Friday, May 23, 2014

Aspirational Editorials

Heads up: This is a meta post about the business of blogging. Steer clear if you're not interested in media, brand-consumer relationships, and advertising. Also, a note for newcomers: X is the guy I've been dating.

Babes in the lake 2


Yesterday X and I went grocery-shopping in search of ingredients for tomatillo salsa and mango salad. While we waited in the checkout line, I picked up a copy of Womens Surf Style Magazine [sic]. After I flipped through a few pages, X surprised me by suggesting that we buy the issue. This guy is a manly man, not in the general demographic of publications with holographic pink logos. I couldn't tell whether he was joking, but when pressed he admitted, "I want to look at the girls." Ah, that explains it. There were plenty of cute bikini-clad ladies on the cover. And X actually is a surfer, so that's enough of an excuse, right? ;-)

Ogling aside, X wanted fodder for a discussion about effective brand strategy. Lifestyle marketing involves selling people an identity that they can participate in through your product. "Vicarious" is the key word. For example, Womens Surf Style Magazine depicts a carefree exploration of tropical paradise: gliding through clear blue water with dolphins, drinking fruity cocktails, doing yoga on the shoreline at sunrise, etc. I don't doubt that most of the readers are truly surfing enthusiasts, but the magazine's pull is the fantasy it provides, rather than any practical resources. This publication allows people to feel like they're part of a world that is out of their everyday reach. Advertisers buy space in WSSM because they sell products that fit that image, and readers may be prompted to make purchases because they buy into the illusion of being a hippie surf diva.

I don't consider this dynamic to be bad or inordinately manipulative. Escapism has been around forever. It's okay to want a break from your own unglamorous life--I often do! It's also okay to charge for providing that opportunity. Putting a fantasy together takes work, and there's no reason why that work shouldn't be compensated. Hopefully, consumers are grownups who can mitigate their urges with reason when deciding how to use their money.

Blogs are basically online magazines, created and/or curated by an individual. Profitable blogs make money in the same way that a magazine does, by espousing a lifestyle concept and then running ads related to it. This is easily demonstrated when you examine commercially successful blogs: A Beautiful Mess is about the indie-but-yuppie lady of the manor who has copious free time for home improvement. The Clothes Horse involves poring over vintage photographs while wearing an elfishly whimsical frock, all with an eye to Rookie-esque feminism. Both blogs are sponsored by ModCloth, because that e-tailer can capitalize on any "quirky girl" aesthetic. Do I sound cynical? I'm not trying to mock these endeavors, but to encapsulate the images that they sell. Elsie, Emma, and Rebecca don't present fake versions of their lives--"selective" would be a better word.

Now, let me abruptly ask what you think. Is my analysis correct? Any feedback/commentary is welcome.

16 comments :

  1. This is the thing I hate most about having a business to think about. I think people "brand" themselves on accident all the time just by favoring parts of their lives more than others or by sharing parts of themselves they think will impress others while hiding the less interesting or more embarrassing parts. This isn't necessarily a positive thing, but I think most people resist going overboard, exceptions being bloggers who mold themselves into whatever's trending at the moment.

    With Platinum and Rust, I want people to want to buy my clothes simply because they're cool and reasonably priced, but in reality, branding is still essential. But where to start and who to reach? And what if I lose myself in the process of branding myself in a way that helps others buy into my brand? It's weird.

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    1. It's definitely a difficult and complex process. Where's the balance between a coherent brand message and a genuine one?

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  2. I'm all for branding and cultivation. Hearing artifice derided always makes me a little uncomfortable; it feels invasive. If a blogger decides to showcase this part of her life but not that part, who am I to demand anything else? Who am I to call her "fake" for choosing to keep some things for herself and herself alone? I'm not suggesting that you implied this, but it's a general trend I've noticed. Often the impetus for bloggers and other public figures to be "real" is thinly veiled voyeurism. Like "celebrities are just like us" articles featuring sneaky shots of some poor actress in sweatpants pumping gas. The power to choose what to present to the world is so important. I'm not about to insist that someone else lay her private insecurities bare so I can feel better about myself. Reminds me of the whole Lena Dunham/Jezebel debacle. In making a political point about women at large, Jez blatantly threw one particular woman under the bus.

    (Again, none of this is directed at you personally. I realize it sounds harsh, but this is topic I get fired up about. ^.^)

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    1. No worries--I agree with your points! My personal feelings about Lena Dunham aside, that is =P I appreciate you sharing your honest, thoughtful opinion.

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  3. I agree and I absolutely have no issues with a selective version of life on a blog. Nobody knows everything about anyone. Just like any company these blogs create a brand image for themselves. I like that brands like Modcloth sponsor blogs that fit their aesthetic. It just makes sense. I don't understand people who don't think bloggers should be able to profit or benefit from their hard work. And I'm not even saying that because I'm given free stuff all the time or anything, because I'm definitely not.
    And...I've rambled enough. Good thoughts. Good post!

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    1. Agreed, Jamie! Thanks for chiming in :)

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  4. I agree, blogs and magazines cater to a niche and a selected vision. How can you cater to everything? You have to focus on your vision and fine tune your skills. Making money on the process, I think is different. There are so many talented bloggers pounding out incredibly gorgeous posts and they haven't been able to actualize a thin dime. I believe it's best described by the Underpants Gnomes:
    1. steal underpants!
    2. ???????
    3. profit!

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    Replies
    1. Alright, I'm about to go steal some underpants.

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    2. I look forward to that post.

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    3. http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/profit

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    4. Bahahaha, "Hi everybody, here are some underpants I stole! #outfits"

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  5. Hm. I personally don't really mind whether people present their lives warts and all or carefully edited - I flatter myself that I am well-adjusted/old enough to not get caught by the 'OMG her life is so perfect mine is so rubbish' thing that some people seem to fall prey to. At the same time, no matter what people present on their blogs, I have the choice to read it or not. If the topic/tone doesn't appeal to me (and that goes as much for being too consciously twee as it does for, without warning, posting your necrotising fasciitis pics or whatever), then I can come back later. I don't feel compelled to demand change, although if things suddenly do a total about face, then it is rather jarring.
    I think branding is great - it allows you to appeal to a particular market/audience, where you can consolidate things and get a foothold. After all, despite the fact that my blog is not currently monetised in any way, shape or form, I like keeping a consistent 'tabletop RPG' theme - it makes me happy, and people seem to like it ^_^.

    I have no idea if any of that was relevant. Wahey!

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    1. Definitely relevant! I'll try not to post any necrotising fasciitis... =P

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    2. Now I feel like I wanna Google thank but I'm also scared!

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  6. Totally true for the big blogs. Not so true, I think, for most itty-bitty blogs.

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    1. Definitely. I should have made it clear that I was only talking about for-profit blogs.

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