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Does this font make me look fat? My love/hate relationship with clever marketing

calarios Icon Posted by Celia Alario

January 25th, 2008

I recently had the occasion to travel with my friend Ingrid Gordon who runs an amazing grassroots nonprofit called Gear for Good to the Outdoor Retailer (OR) show in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was watching her in action as she provided fresh and interesting material for the many recreation-oriented reporters and bloggers who regularly cover the event. Her amazing style and her do-gooder hook (her group collects new and used gear and passes it on to worthy causes) were a hit in the pressroom and on the convention floor alike.

It was at OR that I first learned of womenspecific.com.

Womenspecific.com helps to catalog and promote a host of products that are designed with some special traits that make them (supposedly) more suited for women. {I say supposedly here because although I appreciate lower Lombar support in a fanny pack or sassy darts in my Gortex as much as the next gal, I resent that some of the shoes run narrower and with thinner soles, as if I am going to step lighter than my boyfriend with my double E fallen arch feet.} But I digress…

Anyway… the Women Specific ad campaign caught my eye and elicited my paradoxical yet common response to clever marketing. I love it and I hate it all at once. My heart sings and sinks, my stomach feels at once both fluttery and as if the early stages of food poisoning might be setting in.

The tag line in question, available on posters, stickers and girly women-specific t-shirts asks the question: “Does this bike make me look fat?”; Does this carabiner make me look fat?”; “Does this tent make me look fat?”; “Does this headlamp make me look fat?” and so on.

From a completely objective angle (if there is one) this marketing does all it is supposed to and is an example of a “strong campaign” right? After all, it makes folks smile, it is considered by many to be ‘cute’, it caught my interest enough to blog about it, and it plays off a line we (sadly) hear all too often, coming off the lips of a trusted friend or echoed through media and pop culture. And as a woman with special needs and desires, it flatters me and makes me want to delve deeper into the product line and its promise. For all intents and purposes, it is a success. Right?

So then what’s wrong with me anyway? Why can’t I just appreciate it for what it is, and tip my women-specific sport cap to the marketing folks who created the campaign? I grew up in a mall for heaven’s sake, I should be inoculated and ready to respond by making their site my default home page. And yet, something inside me pulls in multiple directions, and at the same time I feel played by it, saddened by it, and protective of those who will be targeted by it and successfully reeled in.

Now I know what you are thinking. This pushes my buttons because I am wishing I could erase the many memories I have of looking into the mirror at my own reflection (from my teens to my thirtysomethings) and pondering that same question: “Does this [blank] make me look fat?”

Ok, so that is SOME of it, but really this strikes deeper to the concerns I have about the manipulative power of advertising, marketing and media, and the human vulnerability to it in this age where consumption defines character.

Annie Leonard has done an AMAZING job of bringing this issue to light in her recent flash animation piece ‘The Story of Stuff’ which I highly encourage you all to see. Don’t be scared off by the running time of the piece, though much longer than the average viral flash activist video it is well worth your time and was born–like another popular film on environmental issues–from her Powerpoint presentation on the subject!

In the end, I am a complex and eclectic woman, but I am evolving, so watching Annie’s flash settles my stomach on the issue of advertising in the way that some mail order retail therapy used to.

Another great resource on this topic is Anne Elizabeth Moore’s new book, ‘UnMarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing
and the Erosion of Integrity’.

And despite being conflicted, I continue to collaborate with social change causes I care about on–yes, you guessed it–creative communications and marketing!

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