I see the email headline “Our Summer SALE is here,” and smile to myself. Typical use of excessive capitalization to promote a sale and attract click-throughs. Despite my disdain at the company’s use of grammatically incorrect capitals, my curiosity gets the better of me, so I open the email to see how Forever21 is going to sell their sale.
The first thing I see is red. Good choice. Red signals alarm, intensity, and impulse. If you want to get a consumer’s adrenaline pumping, use red. I next notice the contrasting “All Under $15” graphic- strategic choice given the company’s low price point. The text, “Last Chance,” amidst the red backdrop only increases the excitement; its slanted alignment insinuating instability. The packed-up boxes imply that the mysterious clothes will soon be out of reach, and the “Sale” written on them (of course in all red, using capitals and an exclamation point) makes the boxes seem even more appealing. Finishing off this piece of art is a clickable “shop now” sign, conveniently in the shape of an arrow.
Red. Bold color contrasts. Capital letters. Exclamation points. Arrows. Only a brand like Forever21 could effectively influence consumers with such in your face, impulse-based tactics. If I were to guess, this is because the company’s target demographic - women in their teens and twenties - is especially susceptible to such inclinations.
Before my summer at Finch Brands, my thought process during shopping was far less complex than the one detailed above. When I received an email advertising a sale, all I consciously noticed was a number: the percentage of savings I’d gain. Now, after a summer as a strategy intern at a branding agency, I see these emails as forms of strategic artwork. Colors and shapes combine to evoke emotion and influence my actions.
My internship has shown me the amount of research behind each image or phrase a company uses. A single line of text can be the product of hours of focus groups, weeks of in-depth surveys, and months of data analysis. A large part of my role as a strategy intern is analyzing market research data, and whether it is for fitness trackers or wine varieties, companies consistently seek out the same information: the attributes that customers value. The companies need to understand what characteristics their products should have in order to appeal to their target demographic, and figuring this out gives the companies valuable insight into who their consumers are, what they care about, and how the company can brand itself accordingly.
By identifying itself with a few select characteristics, each brand develops a different personality. When I purchase a piece of clothing, I’m choosing to associate myself with everything its brand stands for. Advertisements provide insight into the aforementioned brand personality- I think that Forever21, for instance, is bold, outgoing, and fun. Working at a branding company has essentially added another dimension to my shopping experience, as I don’t consciously evaluate just a company’s products, but also the advertisements that promote them. When with a friend, I'm as likely to point out a clever ad as a pretty shirt, or comment on a store's new marketing campaign as much as its new clothing line.
There is more to shopping than the physical act of purchasing products- what I buy is a reflection of who I am. Given the amount of effort that companies put in to define and develop their brands (often with the help of Finch Brands), I believe that taking the time to understand them makes me a much more informed consumer. I see the inherent value in a brand like Forever 21 just as I see the importance of a high-end luxury brand. Most consumers wouldn’t want to be limited or identified by a single store, and having a diversity of brands in the marketplace allows for consumers to craft their own unique identity, as well.
To all the brands out there- I’ll continue to shop based on your ads as much as your products, so make sure your brand is strong and your strategy is genius. If it's not, call Finch Brands. Otherwise, I’ll look forward to your next witty and (hopefully) grammatically correct email.
Farrel Levenson, Finch Brands - Strategy Intern, Summer 2013
Note about the author: As a member of the University of Pennsylvania's class of 2015, Farrel is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, & Economics with an intersdisciplinary minor in Consumer Psychology between the College of Arts and Sciences and the Wharton School of Business.