Monday, July 23, 2012

Just another pretty face.

Social psychologist Elliot Aronson asks this question: Imagine you are on a blind date. It is the end of the evening and you are wondering whether or not you want to go out with this person again. Which of your partner's characteristics will weigh most heavily? Warmth? Sensitivity? Intelligence? Compassion? How about good looks?

          You guessed correctly. Good looks. In a study at the University of Minnesota, people say that beauty is only skin deep, but blind dates went for good looks for a second date.

          In another study, at UCLA, physical attractiveness was important in long-term relationships, but in a different way. Similarity of attractiveness was crucial to staying power. Those who were well matched in terms of rated physical attractiveness tended to stay together.

          Professor Aronson says we are carefully taught. Disney movies and  storybooks teach us what it means to be good looking. By college, we all seem to agree not only on what is attractive, but what are the qualities of an attractive person. Television and magazines sustain these cultural standards.

          Which brings us to advertising. If you want to know why so many actors are attractive, I just told you. Who would you more likely believe --- an actress who could play Snow White, or an actress who could play her evil stepmother? According to Aronson, the one you would believe in is the one you'd rather be like.

           Now who are you likely to cast in a TV commercial? An attractive model or an unattractive model? And don't say it's a matter of fairness. Social psychologists say there's no such category.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Don't put your shoes on so fast.

       There was a four-color ad in the paper last week that really got my attention. For the wrong reason.

        The ad was for Ermenegildo Zegna. It was a cropped photo of a man beautifully dressed in a grey suit, sitting on a white block. His briefcase was expertly designed, and his elegant loafers matched.

        The tagline in the ad was, "Passion for Details". So what was my problem? The dude wasn't wearing any socks.

         Yes, that got my attention. I admired the suit, craved the briefcase, and I even considered the shoes. But no socks? Why?

          To me, it would be hard to take a businessperson seriously if he forgot to put on his socks. Even less if he didn't wear them on purpose. It seems like this ad could turn off a lot of customers who would say "Obviously this store is not for me."

          I decided to call the Zegna office. The marketing person I spoke to on the phone was very helpful. He explained that whenever they run an ad in the Wall Street Journal, they try to "push the envelope". I asked if a lot of businessmen wear suits without socks. He said "Not in the United States." I asked him where they were likely to do this. He said in Europe.

         Men's fashions have sure come a long way. The suits have looked the same for decades, and so fundamentally have the shirts and shoes. We've been throwing away or ties for a few years, and now we can start throwing away our socks.

         Why don't we really push Zegna's envelope and tatoo our ankles?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

High marks in PR

         Ira Neimark, the former c.e.o. of Bergdorf Goodman, says he learned this lesson about public relations:

          "Whatever the type of business, the financial press, fashion press, entertainment press, and so on are always looking for new products as well as new concepts and new ideas to interest and to stimulate their readers. It is critical to recognize which reporter at which publication is sympathetic, supportive, and very interested in your business concept or model."

           That's a quote from Neimark's second book, "The Rise of Fashion".

           I learned that about the press at a very young age. Growing up in a high-rise in Chicago, I was constantly looking for something to do outside. In the summer, my bike was my key to freedom, riding miles through the parks, zoo and rookery . The Chicago winters meant sticking close to home.

          One snowy day when I was 10, I talked my friend Michael (who lived in 6A, not far from my 11C) into building a snowman. We labored but got nowhere. Fortunately, right on the corner was a huge, round boulder from some earlier age, four feet in diameter. I talked Michael into helping me simply cover it with snow to resemble to body of a snowman, and topping it of with a snow head, a hat, scarf and corn-cob pipe.

          We were proud. I called the city desk of the Chicago Tribune and reported a huge snowman stopping traffic on Lake Shore Drive. They sent a photographer, and I was hooked.

           I was constantly looking for things to call the paper about. Every time, they sent out a photographer. Over the next few years, they got to know me. They covered my puppet shows at the Chicago Public Library, a musical I wrote to support the Red Cross, a teen-age nightclub my friend Jay and I started, and even the humor magazine I started in college.

          I learned exactly what Neimark noted. The key to getting good press was figuring out what the editors were interested in. I'd always call them first and ask them. Then I came back with a story they could use. That was a lesson I've used my entire career, every time I worked on PR for a client or a charity.

         Just remember: your first audience for your PR isn't the reader, it's the editor. If she doesn't like it, nobody else will see it. Help out the editor and you've got your public relations.

Monday, July 16, 2012

How to clean up in the U.S.

        The c.e.o. of Clorox has a strategy different from his big competitors. In an interview in the Wall Street Journal, he said his target for growth is the United States --- not Brazil, China, or India.

        Clorox is doing just fine here and in Latin America. Better than P&G and others.

