Love For Sale, Installment Two

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More examples of food as love, love in places of food, love for sale alongside food. . . at a central Florida Publix, prominently displayed in the front of the store en route to cheese and deli. IMG_1753 IMG_1752

The text reads “love is fleeting,” which doesn’t seem like the most promising message for Valentine’s Day (especially since the champagne is fleeting as well).

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prescriptive displays–some ideas for making use of your Valentine’s Day supplies.

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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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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.

Platform 9 3/4. And Some Things For Sale.

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These photos are self-explanatory: snapped at King’s Cross Station in London, at the spot commemorating the mythical Platform 9 3/4 of Harry Potter fame.
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Here, visitors can stand in line to get their photo taken pushing a trunk on a luggage cart through the wall (stuffed owl in place), as a helper pulls back their scarves to suggest the effects of racing full-tilt into wall, and to make the scene look more realistic for photographs. Of course, even writing about making entry on Platform 9 3/4 “more realistic” seems odd.In any case, a long line (or queue) of people awaited their opportunities to try their luck at the wall and take the photo.
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Conveniently located right next to the “platform” entry is the Harry Potter Shop.
Now I can’t believe I didn’t go into the shop, but I didn’t. At the time, I was happy enough to watch people file up to pose with the cart and participate in our shared fantasy of making Harry Potter’s world come to life. And I was pretty sure I knew what was in the shop. . . wands, posters, clothing. Lots of things nobody needs but that can help them temporarily participate in the shared fantasy of making Harry Potter’s world come to life.

This experience offers fans ways to get closer to the Harry Potter stories. We know we can’t make them real, but we can try: we can enjoy the fun of a gimmick like the trunk-in-wall designed to bring the fantasy in the everyday, or we can become consumers of products that bring us closer to Harry’s world. Consumer-fans can, like Harry, buy a wand, or a book, or a scarf; the act of buying fuels imagined access to the world of wizards and muggles.

Empowering Women Through Bangles

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While strolling the streets of quaint and chi-chi Winter Park, with friends this past weekend, I made my first visit to an Alex and Ani store. This jewelry trend was new to me, but my friend who teaches high school knew all about it. The company has been around for a decade, but has only had retail stores for about five years, and the store in WP only opened last year. So perhaps I can be forgiven for my cluelessness. Now I’m completely fascinated by this company.

In case you, dear reader, are also not up on the latest jewelry trends, here’s the deal:

Along the lines of Pandora, Alex and Ani offer a sort of do-it-yourself experience; shoppers choose charms, combine bangles, or select symbolic stones  to create something unique for them.

The company says it is all about empowering women and expressing identity: “ Alex and Ani believes in the power of positive energy, a core company principle. We have made it our mission to share the benefits of positive energy through the unique beauty and symbolism of our products.”

(See their website, which is fascinating in itself.)

In its appeal to femininity, Alex and Ani taps into some centuries-old understandings of women as mysterious and nature-oriented. It also calls upon a vision of “you go girl” sisterhood that offers female bonding without the politics of 1970s feminism. (This puts me in mind of the great chapter in Susan Douglas’ book Where The Girls Are in which she talks about how advertising in the late 1070s and ‘80s co-opted feminist ideals of empowerment and independence by equating those goals w/ products. Everyone should read this book.)

The store promotes female uniqueness and difference (what students of feminism might call “cultural feminism,” which says that women have unique, special qualities that will enable them to contribute to society differently from men but in important ways). Here, you can express and attain that inner spirit through carefully chosen jewels and charms.

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Text here:

“Natural Wonders/Innate/Untamed/Mysterious

The heart and soul of the sixties flower child is firm rooted in a deep respect for the Earth. Inspired by this vast planet and the ancient belief in the healing properties of natural gemstones, the Natural Wonders Collection contains stones specifically chosen for their innate power. Let the vibrations created by these patterns empower you on a lifelong journey of joy and exploration.” 

Made in America With Love/www.alexandani.com

The company also  “honors a legacy of American tradition and culture with influential licensed partners, in alignment with our positive brand mission, across a broad array of institutions – from Major League Baseball® and the United States Olympic Committee to the five military branches.” (See photo: “sorority collection” and “collegiate collection”.)

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The organization also sells charms representing certain charities and benefits them by giving profit back to the charitable organization.

Cynically, what I draw from all this is how fabulously the company has created opportunities of marketing and cross-promotion. Creating a “sorority line,” for example, insures a built-in audience for the product. Same with the “collegiate” line.

The colored stones, each with a special meaning, IMG_0288remind me of the New Age crystals craze that swept the nation in the ‘80s; that was a sort of return of a hippie healing mindset, a step removed from the politics of late ‘60s America. Today’s version is yet a step further from its origins, updating and prettifying the crystals craze so that mystic connection to nature comes sanitized, pre-packaged, neatly presented in charms, beads, and bracelet wire.

Of course, what Alex and Ani offers is only a pre-packaged uniqueness; shoppers can decide who they are and how to express themselves, but they have to choose, of course, from the possibilities laid out before them. That’s nothing new in the world of consumerism—the illusion that choice offers us possibilities to define ourselves, but in fact, those very choices are limited from the start. That’s not my idea; see the Frankfurt school theorists Adorno and Horkheimer if you want to know more. Or for an updated take on what choice means to American consumers, check out Barry Schwartz’ book, The Paradox of Choice.

All that said, Alex and Ani has some very cool company goals and policies. (http://www.alexandani.com/our-story) They make their jewelry in the U. S., they hope to improve local economies by adding to vibrant downtowns, and it celebrates female individuality.

So, here we have a fascinating blend of ideologies and artifacts: appeals to a type of essential femininity, a quasi-feminist celebration of personal identity, a reiteration of traditional femininity expressed through jewelry, an appeal to national loyalty, a social consciousness (community, making and buying American. All of this deep meaning is available for a price.

And it’s not THAT expensive; you can buy a charm bangle for $28. But of course, one is not supposed to stop there; the store’s website suggests layering multiple bangles to make a unique look. One bangle is merely a gateway bangle to more.

So, is a company like this a way to change the world through stuff? Designers and sellers can create products, infuse them with meaning, offer that meaning to buyers, who then presumably sign on to the meaning in order to own the product?  And it’s not just talk; after all, women built and run this company, so there is real female empowerment going on here. Or is this merely a superficial way to acknowledge world and life issues of justice, the battle for individuality, and women’s social role? I’m thinking the latter, but I’m open to discussion. To really answer these questions, we’d need to know more about the buyers’ motivations and the role the jewelry plays in their lives. We’d also need to follow the company over time to see how much impact they are able to have on the charitable missions they support.

In Nairobi, Kenya, women make ceramic beads by hand, producing beautiful jewelry (Kazuri) that is marketed across the world. These women make money from this work and gain status in their community. The organization is part of the World Fair Trade Organization.

So, how is this different from what Alex and Ani is doing? In both, we’ve got beautiful jewelry, social consciousness, and a good story. I like the Kazuri jewelry better, but that’s not really the point. In Alex and Ani, empowering women seems to be a marketing tool; in Kazuri, it seems to be the real thing.

One news article describes Alex and Ani as a “lifestyle brand” ; perhaps that’s the difference.

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