Marketing equity, pocketing profits

A few weeks ago, I was browsing in a General Nutrition Center and came across some containers of collagen.  If you aren’t familiar with this stuff, you should be, as it is a protein that literally holds the body together and is present in bones, muscles, skin, and tendons.

I noticed that “Men’s Collagen” was located, appropriately enough, in the men’s health section.  Well, knowing that collagen was essential for men and women alike, I wondered why this product was aimed at men.  Eventually, I came across an identical container of collagen but the label was aimed at neither men nor women.  Just “Collagen.”  I compared the content and the dosage with the men’s collagen.  No difference whatsoever, aside from the label.  Why would the manufacturer do this?

I know it’s a cliché, but it’s still true: Follow the money.

If you think collagen is necessary to maintain your masculinity (as opposed to just keeping you alive), then you will be more likely to buy it.  They’re not lying to you.  Collagen is indeed essential for men.  It’s just as essential for women but if they said that, they wouldn’t get your attention.  Men will buy a product if they think it will enhance their masculinity; ditto women re femininity, though they may not admit it openly these days.  This is a more powerful motivator than a product that merely enhances human health.

Girly products (shoes, clothing, cosmetics, perfume) are still sold via this method, but today the Strong, Independent Woman (when are they going to get around to copyrighting this phrase?) represents an emerging market.  Hence the increase in “you go, girl” advertising and promotions.  If you want to sell to a Strong, Independent Woman®  (the copyright just came through!), you have to differentiate them from more traditional women.  According to the old advertising dictum, don’t tell people what to buy, tell them who they are.

Sometimes it’s obvious, as in the old advertisements for Virginia Slims, the cigarette aimed directly at women back in the 1960s with the slogan, “You’ve come a long way, baby”?  For men, “It’s Miller time!” or “What sort of man reads Playboy?”  The implication is that your identity as a modern man or a woman depends not so much upon what you are and what you do but upon what products you buy.

Well, advertising folk, men and women alike, are paid the big bucks to know how to tap into the deep states of male and female psychology.  Nothing new about that. Advertising pertaining to the great outdoors (pickup trucks, bass boats, fishing and camping gear) has largely been aimed at men.  Is this yet another example of benign sexism?  Mother nature isn’t welcoming her sisters?  Get with the program, Gaia!

In truth, when you think of outdoorsy people, you likely think of a bunch of guys climbing mountains, hiking, fishing, sitting around the campfire, drinking beer, belching, farting, whatever.  After all, men can urinate standing up, hence the expression, “the world is your urinal.”  For women, squatting in the bush requires a little more reconnaissance.  There are a lot of creepy-crawlies out there just waiting to grab them by the pussy.

So how to get women to return to nature?  Imply that outdoor adventures are an integral part of being a Strong, Independent Woman® — just as Recreational Equipment (better known as REI) is doing.

REI got started in 1938 by “a group of 23 mountain climbing buddies,” as the company’s web site puts it.  The company now calls itself REI Co-Op.  I guess that makes it sound less capitalistic and more like a warm and fuzzy collective.  No matter what they call themselves, they act like any other chain of retail stores offering brand name products (Patagonia, North Face, et al) and trying to carve out a bigger share of the market while keeping their doors open, meeting a payroll, and paying the utility bills for their bricks-and-mortar outlets.

REI markets outdoors products and services.  It may sound presumptuous, but they are actually trying to rebrand the great outdoors as “the largest level playing field on earth” with what they call the Force of Nature initiative.

For an intro to this initiative, go to REI.com/forceofnature.  When they introduced this program in 2017, the first image you saw was a yoga pants-clad young woman standing astride a couple of boulders.  Her legs were spread wide open and her hair was splayed out by the wind.  She was photographed from below, a time-tested technique to make a subject appear more powerful than it would at eye level.  Underneath this pseudo-goddess, the caption said, “This is what a force of nature looks like.  In 2017 REI is putting women front and center.”

Four our edification, there was a one-minute video featuring women of all colors, ages, shapes, and sizes doing…well, doing manly things in the great outdoors.  And also doing batshit crazy things in the great outdoors.  But that’s OK because they’re destroying feminine stereotypes…or getting in to touch with their inner Kali…or taking their spirit animal off the leash.

