No Accounting for Taste

About three weeks ago, an American Apparel ad showed up on one of the news websites that I frequent. It struck me as unusual and tasteless, so I downloaded the image for analysis. I checked American Apparel’s website, and the image seems to be part of a broader marketing campaign.

Bear in mind this is my interpretation; I am biased and know it. So what do you see in the ad? What do you think of American Apparel’s campaign? Take a look and let me know what you think in the comments.

Style, Not Substance

Most of the pictures on American Apparel’s website seem like they were home-shot at night using a very basic camera and flash. Models are primarily home-grown-looking ladies and gentlemen doing their best model impression. I like this style on premise: the images appear “spur-of-the-moment” and I think that will hook a generation of instant-satisfaction and spontaneity.

Many of the photos are past flattering. Poses are sexual and clothing is minimal. There are many shots of ladies in little more than undergarments or mesh fabric, or bra-less with jackets open other than a single collar button, or exposing their breasts in rare cases.

The borderline and over-the-line nudity is not a problem itself and it fits into the overall concept of the photo slideshows – average, everyday ladies caught feeling like posing in their American Apparel clothes – but how young the ladies appear is worrisome.

Symbolism & Sex

Anyway; the ad itself.

American Apparel Advertisement
American Apparel advertisement

A bra-less woman wearing booty shorts that sparkle and a see-through “shirt”, drinking from an equally sparkly water container. Note that the low-production value .gif shows pink liquid flowing from the bottle to her mouth and down her chin. She’s also pulling at the edge of her ludicrously sparkly booty shorts.

I assume the sparkles are designed to catch attention. They tend to do that. The only thing I can think they would symbolize is the “shine” of new clothes.

The sheer shirt is another eye-grabber, though my eyes find the water bottle and shorts first. The tugged waistline and pouring pink fluid are the next-noticed parts of the photo: obvious symbols of sexuality. The rest of the shoot is even more sexual.

The ad does get my attention, so it succeeds in the most basic way. Past that, my first reaction was “What the hell?”

Generally clothing brands promote a lifestyle. Based on this ad and similar images found on American Apparel’s website, the lifestyle of the company target demographic is filled with poor lighting and masquerading as a photographer to collect photos of barely-clothed women.

The Bottom Line

The ad and campaign grab attention with sparkles and symbols of sexuality; nothing more. If anything, it implies that American Apparel clothing looks best on the floor. The message it sends to young ladies and hopeful models is equally hollow: “show skin to succeed”.

I think I would react differently if the sexuality was equal. I am glad the ladies in each ad have work and are comfortable enough to show off, but every male model is fully clothed while most of the females are semi-clothed at best (I found only one set involving a shirtless male after about an hour of searching). I guess the company is trying to be empowering, but just comes across like a white panel van with blacked-out windows parked in front of an all-girl private school.

 

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The Maker and The Kickstart

I am back! I did not mean to be away from publishing for this long, however an unfortunate happenstance in my family meant my focus had to be somewhere other than this blog. Now that I am back, I will be exploring marketing topics on a weekly basis – right here every Monday.

For the past month, I have been working on a business project. It includes using a Kickstarter and some third-party manufacturing. For those reasons, and because I am a guitar player, I was excited to find Fryette’s Valvulator GP/DI Kickstarter project.

Fryette A.K.A. VHT

Honestly I missed the rebrand. I follow amplifier companies like Orange, Traynor, Victory (now that it actually exists) and BadCat very closely; Fryette/VHT never quite made it onto my radar. The only thing I have heard about the company is that Alexi Laiho (Children of Bodom singer/lead guitar) uses VHT power amps in his live set-up, and I read that 5-ish years ago.

My lack of knowledge aside, VHT-now-Fryette has a strong line-up of amplifiers and tube-based devices that range from a vacuum tube buffer and power supply to 120-watt 3-channel KT88-tubed face melters to small-ish 30-watt class A EL84-powered heads. Steven Fryette, the company’s namesake, founder and product designer, has 40-years experience making noisy electric devices, and the company itself is 25 years old.

So a company with two-and-a-half decades under its belt has created a Kickstarter campaign. Some may dismiss it as something the company shouldn’t have to do; I think they are missing the point.

