What the Creators of 'Sex and the City' Know About Marketing That You Don't

VIEWPOINT: Women Flocked to the Chick Flick Because They Relate to Characters That 'Could Be Me'

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Bonnie Fuller
Bonnie Fuller
I love the fact that Sarah Jessica Parker wore a recycled designer gown to the humongous New York premiere of "Sex and the City." Not any recycled dress, mind you, but a silver-lame strapless Nina Ricci gown designed by ├╝ber-upscale designer Olivier Theyskens. The same gazillion-dollar dress already had made appearances on a socialite at the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute gala and on Lindsay Lohan in Harper's Bazaar. Mortified, SJP told The New York Times that it "was short-sighted ... unethical and ... disappointing" that she had been duped.

What Parker didn't get was that this was exactly what would have happened to her infamous alter ego, Carrie Bradshaw. And it's exactly because Carrie has always had so much of the lovable loser inside her, despite her label-clad appearance, that she has become such a hit with women.
'Sex and the City' stars: The audience's old friends.
'Sex and the City' stars: The audience's old friends.

Lots has now been written about the tsunami of success that "Sex and the City" has had, with its blowout $55.7 million opening weekend -- the biggest box-office score for a chick flick. But what I think is really interesting is why women are dressing to the nines and flocking with droves of friends to see it and then whooping it up in the theaters.

For "SATC" fans, it's not just about going to see a movie; it's about attending a special and meaningful event. At the non-prime-time screening I attended in a suburban theater, the cheering began with the credits and rolled through the film, ending in rousing applause.

The writers who created the film's central character did a genius thing: They created a woman who real women could totally identify with -- a truly authentic female. Carrie wasn't trying to be edgy or hip. She was a woman who was cute but not too pretty; funny and smart but not too brainy; great buddies with her close girlfriends but repeatedly a loser in love -- so much so that she endured the ultimate humiliation: being left at the altar. After all, every woman has experienced devastating heartbreak even if she hasn't had her wedding abruptly canceled.

Bonnie Fuller has been editor in chief of magazines including Glamour and US Weekly and was VP-chief editorial director of American Media.
Plus there was Carrie's embarrassing habit of tripping over her designer clothes. Public embarrassment is another thing most women can relate to, unfortunately.

The film also won women's allegiance through a factor not usually valued by marketers who are always on the outlook for what's next. While it took the lives of its heroines forward, it triumphed in its celebration of the familiar. Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda were still the same girlfriends the "SATC" audience had come to love. After all, the best thing about a best girlfriend is that you can count on her not to change, even if it has been four years since you last saw her.

The "SATC" brand recognizes what many marketers don't: that women connect with and will follow a woman or a brand that is friendly, relatable and likable vs. someone or something that is perfect and on a pedestal. That is one of the lessons I learned while revamping Us Weekly or transforming Star from a tabloid to a glossy magazine.

It wasn't really the glamour or the glitz that made "Sex and the City" a winner, although they helped; looking at the fashion in the film was just plain fun. It was the "she could be me" or "she could be my best friend"-ness of the Carrie Bradshaw brand that worked big time. And whether it's movies, TV or print ads, or a new beauty spokeswoman, there's power in making a female-focused brand friendly, relatable and familiar to the masses of women who want to be welcomed in despite their imperfections and not made to feel uncool, unedgy and unworthy.
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