A Victoria's Secret store in suburban Carmel, Indiana, has covered its mannequins after complaints that they were a little too slutty for public display.
Lori Baxter of Carmel led the complaints. She says she’s still not happy with the mannequins’ new clothes, saying the sagging pajama bottoms are still too suggestive.
She plans to take her concerns to the Carmel City Council.
I, personally, do not think the City Council of Carmel, Indiana, should have any power to limit what any store puts on display in its front window. But, that said,the "branded content" exploitation of the Victoria's Secret product line has put underwear on display in a way that it's never been on display before.
When I was a kid I had to dig through a couple of hundred pages of the Sears catalog to get a look at the kind of architectural polyester that is currently flaunted just about everywhere. The prime-time promotion of the latest Vicky's fashion show -- featuring willowy models strutting their high-heeled stuff in nearly absent fetishware -- most certainly takes a lot of parents by unpleasant surprise. And walking through a local mall a week ago I was startled and just a little excited to see the display of garter belts and bustiers right there across from the get-your-picture-taken-with-Santa super-kiosk.
Make no mistake about it: I'm in favor of complicated underwear for women. If Victoria's Secret were a non-profit organization, I'd contribute. I'm also completely in favor of merchants' rights to sell whatever their customers want and to publicly promote what they sell.
That said, Victoria's Secret may not be doing itself any favors, long term, by flaunting its wares. There is such a thing as a consumer backlash, even in a totally free market. God help the shareholders if American moms start thinking of Vicky's as something more than harmless fun, because that's going to limit the amount of gift shopping dads do in the stores and catalogs.
Besides, the whole point of lingerie is that keeping a little something hidden can be sexier than laying everything out in the front window. Incorprating a little of that into their marketing plans might be a smart thing for Victoria's Secret to do.
When I lived in L.A. I went to a traffic school -- I think it was "The Laugh n Learn Terrific School" -- and one of the people in the class was the late comedian Charlie Rocket. It was at 9 AM on a Saturday, and one of his nostrils was crusted with white powder. Every time we took a break he went out to his car and came back twitching.
A friend of mine joked that the most succesful traffic school would be called "Get Drunk and Have Sex Traffic School."
Publicists are people who get paid to, among other things, suggest ridiculous things with a straight face. For example, this recent press release from Proctor & Gamble, in which the publicist suggests that you start a lovely evening off by insulting your host:
Holiday party hostesses often receive a bottle of wine as a polite gift from party-goers. This season, bring something less predictable -- Scentstories, a machine that plays discs featuring a collection of candle-like scents, will long outlast a bottle of beverage, and can be used during the party to enhance the ambiance.
If someone showed up at my house with a room deodorizer as a gift, I'd toss him out on his ear. That would be like giving a girlfriend control-top panty hose or your boss a copy of The Five Minute Manager.
Scentstories, by the way, is an electric room freshener that "gives you a unique quality candle-like experience." It comes in several trademarked scent themes, including strolling through the garden, wandering barefoot on the shore, and relaxing in the hammock. In my experience, relaxing in the hammock smells a lot like beer and sweat. What gift could be lovlier than that?
So I'm at the mall last week with one of my kids. I forget which one. The tall one, I think. We're in Old Navy buying him a couple of shirts, which is big intra-family news because new shirts are also clean shirts, and my son in a clean shirt clears by a mile the classic man-bites-dog definition of news. Out of the ordinary, shall we say. I'm leafing through the sweaters made of long underwear material and I notice that the Old Navy sound track is Burl Ives singing, "Have a holly, jolly Christmas..."
You can insert your own pro forma bitching about the early arrival of the holidays here if you like. Lord knows, I've been there. I've always said that if it were up to me Christmas wouldn't start until the day after Thanksgiving. The kick-off event would be that repulsive race Wal-Mart moms engage in every year. You know the one: At 6 AM Wal-Mart throws the doors open and a buffalo herd of women in stretch pants trample each other to make sure that little Eustacia Jean gets whatever this year's hot toy might be. Cover the official opening of the retail feeding frenzy season the way the nets cover the Rose Bowl Parade: With Cathy Lee and Bob Eubanks sitting above it all reading pre-scripted banter:
That's Mrs. Jethrine Prole right up front again this year. She seems to have recovered nicely from last year's heartbreak. She took a nasty fall when the elastic in her waistband snapped and she was de-pantsed before she could get ahold of a Tickle Me Spongebob...
