Monday, September 12, 2011

Marshalls Wants Dumb Customers

If you've ever been dragged into one, it's obvious why.

The items at Marshalls worth buying are not anywhere near as discounted as you'll find at their competitors', and even those are next to impossible to find under all the crap the average person would be embarrassed to give away at a garage sale. So, again, why it is that Marshalls encourages stupidity among its consumers is very clear.

That still doesn't mean they should get away with it.

What am I rambling on about?

Well, I was yelling at my TV last night (which as Murat can attest is not that unusual, especially during political talk shows or presidential debates), but this time it was at a remarkably insulting commercial for Marshalls, the aforementioned crappy discount department store.

In the commercial, three women are in an art gallery, looking at dubious concoctions on the walls and questioning their meaning, when the Marshalls spokeswoman whisks them out of there and into an environment that one supposes is meant to represent the shopping experience you'll find at an actual Marshalls (only they left out the piles and piles of useless junk crammed high in aisles you can barely fit through and the poorly trained and grumpy staff).

One of the three women picks up a purse in this fantasy version of the store and says, "This is art." The Marshall's spokeswoman agrees, noting "Yeah, who needs 'real' art. Such a snooze."

I won't repeat here what I reflexively yelled at my telly, but it included several &%$#-ish characters.

Korky Vann, who pens Savvy Shopper, a blog on bargain hunting, shared my opposition to the ad, only she phrased her response with a fair bit more decorum:
There are two issues such marketing efforts raise for me: first is the anti-intellectualism it encourages. Already running rampant in the US, this aversion to education is creating a cultural atmosphere in which people actually believe if something is difficult to understand it must automatically be bad for them or OK to ignore (things like banking regulations aimed at preventing another financial meltdown). The second issue, of course, is the misogyny this commercial and the JC Penney t-shirt campaign represent. What marketing genius, in the age of Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Angela Merkel, Dilma Rouseff, Indra Nooyi, Irene Rosenfeld, Christine Lagarde, etc. etc. etc, still thinks women would tolerate being talked down to in this way?

In the meanwhile, I would encourage women who don't find art boring, but still love bargain shopping, to consider shopping instead at SYMS, whose tag line is "An Educated Consumer is Our Best Customer."

Labels: anti-itellectualism, art viewing, commercialism, politics


Blogger Cathy said...

Really appreciate this Ed. Have you heard the Walmart add that suggests having a certain cell phone plan is smarter than pursuing a degree in glassblowing?

9/12/2011 02:52:00 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Ad, not add. Guess I need to go to Marshall's now.

9/12/2011 05:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dead on!!!

9/12/2011 11:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn I shop at Marshalls all the time. It has been a lifesaver having kids. Our Marshalls is actually spacious and has some fun stuff:a great shoe section with Clarks, Michael Kors, some wonderful bags (some with Warhol cows), However that is a totally repulsive ad and now I have a dilemma. Wish the tag had been "actually most our shoppers read Edward Winkleman who may or may not agree the purse is art"

9/12/2011 11:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Let's say, hypothetically, that you're not losing any sleep worrying that your gallery is going to challenge bourgeois conceptions of fine art beyond some bougeouis viewer's ability to stand it. What's wrong with the bougeois world returning the favor, and setting up a situation in which the sophisticated people get to feel bad? After all, in the gallery, they're on your territory. On television, you're on theirs.

Besides which: Piles of useless junk? Poorly trained, grumpy staff? Who among us can say that we've never encountered such things at art galleries? The disturbing indicator here is not the anti-intellectualism (which is a permanent feature of American life) or the mysogyny (there are more obvious examples) but the possibility that so many people have had tiresome experiences at art galleries, or imagine that they would have a tiresome experience if they ever went to one, that Marshalls' advertising department thought that it would be a good idea to base a television ad on the premise. I hate stupid people too, but I think this is an occasion for reflection on whether one is disproving that premise or contributing to it.

9/13/2011 08:15:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Couple of quibbles with your drawn parallel's Franklin.

The audience for art galleries chooses which galleries to enter. There are guides they can (and most do) consult as to what they'll see (i.e., which galleries to enter this month, which ones to walk past), there is generally wall text that announces what show is up at the moment, and there is no cost, so if you don't like what you find, you're not only free to leave, but there is a comments book for you to easily share your dislike in writing.

The TV audience on the other hand has no control over which ads they're subjected to other than to identify them in advance and /or change the channel away from the program they're watching. The cost is arguably one of an invasion of unwelcome ideas into your home (making it not entirely their territory, I would argue).

I have never loved Marshalls other commercials, but I was truthfully shocked at the anti-art message of this latest one. It seemed to come out of left field.

Moreover, the audience for TV is so much larger than the gallery audience, any parallel suffers greatly from the incomparable impact.

As for "What's wrong with the bougeois world returning the favor, and setting up a situation in which the sophisticated people get to feel bad?" ... that idea seems so tortuously forced, I'd rather ask you to elaborate than attempt to parse it. The women in the commercial weren't forced to go in the gallery, one must presume. They were challenging the art just fine on their own before the Marshall's spokewoman arrived. None of this suggests they were at some cultural disadvantage, as you're implying. The art viewing experience needn't result in appreciation to be valuable. Disliking, indeed hating, what you view can be equally rewarding from an intellectual and even esthetic point of view. If those women had left the gallery and continued to critique the work, it would have been a very worthwhile visit in my opinion.

