Commentary and Philosophy Non-Fiction posted October 3, 2014


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an essay on branding and advertising

Model Perfect

by Spiritual Echo

Phones, cameras, action...technology allows each of us to record a snapshot, preserve an image, but it rarely tells a complete story and never tells the truth.

Models are groomed, clothed and paid to represent products and lifestyle. As a young woman, I flushed in envy, peeled back pages and emulated the women in the magazines I purchased. Airbrushing faults into oblivion was never imagined possible or questioned. In every way, I found myself deficient. Other women were perfect.

At first, I used credit cards to suppress my diminishing confidence, recreating fashion pages by purchasing the same clothes, using make-up to create Kim Novak cats' eyes and bleaching my hair, getting crazy emulating Ann-Margaret's sultry auburn locks.

No matter what I did, I was still too tall, too mouthy and not one boy from the football team invited me to the prom. I sure as hell wasn't athletic enough to consider cheerleader tryouts. Doomed to ugly...ugly failure. It was an era when we judged our attractiveness and worth through male approval.

In my day, a specific colour or hem length was not a suggestion, it was mandatory. I somehow managed to survive the maxi, the midi and paid for the mini days with taunts and sneers by the girls who could protect their quasi modesty by learning to sit or bend without exposing their underwear. I never conquered the poise required to be both in style and graceful. When I think of the mental torture of finding ways to fit in, clothes took a dominant role in my peer assimilation.


There was always the 'type,' the girl that was considered attractive. In the 60s and 70s, big-busted women like Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell were too old for girls that were well-endowed to emulate. Along came flat-chested, waif-like Twiggy to frustrate our efforts further.

The idea of individuality, expressing our own self-image with clothing or hair-dos was not on the horizon. We had to be in style. Enduring big hair, soup-can rollers and endless teasing makes me smile as I reflect. There's still a residual attitude that every woman recognizes. Straight-haired girls endured toxic solutions to turn their locks into curls, while those with natural waves suffered the scorching of a steam iron. Thank God for new styling tools--we haven't completely evolved or changed.

Most women remember the eternal pyjama-party question, "Do you dress to impress your boyfriend or yourself?" We all lied. The actual truth was that we dressed to fit in, in mortal fear that we would bring undue attention to our flaws, and boy, did we ever know what was wrong with us. Our self-deprecation when we faced the mirror was a national plague, but girls didn't talk to each other about their fears or flaws. We talked about how to snag a boyfriend.

Feminism freed us from many of the shackles of external conformity. Women who adored fashion as an art form suddenly had a plethora of designers to choose from, each one having a suitable air of elitism. The rest of us were free to walk around in stretch pants without the pressure of judgement.

For as many fashions that I have embraced, there are many I'm grateful that I escaped. Torn jeans and frayed jackets turn me off. Tattoos and body piercing are beyond my understanding. I'm told it is self-expression. Okay...

I have four grandchildren. The nine-year-old boy reveres T-shirts with pictures of monster trucks, Captain America or Skylanders. Ditto for his PJs, but beyond that, he doesn't care what he wears. The three girls, aged six to eight are equally passionate about what they wear, but each is very different from the others. One loves dresses, the other wants jeans and the third doesn't care, just as long as the apparel is pink. Self expression? Okay...

But here's where all four children share a united passion. They all want the exact same iPad, and believe it or not--phone. Even at this early age, they think that having the newest electronic gadget gives them status with their peers--bragging rights. Aside from knowing that the 'thing' is the latest innovation on the market, they have no way of explaining what this new 'thing' will do for them.

A new terminology emerged in the last decade that accurately describes the phenomenon that has baited and hooked us since advertising took root, a mere sixty years ago. 'Branding' is the new buzz word in agencies and marketing offices. Branding denotes selling a name. And we, like cattle whose rumps have been marked by the ranchers who own the herd, have bought into the concept.

"Who are you wearing?" The interviewer asks the stars on the red carpet. The television audience leans in to hear the answer. Designers are more than happy, thrilled in fact, to lend millions of dollars worth of jewels and dresses for the exposure, the mention of their names at the Academy Awards.

It took but forty-five seconds on television--Prince George photographed in the arms of his mother Kate--for the world to react. Four hours later, the web site of Aden and Anais crashed. The manufacturer of the swaddling blanket in which baby George was wrapped, sold out.

On stand-by in China, Thailand and Malaysia, factories are on twenty-four hour alert. Sewing machines instantly begin buzzing as knock-off manufacturers race to build inventory, duplicating the style and colour that was made famous by a simple flash of a camera. As consumers, we become ravenous, imagining that we have touched the hem of royalty by wearing a duplicate dress.

Recently on a late-night talk show, a spoof, an on-the-street introduction of a new watch by 'Apple,' was shown to pedestrians and they were asked if they liked the model and would pay the price tag--several hundred dollars. All admired the design and every single one replied in the affirmative, most adding that if it was made by 'Apple' it must be of superior quality. The watch was purchased at Wal-Mart for $12.95.

The name brand, when associated with quality and innovation, or flagged as fashion-forward, is enough to get most consumers to part with their money without caution.

Most people are not aware that designers license their name to an extensive array of products without any personal involvement. Every designer likely has a list of parameters, after all, they must protect the brand--their name. They may even personally approve the end product, but often don't. It comes down to selling the right to market using their name. Always there is a substantial deposit and a royalty on each item sold.

Recently the news has been filled with athletes who have been disgraced and have lost millions in endorsements. Their enormous salaries come not from their athletic contracts, but their product association. They only have to pretend to drink Gatorade or wear Nike when they are seen in public.

Car manufacturers understand their customer and market the lifestyle, not the car, airing commercials of macho men climbing into the Ford 150. I can't remember the last time I saw a commercial for Porsche or Corvette. The companies don't need to spend the money on advertising. The brands are solid. They smack of speed and luxury.

Whether people want to admit to the branding of politics or not, each of us should stop and consider why we identify ourselves as supporters of our registered party status. Most people strive to find the best candidates within the party structure, but they are adamant about their political association. Many people registered their status when they came of age and have never stopped to question whether they agree with current policies. Like the fictitious 'Apple' watch, there remains an acceptance and a belief in the brand.

Until I began to work in sales and marketing, I had no idea the forces and subliminal messages that influenced my decisions. In many ways, it made my purchasing decisions easier and allowed my brain to rest, not questioning every supermarket product. Knowing what I'm going to get when I pick up a box of 'Uncle Ben's Rice,' saves me the effort and time to examine all the choices every time I go grocery shopping. But I do try to stop and examine some automatic reflex decisions, trying to determine if my customer loyalty exists because of habit.

Advertising is not a bad thing. It educates us as to new products and can often lead to competition that translates into savings for the customer. And sometimes, like in the 'Dove' advertising campaign featuring the beauty of older women, and more currently on self-image for young girls, it can be socially enlightening.

What strikes me as a lesson to my grandchildren is the responsibility of teaching independent thought. Children's programs are saturated with advertisement, both during the commercial breaks and the programs themselves. Try walking into a Wal-Mart store with a child and listen to the whining, the pleading for more--more Lego, more Barbies and more Hot Wheels.

I can't blame the kids. I was a victim myself, and likely still am, but I no longer operate on remote control.


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