Lifestyle. I don’t want it.

Posted on June 3, 2008

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Lifestyle. It’s a word I’ve grown to detest. Not because there is anything wrong with it…at least not from a linguistic standpoint. Not at all. According to the Oxford English Dictionary it means: ‘the way in which one lives’. Fair enough.

A slightly extended meaning of the word is: ‘a set of attitudes, habits, and possessions regarded as typical of a particular group or an individual’. Nothing to object against here either.

The problem I have with the word isn’t really the word itself. The problem I have with it lies in the associations that it triggers in my mind. These are, I have to assume, the result of numerous discussions with marketing directors and agency people alike. If you don’t work in marketing/advertising you may not have the vaguest idea what I’m talking about. [Consider yourself lucky] And even if you do, this may still be the case. So let me explain.

I’m totally and utterly fed up with marketers talking about lifestyle brands. Why? Because they have no idea what it means. And neither do I, frankly. Ask them to specify what the implications of ‘lifestyle’ are in terms of their advertising and brand communications and what you’ll get is a response full of fluffy drivel…if you’re lucky.

And if you were to call them on it in a meeting…hold them against the wall revealing you’ve got a baseball bat behind your back while coincidently whispering something innocent about kneecaps, what you’ll get out of them is that ‘lifestyle’ means nothing but advertising clichés; the very stuff that makes advertising indistinguishable from wallpaper. Actually, it’s what makes it wallpaper.

This kind of advertising is all predicated on the assumption that mirroring what the marketer superficially assumes to be ‘aspirational’ for his/her audience is going to generate brand growth. The reality is that this thinking and the advertising it leads to constitute the lowest common denominator in almost all consumer goods categories. And its remarkably uninspiring, not to mention undifferentiated.

So, what’s behind this nonsense? Is it lazyness or incapability or both? I’m not quite sure. But what I am sure about is that it points to a severe lack of understanding of what motivates human beings, such as you and me. I find this quite odd given we’re an industry that is highly reliant on this knowledge.

“We want to make it a lifestyle brand”. When a marketing director or agency person utters these words in an advertising context, it typically means there is no strategy, no substance, no real idea to build on. And what sends chills up my spine is that the phrase is often expressed with a sense of self-contentment as if this was breakthrough thinking.

If only the industry could realize that what people [brand audiences] fundamentally seek is a life rather than a lifestyle, a lot of brands would be rising to dizzy heights.

Posted in: Planning-related