When I’m not blogging or writing movie reviews (or doing laundry or helping with homework), I run a boutique ad agency. In fact, I’ve been a copywriter and creative director for just over half my life (since September of 1984 — you can do the math). Consequently, I’m acutely aware of marketing strategy, how brands combine emotion with promotion to get us to desire and buy their products.
So, when there’s something I just don’t get (like the Twilight books or Crocs or Ke$ha), I remind myself that, “I’m not the target audience.”
One recent trip to the mall with my daughter required several repetitions of that mantra. “I’m not the target audience. I’m not the target audience.”
Like Julie Andrews and the Von Trapp children, let’s start at the very beginning.
We tend to park along the side of the mall, not in the large but always crowded lot near the food court, but toward the back near an exterior entrance to a home furnishings store called Restoration Hardware. There are benefits to this. I always find a space. I never lose my car. I like walking through aisles of overstuffed sectional sofas and imagining how they could possibly fit into my early 19th century colonial. And, once we’re in the mall, we are only a half-dressed hop, skip and jump away from … Abercrombie.
For my tween daughter, Abercrombie is the mall’s Mecca, a holy city of to-die-for casual clothing, allegedly meant for young adults but irresistible to younger teenage-wannabes. The shop is dimly lit with floor-to-ceiling peek-a-boo shutters that create a sense of mystery, if not downright danger, as you try to hurry by on your way to Macy’s. Too late! You are seduced by Abercrombie’s siren song.
Walk in and you’re met with stunning black and white photos of superhumanly gorgeous boys and girls, all of whom look like they’ve just rolled out of bed and need a cigarette. Your pulse begins to pound like the music that’s playing several decibels too loud. The place has its own distinct odor, their signature perfume, which permeates the store, the clothes, and your car the whole way home.
We are here for jeans. Not just jeans, but “super skinny destroyed jeans.” Apparently, there is real value associated with all the extra adjectives. Plain old jeans would only cost me $68. It’s $20 extra for the super and the skinny and the destroyed. I suggest that we get the regular jeans and destroy them ourselves. It could be fun, like one of those afternoons we used to spend together painting hideous ceramics at Plaster Fun Time. My daughter smiles sweetly and brings the super skinny destroyed jeans to the register. A preternaturally pretty young man flashes his pearly whites, sweeps his blond Beiberesque bangs away from his forehead, and swipes my American Express.
We escape from Abercrombie relatively unscathed — just the jeans, not a single graphic tee or hoodie. My daughter is elated. I’m a bit bewildered, but … “I am not the target audience.”
Next, we track down the store Pink, a colorful, brightly lit shop of cotton undies, sleepwear and Betty Boop-inspired lingerie. It’s the retail equivalent of Victoria’s Secret’s flirty little sister. My daughter needs a strapless bra to wear under a sundress for an upcoming bat mitzvah. Styles change, but there are some things you can rely on. Whether you’re 13 or 48, you buy a strapless bra because you have to — not because it’s comfortable.
As we’re waiting on line to pay for the uncomfortable strapless bra, I see a display of blue sleepshirts that say “PINK” on the front of them. Another display has green hoodies that say “PINK” on the back of them. A final display offers a rainbow of bikini underpants in yellow, red, orange, purple, all of which say “PINK” across their butts. I don’t get it. Then again … “I’m not the target audience.”
Our final stop is Forever 21 (or the store that I think of as “More Ho, Less Dough”). Really, if your tween daughter is playing a prostitute in the junior high play, you can find her some pretty convincing costumes here for a lot less than I just paid for destroyed denim. My daughter needs a little jacket to wear over her sundress in the temple ($9.99 on the sale rack), a pair of flats to dance in ($15 near the register), and a gift card, which will make the bat mitzvah girl very happy and her mother … well … less so. Like me, she is “not the target audience.”
A final stop at Starbucks (one vente decaf non-fat caramel macchiato, one frappucino), and we are all set. I may not be the target audience for Abercrombie, Pink or Forever 21, but I can consume overpriced concept coffee drinks with the best of them. I am, after all, “the target audience.”
Trip to the mall: $256. An afternoon with my daughter without any arguments: priceless.