifestyle as a brand with an original, authentic sports heritage, New Era builds credibility as a lifestyle brand that is embedded in the American sports culture. One way that New Era demonstrates such authenticity is through the presentation of its history. The official online webpage includes a “Heritage” page with lengthy history of the brand presented in easy-to-view, interactive timeline format. New Era’s choice of the term “heritage” over “history” connotes that New Era is not just a long lived brand, but a cultural brand maintained with tradition and authenticity. The timeline covers the origin and heritage of the company and its history of showing support for all range of athletes, from major league players to minor, local team players. Such history is also emphasized in length to portray New Era with a narrative of authenticity. In 2010, New Era’s 90th anniversary became a key point of its advertising campaign, as 90 years of history signifies a tradition that other competing brands do not have. New Era presents itself as an original brand that shares the history of baseball and its players from the very beginning, as the brand to be granted the first exclusive license with MLB to provide official on-field product. Recently in 2012, New Era was chosen as the official on-field cap provider as well, and this deal with NFL demonstrates New Era’s credibility as a sports lifestyle brand outside of baseball. Labeled the “official” brand licensed by major sports leagues, New Era attains a narrative as an authentic representation of sports, by being accredited by major institutions and players of the sports culture. New Era’s approach with authenticity in the sports arena as its narrative appeals to consumers to consume its products to establish authentic connection with the sport and the represented teams.

For consumers engaged in the sports culture, New Era caps signify celebration, pride, and support for a sports team, and they are used as markers of mutual allegiance in the physical world. A Dodgers fan claimed in an interview that a baseball cap is like a “secret handshake” that is shared within “a community that you instantly become a part of when you wear your team’s ball cap” (MLB). Whether it be baseball or football, sports fans build their community through dialogues that occur with the signs on their caps, which are primarily provided by New Era. For this reason, a part of New Era’s brand community overlaps with the MLB or NFL brand community, and therefore the consumers’ relationship with New Era is sometimes supplementary to the consumers’ relationship with the particular sports league. According to Muniz and O’Guinn, a brand community is a “specialized, non-geographically bound community, based on a structured set of social relationships among admirers of a brand,” characterized by the “relatively strong degrees of commitment” of the members (412-413). These consumers clearly value New Era brand, for the signified team that they support and for the products that make them part of a community with others who bear the cap of the same team. Their lack of commitment and direct interaction with the brand, however, shows that the sports narrative based on major league team sports can be too weak to form a brand community and a lifestyle around New Era.

Because of this lack of a direct relationship with the sports fan consumers, New Era faces a challenge to maintain its appeal in the sports arena without depending too much on existing institutions. New Era emphasizes its technological assets that appeal to athletes as a brand invested in enhancing their sports lifestyle. New Era’s official webpage has a page called “NE TECH” that enables consumers to explore the various aspects of design and technology that makes New Era products the best suitable for athletic activities and casual wear as well. On this page, New Era’s technologies of cooling, thermal guard, water repellent, and UV protection are introduced, as well as a summary of its technological progression from the innovation of adjustable size caps to the various features that enhance sports performance. Through the emphasis of such technological aspects of its product design, New Era urges consumers to see that its products are good sporting gear before they are simply team merchandise, and also reiterates its goal of making products with the athlete in mind.

To make its presence more prominent among the consumers involved in the sports culture, New Era also makes efforts to create its own brand community and a lifestyle that is parallel to, but separate from the MLB or NFL lifestyle. One way that New Era approaches in doing so is by hosting events that encourage consumers to participate on its own platform, rather than those provided by the major sports leagues or teams. The current theme of New Era’s NFL line of caps is “Speak with Your Cap,” emphasizing the role of New Era hats in the sports culture. Their “Cap Battle” event, calls on consumers to represent their team allegiance with their cap and use the New Era social media platform to cheer for the team they support during the official game time of the team. Through this event, New Era encourages the formation of the sports fan culture not only around the act of “wearing” the hat and “speaking” their allegiance through such act, but also around interaction on New Era platform as the key to supporting a team. New Era reaches out to fan communities of sports and urge them to participate in its brand culture in their athletic lifestyle and fan culture. Despite these efforts to stand separate from other colliding brands, New Era is still confronted with a challenge of becoming a primary brand for consumers solely with the narrative of sports because of the overpowering presence of the sports leagues and the teams as partner, but also competing brands.

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Allegiance Outside the Sports Arena

New Era’s search for narratives beyond sports was met with consumers outside of the sports arena who, despite also their lack of direct relationship with the New Era brand, attached highly symbolic meanings beyond sports allegiance to the New Era products. In 2001 after the 9/11 event, many people at a national scale wore New Era’s Yankee hats or Mets hats to show support for the victims and solidarity with other people of New York who were affected by the tragic event. By wearing these hats, rather than showing support for either teams that the caps represented, they made a “statement of “United We Stand,”” empathizing with the people of the region that bear the same cap (MLB). Consumers used New Era’s products to communicate allegiance with one another,  making a political statement of support and unity in the midst of national conflict by consuming and wearing the hats.

The consumer use of its products to attach meaning of unity and allegiance with one another, rather than with a particular team signified by the cap, seems to have inspired New Era to also manufacture products that directly symbolize a social cause or memorialize a political event. With products that carry social and political meanings, New Era urges people not only to ‘wear’ the hats, but  also ‘speak’ with them about their social and political stance. As a response to the 9/11 event, New Era released hats for all MLB teams with the addition of the USA flag patch on the left side of the hat (Creamer, Chris). If the New York Yankees or Mets hats regionalized the 9/11 event and showed support specifically to the people in New York city, the flag served to symbolize the event as a national tragedy and displayed more apparently the national unity and support. These caps were brought back on field and on sale in 2011, for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, and has become a iconic tribute for that event. New Era produces other lines of products that serve a function of memorialization and carry a meaning of unity. For Veteran’s day of 2013, New Era introduced a new product line that supports the Pat Tillman Foundation, USO, and Wounded Warrior project. Banet-Weiser claims that a “brand culture provides a kind of index for supporting and legitimating specific political consumptive acts” (135). New Era’s production of hats that directly speak about a cause seems to be such form of supporting and legitimating people’s political and social stance of unity by visibly representing it on the hat. Consumer attachment of social and political meanings to New Era’s products met with New Era’s search for ways to expand its brand narrative beyond sports heritage and led New Era to incorporate in its brand narrative the allegiance to one another in a greater community. Yet this narrative, like that of sports allegiance, seems to be contained more in New Era’s products rather than the brand itself.

