Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Alpha Ads

I have a like-dislike relationship with the advertising industry in that I like the creativity, but dislike the manipulative undercurrents. I usually ignore any ads in newspapers and magazines and, whenever I have control of the remote, I mute the commercials that interrupt my Bravo and VH1 reality shows. But, as someone in my circle recently pointed out, most people aren’t anything like me - so the artistic predators have now set their sights on what their market research has identified as 3 new “types” of women:

The Indie Woman
Age: 28-34
Marital status: Single

Career-driven with a healthy dose of cynicism, especially when it comes to romance, she relies on her friends as influencers more than the man in her life. To that end, she's not afraid to talk about topics her mother shied away from (birth control, tampons). She's also not afraid to splurge on big purchases, especially online.
Biggest splurge: Designer clothes and accessories (bought for a bargain)
We recognize her as: One of the Yaz besties who “dish” on birth control over cocktails. The snarky Kotex tampon comedienne that makes fun of other tampon commercials. T.J. Maxx's Maxx-inista.

The Mom Achiever
Age: 35-45
Marital status: Married or in a relationship with a child

She's a high-powered career woman who contributes heavily to the household income, and may even be the main-breadwinner in the family after the recent "man-cession." Unlike the homemakers in detergent commercials of yesteryear, she isn't the family washing machine. She also places a premium on alone time, away from work and family, which is why you're not likely to see her forking over Stovetop to a table full of neighborhood kids.
Biggest Splurge: Gadgets, beauty products
We recognize her as: The successful female celebrity (SJP, Kelly Ripa, etc) in anti-aging skincare ads. The woman in the Tide commercial who hands her baby over to her husband to change the diapers. The lady who needs some Laughing Cow me-time every now and then.

The Alpha Goddess
Age: 55-64
Marital status: Divorced, widowed, or single

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, [there] is the single woman over 55. She's a smart investor that's as tech-savvy as someone half her age, and she's becoming one of the most powerful consumers in the country. Prepared to reap the benefits of her independence by spending more on her own self-improvement, the quest for dream-fulfillment makes this female prototype a target for vacation packages, luxury cars, home improvement and, notably, anti-depressants.
Biggest splurge: Travel, luxury cars, prescription drugs
We recognize her as: The woman in the Pristiq ads who has to wind herself up to sell antiques. Martha Stewart.

Other than the term “Yaz besties,” the only thing I love about this presentation of easily-targetable pigeonholes is that it’s ultimately a celebration of alpha women, and particularly the aging alpha women – a group that rarely gets its props.

My most cherished mentors have been women in the 55-64 age range. I’m happy to report that none of them are manipulable enough to allow commercial advertising to influence their decision-making about anti-depressants or any other Big Pharma products. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about their susceptibility to gimmicks involving cars or travel plans.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cracking the Code

When I was unpacking some books I brought back from Paris yesterday, I did a final flip-through of the Fodor’s guidebook I referred to last week and noticed a little travel advisory in its introductory pages:

When it comes to clothing, the standard French look is dressier than the American equivalent. Athletic clothes are reserved for sports. Sneakers are not usually worn by adults but if you pack yours, keep them for daytime only. Neat jeans are acceptable everywhere except at higher-end restaurants; check to see whether there’s a dress code.

I violated all of this, and wouldn’t have had it any other way.

That utilitarian-chic fashionista scene, 24 hours a day – wow. The women in particular looked like they were wearing uniforms. The black coats with the furry (unused) hoods and the low-heeled black boots over black or red leggings. Gotta be looking good in those cafés and fromageries.

I went everywhere in my fleece, jeans, and pink-and-gray New Balance running shoes. In spite of all the café crèmes, croissants, white bread, Bordeaux, and madeleines, with approximately 8 hours a day of walking and stair-climbing it didn’t take long for those jeans to become almost one size too big on me – and this didn’t go unnoticed. Every time I sat down in a Metro station and crossed my legs, the people sitting in my row of plastic chairs all turned to curiously and critically study my sneakered feet, as if they were an audacious new exhibit at one of their contemporary art museums.

I don’t get dolled up just to roam around, on vacation or otherwise. My comfort is important to me, as is my ability to sprint away from would-be pickpockets – a situation I found myself in on the last full day of the trip. There’s no way I would have been able to make that quick of a getaway had I been wearing my pretty black boots.

So many somber, self-contained personalities – lighten up! Smile! Everything’s gonna be OK. The happiest-looking people were the smattering of others who were dressed for a rousing afternoon at the batting cages.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Upward Mobility

On Saturday morning, I interviewed a teenager who lives in what sounds like a chaotic household. A couple of the nighttime e-mails I’ve gotten from her have been sent at or after 1:30 a.m. At the end of our hour together, we hugged instead of shaking hands.

She mentioned, more than once, that she wishes she had a parent who pushed her and set an example of how to be worldly and upwardly mobile. I’ve never heard a kid say that, mid-upbringing. That’s more typically a post-upbringing reflection of someone who’s shocked everyone by having officially “made it” or someone who’s bitter about not having made it. In any event, this girl is hell-bent on upwardly mobilizing herself, and it’s clear that the teachers she’s had are the ones who have served as her proxy life coaches. A scenario that happens all the time, yet never enough.

Like most Libras, I’ve always been indecisive. When I was trying to figure out what career to take up, I thought about veterinary medicine, museum curating, clinical psychology, journalism, law, K-12 schoolteaching. Aside from the “another lawyer?” jokes offered up by the kinds of middle-aged men who are always worrying about being sued, the only prospective path that was ever openly scoffed at was the schoolteaching. It wasn’t considered a fitting ambition for the go-getters.

I watched the Grammys last night, a week after watching the Super Bowl. Extravaganzas like these usually get me thinking about misallocations. Misallocations of resources, misallocations of priorities. When I turned on my computer this morning, one of the first things I read was a poll question about Bruce Springsteen’s opening act. Here’s a poll question I’d be interested in putting out there: When they first demonstrated the drive and talent to earn their livings as entertainers and athletes, how many of this month’s Grammy winners and Giants players got laughed at?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Too Big to Fail

Lately, I’ve been hearing too much talk about failed or fading friendships. How best to break up with friends who you’ve outgrown; the logic of backing off vs. cutting off; how to handle a deep-seated personality or values conflict that becomes more apparent over time. Last weekend’s New York Times ran an entire article about the pandemic.

There’s never this degree of detailed dialogue about the flourishing friendships. By the time most people get to be my age, they realize who their real, til-death-do-you-part friends are. The ones who you don’t have to overly censor your words around, and who always remember your birthday, and who do whatever it takes to be present for your milestones, and who you know you can call when you’re in the throes of a good-old-fashioned, middle-of-the-night emotional breakdown.

I’m still flying high from a phone call I had with one of my flourishers earlier this week. Whenever I talk to him it’s like a little gift, even when I don’t agree with anything he’s saying. He’s one of those figures who’s so dynamically fascinating that almost everyone you meet afterwards feels like a letdown. The New York Times should run an article about him. He’s one of only four people I’ve ever known who’s consistently able to make me fall out of my chair laughing, in tears (to the point where I can’t see straight), back-of-mind hoping that I don’t hyperventilate to death, while understanding that, if I do, this would be the finest way to go.

When I texted him on his birthday a few days ago, I wrote: “I’ll call you back in about 10 minutes.” He wrote: “I got punched in the face this a.m.” That was just the beginning of another beautiful catch-up.