Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

No Black Friday at REI

That it's cynical to say it doesn't mean it's not true--"life is marketing." Look at Trump. He didn't get where he is on ideology or compassion or breadth of vision. He doesn't have the world's best hair. He's a salesman who rather consistently makes Jeb Bush look like a tree stump. Sometimes you just can't help thinking that life is just all about marketing.

I don't remember where I read it, but some business grad somewhere determined that marketing has gone through three clearly identifiable phrases. First, the era when retailers simply sold items they had and you wanted. 

This old Irish newspaper advertisement might well sell a little nationalism, "Made in Dublin," but basically what's for sale here is a bicycle, "the easiest running cycle ever ridden." What's for sale is the product, the thing. That's chapter 1 supposedly.

Along came Don Draper--well, Don Drapers were all creating copy all over Madison Avenue long before the late 50s because what ad men learned to pitch in this second era wasn't so much a bicycle as that precious "something other" that only a bicycle could afford. "See the U. S. A. in your Chevorolet" doesn't focus on the durability of the carburetors or the plush upholstery in the back seat. What marketers sold was a Chevy that would make your world a moveable feast. With that car, you're always on vacation. 

I'm sure my dad didn't buy a BB gun because he saw an ad. His kid probably hounded him until he went to Daane Hardware and bought one. My dad wasn't a hunter, never picked up a gun in his life as far as I know, not even during the war. What he needed was the assurance that buying an air rifle for little boy was a good thing, a safe thing. 

So Daisy, who still makes BB guns, tried to sell him peace of mind--the family that shoots sputzies together, stays together. That kind of thing.

The ad says nothing about operation or function, nothing about parts that won't wear out. An ad like this--and they're still all around us--doesn't claim to sell a BB gun; what it sells is a happy family. 

The third phrase--I honestly don't remember where I read this--begins with the product's disappearance altogether so that advertising isn't really about product at all. That's right. The seller isn't selling the product because the product isn't important. What the seller sells is ideology, a way of life.

REI, an outdoor gear retailer who operates as a coop, announced this week that they were simply not opening for business on Black Friday. That's a man-bites-dog story. Just about 90 million Americans shop, a lot, on the day after Thanksgiving, the Christmas season-opener. If you want a hoodie from REI--on-line or from one of their 189 shops--you'll just have to wait because REI is staying home and asking you to do the same.

They're selling everything but product. In a way, of course, it's fitting for a outdoors-y retailer to tell its customers stay out of malls and go snowshoeing. Makes sense. Go on and take a holiday. Gear up for it before you go, of course, but stay the heck away from Walmart. Go snag a walleye. Take a hike. 

To say that what REI is doing is unconventional is gross understatement. They're betting the business on the ploy because retailers nation-wide stay out of the red only because America goes shopping-crazy on what's become a holiday. 

We're a culture of Jabba the Hutts. We live and die on consumption. Nowhere else in the world are storage units a multi-billion dollar business and growing. Just up the road, a local non-profit collects people's donated "stuff" in a couple of trucks that are wide open 24/7 and always full. 

Listen, you don't have to be cynical to recognize that not opening on Black Friday is just another sales pitch. But for REI it is a real gamble. And I like it. 

So I'll buy from REI. Don't know that I need anything exactly, but I'll head over to their website, maybe not this morning, but sometime before Thanksgiving. I will. 


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