Narrative of Individualism

Unlike the sports fans or other consumers who used New Era caps as a symbol of unity under one entity, people of the “street culture” and other artists saw New Era hats as objects for individualization. Perhaps it is the casual style — New Era’s caps with wide, flat brim have almost become an iconic object for the “street culture” through appropriation by its people. Hip hop artists, especially Jay-Z, are best known for participating in this process of appropriation of New Era hats from mere sporting goods to an icon of a culture. Aside from simply wearing them, they frequently incorporate the New Era brand in their musical works, using New Era.

Man, I keep my fitted cocked just to show my head line; But keep it down low when I’m out on the grind; It’s gotta be New Era man no matter what they charge; But it’s all good cuz I got my Lids card; Keep my tag on my brim just for stuntin’ purpose only; Never rock no other brand cuz that shit’s phony” (“New Era”)

In this excerpt from the lyrics to a musical work titled “New Era,” the rapper Lil’ Flip describes how he incorporates specifically the New Era brand in his identity through the way he wears it “cocked” and sometimes “down low,” and the loyalty he shows to the brand “no matter what they charge.” Through appropriation, the artists attached their own meaning to a brand that did not have the narrative of “street culture” before, which led New Era to recognize these young people of the streets as significant group of consumers for the brand, and also the narrative of individuality as a potential for building a new culture of its own.

As a response to the street artists’ use of the brand, New Era absorbed the new meanings created by this new consumer group to expand its narrative outside of the sports arena and invited them to the construction of its brand community and a lifestyle characterized by individualism. In 2010, New Era launched a new campaign that promotes self-expression, using phrases that urge one to do his or her own individual thing, such as “blow your own mind,” “fly your own flag,” “build your own bandwagon,” and “create your own era” (Creamer, Matthew). Such slogans, especially “create your own era,” accentuates the theme of individuality because they suggest that New Era is not imposing a dominating idea of a new era that people should fit into, but encouraging people to create their own “new era.” Through the adoption of consumers’ idea of the brand as its own, New Era maintained the consumer group that initially attached the meaning of individuality, and allowed the brand community to grow by appealing to more members of the “street culture” with a value of self-expression. The theme of self-expression is relevant also in society as a whole today because of the emerging concern that identification of self is becoming artificial due to ever advancing technology that replace “authentic” human modes of interaction.

Spike Lee is another artist part of the New Era brand community, whose search for individuality contributed to the transformation of the New Era brand upon the new narrative of self-expression. New Era’s movement to making customized hats started out with Lee’s request as a consumer, when he asked the company for a custom-made Yankee hat with unofficial colors in 1996 (Creamer, Matthew). New Era incorporated the idea of customization in its business strategy and cultivated its narrative of self-expression by allowing consumers to create their own hat, to represent themselves with cap styles that are not limited to the official New Era collection. Now the New Era website leads consumers to a whole another website called “New Era By You,” equipped with a system that allows consumers to generate their own New Era hats through means of personalization. The consumers’ sought for individual character in its products made New Era interested in personalizing business and push “authenticity” and “individualism” as its brand narrative to move into the business of building its own identity and culture.
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New Culture around New Era

With the establishment of a brand community composed of members who directly identify themselves within New Era’s new narrative of individualism, a new culture formed around New Era. As consumers took their caps as objects that allow construction of self, the issue of authenticity and legitimacy became important in the community. Legitimacy is an important component of a brand community as well, as a process of differentiation “between true members of the community and those who are not, or who occupy a more marginal space,” so their interest in legitimacy of the products seems almost consequential to the establishment of a committed community around New Era (Muniz 419). Lil’ Flip’s lyrics “I got my Lids card and keep my tag on; Never rock no other brand” well exemplifies the consumers’ value of authenticity in their New Era caps in his reference to other brand products as “phony” and his demonstration of the tag culture in the New Era community. The New Era community has a strange ritual of keeping the tag or the sticker on to show the legitimacy and authenticity of the brand, which is rarely seen in any other brand culture. It is known that this culture was initiated by an individual who kept the tag on as “a personal touch to let everyone know he has an official New Era hat,” and was adopted by others with the same value of showing legitimacy (Creamer, Matthew). Because of the amount of stress they put on keeping authenticity of the brand, the members of the New Era community become active participants of New Era’s anti-counterfeit movement, against non-genuine products. Aside from the tag culture, the community also shares multiple discussion forums with guides on authenticity check, which can often be seen online.

Tag Culture

Tag Culture

The culture of cap collecting also settled as a common method of self-expression in the New Era brand community. Many loyal collector consumers use their own individuated collection of New Era caps as a profile for their identity. Such act of self-profiling through collecting New Era hats can be seen also as an act of “self-branding,” which involves the “self-conscious construction of a meta-narrative and meta-image of self” through consumption (198). In an interview of a New Era cap collector, we see that he has a designated “favorite,” “go to,” and “first” New Era hat. For the members of New Era’s brand community, each hat seems to bear a story that speaks about a part of an individual, who is then branded according to the hats in the collection. The culture of a brand is often co-produced through a continuous cycle of exchanging meanings between the branders and the consumers, in a culture “loop,” as described by Lury (151). Culture of New Era, including the deal of legitimacy and cap collecting, also seems to be the product of the loop, in which New Era provides narrative that it picked up from its consumers, and consumers add to the narrative to create a brand culture through interactions with the brand.

