Magazine Article


Pitching Jenny's Grandma

Much as Jenny-as-CMO is characterized by Marketing Central as a uniquely "Now" phenomenon, these ads (and many others we could reproduce) from the 1890s through the early 1900s prove that her grandma was very much on the job "Then."
Scanned by Don Sutherland

Scanned by Don Sutherland

Scanned by Don Sutherland

Scanned by Don Sutherland

Scanned by Don Sutherland

Scanned by Don Sutherland

Jenny. Could there be a better name for the generic female shopper? "Jenny" is actually short for "generic." And maybe by that measure it's an honest identification, revealing an underlying truth about marketing.

If she really is generic, we don't really care about her individualities and idiosyncracies, her quirks and her quests, her ambitions and needs. We don't care if she's tall or short, blonde or brunette, what her religion may be, what her color-well, I take that back, we're hoping she's green.

But other than that, she has no features. She is a stereotype that's blank, except what it says in the operator's manual. She's pieced together by the mind of marketing, the Doctors Frankenstein of popular perception. From this jar comes a marketing questionnaire, from that jar a study group, from the jar over there the telephone polls. We don't care the first thing about Jenny, just as long as she's green and behaves as predicted.

Jenny is the featureless stereotype du jour in the photo marketing game. She's from a large family of featureless stereotypes, including men and boys, children, adolescents, young adults, geezers, and crones. Having researched them to smithereens, we know "what they want" and "what makes them buy" and "what makes them not buy."

We know, in the back of our minds, that not every Jenny's alike, but what do we care? Let the ones that don't fit fall through the cracks. If 90 percent, or 75 percent, or 50.5 percent of the population is a fit, let the boutiques go for the rest. Niches are great, but cameras are mass-market items. Not even Leica could survive with just Leicas. Should Kodak even try?

So we speak of mom-the-snapshooter as the Chief Memory Officer, as central to the home as the Chief Executive Officer is in the corporate world. It's so lighthearted in tone, you'd have to think a long time before it even started to seem condescending.

History Repeats All Over Again

But of course it's condescending. All marketing is. "Hi, I'm your good friend, can I give you a hug?" Sure. Keep your hand on your wallet. Selling's not about making friends, it's about moving merchandise. It's about separating Jenny from her green. Like any suitor, you'll make points with chocolates and flowers. Most people know that when they're being seduced, even if unwilling to admit it, they like the chocolates and flowers.

The word goes out from Positioning Central that the CMO is photography's new client, and all the consumer columnists pick it up and pass it along. Advertising-driven in their own right, they share a perception with Jenny, an overtone, something sensed more than heard. "Aha," it seems to be saying, "they're bribing me with chocolates and flowers, but at least they're taking me seriously."

If all goes according to plan, 50.5% or more of the targeted demographics will get the point. The ones that don't? Don't worry. There's a perfectly good chance they'll walk into someone else's store. And maybe they'll burden that lucky proprietor with questions like, "You say you love me now, but did you this morning? Will you tomorrow?"

Plenty of people follow popular culture, believe that British royalty somehow mean something to them, that celebrities are good because they're on TV. The rest read The New York Times. Not unilaterally, but always with vigor, the latter are predisposed to suspect various popular contentions.

Why pitch us now? Are you serious with this CMO? Who are you trying to kid?

To which the photography business can charmingly rejoinder, "But my dear, you've always had me infatuated."

And it would be true. Jenny's grandma, her great-grandma, whatever generation of ancestors preceded her back to the time flexible film came out-that would be the late 1880s-were very much in the minds of the purveyors of photography.

We've Come How Far, Baby?

"What would Daguerre say," asks an ad for a popular women's magazine, "if he could peep into the darkroom of even the humblest of amateur Kodakers to-day?"

What would Daguerre say? Does today's camera shopper care what Daguerre would say? Does today's shopper even know who Daguerre is? Or was?

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