When Aspirational Marketing Goes Wrong: Lululemon and the Need for Inclusive Branding
When I began practicing yoga regularly, I looked into where I would buy my mat and gear. The brand that was, at that time, becoming popular in the US was Lululemon. Walking around the city, it was easy to spot members of the Lulu tribe, sporting leggings with the recognizable logo, and carrying bags adorned with quotes like “Friends are more important than money.”
If you clicked on this post, I likely don’t need to tell you what has transpired with Lululemon in the years since then. They have faced scandals ranging from founder Chip Wilson’s proclivity for making insensitive statements about the size of “some women’s thighs”; to outrage over see-through pants; or their willingness to manufacture in overseas factories with “flexible” labor policies. Many others have penned excellent responses to Wilson, and talked about what it means to shame women’s bodies.
I want to talk about something slightly different. I want to talk about how lifestyle brands use aspirational marketing, and what it means when we don’t see ourselves reflected.
Aspirational brands intentionally position themselves as exclusive clubs; the idea is that by acting like a clique of cool high-school kids, they can motivate consumers to purchase their products or follow their recommendations. It is simple reverse psychology: by pointing out that you are not invited to the party and showing you how much fun everyone else is having, they want to make you work hard for an invitation.
I think it is time we call them on it.
The societal cost of aspirational branding is high. It reinforces impossible standards of beauty; negative stereotypes about race, class, and gender; and encourages people to fork over huge amounts of money to companies that don’t necessarily reflect their values. It is time for people to think about what they are paying for when they buy into an aspirational brand.
Aspirational branding preys on our insecurities rather than focusing on the merits of products. Companies that produce very high-quality products don’t need to resort to these tactics. Think about Dyson vacuum cleaners; their advertising doesn’t do anything besides explain what a darn good product they make. Do you want to pay a company to tell you you’ll never be thin, rich, or beautiful enough? I don’t, and that’s why I am building a company, Yoga by Numbers, whose goal is to welcome everyone who wants to improve their health by incorporating yoga into their lives—whatever those lives (and the bodies living them) look like. I hope you’ll check it out.
One of the quotes on Lulu’s inspirational bags is particularly ironic: “Your outlook on life is a direct reflection of how much you like yourself.” Well I have decided to take this to heart and support (and build!) companies and products that think I’m good enough just the way I am. I hope you will too.
Elizabeth Morrow is the founder and CEO of Yoga by Numbers (YbN). YbN invites you to connect with them on Facebook and Twitter, regardless of what you look like. Find us on Kickstarter by going to Kickstarter.com and searching "yoga by numbers".