Cap Collection

Cap Collection

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New Era of the Prosumers of Individualism

New Era demonstrates success in creating its own standalone culture and a lifestyle around the theme of authenticity, with a brand community that puts values not only in the products but also in the New Era brand itself. It is questionable, however, whether New Era truly helps consumers express individual personality; it seems paradoxical that it is calling to the people to express their unique selves by consuming the products that are ready made and that multitudes of other people also wear. Inviting the consumers to be more than just consumers, New Era works to diminish the visibility of this paradox and appeals to the young consumers with a passion for making their own statement, as a brand that helps foster individuality. New Era reaches out to its brand community to invite dedicated consumers to be the “cultural “intermediaries” for the brand, or what they call “Flagbearers,” representing New Era for other consumers or potential consumers through their individual stories (Canclini). A major celebrity that New Era has built a relationship with is Jay-Z. Originally a dedicated consumer of New Era products, Jay-Z now has his own line of products at New Era. He is a notable cultural intermediary who represents the brand by incorporating New Era some of his works, and also by consistently updating his fashion with his customized New Era hats, one of them having lyrics from his song, “I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can,” engraved on his hat. New Era also has other sports stars and artists in the global community on its list of “Flagbearers,” who present their narrative of individualism alongside their relationship with New Era. Guy Barnette, the creative partner at New Era’s ad agency Brooklyn Brothers, claims that New Era is “defined by the people who wear it, not by the company” (Elliott). By recruiting influential figures to act as cultural intermediary between the corporate and consumers, New Era invites consumers to contribute their uniqueness in the building of New Era as a brand that promotes authenticity and self-expression.

Jay-z in his hat customized with lyrics to his song “Empire State of Mind”

To present itself as a supporter of people’s self-expression, rather than as a self-imposing brand that tells people what to wear, New Era depends on the consumers to become producers of the brand as well, thereby becoming what Lury terms a “prosumer” (105). Act of consumption itself is a productive activity that “produces a common that can work as a context within which goods can acquire,” but New Era calls on the consumers to be more conspicuous forms of prosumers (Arvidsson 242-243). In 2011 for its 90th anniversary, New Era invited 90 influential fans to create their own caps to be auctioned for charity. The submitted works were also used as content for New Era’s 90th anniversary collection book that features the creativity that New Era fosters in its consumers. Similarly, through another linked website New Era Introducing, New Era invites consumers to submit their art work that showcases their “creative skills and scope of imagination,” who then, when accepted, will be given a task to transform a blank canvas cap into a distinctive work of art. Final works are said to be showcased in a limited edition “New Era Introducing” book, and one piece awarded with 10,000 for the artist’s career. New Era’s selection of “influential fans” or unique artists and giving back to them, in forms of an award and a feeling of having made a social or artistic impact, establishes New Era as a brand that fulfills its role as a supporter for consumers interested in expressing themselves. At the same time, New Era constructs and publishes its narrative of individualism through the content produced by consumers as prosumers.

New Era Cap Co. 90th Anniversary Book

While some participating directly in events hosted by New Era as compensated prosumers, some engage in “free participation” as prosumers in the online space. The voluntary activities of consumers as prosumers also serbe a crucial part in New Era’s production of value (Lury 104). The online virtual space, as a free space for self-expression and vast amount of resources, serves a great significance to the New Era brand community with interest in expressing individualism. New Era provides online platform for consumer participation on social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google Plus, and Youtube. These pages are invested in publishing material that would appeal more to, and encourage participation of familiar consumers rather than new ones. On these social media outlets are pictures of exclusive products, announcements for deals and other events for consumers to build a lifestyle around the brand through discussion and other forms of online interaction. Consumers with strong attachment to the brand also form fan communities on personal spaces, such as their own blogs and channels on youtube. Their discussion of the brand is not limited to simply sharing and reposting official content posted by New Era and extends into creating their own fan content, which New Era is also interested in collecting. The official New Era site has a page dedicated to fan content, with a variety of fan work from original songs about New Era to product review videos. In the caption for every post, New Era states, “don’t forget to send us your own,” encouraging consumers to engage in such prosumer activities. The consumers of New Era use the online space also to interact upon various topics regarding the New Era brand, including maintenance of the products, new and special products, and their own collection of the New Era hats.

NewEraCapTalk.com is the most notable website that functions as the headquarter for New Era’s brand community, which is viewed in over 134 countries and available in 64 languages. It operates independent of New Era Cap company, yet the size and popularity of the website makes it function almost as a separate corporation sponsored by advertisements. The “About” page describes NewEraCapTalk as a web community “for hat enthusiasts globally…to stay ahead of the latest product releases, locating wanted items, seeking legit checks and even selling off some pieces from your existing collection.” Articles on exclusive deals and new products are organized in a blog form, classified in issues according to months and years. NewEraCapTalk also has a marketplace for exchange and a forum for various discussions, from guide to taking care of the caps, checking for legitimacy, pricing, “show off” space for users to share their collection, as well as a “off topic” forum for plain social interaction. An interesting feature of NewEraCapTalk is that access to the forum is only granted with registration, which needs to be followed up by the admin’s approval. The way that a user is admitted as part of the brand community is almost like a verification process, that seems to symbolize the legitimacy not of the user as a potential member of the community, but of NewEraCapTalk as a legitimate host of the brand community that operates upon membership. New Era depends largely on the creativity of its consumers that are shared on official New Era platform as well as in their own personal platforms for the production and maintenance of its brand narrative and culture around individualism. The participation of consumers as prosumers helps cover up the paradox of achieving individuality through consumption and maximize New Era’s role as a creative outlet for people to express themselves through.
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Conclusion

Through a continuous cycle of exchanging meanings between New Era and its consumers, New Era’s narrative of authenticity and individualism has been co-produced. New Era’s initial narrative of sports allegiance has become a part of the individualization process, in which consumers represent themselves through the team that they support. The narrative of allegiance has also expanded outside of the sports arena to represent people in a greater communities in social and political contexts as well. As a brand responsive to consumer interaction with the products and the brand, New Era has transformed into a brand that serves as a platform for self-expression, providing its products as tools for creativity and also for building a culture and a community. If New Era before the 90’s was only called “New Era” by its name, through its transformation, it seems to have come to truly represent a ‘new era’ in terms of people’s regard to hats as more than just hats, but as statements that compose their individual identity.
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Works Cited

Arvidsson, A. “Brands: A Critical Perspective.” Journal of Consumer Culture 5.2 (2005): 235-58. Print.

