Monday, December 20, 2010

What really knocks me out is sexist sunglasses

I recently looked through several catalogs of high end, sporty sunglasses, all marketed toward the same "lifestyle" segment, in an effort to find some mental fodder upon which to build product descriptions for a retailer. Most of the catalogs were great looking, polished, and gave equal time to men and women's glasses, as well as both male and female models wearing those glasses. Lifestyle brands like these sponsor surfers, motocross riders and the like to get their names out there. Lady surfers, boarders, and riders were prominent on the pages of Spy Sunglasses' catalog (see Meghann O'Brien at right, fully clothed). But when I looked through Von Zipper's booklet, all I found were captioned photos of marginally famous surfer men -- and marginally famous men who are famous for no reason (read: Wee Man) -- alongside photos of unnamed women models. Von Zipper sponsors lady surfers, just like Spy, but they failed to include any of them in their catalog. Male surfer models like Taj Burrow and Andy Irons (rest his soul) were used for multiple shots and styles. The women's glasses, and some of the unisex pairs, were modeled only by those unnamed women. And only a few of those styles were even modeled, while all the men's were given face-time.

I don't know why this bothered me so much except that the whole combination of idiotic elements that made up this particular catalog just got to me, after staring at it for hours while writing about these presumably high quality products. (I am about to do another post on the asinine copywriting in this catalog, and on terrible non-communicative writing in general. The bad writing certainly added to the foul taste VZ left me with.)

This would have made some sense if Von Zipper had no connections with women who could model the glasses. But they sponsor women! Why didn't those women model the glasses? Could the industry's belief be that women who surf or ride motocross aren't conventionally good looking enough to photograph well? Spy proves that theory wrong -- while they do feature one very attractive surfer girl three times as often as the more tomboyish surfer they asked to model, they give the girls the same attention they gave the boys. This isn't high fashion, it's lifestyle wear for people who do these sports (or at least pretend to do them). The company's ideal customer is one who wants to see the real surfer chicks let it all hang out, not look at made-up models in static poses wearing men's sunglasses.

Von Zipper features all these wacky dudes living it up on the beach or straddling some graffiti sprayed concrete, with their names plastered on every page. So they not only get the fun of being seen, they get publicity and awareness of their participation in the sport. The women of Von Zipper are easy to find if you look them up on the website, but they never had their day in print. They are not the face of the company as the men are. The women of Spy, however, are back to back with men, all their names emblazoned on the page in a two inch-high typeface.

Some of this may have to do with how marketers think men and women "read" advertisements. Men may need the lifestyle photo more than women. They're visual. Women may do better with just a big honking picture of a product. They're material. (Most of Von Zipper's women's frames aren't modeled they're just huge on the page with names like "Cookie" and "Giggles.")

To name one final difference between these companies, Von Zipper calls their women's section "Girls" and Spy calls it "Womens."

If I ever have the unlikely urge for $180 sunglasses, I'll buy them from Spy. Von Zipper just turns me off. I know there is bound to be sexism of some kind in any catalog that peddles fashion, but Spy does a better job of being classy about it, and a good job of evening the playing field for men and women athletes seeking sponsorships.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I publish all the comments, the good, the bad and the ugly. Unless I have no idea what you're saying. If you want to email me (with only good I hope), I'm at rbyrd [at] niu [dot] edu.