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October 11, 2005

The Trend Trap

The intrepid trend spotters who brought us "metrosexuals" are now trying to sell the newest guy phenomenon, the "ubersexual" (looks like Germany has finally replaced France and "Cool Britannia" as the European style paragon). Who knew?!

We learned about this hot new "ubersexual" trend from an unintentionally hilarious piece in the October 10, 2005 NY Times (the story is unintentionally funny in the same way a Patrick Swayze "action" film can be a laugh-out-loud experience...think "Road House" or "Point Break").

But, falling prey to these latest cultural pronouncements from the self-appointed trend gurus is anything but funny. For marketers trying to make sense of an increasingly complicated business environment, following these frothy trend directions can be an exercise in futility and wasted resources. Don't even try, because it's a total waste of your time and money.

The trend spotters are just another example of the dangers of confusing spin with strategy. They should be studiously avoided!

Marketing is, by its very nature, concerned with the newest of the new. As such, trend spotting was a natural outgrowth of the more sober and data-driven economic forecasting profession. Who doesn't want to know what's on the cutting edge of cool, hip and trendy -- what's in and what's so yesterday. I certainly am interested in this stuff, which is why I read a lot of consumer and cultural magazines and surf numerous websites. But, I do this as much for the entertainment value as anything else. I certainly would not base a marketing strategy on this trend forecasting.

Why? Because trend spotting is as ephemeral as the fog rolling in. It can appear to be pea soup one moment, and turn into a bright sunny day the next instant. That is not a basis for results-oriented marketing. Take the "metrosexuals" phenomenon from a few years ago. The term was always suspect, with its cheeky sexual overtones (or is it undertones?). According to the trend spotters, "metrosexuals" were the new urban males who were just as comfortable buying multiple hair products and getting manicures as they were shopping for the latest electronic equipment and hand-crafted beer.

Of course, the backlash came quickly and mercilessly. No sooner had the "metrosexual" term been launched then pundits starting trashing it, and for good reason. Men -- be they straight, gay or otherwise -- don't appreciate being labeled (for that matter, no one likes being labeled by marketers). They especially did not welcome the ambiguous "metrosexual" moniker. So it died a quick death. The question is, though, how many marketers spent good money buying the "metrosexual" spin from the trend spotters? Even worse, how many built and launched campaigns based on this "marketing idea"? (I remember seeing several such campaigns, and they literally were disasters!)

For me, the nadir of the "metrosexual" movement came just recently. There it was, in the form of the October 2005 issue of Details Magazine, which the NY Times called the "metrosexual bible." I spied the front cover of the new Details recently, and there, next to a sultry looking Joaquin Phoenix, was the headline: "The Death of the Alpha Male -- And Why We're Glad He's Gone." All I could think of was how unhappy Joaquin must have been with that editorial juxtaposition. Whether he liked it or not, Mr. Phoenix was thus anointed the new "metrosexual" poster boy for 2005!

Now we have the new-new male paragon, the mighty "ubersexual." The NY Times article lists Bono as the "uber-ubersexual," closely followed by George Clooney and Bill Clinton. While the "ubersexual" term seems somewhat more palatable to men than "metrosexual" ever was, you can bet that it will still fade quickly, never to be seen nor considered again. But, not before the trend spotters extract a lot of mileage (and fee income) out of it.

When it comes to figuring out your marketing plans, stick to real strategy, based on real, empirical research. Forget the spin being spun by the trend spotters. The last thing you need is to create a new marketing effort based on this season's "metrosexual." The average flea has a life span that's longer than this kind of trend.

Posted by Patrick at October 11, 2005 06:24 PM


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