Life style construction: a training ground for marketers

OriginalchaplogoRussell Davies has kindly asked me to act as a visiting professor at the Account Planning School of the Web.  I am honored.

Now I must think of an assignment.  Here’s one.  It’s called "Building a lifestyle."  By "lifestyle" I mean the characteristic choices from media and material culture that a group of consumers uses to define itself and the world.  I cast the net wide to include: the Rat Pack, Preps (in the 1980s), Sloan Street Rangers, Geeks, Chaps (see the website www.thechap.net), Mods, Rockers, Skinheads, Hippies, the New Georgians, and so on.  You get the idea.  (See the bibliography below for supporting documents and other suggestions.) 

The Rat pack life style includes characteristic choices in how to conduct oneself in public (fist fights OK), a style of language (lots of beatnik talk), highly characteristic dress (styling suits with thin labels and ties), a defining way of thinking about and treating women, a very particular view of maleness, a very particular view of the world (self advertising mixed with deep solidarity, splashy, public, brawling) and so on.  (How particular was this lifestyle versus other lifestyles of the postwar period?  Try to imagine Cary Grant as a Rat Pack member, or any of the Rat pack guys as Cary Grant.)

I want APSW students to design a lifestyle from the ground up, specifying favorite music, films, novels, style of dress, home furnishing, style of speech and so on.  Make it cohere in some ways.  Make it inconsisent in other.  Build in some contradictions.  It is the latter two, as much as the first, that make a lifestyle live. 

I am tempted to impose this constraint: For American students, the demographic segments lives in the American sunbelt.  For British students, they live in the Home counties.  In both cases, these consumers are middle class, retired and over the age of 55.  Nota benne: this age group is still often stereotyped as unimaginative and culturally conservative.  The rest of us know better.  There are NO constraints here.  Take for granted that this segment is as creative and reckless as any other. 

Education Objectives

1. Great account planners, in my experience, are informed about their cultures.  They know life styles.  My hope is that building life styles will make students sensitive to the issue of lifestyle and more appreciative of naturally occurring choices.

2. Many of the great brands came up by drawing inspiration and loyalty from a new lifestyle (Jeep, Scotch, natural food, and so on).  And some brands have actually created a new lifestyle (Starbuck’s Third space, Nike’s athletics for everyone).  This is the original "blue ocean" strategy.  Build a lifestyle and some part of consumer loyalty, taste and preference belongs to the corporation.  (This way lies glory and ever lasting fame for the account planner.)  This is something more than an exercise.

This may or may not be the final form of the assignment.  I will look to Russell for his advice.   

Reading suggestions

Allsop, Kenneth. 1964. The Angry Decade: a survey of the cultural revolt of the nineteen-fifties. London: Peter Owen Limited.

Artley, Alexandra, and John Martin Robinson. 1985. The New Georgian Handbook. London: Ebury Press.

Asimov, Eric. 1996. The New Bad-Boy Sound: Space Age Pop. The New York Times January 6, 1996: E2.

Barr, Ann, and Peter York. 1982. The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook: The first guide to what really matters in life. London: Ebury.

Belk, Russell W. 1986a. Yuppies as Arbiters of the Emerging Consumption Style.  514-19. Advances in Consumer Research, ed. Richard J Lutz. Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research.

Birnbach, Lisa, ed. 1980. The Official Preppy Handbook.  New York: Workman Publishing.

Brooks, David. 2000. Bobos in paradise: The new upper class and how they got there. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Cohen, Leonard. 1966. Beautiful losers. New York: Viking Press.

Dyer, Richard. 1994. Fashioning Change: Gay men’s style.  Stonewall 25: The making of the Lesbian and Gay community in Britain. editors Emma Healy, and Angela Mason, 178-88. London: Virago Press.

Finestone, Harold. 1960. Cats, Kicks and Color. in Identity and Anxiety: Survival of the person in mass society. editors Maurice R. Stein, Arthur J. Vidich, and David Manning White, 435-48. Glencoe?: The Free Press.

Fitzgerald, Frances. 1987. The Castro. in Cities on a Hill: A journey through contemporary American cultures. Frances Fitzgerald, 25-119. New York: Touchstone, Simon and Schuster.

Heerdegen, Juergen, and Andrew Dickson. Straight-edge.com.

Katz, Jon. 2000. Geeks how two lost boys rode the Internet out of Idaho. 1st ed ed. New York: Villard Books.

Kluver, Billy. 1997. A Day with Picasso: Twenty-four Photographs by Jean Cocteau. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Swingers. 1996. Doug Liman.

Lippert, Barbara. 1995. Our Martha, Ourselves. New York Magazine May 15, 1995: 26-32, 35.

Twist. 1992. Ron Mann.

Sager, Mike. 1995. Generation H. GQ 65, no. 9: 276-83, 303, 306.