Over the years I've resigned myself to the early arrival of Christmas, and have started tracking the season's inexorable march forward. (This year's winner: A christmas decoration catalogue in August.) I understand that the hard reality for retailers is that Christmas makes or breaks the year, and everyone's bonus depends on the holiday sales numbers. I can't blame anybody for hitting it hard.
That said, I think we may have reached a point of diminishing returns, and Old Navy provides a shining example. Someone needs to teach retailers the art of building over time in order to manipulate the audience's emotions. You don't kill the bad guy in the first five minutes of the movie and expect the audience to stick around, and you don't put "Holly Jolly Christmas" on in early November and expect sales numbers to stay high for seven more weeks.
You want to ramp-up; instead, Christmas has become a wall. One day it's Halloween; the next day it's Christmas complete with snow and Santa and "Holly, Jolly Christmas."
I'm not making a moral argument here, and I'm not complaining about the early arrival of the holiday shopping season. I'm making a purely practical argument: You can put in your Christmas displays in July, for all I care. Set Santa up poolside in a Labor Day diarama if you think that's going to set the debit cards afire. But from a strategic standpoint, shouldn't retailers hold a little something back for the last few days when shoppers need a boost? If retail is war, shouldn't the mall marketeers listen to Clauswitz and protect some strategic reserve?
Of course they should, but they don't. And there's no better example of it that "Holly, Jolly Christmas" immediately post-Halloween.
"Holly, Jolly Christmas" is the kind of stupid novelty song that, if you have any sense, you forget completely about immediately after the holiday. It's a nice song, really. A holly, jolly song, in fact. But it's also completely disposable -- which is its great advatange.
When people's eyes are glazing over and credit card companies are running processing lags of thirty or forty minutes, that's the critical moment. Customers, at that point, are on the verge of breaking. They've got nothing left. They're Notre Dame and they're behind and it's time for the retailers to give a rousing pep talk. What are you going to do, coach, if you burned-off the win-one-for-the-Gipper speech in the first two minutes of the game? I'll tell you: You're going to lose.
That's the moment when you need a bouncy, familiar, idiotic jingle like "Holly Jolly Christmas." That's the moment when you want to see customers in the aisles perk up like deer hearing footsteps in the woods. "What's that sound? It's 'Holly, Jolly Christmas'! I forgot all about that song!" It puts a spring in their steps, keeping them going for another couple of hundred bucks.
Except that under current Christmas theory, "Holly, Jolly Christmas" has already been used up. It's been through the retail Muzak rotation a couple of million times and everyone has built up an immunity to it. Old Navy and the rest, when the crucial moment arrives, will reach down and find their bags of tricks empty. They'll have
nothing to do but watch their customers wander out to their cars with
headroom left on their credit cards.
Well, not quite nothing to do. They can always cut prices, which pushes people toward shopping later in the season. I know people -- I am people -- who don't even think about shopping until margins are slashed in the last week of the season. We can do that with confidence because it always happens, and it always happens because retailers lay in huge inventories so they don't run out of popular items, and because they shoot off all the other big guns long before the battle is really engaged, allowing everyone to shop themselves out in November.
Like, for rexample, "Holly Jolly Christmas." You never thought of that as a "big gun" before, did you? It is. Or it could be.
Cultured Containers has developed the BananaBunker
to protect this delicate fruit from bruising when placed in
your backpack, nap sack, soft carrying case, or briefcase.
The container also protects your backpack’s valuable
contents, such as CD players, textbooks, binders, and
Today I went to the mall. I have problems with malls because they're filled with people and staffed, generally, by other people.
Who was it who said hell is other people?
Anyway, at Macy's, I decided to buy a pair of shoes. Now, Macy's and I have a strange history. They keep sending me credit cards, and none of them ever work. For a while there, between my wife and I, we had six different Macy's accounts. I went in last winter with bridge hand of Macy's cards and tried to straighten things out. Macy's straightened things out until the next time we tried to buy something, when the straightened-out account didn't work.
