Is Our Intelligence too Much to Pay for Britney Perfume?

Times Critic: Musician Endorsements Signal 'Dumb-ification' of Culture

By Published on .

Do musicians as pitchmen represent the "dumbing down" of marketing? Our local NPR affiliate WNYC ran a segment yesterday* that featured Times and Salon critic Cintra Wilson suggesting that the tactic is a new low in our culture.
[Ms. Wilson:] "I absolutely think it's not good for us, but that's just me because I'm curmudgeonly. ... I kind of think it's more about the dumb-ification of everything in general, which is not actually a word, but I think you know what I mean ... [Banter] There has been a tendency, sort of an interpretive drift, I guess, toward marketing downward, and spirals toward tweens, usually, teenagers, people with disposable incomes. That's why we've seen such proliferation of celebrity fragrances, apparently, lately. There's been a high turnover and people want the immediate gratification of smelling like their favorite celebrity."
We certainly feel exasperation with the never-ending stream of branded shoes, baseball caps, fragrances, toolboxes, home mammography kits, etc., but here's why we have to disagree with Ms. Wilson:
  • First, since when has marketing been intelligent? Kidding. But at what point in our culture has a majority of advertising predominantly appealed to our intellect instead of our emotions? The whole idea that musicians as marketers is a bellwether for our collective intelligence seems seriously flawed, from our admittedly limited historical perspective.

  • Further, at what point have we marketed smartly to teenagers, kids and everything in betweeen? This has somehow gotten worse since the Flintstones were hawking cigarettes? The idea is that kids are so blindly trend-driven that they'll spray themselves with cat urine just to get a little bit of Britney into their lives, which we don't discount, but why does it make us stupider to want to smell like her than Tommy Hilfiger or Michael Jordan? Perfume ads in particular tend to sell with intangible benefits, and let's face it, they almost never sell based on the rational desire for smelling good.

  • Finally, why is buying Britney perfume stupider than a Britney T-shirt? Is all music merchandise a sign of our dumbness? Neither has any direct relation to her melisma.
All of that said, there's plenty of reasons to think that unending brand extensions from musicians will end up a bad thing for all involved. Because established artists have a hard enough time putting out decent music after the peak of their careers, a relentless focus on mogul-dom and extending brand tentacles is going to accelerate declining returns in musical product. For example, where's 50 Cent's career these days? I'm not sure either. This is where fans lose.

*For some reason, we can't get any of WNYC's embeds to work.

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