April 19, 2006

Adventures in Marketing

A couple weeks ago, I was in Eddie Bauer looking for a pair of khakis. After navigating my way around a display of polo shirts in supposedly macho pastels and a couple racks of belts wide enough to rope cattle with, I located the pants section. In the midst of a reverie about why the world needs so many minutely different shades of tan pants, my eyes lit upon a shelf of khakis with a reasonably proximate sign reading, "$19.99."

20 bucks for a pair of pants? I was so dumbfounded by this apparent bargain that I actually summoned a salesperson, which for me is like requesting syphilis. The salesperson confirmed that yes, the price was correct. Well, I am nothing if not an incredible cheapskate, so I grabbed a couple pairs and bolted for the register, in the process nearly knocking over a mannequin dressed in a purple plaid shirt that would have made Mr. T look effeminate.

The cashier was a pleasant middle-aged woman, and she approved of the value I had found. I replied, "Yeah, can you believe it? I wonder why they're so cheap." I began to wonder if these pants had been fashioned from recycled soda bottles, or if they'd been shoplifted from Banana Republic.

"Oh, we had to get rid of these. We just got a new shipment in. They changed the name back from Rustom Fit to Relaxed Fit. I guess people didn't know what Rustom Fit was."

Well, of course they didn't know what "Rustom Fit" was. It was a nonsense term made up by the marketing people at Eddie Bauer. What I want to know is, how did "Rustom Fit" get approved in the first place? I mean, everyone knows what "Relaxed Fit" means. It's polite advertising-speak for "pants big enough to fit your fat ass, because it's easier to buy bigger pants than it is to put down the Twinkies, right, Porky?" But "Rustom Fit" doesn't mean anything, except in the demented minds of the Eddie Bauer marketing department. Why discard a perfectly reasonable and widely-understood phrase for a piece of marketing gibberish that no one understands, and if they did understand it, would find pretentious and idiotic?

Let's say you sell Brillo pads. Everyone knows what your product is, they like it fine, and your sales are steady but unspectacular. So, one day, some bight light decides to rename your product the "Zoombax 3000Q," because it's new and different, and this will ignite new interest and generate more sales.

Will this happen? Of course not. Sales will fall through the floor, because no one knows what the hell a Zoombax 3000Q is. People who are shopping for scouring pads don't want novelty; they want something they know will remove the baked-on cream sauce from their casserole dish.

The same thing applies to khakis. People don't want something new and exciting; they want pants that they know will fit. I know that Relaxed Fit pants will work for me. Rustom Fit? No idea. Maybe that would be enough to get me to buy my pants elsewhere, unless they're marked down to 20 bucks and my inner cheapskate takes over.

Essentially, what I'm proposing is that every marketing department in the country hire me as a consultant. I don't have any special knowledge or skills, which is what makes me so necessary. What I would do is something like the following:

CLEVER MARKETING GENIUS: Hey, Fred, we've got a brilliant new idea!
MEDIOCRE FRED: What is it?
CMG: We want to change "Relaxed Fit" to "Rustom Fit."
MF: That's a stupid idea. You're fired.
CMG: But it will really spark interest in our-
MF: No.
CMG: But we need to-
MF: You've got fifteen minutes to clean out your desk before I call security.

The problem with marketing is that it's all cleverness for its own sake. These leeches need to justify their existence and their no-doubt-obscene salaries, so they come up with pointless "improvements," many of which do more harm than good, and which drive our shallow and trivial society ever closer to an ennui-induced coma which will ultimately lead to the downfall of Western culture.

On the bright side, I got my pants for cheap. So it all evens out in the end.

Posted by Mediocre Fred at April 19, 2006 10:29 AM | TrackBack

Perhaps Eddie Bauer wants to make up its own names for fits so they won't have any derogatory connotations, as Relaxed Fit does. Ann Taylor came up with names for different fits of pants: Audrey, Lindsay, Margo. Audrey sits at the waist, Margo sits just below the waist, and that crazy Lindsay sits, well, lower on the waist (this isn't really the hip hugger market).
Marketing isn't so much about cleverness for its own sake as a constant attempt to let us hold onto our illusions about ourselves. Ann Taylor lets women identify with a particular name depending on where they want a waistband to fall on their bodies. Eddie Bauer apparently tried to get men to identify with Rustom Fit, but because the kind of guys who shop in Eddie Bauer (as opposed to Structure) generally don't identify strongly with clothes, it was a failure. Eddie Bauer's client base wants inherently explanatory terms for their clothing.
I would insert my rant about how stupid women's clothing is for not having descriptive sizing (how many inches in the waist? bust? hips? length of leg? none of this do we know) but it's been said many times before.

Posted by: PG at April 20, 2006 08:25 AM

See, I find the Audrey-Margo-Lindsay thing equally stupid, but then I'm not an Ann Taylor shopper. I still maintain that the marketing people were too clever by half on this one, because I'd wager that if they had run the "Rustom Fit" idea by a few hundred of their customers, they would have realized that it would be a failure. It's possible that, as with the New Coke fiasco, they did survey the customer base and simply asked the wrong question ("Do you dislike the term 'Relaxed Fit' because it implies you're a fatso?" vs. "Do you want to know if these pants are going to fit you or not?"), but I have my doubts.

If you were a marketing type and you gave me that explanation, I wouldn't fire you on the spot. But I also wouldn't have signed off on "Rustom Fit." I mean, really.

Posted by: Mediocre Fred at April 20, 2006 12:37 PM
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