So Macy's, being the crafty beast that it is, opened a new account for us, giving us 15% off in the process.
Today I tried to use the new account, which -- it turns out -- has a $100 credit limit, though that first day we used it we spent way more than $100, I'm sure. Anyway, the $100 limit under which I now labor made buying $115 shoes kind of a problem.
So my day at the mall started out with me standing at the front of a line of crabby people, trying to prove that I was worthy of $15 in additional credit risk to Macy's, which is part of Federated Department Stores, which has a market capitalization of $11 billion and sells almost $16 billion worth of stuff every year.
After two phone calls and about 15 minutes, Macy's decided I was worth the risk to their shareholders and I was allowed to buy the shoes. Which, just for the record, I don't really even like that much.
Feeling a certain sense of accomplishment, however, I took my bag of Macy's shoes down the mall, stopping here and there to consider buying other mall stuff. I considered, for example, buying an LL Bean parka that would make me look like Sir Edmund Hillary. I imagined people dressed in the parka driving their giant-sized SUVs down carefully plowed roads to the Starbucks for complicated coffee.
I considered buying a football autographed by Paul Hornung -- though I really didn't consider it much.
And I went into Old Navy to see if they had any cheap shirts I might want to buy, which they didn't. So I left Old Navy, at which point I was accosted by a security guard who wanted to know what I had in my bag.
Now, apparently, Old Navy has a policy about bringing bags into the store, and somehow I had sneaked through their incredible security perimeter to wander the store with an unsupervised bag in my hand.
I told the Old Navy security guard that I had Macy's shoes in the bag, and he was apparently so impressed by that that he wanted to see them. So I showed him the shoes and he let me go.
Out in the mall, walking back toward my car, a child vomited on the floor in front of me. For some reason, that reminded me that I wanted to buy a copy of Nirvana's "Nevermind," so I stopped at a CD store. In the CD store, I poked around to see if there was anything else I might want to buy. Remarkably, there wasn't. So I went to the check-out line to pay for the Nirvana CD. The I'm-guessing-college-aged kid working the cash register asked to look in my bag.
At first, I thought it was more fascination with the fact that I seemed to have actually been able to purchase $115 shoes from Macy's when the last of my six Macy's accounts has only a $100 limit. But then it dawned on me: This kid thinks I might be shoplifting! For some reason, I found that kind of complimentary, like being asked for an ID to buy beer when you're in your thirties.
So I asked the kid about my apparently sinister security profile, and he said his manager was worried because I had spent so much time wandering around the CDs with an open bag and had only bought one thing. He said they were tightening security in anticipation of Christmas, which is almost three months away and is thought of by non-security-related people as a time of joy and love.
When I left the CD store, I cut through Macy's again to get to my car. As I passed through the make-up section I heard a 17-year old salesgirl recommend to an attractive, grown-up woman that she might like to try some green eyeshadow.
Greg Miller of Boston is making good money manufacturing prosthetic dog testicles under the brand name "Neuticles." They're sold to pet owners who have their dogs neutered, but don't want their dog to be embarrassed when they show up at the dog park one day with no balls.
"Hey, Fido. What happened to your balls?" "I really don't want to talk about it."
Artificial dog balls are apparently a hot commodity.
Miller has sold more than 150,000 of his Neuticles, more than doubling
his $500,000 investment. The silicone implants come in different sizes,
shapes, weights and degrees of firmness.
"Degrees of firmness"? Are there really people out there who care how their dog's balls feel?
Loving pet owners are less 'neuter-hesitant' and their pet is unaware that he has, in fact, been
altered. With Neuticles- its like nothing ever changed.
Soon, I'm sure, insecure owners will ask:
"Hey, doc. As long as we're giving Rover new balls, can you make them really, really big? You know, like conversation pieces for meeting girls in the park."
Neuticles range in price from $73 for a pair of teeny cat balls to $549 for the rugged, 5.75" bull reconstruction kit.