The problem I have with the commercial is it suggests one shouldn't even bother.

9/13/2011 09:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

The last time I looked at a television, I noticed a button that turns it off. I don't buy the idea that helpless viewers have no control over the ads they're subjected to. The whole wretched excercise is optional. And yes, it is entirely their territory. You ceding your own to them just gives them more. Though I understand why this incident moved you to discuss it, watching television and encountering lowbrow ignorance is like going swimming and encountering water.

My parallel is forced? Anyone who thinks that real art is a snooze would never find themselves in a gallery in the first place. Those women were not "challenging the art just fine on their own," they were waiting around in a ridiculous dramatic premise, engaged in a moronic conflict, so that the Marshalls person could show up and resolve it. We're still left with the remarkable fact that so many people have had tiresome experiences at art galleries, or think they would, that Marshalls saw fit to advertise themselves like so. Which tells us that this comes out of left field for you, but is comprehensible to vast numbers of potential Marshalls shoppers.

Last week, as you aptly put it, "There's been a meme in the art world for a while now that if fine art doesn't find a way to reach beyond the small and insular clique of heady curators and handful of collectors who support it, that it very likely stands the chance of going the way of jazz music." I think this commercial is evidence thereof, except that people don't generally deride jazz. Art could be in for something a little worse.

9/13/2011 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

OK...this exchange is off to an unproductive start. Let's back up.

Walking into a gallery (the content of which is clearly advertised in places you can check in advance) cannot be considered all that parallel to watching a program (the content you of which is also clearly advertised in advance) AND each of the commercials that interrupt that program (none of which are announced in advance and over which a viewer has no filter options other than to not watch any commercials and/or miss part of the programs...with normal TV, which is what I have).

In other words, the Off button option is a bit of a red herring in this debate. It would be like suggesting that you de facto agree to being accosted by a vendor servicing some equipment in a gallery just because you wanted to see the art therein. Such vendors are in and out of galleries all day; the likelihood of your paths crossing is high. If one insulted you in passing, would you accept that as your choice?

Just because I agree to permit the commercials into my home (because I want to watch the program) in no way obligates me to accept the content of said commercials as something I chose.

watching television and encountering lowbrow ignorance is like going swimming and encountering water.

You might have announced your disdain for the medium in general as context for your comments up front. It changes greatly how I perceive your response to the post.

I didn't say your parallels were forced, I said this idea was: "What's wrong with the bougeois world returning the favor, and setting up a situation in which the sophisticated people get to feel bad?". I had addressed your parallels (between visiting a gallery and watching TV) separately.

That statement suggests the women were not part of the "sophisticated people," but a you also noted, "Anyone who thinks that real art is a snooze would never find themselves in a gallery in the first place." so the narrative works off the effort to convince people that would otherwise choose to be part of the "sophisticated" world that the effort isn't worth it. That shopping is easier, so just do that instead.

I'm kind of surprised it's taking me so long to explain that precise objection to the commercial.

Which tells us that this comes out of left field for you, but is comprehensible to vast numbers of potential Marshalls shoppers.

Korky Vann, self-identified enthusiast for all things discount shopping related, thought the same thing. So I don't think it's just me.

9/13/2011 11:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

The parallel I drew was not between the gallery-going and television-watching experiences. It was between the attitude that it's okay to annoy a few simpletons in the process of enticing a target audience of sophisticates, and the attitude that it's okay to annoy a few sophisticates in the process of enticing a target audience of simpletons.

I'm not singling you out here. There's a whole division of art worlders that revels in the disdain of typical conceptions of, well, pretty much anything, but usually a few particular things at a time. For them, that disdain is a predondition of advanced practice. Plagens beautifully called out a gallery exhibition last year: "It's another one of those didactic anthology shows purporting to bring some issue that artists think regular folk have either thought about incorrectly, or have repressed entirely, out into the open and, in the patois of today's art world, 'address,' 'confront,' 'deconstruct,' 'unpack,' and 'interrogate' the hell out of it."

Those gallery people have it all wrong - the good stuff is at Marshalls, sayeth Marshalls. I don't think much of the suggestion, but turnabout is fair play.

9/13/2011 12:49:00 PM  
Blogger findingfabulous said...

Coming from someone who is an actual member of the bourgeoisie, You both have points that I think are valid. I don't think Marshalls is trying to knock art as much as they are trying to knock pretention, of which there is plenty in the art world. This is a tilt at those who look down on the mass produced and the buyers of mass produced as having no value. It also reeks of a very self satisfied copy writer who can't see beyond a "clever idea". On the other had I could not agree more that if we do not start supporting thinking in general, we are doomed.

9/13/2011 03:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

f off marshalls. too bad they didn't realize that many people who love art need to/want to save money

10/03/2011 08:02:00 PM  

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