The Product Is You

Posted by Rob Walker on June 15, 2007
Posted Under: Advertising,Consumer Behavior,Entertainment,The Product Is You

What’s your take on this person? Credit cards burst from her pockets. She carries two bags full of stuff, and uses two gizmos at once. Her smile is unconvincing, her gaze glassy and unfocused. She looks dazed, rather zombie-ish. Who is she?

If you’re fan of Bravo, she is you. Or at least, she is the representation of you that Bravo uses to round up advertising.

I will explain what I mean by that in this first installment of yet another new Murketing feature, an occasional series called “The Product Is You.”

Trade journals for the advertising and marketing business are themselves full of ads. Of course the ads there are different from the ones you see in regular magazines, because these are not aimed at consumers. They are aimed at advertisers.

That is to say: Networks and magazines and other entities whose business model depends on advertising take out ads in the ad trades, to attract advertisers. Got it? So what they tout in these ads-to-attract-advertising, is their audience.

What they are packaging and selling is, in other words, you, the consumer of media, potential target of advertising. If a media entity attracts consumers that advertisers want to address, then it can sell more advertising time, or space.

This Bravo ad, which took up two full pages of an advertising trade, is an example of a particular style of audience-packaging that I’ve always found fascinating. It’s an example that I think is worth lingering over for a moment.

Bravo’s pitch is that its viewers are “affluencers.” These desirable creatures are “now available” to advertisers who buy time on Bravo. As you can see, these sample affluencers are depicted here in fully packaged form. They are right there, sealed up, ready to be bought, and sold to.

And why would an advertiser want to buy them?

Because they are “the best at word of mouth” (influential) and “the most upscale viewers in cable” (affluent).

Also attractive to anybody trying to sell things: their “Kung-fu credit card grip!” and the fact that they now come “with 85% extra disposable income!”

To summarize: they have money, they spend money, they tell their friends to spend money. Presumably, potential advertisers don’t want to waste time chasing skeptical, prudent, tight-fisted, or simply poor consumers, and it would seem that the affluencers have none of these defects.

On the ad’s second page, the female affluencer is removed from her box, and her salient features are explained.

As you can see at a glance, she is a walking consumption machine. She buys stuff. She likes stuff. She wants more stuff.

But wait, there’s more:

She uses her credit cards a lot, she’s obsessed with trends, and indeed has “a black belt in shopping.”

Of course, it’s all meant to be sort of humorous, tongue in cheek. But still: Is this how you see yourself? Even in a winking, jokey way?

I’m going to guess not. I’m going to guess that you don’t see yourself as a hilariously vacant-eyed bundle of consumer behaviors and objects, throwing money at trends, obediently maxing out your credit cards, and hectoring your friends to get a pink cell phone. Indeed, advertising trade publications are full of quotes from media and ad executives saying that, yes, today’s consumer is savvy, sophisticated, hard to sell to, and really must be viewed, considered, and treated with respect.

But ads like this one tell a somewhat different story about how those media executives think about consumers. Most consumers never get the chance to glimpse that alternative vision. And thus I have shared this little feature with you today.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

Thank you for mentioning this- every time I see one of these as I descend the subway, I assume it’s part of some guerilla art movement. But no such luck…

Written By Phil on June 15th, 2007 @ 2:34 pm

just found this site today–but I love your column. this is perhaps the scariest article I have ever read. I don’t see how you buy anything. Ads to get ads? Do all cable companies perceive their viewers this way, in some form or fashion? What channel has “authenticity” on it–of course if they advertise that, then they lose it.

Written By josh on June 15th, 2007 @ 6:55 pm

it’s a joke. what’s so “scary” about a cable channel sending a message to potential advertisers that their average viewer is wealthier and more influential than those of other channels. i think they did it in a hunorous way

Written By lsm on June 16th, 2007 @ 12:34 am

Thanks Phil and Josh for the feedback. And thanks to you as well, Ism, though I thought I’d addressed the “it’s just a joke” critique pretty directly in the piece itself.

Written By murketing on June 18th, 2007 @ 7:45 am
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