Tuesday, April 15, 2008

On how companies count on our being stupid consumers

This move I'm trying to make towards eating locally and being more environmentally conscious is all part of something I've worked towards for many years, which is to be a very conscious consumer. I frequently describe myself as someone who has to do extensive research on anything that costs more than $25, and I pride myself on not being someone who is at all swayed by the latest fads and consumer foolishness. For the most part, I buy what we need, and a lot of what we just simply want is made to wait, and whatever we do buy has to be a good value at a fair price.

One of the areas of consumerism that always makes me the most batty is clothing and "fashion," especially when it comes to trying to sell clothes to real women that are modeled only on women who are unusually tall and slender. Do NOT get me started on how some companies that market primarily to women size 18 and up use models that are size 10 at best, and defend it as "women don't like how the clothes look if we use plus-size models."

All too often I feel smacked in the face by things like this which presume that we're stupid consumers. Some smacks make me angry or frustrated, but today's smack actually just made me laugh at a mistake that exposes the tricks that clothing companies use. I don't know much about Lands' End overall -- I don't know if their clothes are made in China, or where they source their materials or anything else, but I do know that consistently over the years, the things I've gotten from them have been attractive, simple/classy, good quality, long lasting, and a decent price. Top that with consistently good customer service and you have a company that has gotten a lot of repeat business from me. A good ten years ago I ordered a couple of sleeveless cotton beach cover-up dresses that have been wonderful summer shifts. They're still in great condition despite being worn very frequently, no fading, no wear, no problems with the seams. Their new style appealed to me and I was looking at it online and considering ordering one so that folks wouldn't just see me in those same two shifts all the time.

Then I noticed this. See, here's a front view of the dress I like:

Here's the back view:

Now here's the back view on the model:

Do you see what they did? Instead of allowing us to see what the dress actually looks like, they sewed darts into the model's dress to make it seem as if it has a more shapely fit than it actually has.

In the whole scheme of marketing sleight-of-hand, this is certainly a very minor thing. Dramatically worse things are being done to attract kids to cigarettes, convince women that they can't possibly allow themselves to be happy unless they're unnaturally skinny, and fool consumers into thinking that heavily processed foods are "healthy" and "nutritious." But even though it was done by a company that I support and like and will continue to buy from, it still amuses me to catch someone in the act of trying to pull one over on us, in even this very small way, like catching a kid with his hand in the cookie jar.

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