Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Reaching the Plus-Size Community: PR Ideas

I have been working in marketing and PR and advertising in the medical and pharmaceutical environment since 1990 or so and I have learned a LOT of things that can directly translate to other industries.
I am not very fond of pharma but that is no secret and my great love is fashion which is no secret either. It's kind of nice to be out of the closet like that.
Considering that over 90% of women in the US are over a size 6 and the majority of cool clothing and beauty products PR and advertising is only being directed to the remaining 10%, it seems that the majority of clothing designers, manufacturers, retailers and the cosmetics industry are loosing a tremendous amount of potential revenue.
Why does this happen?
1) They side with the weight loss and medical industry perception that intrinsically being not thin is a negative thing. That is not what people who are larger want to hear or believe any longer. By the way, size 6 is REALLY thin.
2) Anything and everything coming from the weight loss and medical industry with respect to weight loss and stigma is received in a negative light by most non-thin individuals. The mesage is : We know it's bullshit, we are tired of hearing it and we all have collectively moved on. Stop bombarding us with fabricated evidence that says that unless we loose weight we are going to die. We are alive aren't we? A lot of us do NOT have diabetes, heart disease or really are any different than thin people. So there. You sound like Chicken Little and Bush with the weapons of mass destruction. No, being "overweight" or "obese" does not lead to stupidity, dementia or an increased incidence of syphilis, crack addiction or having babies with fish tails. We have blocked them from our IM and deleted them from our cellphone. You should do the same since like Bush, because of their negative approval rating among your target market, they are indeed toxic and are negatively affecting you image, perception and potential revenue .
3) Now that we are on the same page and we all know that we all are staying the size we are and we are going to love ourselves and be healthy at whatever weight, how do you market to us?
4) Positive reinforcement works. Negative reinforcement does not. As someone who has worked in neurochemistry and has studied behaviour from a variety of perspectives including biochemical, negative reinforcement only leads to resentment and future lash backs, This is true for rats, dogs, elephants, chimpanzees, killer whales and most certainly HUMANS.
5) Market to us in a positive way and as if we are a NORMAL and perfectly acceptable part of the human population.Which we are. Put both thin and fat people in your advertising as if it was the norm.
6) Fat CAN equal glamour and beauty. Shoot, in these times of economic depression just being able to afford food should be equaled with sophistication and affluence.
7) Make you message INCLUSIVE. The last thing larger people want is to feel yet again singled out.
8) This is a THIRSTY market because it has been ignored and ostracized for so long. What we want is the same things that we only have been able to look at in manner of Dickensian street urchins looking at people eating in a swanky restaurant from the outside-in.
9) This market wants glamour, luxury, and sophistication, They want youth and beauty , joy and coolness. They don't want the same apologetic, token offerings they have been given since 1950 something.
10) This market wants VISIBILITY.They no longer want to be hidden in the attic. They want representation in the media and they would respond economically in kind to companies with that approach. Cases of this are : Torrid/Hot Topic, Cover Girl cosmetics, and Dove.
11) Designers catering to the plus size market have only had marginal success in the fashion industry. Why? Because:
a) The clothes they make for the plus size lines are so much less stylish and on -trend than the straight sized lines. You cannot sell more when you are selling more of the same. Even new plus size designer lines look exactly like the same plus size offerings there have always been, Larger women don't want "fat clothes". They want the clothes they see on celebrities, their thin friends and the runways.
b) The retailers put large size department in completely seggregated sections of the stores. Who wants to go shopping when you are already being treated like a second-class citizen? That is when they have a large size department at all.
c) Retailers have relegated large size departments to their online sites. That was a HUGE mistake. For women, SHOPPING IS A LEISURE AND PLEASURABLE activity. By relegating it to online sales, potential revenue is significantly limited because you are denying individuals in this market 90% of the "shopping experience". This is money that could be made from these women also spending money in mall and stand alone food and beverages, cosmetics and fragrance, salon services, footwear, accesories and jewelry outlets. It is all part of the "experience".

In order to address the needs of fashion designers, cosmetic companies, clothing manufacturers and retailers that want to market EFFECTIVELY and reach the plus size market, I am thinking of creating a boutique mini-agency that specializes in branding, brand identity, image, marketing and PR targeting the plus size population with this philosophy and new way of thinking in mind.

