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Lifestyle Marketing: The Science of Selling Cool

It’s time to discuss the only thing that really matters in this world: being popular.

As sensitive fleshlings, we spend a large portion of our lives telling ourselves this isn’t the case. But we know it’s true. Our friends know it’s true. Businesses know it’s true. You’re 7th grade English teacher knew it was true when you walked into last period wearing those off-brand Bargain Warehouse khakis. The cheap material of which caused you to make unsavory rippling sounds along your commute to the white board. “Did she just fart?” came a whisper from the back. “Totally a fart,” answered Morning Breath Beth. And like that, your odds of securing the coveted Junior Treasurer Student Council position effectively dropped to zero.

You now work at Shoney’s. Your cat has three legs. No one will date you.

Bargain Warehouse ruined your life.

Or did it? Whether or not those plebeian pants were actually responsible for your social downfall is besides the point. The key is that you believed they were to blame, and clever brands know this. They feed off of it. The fear of not belonging is one steady constant in a world of ever-changing trends. The question is how do we utilize this psychology to further our own product-pushing agenda? Do others know about this? What mysterious forces are really at work here?

Walk with me, padawan.

The Rundown

To keep things formal, “lifestyle marketing” is the fancy, pinky-out industry term for this subtle style of advertising. As a niche component of content marketing, this strategy focuses its aim at emphasizing idealized lifestyles and behaviors for a particular brand or personality. Think Polo. Red Bull. Suburu. These consumer icons know their respective audiences in-depth and market directly to the lives they lead. You like shreddin’ snow, bro? Give our drink a go. Does curb climbing the coast roast your toast? Let our 4-wheel drive show you the meaning of torque. And like that, you’re neck deep in the throes of cool kid advertising.

Brands who rock this strategy well know their consumer on an intimate level. They go beyond the routine age/sex/location. They realize that understanding consumers’ hobbies and passions is key to creating solid, targeted marketing and shareable content that will both engage and sustain an audience. This content can be product-focused, as seen in this Dodge SRT ad, which details the ballsy midnight escapades of one rogue muscle car. Cinematic, crisp and complete with Knight Rider flare, the commercial succeeds in selling the “coolness” of the vehicle, appealing to potential car buyers who may describe themselves as “superbly masculine,” “dangerously daring” or “obscenely middle-aged.”

Others may opt for periphery content, which may not market the product specifically but rather targets interests related to said product. Cue beachy Hollister ad. Male youth frolics through sandy, summer landscape. Male youth is shirtless, but his laser-chiseled abs say, “Who cares?” Male youth is possibly wearing shorts, but a large wave obscures your vision. Come to think of it, there are no visible clothes anywhere in this ad. Why? Because Hollister sells teen sex first, clothing second. Write this down.

The above are pretty bold examples. The real magic, IMHO, is found in subtlety. Millennial consumers in particular are extremely adept at noticing when they’re being peddled to. These Netflix mochasippi zealots are easily spooked and must be wooed softly with shareables, usables, playables and giggles.

The giggles are very important.

To illustrate this, here’s a not-so-comprehensive list of brands that are doing it right:

  1. Anthropologie – Break out the incense and craft scissors, girl scouts. Anthropologie’s blog is a one-stop shop for fashion inspiration, DIY home improvement projects, and curated tunes. No seriously. They have an entire page dedicated to mood-specific music collections, and it’s the bohemian yuppie promised land. I’m much too poor to afford these artisan linens, but I’ll be damned if this “Rest + Refresh” playlist doesn’t make me want to drop some paper on a candle or four.
  2. Patagonia – This outdoor clothier knows what the people want and delivers. From environmental initiatives to recreational tips and tricks, Patagonia transcends consumerism. It’s a way of life. In addition to their sport-specific blogs (updated by sponsored professionals, I might add), they run a nifty Tumblr that collects submitted photos of patty-wearers rocking their gear mid-adventure. Mahalo, brah.
  3. Lowe’s – It’s not just for flip-flop dads anymore! This brand sat down and took a long, hard look at itself and said, “Lowe’s, let’s rock this shit.” And they did. Running multiple social media platforms like a bonafide boss, this home improvement store jumped on the millennial radar with its inspirational Pinterest page and demystifying “How To” Vine series, both incredibly useful resources for people who don’t know what a “flathead” is.
  4. Charmin – Charmin came into this world as poop paper. Amazing poop paper, sure, but poop paper nonetheless. It comforted cheeks of all makes and models, but somehow it wanted more. So it became a Twitter god. And as a Twitter god, it hijacked #GameofThrones because it’s Charmin and can do whatever it damn well pleases. Now, the brand spends its days blessing the public with turd jokes, fart euphemisms and its ever-popular #tweetfromtheseat updates.

So, what do these brands have in common? They cater to their respective audiences. Whether it be music, tutorials, insights or laughs, these companies strive to develop and nurture a genuine relationship with their consumers. They watch the shows you love. They listen to your jams. They teach you something new. In a way, these brands become less like companies and more like that trendy friend who introduced you to indian food and aerial yoga. They’re hip, and they know things. Cool things. And they sell cool things, too.

And through this courtship, a beautiful friendship blossoms. We find ourselves more inclined to pay attention to what they offer. We see ourselves in their online personalities and liken their tastes to reflect our own. By this point, lifestyle marketing has taken effect. And here we are, too busy bumping their latest playlist to care.  Smooth operators, indeed.