I have been traveling on business in a part of America people do not visit on vacation. There, hotel promises of free high-speed wireless Internet access are not always kept and there is not even soft-core porn on the in-room video system. All roads are eight lanes wide and Post-Modern architecture is not dead. Also, there is a restaurant chain called "Max & Erma's."
I admit to being a snob and I admit to being isolated from suburban mall culture as a result. But this particular "dining experience" was a nightmare of scripted joviality and only-slightly-camouflaged up-selling. Is this really what most people endure when they go out for a nice meal?
Our server, Chas, was stoned out of his skull, at least if the whites of his eyes were any indication. A recent high school graduate with vertically gelled hair, he spoke to us as if he had spent his youth in the restaurant world's equivalent of a Red Chinese re-education camp. He smiled vacantly and spoke in a monotone, looking over our heads and concentrating like a kid struggling for a word in a spelling bee.
He asked if it was our first time at Max & Erma's. Naif that I am, I said yes. I should have known that that would mark me as that most prized of creatures, The New Customer. It instantly became the job of Chas not just to serve my meal, but to convert me into a Repeat Customer.
To that end, Chas launched into an explanation of the menu that apparently presupposed I couldn't read it myself. He recited lines from a memorized marketing brochure, drilled into him at off-hours training sessions, that informed me, among other things, that Max & Erma's has good hamburgers.
Now, being American, I assume that every restaurant surrounded by adequate parking has good hamburgers. Whether those burgers come wrapped in wax paper or dressed up like a New Orleans hooker in garnishes and proprietary sauces, burgers are basic. (Or should be. I once confronted a hamburger with a sliced radish next to it. Do people put sliced radishes on their hamburgers, or was someone in "presentation" just looking for a point of product differentiation?) You can't survive in the restaurant business in this country unless you've got a decent burger, the same way you couldn't have a restaurant in Tokyo if you couldn't make rice. I don't need a little speech to tell me that.
Over the course of the meal, Chas dropped by our table regularly, as if controlled by some internal clock that had no relation to where we were in the course of our meal. Under the guise of providing service, he'd stop by and recite a little marketing message. As I was eating my salad, he brought me, the Max & Erma's virgin, a tasty sample of the restaurant's "signature" (and no doubt high margin) tortilla soup. (Why did this remind me of a heroin dealer offering the first taste for free?) Between salad and burger, he interrupted our conversation to explain to me that Max & Irma's is famous for it's chocolate chip cookie dessert, and to remind us that if we wanted cookies we should order them soon "because they take some time to bake fresh." As opposed, I guess, to baking them stale.
And when those of us at the table were engaged in a raucous post-meal conversation, he refilled my iced tea glass and, instead of leaving quietly so not to interrupt us, asked how everything was and invited us to look at a dessert menu.
I do not, as you can probably tell, frequent chain "concepts," which is what people in the franchise business call restaurants. All the same, I was stunned by how marketing-intensive the meal was.
I used to produce television and radio commercials for a restaurant chain, and I know that the executives of that chain considered per-ticket revenue a key performance metric. They were always trying to figure out a way to get the same number of people to spend more money. The result of that kind of thinking is that Max & Erma's and, I assume, lots of other "concepts" are destroying the dining experience.
As we were getting ready to leave, the manager of Max & Erma's appeared by horrifying surprise over my left shoulder. Suddenly, as I slipped my jacket on, she was there, inches away, in a spooky re-creation of conversational intimacy. She was harried after a busy lunch hour, but did her best to smile at me artificially, maybe even seductively. She pushed her ample bosom against my side and thanked me for trying the restaurant. And then, as if slipping me her phone number, handed me a $5 "gift certificate" which was really a coupon for $5 off my next $30 ticket (not including alcoholic beverages). She wanted, she said, to personally invite me back. She looked forward to seeing me again.
Look, I know I'm a middle aged man and middle aged men are stupid, especially when a woman pushes her breasts into the sides of our arms, but I'm not that stupid.
I gave the coupon to an admin back at the office I was visiting. She looked down at it as if I handed her a two ounce diamond and thanked me profusely.
"I love Max & Irma's," she said. "Have you tried their tortilla soup?"