Who are the real people?

American Eagle

Aerie Real campain

These guys: http://bit.ly/1c0FoyM  have taken chunks out of US clothing firm American Eagle (AE) for claiming to show what “real” women look like. The main complaint is that AE haven’t gone broad enough. Yet: asking marketing to be inclusive is not really reasonable. A private company wants to sell you their product. So they take a risk and invest in a series of communications to achieve a return on their investment.

People are more likely to purchase an item if they think it will fulfil their aspirations. So while it would be nice for companies to spend time filling their ads with every body type that won’t generate more sales than simply using people who the rest of us aspire to be like. It however will cost them more and increase the risk of them losing their investment.

If I simply need a product then I will buy it from the person who can sell it to me at the lowest cost. If it is a discretionary purchase then I am more likely to buy it if the advertisements represent someone I wish to be like and implies that the product will get me closer to my ideal self. That feeling can’t be elicited by showing me images of people who are further from my ideal than I presently am.

Marketing it is mass persuasion. For it to work it has to represent people who are closer to an ideal than most people are. Therefore the more extremely rich and beautiful the people in the ads are, the bigger the pool of customers an ad can capture.

The “ideal” is an unachievable one, but none the less private companies are only going to make bets with their money they think will pay off. This company seems to be going as far as they feel they reasonably can whilst still making a calculated bet.

Being constantly bombarded with images of an unachievable ideal is corrosive and damaging. But it is irrelevant weather we pat American Eagle on the back or belittle their effort.

I doubt the marketing people behind this campaign are cynical. I bet they don’t want to damage young girl’s self-image and I am sure that many people in that organisation really care about what they do. Someone designed those clothes and another person worked hard to put them together as well as they could.

In order for them to get compensated for their time and effort they need to communicate what they do to the rest of the population and persuade us that their time was well spent.

We have to weigh up the damage this kind of marketing course the rest of us against the damage it will course that industry if we say: “you can’t use those kinds of communications, because it is psychologically injuring us”.

Even if you applaud them for raining in their marketing a bit, I don’t think it will pave the way for other companies to go further. It needs legislation and if the damage they do is worse than the benefit we get, then legislation is justified.

Wine Rides doesn’t yet have a huge marketing budget. I set it up because I wanted to run an ethical company that was genuinely good for my clients and good (or at least not harmful) to the environment.

At the moment we just use nicely shot pictures of people who come on our trips. But then again we are still small enough that when you contact this company you get to speak to me or Hayley. Large organisations become faceless.  That makes it easy to assume that they are full of evil “corporate types”. The more I work on my own company the more I doubt that is the case. I think most people want to be good. They want to be proud of what they produce even if it is just nice nickers.

With my TV eye, I noticed that some of the other cycling companies had posted images of customers, sat on their bums looking a bit dishevelled. I worked out that what happened was that the guide had photo’d them when they stopped, probably as the clients arrived for a break. That meant they looked knackered. I am sure in reality they had a great time but getting that shot of a client looking happy on their bike is really hard. It takes a skilled photographer. That’s why I told Hayley: “When you’re out, weight for people to have their break and water. Then photo them just before they set off again, so they look happy, rested and having fun.”

I know our clients have fun on our trips. Our marketing is low level and mostly gorilla at the moment. We only include images of smiling people. If I achieve my aspiration of making a large ethical company, it may get to a point where it becomes more anonymous and I wouldn’t rule out using attractive models as proxies for “real” clients.

Marketing is clearly a dark art, I am no expert. I have been advised by a friend to “tell people that I packed in my stressful job in the city, to do something I love.” because that is a story that people like to hear. The trouble is in my case it isn’t true. I packed in a stressful job in the city to do something as stressful because I wanted to build something great. I wanted the Wine Rides Holiday to exist so one day I could go on it.  My canned joke when customers ask do I love cycling is to reply, “No, I really love driving a van, moving other people stuff and setting up tents.”

Truthfully, I do love that because I see how much joy it brings people. Yesterday I spoke to two potential clients, and both were in love with Wine Rides concept. They told me they were booking on. When clients get in from a ride with a smile and give me an unsolicited update on how the saddle has made their bottom feel, and when I see them laying by their tent and taking in the glorious scenery I am really glad I set their tent up and moved their bag because I know that helped relax them. There really isn’t anything better than getting paid to work and having someone come up at the end of the trip and say “thank you”. That is amazing for me.

So personally I kind of feel for the designer, who designed American Eagle’s Aerie Real line of clothes http://on.ae.com/1hiu5SW. No doubt in bedrooms across the USA, friends are showing each other their new nickers and saying that they really like them.  When you work for a big organisation, it is so hard to get to hear that kind of positive feedback.

If this debate is as big as I think it is the people in the American Eagle office will be hearing about it, and no doubt are pained by some of the comments. The trouble is it’s easy for someone to bang their chest publically and say they “don’t want to buy pink nickers!” but few people will have a platform to stand up for those guys, so I thought would….

Tweet @winerides and let us know what you think!