Are Pets Consumers?

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IMG_1685Today I was in Pet Smart, shopping for some cat-related goods. The whole existence of Pet Smart is amazing in itself—the plethora of products, brands, and highly styled goods for pets who themselves could not care less about brands and styles. It goes without saying that most pet products are really about us and not them.

For a while, I’ve been meaning to read this book about America’s pet obsession—Michael Schaffer, One Nation Under Dog—which looks very interesting even though it marginalizes cats by focusing on dogs (as do so many smaller pet stores, BTW, the proliferation of internet cat videos notwithstanding). But I digress.

The consumerization of pet ownership (stewardship)? is writ large in the big box pet style.

Most intriguing to me on my recent trip were displays that presented pets’ needs as parallel to human needs (and culturally created human needs), thus justifying the branded goods the store was marketing to us.

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To whit: a display of toys exhorting shoppers to “support an active lifestyle.” Do pets have a “lifestyle?” Isn’t that an inherently human—and brand-driven—concept? not to mention, of course, that most of these toys, though perhaps momentarily appealing to a pet, serve needs just as well met by the errant aluminum foil ball, packaging material, ipod wire, amazon box, or other random household good.
Having made that observation, I went ahead and purchased a new hanging sisal scratch toy for my interior garage door. With catnip pocket.

Also important: Having your pet be fashion forward. Martha Stewart obliges with a line of dog clothes.

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And don’t forget Valentine’s Day—for your prized non-human companion or for the pet-lover in your life.

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H & M Goes Socially Responsible

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IMG_1644So fascinating how corporations have adopted the rhetoric of social responsibility as a branding tool. Here, we see this strategy at work with H & M, in a central Florida mall. References to Spidey are always fun, of course. We can all enjoy the pun. But more interesting here is the notion that fashion CAN be socially responsible. H & M attempts–in a slick and aesthetically pleasing way–to set itself up as a warrior in the battle against sweatshop labor. This ad is part of the company’s attempt to reinvent both its image and (it claims) its labor policies in the wake of the horrific factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013. The ad catches one’s eye. It caught mine, anyhow. Who knew H & M was socially conscious? As the retailer might hope, I went online to learn more. “H & M Conscious” is the company’s campaign to make a “fashion future” that both “looks good and does good.”

Indeed, some news reports also state the company has made an effort to get more control over production processes and improve working conditions in the factories that make its clothes  (companies like H & M use middleman factories, so efforts to control labor and safety are directed at putting pressure on those factories and creating standards they must adhere to).

However, even as the media has reported H & M’s commitment to these changes, reporters have noted what the company leaves out. And some progressive journalists are skeptical.
An optimistic view might say, this ad assemblage in the H & M storefront shows progress. Sweatshops are pretty much a household concept nowadays. The anti-sweatshop movement of the1990s gained enough success that corporations have responded to it. The cynic might say, stop! What’s really happened is corporations have co-opted this movement and neutralized it. Can social responsibility remain such when it is also an advertising tool? Can a “living wage” be both an activist goal AND a marketing tool and retain any of its core meaning?

Of course, the anti-sweatshop campaign with its focus on fair wages and safe , humane treatment is not the only example of corporate co-optation of activist language. The same process has happened with the green campaign, the red campaign, and more. The cynic might argue that using the words is just a strategy.

And the cynical historian might point out this process has characterized consumer culture throughout the 20th century. Particularly notably, Thomas Frank brilliantly points out in The Conquest of Cool how advertisers in the 1960s adopted the iconography, slogans, and themes of the countercultural movement. Once rebellion became an advertising tool, actual rebellion had to find a new voice.

Meanwhile, H & M has made “sustainability” part of its web address to promote its socially conscious theme.

I didn’t even get to gender dynamics here: perhaps the irony is obvious. H & M uses beautiful models to promote social responsibility, thus, of course, implicitly reproducing the usual standards of beauty that shape gender norms and objectify women. Moreover the beautiful, groomed, apparently happy, safe, and well-to-do women of the advertisements stand in explicit contrast to the laborers across the globe who make H & M’s clothes (and which its “conscious” campaign purports to help.)

Sheltering from the Storm. . .

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With Whole Foods?

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This billboard at Whole Foods (Winter Park) cracked me up. Really, is WFM where you’d go to buy your hurricane preparedness items? There just might be cheaper sites for bottled water and dry food. But for WFM, a brilliant strategy to get in on that disaster preparedness consumer action.

(Interesting, in itself, that preparing for a crisis is also a consumer event.)

Waiting on a Phone. . .

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IMG_1267The line outside the Apple Store at the Altamonte Mall, Day 2 of the i phone 6. No further comment necessary, really. . .

Except to say, why so important to be first? There’s something worth some reflection. It’s not as though Apple were GIVING AWAY iphones at the end of the line.

You can read about the first-day fanaticism here. . .

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/os-iphone-6-goes-on-sale-20140919-story.html

I say, Life’s too Short.

Trader Joe’s Aesthetic of Social Consciousness

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IMG_1232Trader Joe in Winter Park reassures its shoppers that it “pays it forward.” With its trademark typeface, TJ manages to be both cute and socially conscious at the same time. Strategically located outside the bathrooms, this sign reassures consumers that the store is socially conscious. Indeed, a social conscience is part of the store’s brand. Values and ethics are part of what’s for sale (which is certainly better than not having values and ethics at all).

History and Nostalgia at Trader Joe’s

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I’ve had a lot of Trader Joe’s experiences of late.To much local fanfare, a new store opened in Winter Park, Florida, not far (well, 40 miles) from where I live. The very fact that 40 miles seems a traversable distance to shop for groceries says something about the allure of Trader Joe’s. My friends and I made a pilgrimage there the first weekend the store opened. More on that later.

These photos show the Trader Joe’s store in Arlington, Massachusetts, near my own hometown of Lexington. TJ is doing a good job here calling upon local identity to make this store distinctive. This strategy is not unique to TJ; even McDonald’s tries to personalize its stores and dilute their homogeneity with a local aesthetic (photos of skydivers in DeLand, Florida, for example, a skydiving center). But TJ does this localism particularly well, blending its signature quirky, bright aesthetic with irreverent historical puns.
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We can enjoy shopping at this chain but still feel a little like it’s not a chain and like the items there are chosen particularly for us. This is not just any store; it is a “revolutionary” shopping experience. Paintings of cows and farms remind us, nostalgically, of a pastoral history. A revolutionary era patriot fleeing on horseback (Paul Revere?) hoists a reusable shopping bag. IMG_1115

Pictures of local icons, historical and architectural, build on town pride.
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This is not just shopping; it is a shopping experience,relying on a sense of shared history and identity. It’d be interesting to know how important these strategies are to buyers. have buyer feedback on that.

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Paddington for Sale

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I took these photos at Paddington Station in London. I was excited to go to Paddington, partly because it was the way to get to Oxford and partly because, I had grown up loving the Paddington tales and their stories of the bear left at the station with the note around his neck: “Please look after this bear.” Stories of Paddington were part of the fantasy of London, and England, for me as a child: elevenses, tea, imposing train stations, strangers who acted proper but had great heart, always willing to look after the bear. So finally getting to Paddington almost forty years later was fun on many levels and also evoked a nostalgia for childhood. I was not surprised to find a Paddington Bear store at the station, because of course, in our consumer world, what other way would there be to commemorate the intersection of literature and reality? I didn’t shop at the store. Perhaps I should have.