Watson, Steven. 1995. The Birth of the Beat Generation: Visionaries, rebels and hipsters, 1944-1960. New York: Pantheon Books.

Wolfe, Tom. 1970. Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

8 thoughts on “Life style construction: a training ground for marketers

  1. Anonymous

    Hey, Teach!

    Either you wrote too quickly or I’m not getting what you’re asking.

    Don’t different lifestyles arise organically? asking us to create one out of whole cloth has a science fiction-y feel. You know — where anything’s possible as long as it’s internally consistent?

    As future Big Swinging Dicks in the advertising biz, shouldn’t our assignment be to understand existing lifestyles?

    David Brooks, of course, has already done the heavy lifting to identify lifestyles that are of greatest interest to brands that are of greatest interest to people who work in the advertising biz.

  2. dilys

    I think Grant is suggesting, whether it’s invented or intuited, profiling an alien lifestyle that is heavy with bored stereotype in a way that is a bit counter-intuitive for the student. E.g., I am a sunbelt resident, over 55, in some ways typical of my demographic, in some ways a-typical. However a-typical, though, there are some drinks I wouldn’t mix, some current music I like or hate, some cars I’d drive or wouldn’t, some vacations I’d sign up for or emphatically not, some questions I’d find worth talking about, some not. The trick would be to get the bones, the likely practical skeleton (over 55 probably couldn’t climb Mt. Everest); then to figure out what part of the stereotype to question. Find out what you assume that ain’t so.

    One key would be to intuit and research some core values of your target, in sunbelt 55+’s such as Creativity. Integrity. Excellence. Connectedness&Generosity. And so on. David Wolfe has a blog called “Ageless Marketing,” the content of which I mostly disagree with, but which beats the drum for “they/we’re not what you automatically think.” The marketer who finds and acknowledges the open secret about a demographic is the one that wins them over.

    And now I’ll just totter off for a cuppa and a snooze.

    Not.

    BTW, Grant, thanks for the book list.

  3. Grant

    Dear Anonymous, of course, they do. But learning to invent them should help make account planners more attentive to the ones that emerge organically. (The way drawing trees sharpens the eye of the naturalist.) Then again, if you believe them, two people running a clothing store in London invented Punk. So it’s not always organic. Thanks, Grant

    ME-L, very, very good reading suggestions. One of my favorites. Thanks. Grant

    Dilys, well said, people have been slow to get past the stereotypes, and the realities are still being reinvented. Thanks! Grant

  4. Adam Richardson

    Hi Grant-

    I feel a little silly/presumptous posting this, since Culture and Consumption was a seminal book in my undergrad industrial design work. But here goes (and you likely know these already…)

    “Subculture: The Meaning of Style” by Dick Hebdige. Haven’t read this in ages so don’t know for sure how spot on it will be, but think it will be relevant

    “The Practice of Everyday Life” Michel de Certeau. A more philosophical take, but there’s interesting stuff in there on how people consciously go about constructing an identity of otherness

    “No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies” Naomi Klein

    “The Cult of Mac” Leander Kahney. Haven’t read this, but have heard amusing things about it, could be on target

    There’s a book I read years ago by Kenneth somebody or other, one of the British anthropologits of the 1960s who was a pioneer in material culture studies, but I can’t recall the exact title. I’m in Germany right now, so don’t have access to my bookshelf. I’ll try to remember to look for it, and I’m sure there are others I can’t think of right now. Perhaps I should get Delicious Monster to help out with these things…

  5. Auto

    But drawing trees as an exercise will never be as arbitrary as trying to invent a lifestyle.

    Although the punk example is interesting. Are you talking about Malcolm McLaren? I’d love to see how much of punk emerged from his efforts and how much simply followed as the outgrowth of dressing that way.

    You’re familiar, aren’t you, with claims that Punk was first and last a reaction against disco? Thus we have a lifestyle for people who are emotionally damaged and socially maladjusted, who can’t dress, who can’t dance and who lack the social skills required to lure another person into bed. (Hence Punk’s supposed disdain for sex.)

    Yeah, I suppose you could use the above points to work out in detail the Punk lifestyle. But it’ll always seem arbitrary.

    No point, however, in belaboring it.

    Some good reading upthread. Thanks.

  6. josh

    Grant,
    Yeah!! Thanks for serving as the visiting prof to the APSotW for Russell — just saw it on his blog. Great stuff you guys are up to. I’m looking forward to sending stuff your way.
    -j

  7. andrew

    The thing about lifestyles is that when you start looking for them you see them everywhere.

    Thanks for the booklist, several of which look intriguing.

    One question I must ask: who are “New Georgians”? A Google search just points to Tblisi. On a lifestyle basis I see them living in mock-classical Quinlan Terry houses in Surrey, reading poetry by Wilfrid Owen and Robert Frost, and revering the life and morals of the late King George V.

    Or perhaps they are habitues of the New Georgian nightclub in London?

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