I would love some feedback.

16 comments:

vita.reed@gmail.com said...

What you put down was common sense advice. It does amaze me, although I'm definitely on the sartorially conservative side of things, that the fashion industry has allowed aesthetic prejudice to trump commercial concerns.

Milla said...

Believe me....
It blows my mind...They could be making bank!
I am on the very edgy and fashion-forward side which I think is evident from this site but I do not understand why there is not a range on design and style options for non very thin people.
Shoot I cannot even say just plus anymore because even my friends whoa re sizes 8 and 10 have a hard time finding nice, high quality clothes, either conservative or edgy.
All the nice stuff is just made in the microscopic sizes and the stores just stock 6 and down, tons of M, S and XS which 99% of the time end up on the clearance racks.
The lone L or XL they stock in the only one they sell at full retail price.
But I think that retailers and buyers are in denial.
And I also agree with you that their prejudice has trumped their fiscal sense.
Hugs and welcome to my blog :-)

buffpuff said...

Hi, I found you on the Shapely Prose bouncy castle thread and... a world of YES!!

The online shopping thing particularly gets my goat. I've never liked a single thing I've ever bought online, or through a catalogue, and sending it back is a pain. I invariably just end up keeping whatever it is and continuing not to like it.

In response to your last point, there's the much bandied about theory that the reason shops keep the plus-sizes segregated from God's Chosen Straight-Sizes is that having to look at people larger than they are will somehow ruin their shopping experience - which is, of course, the only shopping experience that counts.

I imagine these retailers believe that, if they create a world where fat people don't exist, shoppers can bullshit themselves they're buying into some exclusive celebrity lifestyle. It's such a massive crock.

Good luck with your boutique agency. You'll have an easier ride in the US than London I imagine. Not only are there more plus size manufacturers there the UK simply isn't ready to hear any of this stuff, as Mary Queen Of Shops adequately demonstrated. It's the bane of my bloody life.

tehkou said...

In response to your last point, there's the much bandied about theory that the reason shops keep the plus-sizes segregated from God's Chosen Straight-Sizes is that having to look at people larger than they are will somehow ruin their shopping experience - which is, of course, the only shopping experience that counts.

God, that's such a crazy and stupid policy, too. Let me say, I'm one of the aforementioned 'God's Chosen' and I would love to actually be able to go shopping with my heavier girlfriends. We help each other pick out clothes, for god's sake! It's just ridiculous and counterproductive that we have to go to other sides of the store (or separate stores altogether) to find something each of us likes. It kills the fun for everyone when friends can't shop together.

(Of course, as all magazines and TV shows teach us, skinny people can't really be friends with fat people. We aren't actually being 'good friends' unless we spend every hour of the day reminding them of how they need to eat right and exercise so that they can be 'healthy' like us.)

Anyway, to turn this into something productive and not just bitching on my part, I guess that would be my advice -- don't forget that many of us skinny bitches are just as angry and want to see things change just as much as you do. Don't sell us short by assuming we all buy into the media bullshit just because it's telling us what we want to hear.

Milla said...

Buffpuff I totally hear you.
I posted this same blog on myspace and I got RIPPED to shreds with "you hate skinny people and want everyone to be overweight and hate everyone that tries to do something
about it and you need to be HEALTHY and HUMBLE"
ARGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!
Well, I admit. I am a bit (actually a bunch) resentful of "God's Chosen Straight Size People" because I have taken a disproportional amount of abuse for my weight in my life time. Mostly because I have been in ballet, medicine and fashion. I guess I am either a warrior or a masochist at heart...
But the thing is, sarcastic as it is THAT is the reason why!!!
I mean the riff between thin and fat people is starting to rival the whole racism or homophobia situations.
And yes, it is IDIOTIC. It is MUCH worst in the US than the UK because the barrage of fat bashing and pro-weight loss advertising is INCESSANT. With NO positive larger size messages.Except for Tyra's plus models and the Glamazons I guess.
There are more plus size manufacturers and probably retailers in the US but the thing is most progressive and cutting edge ideas usually originate in the UK. I mean in fashion as a whole.
Mainly I think because there is a higher premium and value on originality and innovation and eccentricity is actually valued!!!
I could not see a Gareth Pugh or Philip Treacy or Hussein Chalayan or Noki being remotely understood let alone celebrated here without first breaking ground and making waves there. It's the same in the plus size industry. I mean if you see the plus size floor at any US department store and then compare it to the department at Harrod's the difference would blow your mind.
So I think if there is going to be change and revolution it is going to come from there to here. That is why I am applying to Central St. Martins instead of Kent State or Parson's.