Size Matters

Fryette’s lowest powered amplifier is 18-watts and that’s is it is running at half power (it’s the 30-watt head linked above). The majority of it’s products are tube amplifiers that must sit on top of or nearby a speaker cabinet, barring the intervention of other cool-but-expensive technology. The product they are Kickstarting is a 1-watt amplifier that does not need a speaker cabinet. It can be used with headphones or directly into a recording preamp or into a speaker cabinet or any combination of those (and more).

That means the product is a new direction for the company that may not be accepted by the guitar-playing public, so a Kickstarter makes perfect sense. There is a strong statement made if the project is fully funded: the investment necessary to get the product on retailers’ shelves comes from people that have confirmed their desire to see the product on store shelves. Being part of that investment also has positive consequences.

Funders get a sense of pride from being intimately connected to a product in addition to a reward. That direct connection will enhance Fryette’s reputation as funders tell friends of their monetary participation. On that note, the rewards for being a funder deliver everything from the simple (t-shirt and company sticker) to top-shelf (one of the three production prototypes or unit #0001).

Everybody wins, assuming there are funders.

Be Convincing

Integral to a Kickstarter campaign is showing that the product will be useful to the end user. If that value cannot be communicated, it is nigh impossible to secure backers for the project – few will invest in a product that will not give them something.

Luckily for Fryette, convincing potential funders of the product’s value is easy. After all, it is an amplifier designed to make beautiful noise, so simply find ways to show off its noise-making capabilities!

Demonstration videos explain different facets of the final product have been uploaded every week. They range from comparisons between traditional speaker cabinet/microphone recording versus recording directly using the amplifier to waveforms of playing dynamics being used to show how much more satisfying it is to play through a tube amplifier instead of a digital simulation.

Pretty Pictures

It is also clear exactly what the product is. Last week, images of the front and back panel were uploaded, complete with an explanation of what every knob, switch and plug does. This weekend, images of use-cases were uploaded.

These images are normal for a finished product (instruction manuals are a thing), but at this stage, they fill the same role as the videos that have been uploaded. Knowing what the device is capable of is key to a guitarist, especially one that is considering investing in a product that is just a prototype right now.

When Do I Get My Amp, Man?

Between February and March of next year, assuming the project is fully funded. Fryette notes that every other variable keeping the product from being produced has been eliminated; the company knows what it is doing, so the only question is money.

I sincerely hope the project is fully funded. For a generation of apartment dwelling, on-the-move guitar players, a 1-watt tube amplifier that can go directly into a USB powered 2-input recording device or front-of-house mixing console is an excellent innovation.

Does that mean it will be accepted? Heck no; the world is full of great ideas that never made it off the ground. Keep an eye on the project’s Kickstarter page, contribute if you love the idea, and start counting down to November 5th.

Networking

Late last summer i wanted to find ways to practice the skills i want to enhance: marketing in specific. I also realised that my network of contacts was not large, despite living in a relatively small and definitely close-knit city.

Networking Is Easy

It really is. Every phone number, email, Twitter handle, and YouTube channel that has a person’s name attached has one this in common – there is a human being on the other end of of the line. Yeah, theyre not the same as you, but if theyre anything like most people i know, they love to share their stories. If you want to know more about an industry or career, it’s as simple as asking. So that is just what i did.

Just over a year ago, i reconnected with a lady i had met in high school at a friends’ wedding by asking an obvious question: “how has your life been going since high school?” She had been running her own marketing and graphic design consultancy. We connected on LinkedIn shortly after the wedding and i noticed she had been running that business for 7 years (before she had graduated high school, infact).

Every person has expertise. When i realised my lack of contacts and real world practice, i asked her for an informational interview about her experience in the marketing industry. It would be a lie to say her experience was intimidating, so i tried to consider that experience as a resource for me to tap into.

Reaching Out The hardest part of anything is the first step, as the cliche states, and is even harder is one has stumbled before. For a period of time, i earned my keep cold calling businesses in an attempt to sell them a product. Honestly, that work scared me off making phone calls for a long time. Eventually i got over that fear.

Professors are a great place to start. Ask your favorite professor to coffee or spend a few minute chatting with him or her after class. They are often well-connected, and will gleefully respond to any interest in learning from their life experiences.

The value of a network of contacts cannot be underscored enough. All my current work and every step i have made towards a career has come from an acquaintance.

While i was in networking mode, my father made a suggestion. When job searching, he requested three things from every willing member of his network: phone numbers. He would call every number, state how he got the number (name dropping is a good idea), and then ask for a meeting. In the case of an answering machine, he always stated a follow-up date.