Forget The Ads, Magazines Try To Sell You Stuff In The Content

Over at Dethroner, Joel is going off on some of the content of Details magazine. Here’s the offending quote in question from this Details article:

Clinging to tradition is your prerogative. Go ahead and refuse to trade in your “perfectly good” 2001 Lexus; shampoo with Pert Plus even though something in a better-looking bottle might make your hair look shinier; order the lone chicken dish on the menu at a sushi restaurant. But there’s a point at which a resistance to modernization stops being charming—especially when it leads you to do something that’s profoundly detrimental to your appearance, such as cramming a wallet in the back pocket of your pants.

… and Joel had this to say, among other things:

Not content to attack back pocket wallet wearing by itself, Details has to grinds its stiletto heels into its readers to get its frivolous point across. You drive a seven-year-old Lexus and wash your hair with cheap shampoo? Barbarous wretch, unsuited for copulation! How do you roll off the chaise lounge every afternoon?

Joel takes the approach that the magazine’s content is damaging to male self-image, and I agree with that, but I actually think the problem runs much deeper.

In theory, Details (and other magazines like it) sell image. The articles are all about how to create a persona for yourself that is attractive to others, particularly the opposite sex. That’s fine, as there’s definitely a place for such material in life – I advocate that even highly frugal people pay attention to appearance and master social skills.

However, this is a perfect example of where selling image crosses the line into blatant consumerism. Insulting the reader for driving a “perfectly good” 2001 Lexus? Insulting the reader for using Pert Plus instead of an expensive shampoo that may or may not make your hair shinier?

That’s not about selling image, that’s about selling products. There is no consumer product in the world that will actually change who you are, no matter how expensive. It might change the appearance of who you are, but in the end it is you, not the car or the hair, that makes all the difference.

If you read that paragraph in Details and felt guilty, don’t. It’s attempting to sell you something and using your own emotions against you. Even worse, this material appears in the portion of the magazine that is supposedly content, not advertising. I would expect that marketers would use emotional hooks to convince me to buy a product, but when I read this, the truth is clear: when you buy “image” magazines that publish drivel like this, you’re paying money for an advertisement, nothing more, nothing less.

If you want to project a good image, keep clean, dress well, and know how to communicate. If you’ve got those three covered, you’re ahead of a great majority of the human race. You don’t need to drive an expensive car or use $100 shampoo to make a great impression.

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  1. Nishant says:

    I have to admit that I get the magazine in question, but only because I had to use some miles that were about to expire. I drive a 2000 car with almost 100,000 miles on it, and am nowhere close to letting it go. I agree that most of those magazines are pretty much advertisements from cover to cover. I leaf through them and once in a while, find some cool new gadget that I hadn’t heard about, and then leave them on my airport seat, for someone else to do the same.

  2. icup says:

    Who keeps their wallet in their back pocket anyway? I would be too worried about losing it. It can’t possibly fall out of or be picked from your front pocket.

  3. hejustlaughs says:

    ^^
    I keep my wallet in my back pocket, it’s a habit and in most of my pants it fits snugly.

    It bulges a bit because of the tons of credit cards I have in there, but hey, it represents my financial savvy in trying to get the highest cashback % in every category.

  4. icup says:

    How do you sit? Isn’t it uncomfortable?

  5. Amy says:

    Uhm, what exactly is the problem with this paragraph? It seems to me to parse as “It’s one thing to resist the pressure to spend more money, it’s another to carry your wallet in your back pocket.”

    And if you want to argue that the tone is condescending, it’s also ironic in equal measure. “Something in a better-looking bottle might make your hair look shinier”? Does that really strike you as an uncomplicated endorsement of consumer culture?

    Yes it’s shallow and stuff-oriented. But if you don’t want to encounter shallow and stuff-oriented prose, why are you reading a magazine called Details in the first place? It’s selling a fantasy of yourself surrounded by cooler, newer, nicer stuff than the stuff you now own. Will that make you happier? Probably not. But it’s fun to imagine, and I prefer to presume that, like myself, the vast majority of readers of the magazine are capable of distinguishing fantasy from reality.

    (Though, given the number of people here and in the dethroner thread who seem to have missed the irony, maybe I’m being optimistic. I do wonder, though, how many of the outraged commenters understand the irony themselves, but assume that others will miss it, in which case see above.)

    And wallet in the back pocket? No good. It makes your rear look lumpy, and lumpy rear ends are not sexually attractive.

  6. sean says:

    So..where does everyone keep their wallet? Front pocket? Man-purse? Shoe? I’ve always used my back pocket!

  7. Brett McKay says:

    I totally agree. Men’s Health is another culprit of this. But I guess you should expect it, the whole point of the magazine is to get people to buy into the Men’s Health Image. However, I don’t think I’ll ever have a problem being persuaded by an article. When Men’s Health doe articles on fashion they suggest that your purchase $750 beach outfits. The day I spend $200 on a pair of linen chinos is the day I should be punched in the face.

  8. brian says:

    Since when is Details a magazine about attracting the opposite sex?

  9. Mike says:

    I suppose Amy would recommend putting your wallet in your crotch. That would certainly make you more sexually attractive.

  10. Amy says:

    Actually, I’d recommend something a bit more realistic should you feel the need to augment in that department. I think a sock is traditional. Plus, you’d look awfully creepy pulling it out…

  11. rhbee says:

    If you really want to think about this post and all of its ramifications, I highly recommend you take a look at a magazine called Adbusters. It reminds me of FM radio before the advertisers found it. Or internet radio right now before the FCC gets its grubby big hands around it.

  12. icup says:

    I keep mine in my front pocket. I don’t wear baggy pants (nor are they too tight) so keeping it in the back pocket would be uncomfortable when sitting, and horribly insecure both from pick-pockets and just normal fallout. There is no way my wallet could ever fall out of my front pocket. And I hope if anybody every tries to pick my pocket up front, I would notice them basically trying to stick their hands down my pants.

    I’m actually a little surprised Details would advocate carrying a wallet at all. Everyone knows that real playahs use a money clip. With one Benjamin on the outside and the rest in Hamiltons , Lincolns and Washingtons on the inside of course.

  13. MoreCents says:

    Great article, Trent! I worked for a catalog company for several years and the marketing department was quite aggressive in sending products to magazines. Getting their name and number listed in the back of the magazine was free advertising.

    Something to consider next time there is an article listing “top picks” or “favorite things”. Remember all of those companies sent their products to the editors hoping they would feature them. I’ve never looked at a magazine the same way again.

  14. Kat says:

    Actually, keeping your wallet in your back pocket ruins your back due to the mis-alignment that occurs from sitting at an angle.

    I personally do not find this bit from the magazine to be offensive. It wasn’t encouraging me to run out and trade in my 02 car or anything else.

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