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.