I mean I am trying to do everything and try to throw every idea in the air as far as incursions in the plus size industry and the fashion industry in general to bridge the gap.
I am doing stuff as a designer, illustrator (do you know that there is NO such thing in fashion schools as a plus size "fashion figure" croquis? Or that they force us to draw thin figures under threat of lower grades? Or that we don't have plus size dress forms for pattern-making or draping in my school?), in PR, business development and fashion writing and editorial because things NEED to be done in all of those areas because of PREJUDICE and stinking thinking are rampant.

And Tehkou I FREAKING LOVE YOU GIRL!!!!
If all skinny people thought like you the world would rock and we could bridge this freaking gap and I would be able to work on my anger issues.. hahahaha
Like Rodney King said" "Why can't we all get ALONG???"
YOU GET IT!!!!
Yesterday I LOST a friend because she refuses to understand WHY I am angry at thin people, particularly when they RUN their mouths like fiends about the "healthy" evangelism and they defend on MY blog the BENEFITS of weight loss.
I am sorry but that is like going to the Queer Nation site and advocating for the purity of heterosexual family values ...ROFL
If instead of lashing out against me for being angry, she would have tried to understand WHY it is that I am angry, I would still have a friend I cared for a lot.
But I guess progress comes in baby steps.
Shoot I have had a BLAST shopping at thrift shops with one of my best friends who is like a size -2.
We both bitched the entire time because NEITHER could find anything and I would find her awesome things.
But she NEVER said anything about my weight or health as long as I have known her. Which is ROCKING because we BOTH have advanced degrees IN HEALTHCARE and science.
She just tells me I am the bomb because I am so chic.
And that is a HUGE compliment because she is French and super stylish.
But yes if all skinny chicks would be like you and my friend from school maybe change would be easier to happen
Big hugs and welcome to my blog Buffpuff!

Kate Harding and Shapely Prose ROCK!

tehkou said...

Milla,

Thanks! And I return the love right back to you. You'll be glad to know that much of my righteous indignation has been inspired by your blog. Also to thank are my sister (who happened to inherit a different set of genes from our parents when it came to metabolism but is no less fabulous for it, also has a degree in health care and challenges me on many things) and my many friends who have collectively received a fucking unnecessary amount of lifelong abuse because of their weight.

Honestly, I know you can get a little careless with words sometimes, but in your intent I always thought you were pretty even-handed with people of all body types (including skinny), which is one of the reasons I started posting here in the first place. I'm not sure where people are getting "hates thin people" from this post or any other.

I think it's just one of those "majority privilege" things, like being white/ male/ English-speaking/ Protestant/ heteronormative/ whatever in the USA. Some people get so accustomed to their standard being the one everyone caters to that any social change suddenly becomes this hideous thing that's all about their own rights and freedoms being oppressed. Even if all it's actually doing is stripping away their invisible privileges and bringing about a little fucking equality. (Because, you know, bilingual signs at Wal-Mart mean that the terrorists have already won.)

The the male privilege checklist (which in turn links to the original white privilege checklist) is a pretty common touchstone in the feminist blogosphere. It makes me wonder if anyone has ever written up a "thin privilege" checklist? I can think of a lot of entries for it offhand...

Milla said...