Remember, that great metaphorical chastity belt we call society is at fault!  To make sure we get the message, the video reminds us that society tells women they “should”…

Be Careful
Be Quiet
Be Nice
Smile more
Grow up
Wait your turn
Be Graceful
Be Delicate
Be Polished
Be Pretty
Be Thin
Be Popular
Be Successful
Be Cute

I’m not sure how any of the above prevents women from going outdoors.  In fact, most of those traits have been self-imposed by women and reinforced by advertising aimed at women, most of which is created by women.  But REI isn’t going to blame the patriarchy.  In fact, they won’t even mention it.  After all, they still want men to buy their products.

At the end of the video, a narrator intrudes and solemnly declares, “These are the voices we’ve heard all our lives, but they get harder to hear the further out you go.”  I guess the smart-ass response to that statement is that the farther out you go, the harder it is to find a shoe store.

The video ends with “Stand with us.  Let’s make outside the largest level playing field on earth!”  The only ending more stirring might be a chorus of women singing Monty Python’s Lumberjack song.

For the record, REI’s Force of Nature is a four-pronged initiative:

  1. To change the typical male-dominated imagery of people interacting with the outdoors.
  2. A $1,000,000 commitment in 2017 to support non-profits that create opportunities for women in the outdoors;
  3. A pledge to develop upscale technical gear and apparel for women; and
  4. Holding more than 1,000 woman-oriented events at various store locations throughout the summer.

Unlike, Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shop, Academy Outdoors, and other retailers, REI also offers travel packages.  The REI web site offers a host of women’s-only adventures, for a weekend or longer (some are quite pricey).  This is actually a logical piggyback venture, as the trips they package require appropriate gear, which they will be happy to sell you; or if you buy the gear first, they can offer you trips where you can put it to good use.

In fact, you can even sign up for classes in various outdoor activities.  Among these events are instruction in women’s backpacking basics, women’s bicycle maintenance, women’s fixing of flats, women’s backpacking basics, women’s kayaking basics, or women’s mountain biking basics.

Now you might be scratching your head and wondering how women’s instructions in these matters differ from men’s instructions.  There is a class on women’s rock climbing, and I concede that the presence of breasts might necessitate some different techniques in this pursuit (I’m sure they can sell you a sports bra that’s ideal for this activity).  I also concede that the class on women’s map and compass navigation could be useful.  After all, you can’t stop and ask for directions when you’re alone in the middle of nowhere.

You won’t see any classes for women and hunting, even though women are certainly capable of waiting in a blind, shooting a deer, dressing it, and butchering it.  To be fair, you won’t see any classes on hunting – period.  REI is sometimes accused of being anti-hunter, and while a lot of the gear they sell would be of interest to hunters, they do not sell rifles or crossbows or any other critter-killing devices.  If they ever decide to cater to female hunters, I guess they would summon the spirit of Katniss Everdeen or Diana the Huntress, or the U.S. Women’s Olympic Shooting Team.

I guess we men will never find out just how these women-only classes and trips differ from coed classes and trips unless some guy wants to go undercover as a faux female.  I suspect the classes and trips are almost identical but the women’s programs have more ego-stroking.  Of course, the women-only participants don’t have to contend with that dreadful mansplaining – hence they are provided a safe space.  (Not surprisingly, I don’t see any men’s adventure trips offered.)  Supposedly, this will result in getting more females into the fold than coed classes and trips.

The underlying message is that participating in outdoor adventures is part and parcel of being a Strong, Independent Woman®.  Unless you want to go the Naked and Afraid route, you’re going to need the right equipment, and the more time you spend outside, the more equipment you’re going to need.  And even if you think you’ve got everything you need, you can always trade up.

Well, after introducing the Force of Nature program last year, the results are in.  Now REI has come up with the downloadable Force of Nature: A Collection of Art & Stories Celebrating Fearless Women.  In other words, amateurish artwork, poetry, and travel essays.

REI, of course, is standing by, ready to sell you lots of stuff — and book your adventure for you.  The more females involved in outdoor adventures, the more equipment they will need, the more business REI will get, and the more money they’ll make!  Wow!  Who knew that gender equity could be so profitable!

Of course, there is a much cheaper way of roughing it.

Homelessness, however, is a tough sell, even as it grows in popularity among men.

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