Context matters

My sister-in-law and I were talking at lunch about this $210 children's outfit (shoes not included).

I was dismayed by the catalog price, and felt the steward in me protesting the absurdity.

Interestingly, my reaction was not due to the cost of the outfit per se, but rather to the cost of an outfit that exists in the context of perceived obsolescence. (Annie Leonard has a nice little bit on this term in the "Consumption" segment of the The Story of Stuff.) This idea that a consumer good is only temporarily valuable makes the outfit's $210 price tag seem exorbitant (and vain) for such a short-term benefit. I mean, how many Easters could my daughter really wear this?

My reaction changes, however, when I imagine living in the context of stewardship instead. Here, I imagine days of old, when a child owned one "Sunday outfit," wore it weekly as well as to every other special occasion, and had it mended when necessary. If this were our practice today; if my older daughter wore it for two years and handed it down to her sister for another lengthy period, then $210 for a finely-tailored, durable, and beautiful outfit, is a fine price.

Whether you agree with my old-fashioned sentimentalism or not, the question is this: What effect do you have/will you have, as an advertiser, on the context a customer lives in? Perceived obsolescence and stewardship are no bed-fellows, and advertising encourages customers toward one or the other every day. What effect will your work have?


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