Tehk...
You are all that and a bag of delicious chips :-)
EXACTLY that is exactly where I am coming from and that is exactly what I mean.
It is SO AWESOME that someone finally understands what I mean.
Yes, I do come off a little strong and careless for sure but that is because I am such an emotional person and culturally a very expressive, you know?
I mean I am used to like Mexican and French rhetoric and it's so THERE and raw and then I read very emotional poets and political writers, so I am influenced by that and I do not realize how that might hit people who are used to a more laid back tone. I talk like that too.
Sometimes I have issues with what one of my friends calls "vanilla" people because I actually have to be coached and be very aware of how they might perceive me because otherwise I run them over like a mack truck.... It's really hard and I have no idea how it might come across but that is what a lot of people who went to my school were like.
I am SO privileged that you think that my words might have inspired you and I am sure your sister is SO proud and happy and she is lucky to have someone who tries to understand how she might feel about stuff.
I mean with my family this is starting to happen in baby steps and it is so nice when they acknowledge how I might feel about some things they say or do.
Yes, despite my "majority privilege" resentment, I DO try to to be inclusive and I DO look at the person.
And I mean this blog is focused on all aspects of fashion including really technical stuff.
I think it's just one of those "majority privilege" things, like being white/ male/ English-speaking/ Protestant/ heteronormative/ whatever in the USA. Some people get so accustomed to their standard being the one everyone caters to that any social change suddenly becomes this hideous thing that's all about their own rights and freedoms being oppressed. Even if all it's actually doing is stripping away their invisible privileges and bringing about a little fucking equality. (Because, you know, bilingual signs at Wal-Mart mean that the terrorists have already won.)"
THAT IS EXACTLY what I mean and you are the first one that I am able to talk to in a rational way and you understand exactly what I mean.
This chicks over there get pissed exactly because of that and they say I am " stereotyping".
If YOU write the "thin privilege checklist" I will love you forever, because if I write it (which I would LOVE to do), I am going to get CRUCIFIED as the fat Jeremiah Wright or Louis Farrakhan.... hahaha.
Big Hugs,
Milla

buffpuff said...

Tekhou, someone on fatshionista.com had a bash at writing a thin privilege checklist here
I don't want it to seem like I have anything against skinny folk either. All my UK girlfriends take straight sizes and I love them dearly. It's not their fault retailers deem their money to be somehow worth more than mine. I'm also aware that most of them hate their bodies too, no matter how many clothes shops they get to choose from. Fat phobia affects all people - especially women – in one way or another.

Milla, I think it's fab you're applying to Central St Martins! I'm in London so if you ever want to meet up and rant about the lamentable state of the UK plus-size fashion industry over tea and cake, drop me a line at my blog. I'd love to see your work. I actually work as a professional advisor to illustrators. One of my recent-ish clients is a fashion designer who was pretty famous back in the day. Since I used to wear her designs pretty much exclusively during my in-betweenie-sized late teens I was absolutely thrilled to be meeting her and helping her to develop a fashion illustration portfolio.

I was dumbfounded however when I saw that she'd done a mock-up for a plus size fashion article in which she'd replaced a (beautiful) David Downton illustration of a recognisably plus-sized woman with one of her own - of a skinny woman. She told me she didn't think the Downton illustration would appeal to plus-sized women because they wouldn't like to be reminded of their size. She felt the skinny image was aspirational. Needless to say she's not fat and, working in the fashion industry, probably doesn't know anybody else who is either.

I told her as gently as I could that I've not the slightest interest in seeing what a skinny woman looks like in a garment that's been designed and manufactured to fit me - and that furthermore, if I'd seen her piece in whichever Sunday colour supplement she'd used for the mock-up, I'd have flicked straight past it because I'd assume it was just another article aimed at straight sizes. I also told her I don't buy women's magazines since I bitterly resent giving my hard-earned money to anyone who deliberately excludes me. She was utterly befuddled by my response and simply couldn't countenance that there was a woman alive who never bought fashion mags, not least one who actually has an interest in fashion. And, sadly, I think she's extremely representative of the majority of people in the fashion industry; cloistered and clueless. Unless more of us come into the industry at every level - designers, fashion editors, photographers, stylists, retailers, the works – the blinkers will never come off; the potential revenue will never be recognised, and designers will continue to make lazy, unimaginative assumptions about the way fat folk want to dress – and grudgingly at that.

tehkou said...

buffpuff,

Don't worry, I don't think that at all! (The ability to assume that fat people only complain about skinny people because you "hate us," or worse, "are just jealous" is another stupid privilege that I'm happy to toss out the window.) And the list you linked to is a good one-- it actually covers every idea I had about it, even the ones I was thinking might be obscure.

Milla, I have been thinking a little bit about some of the things we discussed, about the angry reactions you've had to posting stuff about size acceptance. I am starting to wonder if the people most vigorously opposed to the idea of "size equality" are not actually people who are naturally skinny, but those who have spent their lives struggling to lose weight and keep it off.

