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Now they've gone too far...

...all the way over into Arrant Stupidity. I'm talking about marketing wonks, both in general and those who work for the Gap in particular.

Yesterday, I bought some new pants at the Gap. Sort of striped, cotton, slightly-stretchy bootcut trousers, to be precise (plus, they were on sale). That's fine. What's got me scratching my head is the fact that on their website, the Gap describes the color of these pants as "vicuna". (Apparently they don't want to confuse the issue by the inclusion of the tilda.)

So I'm looking at these things on-screen, and I'm thinking, "Well, I personally would call that 'taupe', but, whatever..." Because god knows, by this point I am used to marketing wonks and their incontrollable urge to find newer and fancier terms for basic colors. Spend a couple of seasons shopping with J.Jill and learning to tell the difference between "aubergine" and "mulberry", or "sunset" and "tangerine" (because "salmon" is now too pedestrian a term, I suppose), and you come to take it for granted then when you shop for womens' clothes, you're going to have to decode some weird color terms.

But -- I'm getting to the head-scratching part -- when I go to an actual store and find the pants, they're...green. Kind of an olive-y, sage-y green, but, you know, unmistakeably verdant. Not tan. Not taupe. And it's not just me. The girl behind the counter who has to call another store to see if they have my size in stock calls them "the green striped pants", and the girl at the store at which I pick them up calls them "the green striped pants".

And the thing is -- by no stretch of the imagination are VICUÑA green.

So, check me on this: now not only do the marketing wonks look pretentious by trying to come up with exotic terms for colors, but, they can look stupid as well by, clearly, misunderstanding the meaning and association of the exotic word they've chosen to represent a color. Brilliant.

Either that, or marketing has just reached a brave new frontier in which they have all decided that the exotic words they choose to represent colors no longer actually have to relate to the color! "Vicuna" sounds...well, I don't know what THEY think it sounds like, exotic and sophisticated and adventurous or something (because, c'mon people, it's a SKINNY MEMBER OF THE CAMELID FAMILY)...but I guess they think it sounds like something that women who buy at the Gap would want to associate with their clothes. And that's ever so much more valuable than, you know, that old-fashioned idea of actually conveying any information about the product.

Still, I like the pants.

(In deference to people who have Friended me recently, I make a solemn vow to try to remember to use the lj-cut thing more often. Because I do tend to go on, when I infrequently post.)



( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 29th, 2004 02:31 pm (UTC)
The marketing people at work consistently failed to impress me in any way (other than they were noisy and obnoxious.)

I have noticed in my mom's clothing catalogs that colors are often very weirdly named. I think the vicuña green takes the cake though.
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 29th, 2004 05:30 pm (UTC)
Well, if anyone can make an alternate suggestion, I'm all ears.

For example: the person in charge of these things is woefully undersupervised, and thinks the word "vicuna" means something else, and nobody else along the professional path caught it, or knew better, or thought "maybe we should look up that word so we don't make fools of ourselves". Or: the people in charge of putting together the marketing terms only ever saw pictures of the fabric swatches on a computer, and as I said -- on *MY* computer, looking at the website, they did look legitimately tan. Or: they're playing some elaborate word-association game (vicunas = South America = the pampas = pampas grass). Or: they realize that it just doesn't matter as most women don't pay much attention to the word descriptions of colors any more.

Hell, they could have listed the color as "felucca" and it would make about as much sense.

It's perfectly true that the inaccuracy of the color description, while clearly intriguing me, had no bearing on my purchase (or not) of the trousers. I didn't storm out of the store because the color didn't match what I thought the description promised. But -- mostly that's because I went in expecting pants that were taupe, and found pants that were sage, but I like sage as well, and I said, "Okay, that'll do".

It would have been a different story if the description had said something like, "tiger", and I had gone in expecting something orange-y, only to find that it was in fact bright pink. Then I would have felt disappointment that it wasn't something I was prepared to buy, but was in fact something I wouldn't buy.

raqs wondered if perhaps this sage-y color is something traditional that vicuña wool is dyed, or something. But not to my knowledge.

However, that might indeed be the clue to the word-association they're playing with. Because vicuña famously makes the finest of woven cloths, degrees finer than even alpaca. It's very rare and very expensive. So maybe the thinking was: "look, women aren't falling for these color-names any more, they know it's all bullshit, so let's use this term that women with a little knowledge of fashion will associate instead with a rare and high-quality cloth, which will give the product an air of sophistication".

It is certainly providing hours of enjoyable speculation!
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 29th, 2004 06:51 pm (UTC)
Vicuna wool is indeed very fine and soft and expensive. But it's not green. And I doubt most people the Gap is trying to sell to know from vicuna wool anyway. You're right, it is arrant stupidity.
Apr. 30th, 2004 06:24 am (UTC)
silly silly silly gap people. to me, this is another example of everything in this country catering to the stupidest denomination.

and, as for the length of your posts - just fine by me. i would much rather read a really long post about something of substance that a stupid short post (like mine tend to be) about something silly. so keep it up. i enjoy them.
Apr. 30th, 2004 08:47 am (UTC)
yeah, but she's right - what exactly is going on when a word is used to indicate something that it just plain doesn't mean? are we catering to stupidity - or simply reinventing reality, a la Republican speechwriters? it's so hard to say.

i don't mind the length of the posts either. i mean, orca_girl CAN go on, but these posts just aren't that long. and i'm not just saying that to excuse my own lengthy musings, either.