Banet-Weiser, Sarah. “Branding Politics – Shopping for Change?” Authentic TM: The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture. New York, NY: New York UP, 2012. N. pag. Print.

Canclini, García Néstor, and George Yúdice. “Consumption Is Good for Thinking.” Consumers and Citizens. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2001. N. pag. Print.

Creamer, Matthew. “New Era: The Cap With the Cred.” Advertising Age – News. Crain Communications, 4 June 2007. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.

Creamer, Chris. “MLB Teams to Wear US Flags on Caps for 9/11.” SportsLogos.Net. N.p., 11 Sept. 2013. Web. 14 Dec. 2013.

Elliott, Stuart. “It’s All About You, and Millions of Others.” New York Times. New York Times Company, 16 Aug. 2010. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.

Hearn, A. “`Meat, Mask, Burden`: Probing the Contours of the Branded `self`.” Journal of Consumer Culture 8.2 (2008): 197-217. Print.

Lury, Celia. Consumer Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2011. N. pag. Print.

McHenry, Sid. “Celebrate the Rich History of Ball Caps.” MLB.com: News. MLB, 28 Aug. 2007. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.

Muniz, Jr., Albert M., and Thomas C. O’Guinn. “Brand Community.” Journal of Consumer Research 27.4 (2001): 412-32. Print.

The Rachael Ray brand exploits Rachael Ray, the individual, as a branded personality, to project a lifestyle on their consumers. Her image as an everyday woman, who is not afraid to be playful and feminine, resonates with and inspires the eager-to-learn home cook, while also stirring up disdain for her quirks and personality. The television food star market was dominated by the waspy Martha Stewart, up until her Enron scandal in 2003. Enter Rachael Ray. An untrained home cook from Upstate New York emerged in 2001 and brought an accessible and achievable lifestyle for the everyday woman. Ray’s programs 30 Minute Meals and $40 a Day looked to reach the consumer who is budget and time conscious. 30 Minute Meals has Rachael encouraging her viewers to make meals that take only 30 minutes to prepare, cook, and plate. In $40 a Day, Rachael travels to different cities and looks for an entire day’s worth of delish and affordable meals for under $40. While Martha Stewart projected ceremonial perfection, Rachael Ray’s brand speaks to a “get it done” and “close enough is good enough” mind-set of the modern woman. This modern woman’s domestic duties are reflected in Lury’s Consumer Culture, ““While he is watching television, she is getting dinner. Even when everyone is seated at the dinner table, the woman is likely to be the one serving the food. She is the facilitator of other people’s consumption as well as an active consumer in her own right” (43).


 

Brand Philosophy & Mission

Not snooty, not too adventurous with food trends, Rachael Ray’s brand speaks to the classic housewife tradition of home-cooked meals with a playful twist to keep cooking and domestic labor from being a chore. Her viewers and consumers appreciate a peppy personality and a touch of cutesy wordplay. From innuendos to acronyms (EVOO = extra virgin olive oil), Rachael Ray looks to reach the consumer who does not take cooking too seriously. Her ideal consumer views the kitchen as a place to play and wants to use cooking to delight and entertain. The thought, effort, and time and money saved means much more to this consumer than perfection. These meanings reflect Lury’s notion of a brand’s use-value, “The ‘use-value’ of the brand to consumers consists in what they can make with it; what kind of person they can become with it, what kinds of social relationships they can form around it” (159). The Rachael Ray consumer appreciates traditional cooking techniques and kitchen products, but is engulfed in a work/home mix that forces her to adapt to a modern, eclectic balance. She does not have the time to read Vogue or bake in her Le Creuset products, but will find a 30-minute meal in Every Day with Rachael Ray and use her Rachael Ray Garbage Bowl to make dinner in a pinch with an easy clean up to enjoy the rest of her night. Rachael Ray’s brand aligns with Douglas Holt’s notion that, “consumers physically and symbolically transform branded goods as they coproduce collective, family, and individual meanings” (20). The Rachael Ray consumer manipulates the Rachael Ray products, picking and choosing recipes and tips from her cooking programs, to create a better self and a better home through the emotional and symbolic work done through the entire cooking process.

Rachael Ray’s EVOO & Vinegar Set


 

Personality & Identity

Rachael Ray’s brand relies heavily on her image to reach consumers. Alison Hearn, in Mask, Meat, Burden, explains how the branded self is intrinsically connected to how the self is presented. She quotes, “‘When you’re promoting brand YOU, everything you do – and everything you choose not to do – communicates the value and character of your brand” (Peters, 1997:83) (205). For Rachael, her physical appearance is never overly made-up, her hair is never over-worked, and her wardrobe is understated while still being flattering on her or any woman. She represents the every-woman who is not a size 0, enjoys food, and takes care of herself just as much as her family. The brand positions Rachael as the consumer’s neighbor, friend, or co-worker through the intimate framing on her cooking shows, and in the scripting of her talking points. Banet-Weiser, in Authenticity, describes the power of the individual as a commodified personality, “The individual is a flexible commodity that can be packaged, made, and remade – a commodity that gains value through self-empowerment” (17). Through folksy jargon and playful anecdotes, Rachael reveals enough of herself to not only empower herself but also to empower her viewers. She does so in such a candid way that the consumer views her as a peer in the modern adventure of cooking. The 30-minute programs interpellate the consumer by giving them a half hour time slot to not only watch Rachael Ray, but also to accomplish and finish cooking their family dinner. Her products enable the consumers to bring a lighthearted décor into their kitchen. Some products are derived from those specifically used on 30-Minute Meals and encourage the consumer to build their kitchen lifestyle around Rachael Ray. Rachael’s products reflect Mike Featherstone’s notion that, “Mundane and everyday consumer goods become associated with luxury, exotica, beauty and romance with their original or functional ‘use’ increasingly difficult to decipher” (58). Simple products that serve basic kitchen functions become stylized accessories to personalize the kitchen through playful innovation and creative combinations. From colorful standard pots and pans, to specialty items such as the Garbage Bowl and the EVOO dispensing bottle, Rachael Ray’s products are designed to make cooking approachable and allow the consumer to feel comfortable with her products and also enjoy using them, just as she enjoys watching Rachael’s programs.

Rachael Ray’s Garbage Bowl

Rachael Ray’s brand utilizes and expands her television presence to reach its consumers. The cooking program is necessary for her brand. It allows her to not only demonstrate her products in use, but it also allows her to make cooking and the kitchen an accessible place. The success of 30-Minute Meals enabled Rachael to gain her own talk show. Rachael Ray gives her brand an even greater intimacy with her consumers. The audience sits on the same level as Rachael, and she hosts celebrity guests at the dining table, allowing the consumer to feel connected to Rachael, related to Rachael, and ultimately immersed in her kitchen. By bringing Rachael Ray’s products into the retail market, the brand allows her consumers to essentially take Rachael Ray home with them. While sold on her own website, her products are also sold in Target stores and on QVC. These retail outlets enable an accessible, price-conscious consumer to achieve their ideal kitchen essentials through the Rachael Ray brand. Muniz and O’Guinn, in Brand Community, describe how a brand functions in a hyper- and intertextual media environment, “Brand community rituals and traditions exist in a hyper-textual media environment, where the commercial canon is pervasive, proximal, and perhaps primary” (424). Rachael’s commercial canon extends across diverse and immersive media platforms to keep her personality accessible and her lifestyle attainable for the consumer. John Hall, president and COO of the Rachael Ray brand explained in a Retail Merchandiser article, “‘Through the website and other social media assets, we are able to create much more awareness and engagement,’ Hall says. ‘As an example, with the launch into Target, we were able to leverage social media to support the launch of our brand there through our website and with the Rachael Ray Facebook and Twitter account to reach Rachael’s audience and fans and make them aware of what’s happening in her world.’” The digital space is ideal for the brand to reach their modern woman who cooks in the kitchen with a recipe up on her iPad, who then tweets a picture of her meal. Her web presence also increases the brand’s intimacy and accessibility for the consumer, and ultimately positions Rachael closer to a true friend of the consumer who looks to her for not only cooking support but also just relatable girl-talk.

Rachael Ray “Behind the Scenes at QVC”

Rachael Ray at Target Digital Ad Campaign

Ultimately, Rachael Ray’s brand’s main tactic is to get the consumer interested and related to Rachael. If they can connect to her personality, through the jokes, playfulness, and frank talk on one of her programs, the consumer will be able to connect to other aspects of her brand through the digital environment that encourages the consumer to visit her talk show page, then click through to her product shop, then subscribe to her magazine, and then download a recipe for dinner.


 

In The Consumer’s Kitchen

Rachael Ray is able to enter a consumer’s home at practically any time of the day through their television screens, and as a promoter of cookware, she is able to enter, more directly, a consumer’s kitchen. The consumers that are forming attachments to her brand are those that are looking for guidance, advice, and companionship when it comes to the domestic space. There are those that passively watch her programs or buy her products as gifts, but the consumers that form attachments to her brand are those that align with her lifestyle and implement her methodologies into their daily routines in and out of the kitchen. The consumers that are forming attachments are those that post questions on social media, looking for new recipes or advice in cooking adventures. They are also those that tag themselves in the Facebook picture of her talk show’s studio audience. When forming attachments, the consumers take Rachael Ray’s television programs, buy her products, and transform their kitchens into spaces that reflect her messages, her cuisines, and her attitudes. The consumers that are forming significant attachments are not chefs or experienced cooks, but rather they are contemporary consumers trying to navigate their kitchen through Rachael’s advice. Lury describes successful brands as those that are able to intervene and organize the consumers’ lives through products first, followed by social communications. Lury explains, “Consumers and their lives are entangled in a flow of commodities, services, promotion and events” (151). Those that are forming attachments are sharing their kitchen experiences and using the Rachael Ray brand and brand community to explore, learn, and play with the domesticity of cooking.

When researching the brand community for Rachael Ray, the words “delicious” and more appropriately “delish” came up in hashtags as well as in a review of her cookware on the Examiner. The brand community for Rachael Ray is greatly attaching a sense of curiosity to her recipes, products, and the kitchen in general. This curiosity appears in questioning new recipes and the authenticity of cook-times, tastes, and efficiency. But more interestingly, the curiosity comes when consumers are anxious to try out new products or test new recipes. The brand community is always looking to “try” new things. This idea of “trying” and new adventures in cooking certainly aligns with Rachael Ray’s brand projection of a no-fear kitchen. The brand encourages contemporary cooking innovations, but does not want consumers to get too ravenous and too crazy. Facebook user, Nancy Gallant Bond, posted her own version of Rachael’s “Fish in Parchment”. While the flavors and idea came from Rachael’s inspiration, Nancy manipulates the dish to make it “vegan-ized and deconstructed”. Making the kitchen an unthreatening space, Rachael Ray’s brand encourages consumers to transform dishes and adapt the Rachael Ray lifestyle to their own dietary, familial, and social specificities. The brand relies on consumers’ curiosities to keep the dialogue open and truly make Rachael a relatable personality to transfer the brand’s ideology to the consumer. On her Pinterest pages, Rachael Ray consumers seem to be mostly aligning with the brand’s ideal of conquering the kitchen and commanding their life through cooking. Pinterest user Renee Leone comments, “This is so amazingly good! I made it the other day after seeing it on the show and it’s a keeper for my fam!” Her statement represents how the consumers are watching her programs and bringing the Rachael Ray brand into their home and using the brand to build a better domestic space for the modern consumer. Further, Rachael’s consumers see Rachael as a friend who not only gives advice to them, but who sets them up with the basic knowledge to advance their own thinking and creating. Adam Arvidsson, in Brands, explains how the brand serves as the base to enable consumers to build social relationships within and outside the brand, “what consumers produce by means of the brand will contribute to strengthening the position that the brand occupies in their life-world” (248). Rachael Ray’s brand puts forth ideas and inspirations for her consumers, but her brand community uses her cultural and culinary knowledge to transform them to their own lifestyles. Pinterest user Tiffany Franco comments on a pasta recipe, “I’d probably try this with chicken or shrimp instead of tuna”. Tiffany sees Rachael as an empowered source of information and knowledge for recipes, but is also empowered through the brand to remix recipes and add her own personal touches to the cooking process.

Screenshot taken by author from the Rachael Ray Facebook page.

Screenshots taken & combined by author – from Rachael Ray Pinterest page.

Consumers engage with the brand through evaluating, rating, and critiquing the content from Rachael Ray’s shows as well as her magazine and product lines. When Rachael Ray appears on QVC, shoppers are encouraged to call in and give their personal statements about the products on sale as well as their opinions of Rachael in general. Second screen activity allows Rachael’s personal shopping adventures to transfer online. Twitter user Adam Rucker tweets, “Don’t have Friday night plans? Rachael Ray is selling pepper on QVC.” Even with a touch of sarcasm, the tweet demonstrates Rachael’s deep presence in users lives and their passionate and playful reactions to her personality. The brand community around Rachael Ray is able to speak directly to Rachael and even witness her in person at her talk show. Free tickets are available for her talk show, and consumers of her brand are able to engage with all things Rachael Ray from a front stage and back stage point of view. Her talk show is taped, so during her practice takes, the audience is able to engage with Rachael while also engaging with one another.  The audiences in attendance are able to then tag themselves in the pictures from their taping as well as comment and share the photo on their own pages. From the waiting room to the show premiering on-air, the brand community, those in attendance and those watching at home, are all watching and taking their Rachael Ray engagement to their second screens. On Pinterest, users Nancy Hedberg and Rosie Gutarra-Shambry comment on a recipe saying, “sounds delish” and “I feel like in heaven,” respectively. The Rachael Ray consumers here transform Rachael’s vernacular and incorporate them into their own discourse and create a dialogue on the social platform to share their reactions to the recipes. Consumers who engage with the brand and her products follow her television shows’ blueprints, actively communicate their opinions and reactions to their interpretations of her recipes and product lines, and ultimately share and learn from the brand and one another how to better their domestic space.

Screenshot taken by author from Twitter.


Off-Brand & Haters
At the start of her career, Rachael appeared in a Burger King commercial and also posed for FHM, a men’s magazine, in 2003. The brand communities and philosophies for Burger King and FHM do not align with her every-day, modern woman image. While she supports a speedy and effective cooking style in 30 Minute Meals, the fast and processed lifestyle of the Burger King consumer does not fit with Rachael’s culinary aesthetic of home-cooked meals with creativity and adeptness. In terms of her FHM spread, Rachael’s sex appeal and display of her womanhood is a point of contention even to this day. Facebook user Alicia Henson commented on a recent commercial featuring Rachael, “What shocked me is Rachel [sic] and the amount of….lets [sic] say cleavage she’s showing!!! WOW! Now I believe she is a beautiful woman and now that I’ve seen her boobs they are beautiful also…however I just find it distasteful for Rachel [sic]. Quite frankly I am shocked…” Rachael’s physical image is so tied to the brand that consumers turn to judging her based on standard conventions of female beauty and they criticize her expressions of femininity. Banet-Weiser explains this problem, “Once again, as women are encouraged to ‘put themselves out there,’ we confront the notion of visibility. While feminism fades from vision, the individual entrepreneur takes it place” (61). Rachael’s adventures as a self-branded feminine entrepreneur advances her visibility, and so as feminism fades, the ever-prominent, never fading sexism of our society comes through in both Rachael’s depiction in the magazine and the continuing comments on Rachael’s physical, sexual appearance.

Rachael Ray for FHM

It is understandable for a woman with more than five television shows on air to find herself some haters. Unfortunately for Rachael Ray, there is an unbelievable amount of digital content that is devoted just to detracting her credibility and vocalizing their disdain for her. An entire blog, formerly titled “Rachael Ray Sucks,” pledges, “On my honor, I promise to…snark on anything and everything mediocre, but most especially Rachael Ray, other poseurs of the culinary world, or any asshat [sic] who deserves it.” The blog mocks her “what’s for dinner tonight” segment and uses the livejournal platform to recap the shows while pointing out Ray’s ridiculous behavior and the incessant annoyances they find in her recipes, her juvenile use of language, and her overall amateur approach. In pointing out the shortcomings, flaws and disagreeable traits of Ray, the community against her rivals that in support of her. These resisters cringe every time she says “Yum-O” and have even coined the term “Raytard.” This community viscerally despises Ray and has no qualms making it apparent on the web. In response to a Gawker post titled “Russell Brand Makes Rachael Ray’s Awful Talk Show Actually Entertaining,” commenter RedEngine88 replied declaring “She is insufferable.” Commenter CaptainMFingPlanet declared, “her voice annoys me so much more than fran drescher.” The deliberate posting of consumers’ extreme dislike and ultimate intolerable reaction to Ray allows a major community to form in opposition, objection and outright hatred to the Rachael Ray image and brand.


For consumers who interact and engage with the Rachael Ray brand, their reactions, of support or disapproval, are based intrinsically on Rachael Ray as an individual. The brand has positioned Rachael not just as a spokesperson but also as the true embodiment of the brand. From a no-fear approach to the kitchen, to playfully approaching domestic work, to balancing a modern life of work, family, and cooking, Rachael Ray rejects the Martha Stewart attitude towards a pristine perfection approach to one’s life. Rachael Ray’s personality and brand project her ideal lifestyle of an eager, feminine, empowered everyday woman who embraces her quirks onto her following consumers, even if her personality alienates and inspires hate. Rachael’s presence across television, into department stores, onto to consumers’ tables, and now on a variety of digital platforms allows consumers to share their love, inspiration, and yummy interactions with Rachael while they also enable those with intense disdain to viciously reject her brand as well.


Works Cited:

Arvidsson, Adam. Brands: Meaning and Value in Media Culture. London: Routledge, 2006.

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

Featherstone, Mike. “Lifestyle and consumer culture,” Consumer Culture and Postmodernism, London: Sage. 1991

Hearn, Alison. “Meat, mask, burden: probing the contours of the branded self,” Journal of Consumer Culture, 8 (2), pp. 197-217. 2008.

Holt, Douglas. “Does Cultural Capital Structure American Consumption?” Journal of Consumer Research, 25 (June), 1–25. 1998.

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

Muñiz, Albert and Thomas C. O’Guinn, “Brand Communities,” Journal of Consumer Research, 27 (March), pp. 412–32. 2000.

Web Links:

http://www.rachaelray.com/
http://www.rachaelray.com/shop/index.php
http://www.retail-merchandiser.com/index.php/reports/retail-supplier/704-rachael-ray
http://cultureby.com/2006/10/rachael_ray_bra.html
https://www.facebook.com/TheRachaelRayShow
http://www.examiner.com/review/rachael-ray-s-qvc-cookware-and-sharing-a-recipe-cooking-session-from-her-book
https://www.pinterest.com/rachaelraymag/rachael-ray-30-minute-meals/
http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2005/07/rachael_ray.single.html
http://boardoutmind.livejournal.com/
http://gawker.com/5693611/russell-brand-makes-rachael-rays-awful-talk-show-actually-entertaining
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/26/magazine/26wwln_consumed.html?_r=0

Use this link to download a PDF of the reading summaries & key concepts

I needed to get some groceries, so I went to Trader Joe’s and decided to make a haul out of it.  Now, it’s important to note that TJ’s is not your typical supermarket or grocery store, especially the one by Union Square that always has a line to the door.  That being said, let me share a bit about my experience before I head into the goods.

As soon as I walked in, I saw the person holding the “Grand Finale” sign that marks that end of the check out. I found this interesting because it’s as if they’re marketing themselves as a show or performance; I liked that. It didn’t happen this visit, but a couple of other times I’ve come in before, the person at the end of the check-out line who notifies you which register to go to tends to make a jingle and rhyme for your register number which adds to the whole performance feel.  Another thing I noticed was that it was super crowded, which is good for business I guess but I wasn’t too fond of that (it puts pressure on me when I’m looking for something in the aisles). However, I think the main thing that stuck out as I was going through the store was pumpkin everything. They are most definitely taking this season seriously.

This is just a sample:

I like to go to Trader Joe’s because they tend to have things that you wouldn’t normally see somewhere else and a great example of that would be the Cookie & Cocoa Swirl Speculoos.

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For those of you who haven’t tried speculoos, it’s like a cookie peanut butter. I first had it at a Wafels & Dinges truck, but if you’re craving it in the middle of the night, this is a great alternative to have in your home. Put it on waffles, cookies, toast…pretty much anything. Eating it straight from the jar works, too. Anyway, this mix of speculoos and chocolate was listed as one of its new products; I like speculoos and I like chocolate, so why not?  See, this right here shows some of my high cultural capital because I was able to look at it, judge its value to me based on the fact that I like both flavors separately so I would probably like them together, and also the fact that I thought about it in terms of what I can do with it to enhance other foods rather than just consume it by itself.

Another purchase I made that exemplifies my cultural capital is the Romaine Salad.

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I bought some Lean Cuisine Salad Additions the other day, but haven’t had any actual lettuce to add to it. This will obviously work. But I also like the fact that it’s chopped and “Ready to use” as advertised on the bag. All I really have to do it just add it, no chopping or washing, or extra work involved. I think everyone can value this product for its convenience (Another point for cultural capital, yay!)

In addition to the salad, I also got Roasted Garlic & Herb Butter.

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So I picked this up mainly because it intrigued me due to the fact that it already had garlic and herbs mixed in (again, convenience). After I picked it up, I realized I could just boil some pasta and add this to make a simple meal (and that’s exactly what I did). As I’m writing this up, I also realized I could spread it on bread and put it in the oven to make some garlic bread, too. However, unlike the Speculoos, this isn’t something I would eat on its own.

This is another treasure from Trader Joe’s I found and I’m in love with: the Cinnamon Sugar Grinder.

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For anyone who loves cinnamon and sugar as much as I do, this is a must-have and it was only $1.99! I’m pretty sure cinnamon alone elsewhere is like $5 minimum and it’ll probably be one of those tiny one ounce containers. Here is something more than triple the size, with sugar, and the added bonus of a grinder (which I personally find fun to use). TJ’s recommends it on toast; I personally like to put it in my oatmeal.  Here you got a bit of my taste, I tend to lean towards sweet and am a big fan of cinnamon; but you also saw how I was able to make value judgments between price and content as well as taste. I not only value this product because it appeals to my taste, but also because it appeals to my wallet as opposed to a pricey one ounce container of McCormick’s cinnamon that might appeal to my taste, but not so much to my wallet (You should get this by now: cultural capital!).

I also got a pound of 80/20 Ground Beef.

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I love this stuff, so clearly I don’t live a vegetarian lifestyle. Make burgers, meatballs, just cook it up and add it to some pasta, nachos, or tacos, depending on what kind of food mood you’re in. American, Italian, Mexican? Take your pick. Also, $2.69 for a pound for 80/20 which is pretty good, I find to be pretty reasonable especially in the city. I mean, other places might have it for cheaper, but it probably looks ten times more gross than it should, and I can barely handle staring at this one. So here’s something you learned about my lifestyle based on the choices I made regarding this product: I’m not a vegetarian, you may classify me as a foodie, and I’m a price-conscious shopper.

We now get to the actual food part. Say hello to Blueberry Waffles!

Photo Oct 08, 4 36 34 PMLove blueberries and love waffles, so blueberry waffles are an extreme yes for me. AND I GOT THE LAST BOX. SUCCESS. Seems like I’m not the only one who has a sore spot for the waffles with the blueberries. So this is different from the other purchases so far because the others serve mainly as additions to meals or snacks. You don’t add a waffle to speculoos, you had speculoos to the waffle.  Also, because of that, some of the other things require me to actually go through the process of making something and cooking. I could have gotten waffle/pancake mix and go through the process of actually mixing and cooking for this every time, but instead I chose the easy way and decided to just get frozen waffles that you just pop in the toaster. Less time-consuming.

And of course, you can’t have waffles (or pancakes for that matter) without Syrup:

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Let me admit something. This is the first time I bought a syrup that was not Aunt Jemima and I was very hesitant to do so because my experience with other syrups has been less than satisfying, actually downright horrifying. But I figured I would try it out for $1.99, and so far everything else “Trader Joe’s” brand seems to be great, people are buying it, so it can’t be too bad. Here, you see I was willing to substitute a brand syrup I’ve grown comfortable with for one I’m unfamiliar with not only because of price but because the brand also seems to be of quality.  This is branding at work.

Okay, so I felt guilty not getting anything of the pumpkin kind because there was just so much all over: Pumpkin bars, Pumpkin waffle/pancake mix, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread mix, pumpkin cream cheese, pumpkin pop tarts, just pumpkin everything. I, however, am not a big fan of pumpkin, although I do love pumpkin pie, so when I saw this I had to get it:

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They’re so cute! And I love the alliteration: “Petite Pumpkin Pies, Perfectly Produced” It’s fun and cute, which is perfect because the little pies seem fun and cute. A+ for TJ’s marketing. I would say this goes along with their branding because they’re appealing to people’s fun and like for cute, I mean that’s the main reason I got these. Aside from the fact that I just felt like if I didn’t leave out of there with something pumpkin, I would have probably made them feel like failures with as much pumpkin things they had advertised throughout the store. Branding is about generating meaning, and this box specifically associates itself with fun, cute, and the fall season because everybody knows pumpkin seems to be the flavor of the season (Pumpkin Spice Lattes, anyone?). It’s almost as if you’re joining or participating in a community celebrating the season if you get something pumpkin-flavored.

And finally, I got a frozen bag of Ricotta & Spinach-Filled Ravioli for the days I’m too lazy to cook.

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Doesn’t that look delicious? Also, it was $3.99 and I figure it’s probably cheaper to buy a frozen bag than to get all the ingredients. But then again, buying the ingredients might make more so maybe it comes out even. Either way, I think the fact that I spoke about buying ingredients to make a meal earlier and then get a frozen, already-made meal, can be used to show omnivorousness. In the traditional sense, omnivores are those who take part in both sides of the consumption spectrum. You know, you have highbrow: going to the opera; and you have low-brow: going to the movies. Omnivores may go to the opera one week, and go to the movies the next; or better yet: watch an opera at the movies. Here you have me, who won’t mind working on a gourmet meal in the kitchen or eating out at a five-star restaurant, but also won’t mind just getting a frozen entree and heating it up.

So that’s my Trader Joe’s Food Haul and all for less than $25. Pretty decent.

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I want to elaborate a bit more on their branding and their brand community. As can be seen by the previous picture, they’re big on recycling. They even have a raffle for those who reuse their bags. So this not only encourages recycling, but appeals to those big on helping the environment. It also helps them because when people reuse their bags, they use less of their resources. It’s win for everyone pretty much.  Also, if you noticed, everything I purchased was Trader Joe’s brand, which is not usually the case when you shop at a normal supermarket.  When you go to a normal supermarket, you may be inclined to get their brand products because it’s cheaper, but you tend to stay loyal to the name brands you know because of quality. Trader Joe’s kind of eliminates that completely by not offering name brand products. In fact, the only brands I recognized were a few beer boxes and the Ricola cough drops. While some would find this a bit disconcerting, as I did the first time I entered TJ’s, once people see how crowded the lines are and the fact that people are actually shopping there settles nerves. Also, the employees are extremely helpful and fun, and customer service is key to good branding I think.  Obviously, the prices are a big thing as well, especially in the city where everything tends to be over-priced.  I like Trader Joe’s because it’s not just cheap, but cheap and great quality and I’m pretty sure that appeals to most who shop there.  Also, something else I found interesting was that some items they only sell organic. For example, the canned pumpkin. They only had Organic Canned Pumpkin (apparently “Dogs love it, too!”) so that appeals to people who are health conscious and tend to buy only organic products because they’re able to get organic groceries for a reasonable price.  Overall, I see Trader Joe’s as a melting pot of a bunch of different grocery-shopper consumers. You have appeal for the price-conscious consumer, appeal for the health-conscious consumer, appeal for the environment-conscious consumer, pet-loving consumer; it pretty much appeals to the masses as well as niche groups, so kudos to Trader Joe’s for their branding efforts.

 

Never realized I said um so much…