         Don Knauss has gleaned insights from his customers, especially on "natural cleaning" with products such as Green Works. These insights include, "It's about my world, not about the world". Or, "I don't want my kids around traditional chemicals", or "my child has asthma".

        He also believes one of the most important lessons of marketing: "Consumers aren't very good at articulating what they want. They are usually very good at telling us what doesn't work. We're getting much better at talking to consumers about the issues they have, rather than asking them to design solutions."

        I wonder how that would go over in the fashion business, especially with designers. Should designer brands do a lot more consumer research to understand their customers and glean insights from them?

      Or, instead of research,  should designers perform their art and then offer their products and see what happens? If all designers care about is their art --- art that people seem to be buying to wear, to impress, to feel good in, to attract, to fit into a group or stand out from a group, or for a hundred other reasons --- the designers' chances of pleasing people will always be, well, chancey.

      Of course fashionistas will fly to Paris or Milan to see the shows, but will most people go downtown to see their apparel in the store?

    Fashion designers should try to find happiness with marketers. That way they can become as successful as Clorox's fast-growing Burt's Bees.


Friday, July 13, 2012

The naked closet.

       Annette Tapert, writing for the Wall Street Journal, asked fashion designers how they would create a new wardrobe from scratch. It's the minimalist's ultimate fantasy --- starting over.

       Here's what some of them said, in part:

       Donna Karan: You don't need a lot of pieces, just the right ones. So think versatility.

       Caroline Herrera would immediately replace the item for which she's famous, the white shirt. "It's an easy element for anyone to her own way."

       Vera Wang: "I would immediately buy leggings, t-shirts and sweaters. I'd be heartbroken if I lost my cartigan collection."

       Nanette Lepore thinks having to replace everything is a unique opportunity for self-reinvention, according to Tappert. "First buy what you're obsessed with, then break the mold," Lepore says.

       What would you do? Would you cry over spilled jeans, or love to start over? My own closet has two sections: stuff I wear and stuff I might. Occasionally I wear something from the "might" section and I'm always sorry. The sleeves are too wide, the pants too wide, the pattern over and done with, the lapel on the jacket too thin, too wide, or absent. You'll know me when you see me on those days, especially if I put on my angora sweater.

        I wish I had the willpower to empty my closet into garbage bags, call Goodwill for a pickup and then, in my one remaining pair of Sevens, head for the one store I would let do a makeover.

        J. Crew. The only trouble is, it would look a lot like what I'm wearing right now.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Skinny is no longer in Vogue

           Vogue magazine has announced that they wouldn't use any models under 16 years old,or any that looked like they were suffering from a disease,such as anorexia or bolemia. Obviously, these models were attractive to some people, in some way, or they wouldn't have been used as models.

            What are some of the things we've learned about attractiveness in social psychology studies, and what affect should they have on marketing? According to social psychologist Elliott Aronson, when we see a young football player holding up a can of shaving cream,and recommending it, we know he's getting paid to do this. And yes, it makes him less trustworthy. But less effective?

            Not necessarily. A majority of heads of households said they didn't trust football star Joe Namath---but they bought what he endorsed.What made up for the untrustworthiness? He was attractive and likable.

            A beautiful weoman could influence an audience on a topic unrelated to her beauty. And she has greater influence when she tells you she's trying to influence you!

            Sound scary? Don't worry. The research shows this only works on trivial issues, not moral or other important ones. Research also shows that our opinions are most influenced by people who are both trustworthy and expert. That's what we in marketing` should go for.What's more, trustworthiness and effectiveness can be increased if the communicator argues a position opposed to her own self interest. Somewhat harder to pull off.

           In any case, we're all being influenced all of the time. Even the influencers are being influenced. That's the power of being attractive.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Higgs Boson and the rest of us.

         We all know about the God Particle by now. It's this mysterious particle that scientists described and hoped to find, because it might be a key to the beginning of the universe.

         Well, now scientists believe that they found it. As my friend Paul pointed out, it's the center of one of the most successful marketing campaigns in history. Millions of dollars are pouring in for further research on the sub-atomic particle that nobody can see, nobody is sure exists, and nobody knows what it does.

         Phase Two of the marketing campaign is undoubtedly about to begin. The gimmicks and trinkets based on the particle in question.

         First, of course, will be the classy cedar box, rhinestone-adorned, to keep your God Particle in.

         Then the tee-shirts roll out. "Higgs Boson has nothing on me." And "Kiss me, I know Higgs Boson." Or "Haven't you seen the God particle before?"

         Next, the bumper stickers. "Higgs Boson on board." Or "Back off, I've got the God Particle".

         They'll probably charge millions to rename an athletic facility "God Particle Park".

          I'm told that originally the scientists called it "the God-damn Particle" because it's been so elusive. If the promotion goes the way I think it might, we all might be be calling it that.