Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Gag gifts for yourself*

Today's Diane Rehm program was on the subject of marketing and the way people use consumption to define themselves to the world and to themselves. The subject of Axe men's hygiene products (har, why isn't there a "masculine hygiene products" aisle in the grocery store) came up, and the guest (Rob Walker, who writes the Consumed column in the NYT magazine) mentioned that the marketers of Axe did not aim to compete with other manufacturers of deodorants, but he said they are competing with "popular culture." I've always attributed the success of Axe products to the absurd in-joke the marketing tries to produce. "We all know buying this product is not going to make women want to sleep with you, but we're going to pretend that we think it will, and pretend that you think so, too." Pretend all the way to the bank.

When you buy an absurd product tie-in like Family Guy breath mints (something I have actually seen for sale), you're actually forking over your $8/hour-earned money for the privilege of propagating the brand. The people getting rich off of their clever practical jokes about the emptiness of marketing aren't just sarcastically pretending to get rich off of the shameless money-grubbing.

Maybe three or four years ago, I was shopping in a hipstery neighborhood in Portland, OR, and was amazed at the ubiquity of Bettie Page's likeness on every random item it could possibly be plastered across.

I just can't see handing my money over to the makers of Axe as a joke. (I should point out that I'm kind of phobic about spending money. It terrifies me.) This may make me a total liberal crank* (like the dude who doesn't even have a cell phone or a TV), but for all these reasons, I totally hate getting/giving gag gifts. They're probably made by slave labor in a developing country, and will eventually take up space in the Latah County landfill (which is just gorgeous this time of year, I've found out, being that I just moved out of the first apartment I ever lived in.) when I move.

If the jokey Axe marketing works (and it does!), people know exactly what they're getting when they buy a can of deodorant. If you're amused by bringing your lunch to work in a Bettie Page lunch box, I'm not trying to deny it. If the emotions that marketing depends on weren't real, no one would bother with branding. I can admit that I will forgo the opportunity to put caffeine in my body if I'm at a restaurant that only serves Pepsi brand soft drinks (I'm a Diet Coke loyalist, it's true.).

*I've been trying my hardest to write this post without being a total asshole. Not sure if it's possible, but I tried!
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