Faux or Real? I've asked the question many times here and even got flack for one particular rant on the subject. I return so often to this question because I'm interested in more than a simple identification exercise or an occurrence tabulation. (By the way, any idea if faux would win the prevalence prize on a night of TV ads?)
In particular, I'm interested in the question's relevance to us as consumers and human beings. I've included two magazine ads below - one for a faux product and one for a real product - that jointly raise questions about What We Want and Whether What We Want is Good for Us. I hope the co-existence of these two images and the questions they ask are as interesting to you as they are to me.
Here is the first, for Shaw Floors (Click on the images for a larger view):
What We Want is the item we can't afford (real Hickory); a time we can't grasp (100 years ago?); or, most often and unfortunately, a status we can't attain. Yet how many of us claim these reasons as our own when we consider a product like Shaw flooring? Faux is so common and so accepted - even affirmed - that we rarely consider our human desires that lie beneath the surface.
In a Country Home magazine feature called "Wood Looks," the writer asked:
"What's real wood? What's not? We applaud the technological advances that make it more and more difficult to tell real maple, pine, cherry, walnut, and hickory from its less-expensive laminate, vinyl, and engineered-wood substitutes."The example of technology working to replicate the unattainable reminds me of Stuart Ewen's analysis in All Consuming Images:
"Fueled by their desire for franchise and status, the merchant class [beginning in the middle ages] mimicked and appropriated consumption practices of the nobility.... Conspicuous consumption...was the mark of status. In a world where nobility still ruled, the merchant class seized upon symbols of excess which had customarily been prerogatives of landed elites…style was becoming something one could acquire.... Clocks, once the extravagantly tooled possessions of the few who could afford to own them, were mass produced [with 'the suggestion of fine hand-carving']....
For the members of an expanding middle class, the historically coded look of wealth was coming within their means."
Is What We Want Good for Us?
I've had many conversations about the role and value of faux products. I'm not a fan, personally, and marketers, more than others it seems, push back on this position. "It's less expensive," some advocate. Others endorse the buying and selling of it in terms of compassion: "If a customer can't afford the real, why deny him of enjoying the look of real?"
Fair question. And one that is ironically and increasingly addressed by the marketing world itself. You've heard the answer if you've heard Wendy's jingle, "You know when it's real." Wendy's playful spot (by Kaplan Thaler, New York) unveils one faux item after another and ends with a strong affirmation that consumers value authenticity and genuineness. Real is what we want because we know - when it comes to food, at least - that it's good for us. Real food is better than faux food.
The second print ad is for Campbell's Select Harvest soup:
Neither Wendy's nor Campbell's applaud faux. Yet Shaw's does, and we don't wonder if faux is good or bad for us there. Frankly, we don't care. But should we?
Why my floor matters
Faux interacts with us. In whatever product form, its marketability and success indicate a human longing for what is real. The plug for real says we want real. The plug for faux also says we want real. This is why I stated that these print ads jointly raise questions. They co-exist under the same premise.
Perhaps, therefore, the second question ought to be restated since what we want is good for us. We want authenticity and genuineness - in food, floors, family, friendships and faith. A better question might be, Is What We Buy Good for Us?
In the cases of Shaw Floors and hydrogenated soybean oil, I'll have to say no.
Other posts on faux:
Great Gifts Faux This Christmas!
Locks of Love: Friend or Faux?