how do people put the little info icons in their posts? huh. LJ is endlessly distracting.
Apr. 30th, 2004 09:06 am (UTC)
so, i am surfing the behr.com site, looking for paint colors for my new apartment. i was looking for blue of some sort, and for some reason i clicked on a shade called 'california dreaming'. what kind of color is that? well, according to behr, it is a yellowy-chartreusey green. kind of baby-shit colored, which may be an inside joke on the state of california, but i don;t think they are too smart. i also ran across "indian dance" (orange) and 'beautiful dream' (a kind of lavendery color). so, perhaps these colors all pertain to am more emotional response to color, but i can't think of any reason for the color 'vicuna' to be green. so, i guess i am arguing for bored and stupid marketing gurus, who don;t know anymore than the objects of their marketing attempts.
perhaps a bit of this could be blamed on the prepondereance of political spin ("define 'the'..."), and the overwhelming, nigh unavoidable media blitz that surrounds us, but i really do think that people are stupid, and can be led easily like sheep. that said... what do you mean "info icons"?
Apr. 30th, 2004 09:19 am (UTC)
I'm thinking she means the "mood" and "current music" stuff, but I could be wrong.

Yeah, that's an interesting point -- there's a whole other level of word/color association going on in the realms of paint marketing, where the descriptions have become poetic and therefore completely subjective. They *are* meant to convey mood. I'm with you -- I don't seen why chartreuse should embody California dreamin'.

But "vicuna" is just a bit too concrete to fall into this category, I think. It's not playing the allegorical/mood game with colors, at least, I can't imagine that it is. It's playing the "example" game with colors. The game in which you have something that's a dark, purplish red, so you run through all of the associative "example" words -- garnet, merlot, aubergine, mulberry. (I've noticed how this color, which once would have been called "wine", is now almost always called "merlot" or "cabernet" nowadays, if they are going for that association.)

The thing is, I could sit around and come up with plenty of words to describe this color of green; I could even come up with things, nouns or objects, that would be associative and that would further evoke some kind of response to the greater associations of the word. Call it "prairie", and you suggest something just ever so slightly culturally different from "pampas". Or you could call it "travertine"; you'd still be wrong, but the idea of shifting over into the category of stones is an interesting one.

See, what lies at the root of this post is: I've always been *fascinated* by advertising and marketing. I feel as if I might have gone into that as a profession. It could have been a logical choice given my artistic bent, and the background in commercial art given to me by my father. I've always thought I would have liked it because it seems like it could be a fun puzzle. But I'm smart enough to know that the reality of the business would probably crush my soul, which is why, you know, I'm sitting here at a desk at Harvard shepherding folklore students.
Apr. 30th, 2004 12:19 pm (UTC)
If you've ever seen the air here in Los Angeles, you'd understand why chartreuse might represent "California Dreaming". :D
Apr. 30th, 2004 02:35 pm (UTC)
yeah - i see what you mean - vicuna is like calling warm pink 'salmon' - except that everyone agrees that salmon *is* that warmish orange-pink color, and last time all of us checked, vicunas were still a tannish brownish color. so.

have you noticed that names go through popularity phases? burgundy used to be the name of the color that is now commonly called merlot and cabernet. check out the lower part of this page ( www.behr.com/behrx/inspiration/fashionable_3.jsp ) for colors and the names that behr has given them - i find it interesting to see colors that i would normally give actually color names to, they are calling 'hallowed hush' or some such thing...(and yeah - there is that paint obsession that i am having at the moment, the closer i get to being allowed to paint...) i am pretty fascinated by the whole 'trend' thing for colors - would like to be one of those people who make the decision about what is the next 'hot' color, you know? a few years ago it was 70s avocado green. why? i just wonder... yeah, it would crush your soul eventually, but it would be damned interesting in the short term. have you read william gibson's most recent book "pattern recognition"? it is partly talking about this entire phenomenon - how trends start, and how business can take advantage of them and market them. interesting read, but then i am a freak for his books, so take that opinion with a grain of salt.
Apr. 30th, 2004 09:09 am (UTC)
I don't know if it's catering to stupidity, or merely reflecting it. I don't think it's a reinvention of reality, as such, because anyone who knows what the word means instantly knows it's being misused, and anyone who looks it up (which I grant you probably represents 0.00% of the women who shop at the Gap -- can you imagine *ANY*one besides myself getting het-up over this? or even just, "the pants are described as vicuna and I'm not sure what that is, so before deciding whether to buy them, I shall go look it up"?) would instantly discover reality, anyway. It's not very persuasive.
Apr. 30th, 2004 09:04 am (UTC)
Actually, it occured to me last night: maybe it's an elaborate prank? Maybe the marketing people *know* that really, nobody pays attention to those color-words any more, they go strictly by sight. Whatever weird color term they slap on these things has absolutely no effect on whether or not it sells. So maybe they're sitting in an office somewhere, saying, "how random can we be before somebody calls us on it?" I'm picturing a meeting, you know, with people shouting out ideas. "I know! Let's call it 'eggbeater'!"
Apr. 30th, 2004 09:08 am (UTC)
heh. would be good if that were the case, but i just don;t think marketing people are all that samrt - at least the ones i have had to deal with on a regular basis aren't - they are sensationalistic and always looking for a new angle, but i just don't think they are interested in knowing anything deeper than 'will people buy it with this name that sounds exotic?'
i have a low opinion of marketing. and if there is any way to change my mind, i will certainly be receptive, as i do not wish to offend anyone who does this for a living.
May. 5th, 2004 11:24 am (UTC)
God help all of us still on the archaic RGB colour system...

"Black: it's the new brown, which was the new black!"

Fashion -- "FEH!"

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )