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Selling a Celebrity Lifestyle

Gabriella Paiella   September 15, 2014
White T-shirt: $90. Knowing you're wearing the same T-shirt as your favorite actress: Priceless.Photo by Maegan Tintari

“PRESERVE is all of us, together, championing the goods, makers and legends that instill meaning inside the moments of our lives. The curios that cozy our homes, the threads that define our silhouettes, the foods that leave our bellies happy, the projects that mean everything to us.”

With that earnest manifesto, intended to describe her newly-launched project, actress Blake Lively unknowingly summed up the zeitgeist of the celebrity lifestyle brand genre. Preserve and sites like it attempt to capitalize on the glamour of the stars that back them, while broadcasting an intimate, inviting vibe. They try to make a fulfilling, aesthetically-pleasing, and “meaningful” life seem easy and accessible—so long as the reader is ready to trust the proprietors’ expert opinions on the products the sites so casually endorse.

Celebrity brand endorsements are nothing new. In the 18th century, potter Josiah Wedgwood learned that Queen Charlotte used his wares and repositioned himself as “Potter to Her Majesty” so he could jack up prices; more recently, Queen Beyoncé guzzled down Pepsi for a contract to the tune of $50 million. But celebrities selling a comprehensive way of being—a lifestyle brand—has become even more popular in the post-recession years, because they combine aspirational but understated wealth with gestures toward charity and self-improvement.

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   September 15, 2014
Photo by Robert Couse-Baker

• In Chongqing city, China, cellphone texters get their own “lane” on the sidewalk (via Jennifer 8. Lee).

• Brendan James at Talking Points Memo brings us the news that the discerning tastemakers at Urban Outfitters were briefly selling a “Vintage Kent State University sweatshirt” stained with what appeared to be fake blood splatters. For $129.

• The New York Times reports that lawmakers in California have passed a comprehensive law “prohibiting educational sites, apps and cloud services used by schools from selling or disclosing personal information about students from kindergarten through high school; from using the children’s data to market to them; and from compiling dossiers on them. The law is a response to growing parental concern that sensitive information about children—like data about learning disabilities, disciplinary problems or family trauma—might be disseminated and disclosed, potentially hampering college or career prospects.” The most disturbing part: no other states have done this.

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An Army of Eyeballs: The Rise of the Advertisee

Dale Lately   September 12, 2014
Minions from the animated film Despicable Me / Photo by Sonny Abesamis

During a blackout at the 2013 Super Bowl, a bright spark on Oreo’s marketing team had a brainstorm. With one tweet, the snappy insta-slogan “You can still dunk in the dark” inspired a tidal wave of shares amidst the snacking. It was the free publicity coup every brand dreams of: within just twenty-four hours, the tweet was retweeted almost 15,000 times, and consumers submitted more than 16,000 personal photos of their favorite cookie.

“#Dunkinthedark” was just one example of a growing trend in social media–colossal participation by fans and customers in advertising campaigns. Intel’s “Museum of Me” campaign has attracted over 18 million clicks of approval. More people watched Old Spice’s YouTube ads in twenty-four hours than those who watched Obama’s first presidential victory speech (total impressions were 1.4 billion in 2010). Website URLs on billboards are being replaced by conversational Twitter hashtags encouraging sharing and discussion. The traditional broadcast model of advertising—one-way, one-to-many, read-only—is increasingly being superseded by a vision of marketing that wants, and expects, consumers to spread the word themselves.

The economic rationale is self-evident: clever social media suggestions are a cheap alternative to what the broadcast world still charges for top television ad spots like the ones that play during the Super Bowl. But beyond that pragmatic shift, there are more sinister implications to an advertising world that sees people not just as targets, but as potential recruits–especially when such recruits are impressionable young people already keen for friendship and recognition.

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   September 12, 2014
Photo by CGAphoto

• How adorable: the Guardian reports that two U.S. senators, Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM), will live together on a tropical island for six days, and all their adventures “as they spear fish and build shelter together” will be filmed for a Discovery Channel show called Rival Survival.

• The Center for Public Integrity has uncovered emails detailing all the strings that Koch money can come with when Koch money goes to a school, including control over the hiring and retention of faculty, and a new emphasis on libertarian philosophy and deregulatory policy in the school’s curriculum. “As we all know, there are no free lunches,” wrote an economics department chair at Florida State University to his colleagues about such an offer from the Charles Koch Foundation. “Everything comes with costs.”