When I think about it, it's very easy for someone like me just to not really think anything of the issue. I mean, once I realize how much suffering it's caused, I have nothing to lose other than some silly privileges that I don't want anyway; in our cases, it's usually just ignorance moreso than real opposition.

On the other hand, the people who have really struggled to meet society's ridiculous idea of normalcy are really threatened by fat acceptance, because it puts their "life's work" under fire.

I mean, it always seems to me like it's the "cured homosexuals" at those Christian compounds, or closet homosexuals who repress their urges, that seem to hate homosexuality the most. Similarly, women who work the hardest to ingratiate themselves to the male standard are often the most passionate anti-feminists (and start a cycle by serving as an excuse for further male chauvinism... "well, my wife says it's okay...").

For these people, it must feel like equality does nothing but undermine their "accomplishments." That seems to be the attitude I notice when I see people coming down on fat acceptance... "Well you're just complaining because you didn't want to work hard to get better the way I did." They need to prove you wrong to convince themselves that what they did was right.

So I wonder if these are the people you will need to worry about the most. Moreso than just being blithely oblivious like the woman in buffpuff's story, these are the people who will fight hardest to preserve their pride and see that the status quo remains.

buffpuff said...

"I am starting to wonder if the people most vigorously opposed to the idea of "size equality" are not actually people who are naturally skinny, but those who have spent their lives struggling to lose weight and keep it off"

Abso-bleeding-lutely, tehkou! I've had many run-ins with people like this. What FA basically shows them is another model - one of choosing to completely opt out of a value system they feel compelled to subscribe to. It pisses them off on several counts. Firstly, we remind them, with tales of our own dieting histories, that their weight is almost certainly going to come back – with interest. They don't want to hear that, hence all the " Well, you're a big fat wobbly weak-willed, jealous failure!" crapola. Sure, at face value, it comes across as a hostile attempt to shame us – but it's actually just as much for their benefit as ours. They need to believe that their will is stronger than ours because they don't want to countenance the idea that they're ever going to get fat again.

Secondly, chronic restrictive eating and copious amounts of compulsory exercise for exercise's sake tend to make people seriously cranky. I'm not talking about serious foodies, vegetarians and/or organic freaks here. (Hell, I'm all those things and more). Nor am I talking about those who are naturally disposed to partaking in competitive sports or enjoy large amounts of physical exercise. I'm talking about those who aren't particularly that way inclined, who force themselves into a regular gym habit against their natural inclinations, often at great personal and financial expense. They want to be recognised and have praise heaped onto them for these sacrifices. And, instead of jumping up and down waving pompoms, those of us who've stepped off the diet-go-round are telling them they're buying into something that is oppressive, ineffective and ultimately valueless – to us. How dare we?!

Thirdly, about that jealousy I mentioned earlier? With the exception of those who have genuine health problems caused or aggravated by their fat, most heroic feats of weight loss are primarily motivated by aesthetics. Many of FA's most vociferous ex-fat detractors wasted years of their lives envying and resenting the thin because this is the body type used nonstop by the media, (on behalf of all kinds of highly profitable organisations) to reinforce the belief that all our bodies are substandard. And damn it, having finally achieved skinny nirvana themselves, surely the least fat people can do is be jealous and resentful of them in return?

I believe it takes enormous strength and willpower to buck the system; to question and redefine notions of physical beauty; to break away from a culture that is fueled by inward and externalised self-loathing; to eat what and when we like, regardless of whether it's "fattening"; to exercise - or not - when we like, regardless if it makes us thinner; in short - to break free of a shitty value system that is wholly damaging to society. Consequently I think a much of the invective directed our way is motivated by jealousy too.

Sorry, Milla, I've written a dissertation. I'll shut up now!

Milla said...
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Milla said...

My first troll....
Like they always say... ignore them.

Anonymous said...
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Milla said...

I apologize too and I care about you too.
But the attorneys have NO clue about what constitutes defamation or libel.
I never used your name.
And you never payed me so it was not my professional opinion.

Milla said...

I forgot to say attorneys make me laugh.
In order to fear them, you have to have something to lose.
I have NOTHING. Absolutely nothing.
Thus, I am not scared.
What would they sue me for 200k of debt?
Freaking surrealistic.