• Two important reminders to both writers and readers: “Millennials” and other generational categorizations are meaningless inventions, and using the vague shorthand term “Brooklyn” when you actually mean something like “certain neighborhoods in north and west Brooklyn that have already been gentrified by young, white, wealthy hipsters” is both factually incorrect and pretty offensive.

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Eminent Bromain: Bud Light Invades the Rockies

Corey Pein   September 11, 2014
Photo by John Phelan

This past weekend the corporate conquest of cool entered a new phase: expropriation.

AB InBev, a $43 billion multinational conglomerate that brews one in four beers sold around the world, executed an agreement with the archetypal ski town of Crested Butte, Colorado (population 1,500; annual general fund budget $3.2 million). It’s the kind of town that champions localism, authenticity, and the outdoorsy virtues. Chain stores, traffic lights, and other modern blemishes have been banished.

The deal therefore was controversial. It provided for the temporary erasure of the municipality as well as the suspension of its citizens’ First Amendment rights. In place of the town, AB InBev constructed a Potemkin village called “Whatever, USA,” to promote its popular pseudo-lager, Bud Light.

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   September 11, 2014
Photo by Colin Swan

• Leah Finnegan has written a quite definitive list for Gawker, “The Worst 100 White Men, Ranked.” (Check out #44.)

• In that same vein, thank you Tom Hawking of Flavorwire for sending news of Actually… magazine, “a new home for all those cultural explainers you never knew you were missing,” like “Women in Music: Actually more than just pretty faces?” and “Hip Hop: Should you care?” (Via Eugenia Williamson.)

• Read Baffler blog contributor Kyle Chayka on why women earn less as mothers, but men earn more as fathers.

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What’s Ahead at “Feminism for What?”

Kathleen Geier   September 10, 2014
Illustration by Susie Cagle

This Saturday, September 13th, in New York City, The Baffler will be hosting an exciting event: an all-day conference devoted to the theme of feminism and work.  We’re calling it “Feminism for What? Equality in the Workplace After Lean In.” (Tickets are no longer available, but you can watch live from afar on Saturday via this livestream.)

The impetus for the conference was Susan Faludi’s attention-getting 2013 Baffler essay about the Sheryl Sandberg phenomenon. Like many feminists, Faludi was troubled by Sandberg’s message. In her best-selling book Lean In, not only does Sandberg unabashedly address herself mainly to professional class women, she focuses on women’s internal obstacles to advancement on the job, rather than any structural barriers. Sandberg seems to argue that what women need most are not better workplace public policies, but to change their own attitudes and behaviors.

Faludi strongly suggests otherwise, and presents an alternate vision of feminism she presents—skeptical of capitalism, deeply class conscious, grounded in the economic realities the overwhelming majority of workers face. The tension between Lean In and Faludi’s alternative view have served as the guiding inspiration for this conference. “Feminism for What?” is an effort to move the conversation about gender equity in the workplace well beyond the  mainstream media’s perennial obsession with elite women’s issues such as opting out and breaking glass ceilings. We’ve chosen to organize the conference by focusing on several major themes that might be said to be missing from Lean In.

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   September 10, 2014
This Dollar Tree appears to sell steak. / Photo by Mike Mozart

• Dealbook of the Day (read this out loud): “Dollar General said on Wednesday that it was taking its $9.1 billion offer for Family Dollar directly to shareholders. The move further complicates Family Dollar’s agreed upon deal to sell itself to Dollar Tree for $8.5 billion. In a statement, Dollar General said it was offering to acquire all of Family Dollar’s shares for $80 each.”

• Business Insider writes about how the perks are so good at Google’s Mountain View campus that people have figured out ways to avoid paying rent by living there for months, or years, at a time. They sleep in their cars, and then shower, eat, and do their laundry at work. (Via Quartz.)

• Some websites are showing users a “loading” icon today in support of net neutrality rules. “(Protest organizers are making clear that the icon won’t actually slow down the Web, but simply act as a symbol),” explains the Washington Post. If you happen to notice that The Baffler is particularly slow or boring today, it’s not because we’re protesting, it’s because we’re not very good at the Internet.

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