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Snob appeal?

中国日报网 2013-05-28 15:32

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Reader question:

Please explain “snob appeal” in the following passage:

If you want to go here for its snob appeal, just order low on the menu. Spend all your money on drinks if you’re just looking to have a good time, but not looking to break the bank. If you come here and go all out, you will be broke.

My comments:

Thanks to ample context, we know they’re talking about an expensive restaurant here, a restaurant people sometimes go to for its “snob appeal”.

In other words, they may not come here just to eat, but also to be seen – because a lot of people who are somebody are often seen here.

Movie stars, for instance, well-heeled professionals and rich people in general often dine here.

That’s what the “appeal” is about. Appeal, noun, refers to the attractiveness of someone or something, the quality that makes you like them, be interested in them, and want them.

Snob appeal?

Literally that means it appeals to snobs.

Snobs, of course, are people who are snobbish, originally people from a higher social class who think they are better than those from lower classes. Snobs also refer to those who admire and look up to people from a higher social class.

We all have some degree of snobbery in us, and this feeling sometimes runs out of control. It is what drives us to always want to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak.

The Joneses represent the affluent neighbors who can afford all the stylish things that money can buy. And we want to have them, too, so that it gives us a feeling that we are as high class, wealthy and stylish as the Joneses are.

If the Joneses drive an Audi, for example, we want to buy an Audi, too. If the Joneses now have a Rolls-Royce, then we must have a Rolls-Royce.

And if you are buying Audis and Rolls-Royces solely for this purpose, it’s highly probable that you are buying these expensive items just for their snob appeal, or snob value.

Snob is a derogative word – at least it used to be the case when I was young growing up. Nowadays, “snob” seems neutral. It’s even slightly stylish to be considered a snob thanks to, among other things, all the TV advertisements about things that have, ugh, snob value.

It certainly feels the number of snobs today in proportion to the population as a whole is much greater than, say, a generation or two prior.

Anyways, if you are a snob and want to spend the money to keep up a stylish life style, there’s nobody to stop or hinder you. Just make sure you can afford it and don’t go broke as a result.

In our example from the top, for example, people are advised to visit the expensive restaurant in question and order just the drinks. That way, they’ll have a good time without going bankrupt, and satisfy their vanity in the process.

Like I said, everyone has a degree of snobbery in them. And if you cannot elevate yourself fully above it, then use discretion and exercise restraint. In other words, don’t get yourself out of control.

Alright, here are a few pretty old media examples:

1. Investors can become wealthy by either starting with a little money early, or with a lot of money later.

There are a number of books dealing with the latter situation, including Start Late, Finish Rich by David Bach, as well as Bulls, Bears and Pigs by David Cork, with a theme of “Baby Boomers at Halftime.”

But Calgary financial planner Kevin Cork once again deals with the younger set in The Investment Book, subtitled Angst-Free Strategies for Canadians under 40. It's a sequel to his 2002 title, The Money Book.

To appreciate Kevin Cork’s offering you don't need much money, but it helps to have a sense of humour.

It is aimed at what he calls his “’vesting virgins,” with references to investments that, rather than suffering a downturn, imitate the action of a vacuum cleaner.

The book’s occasionally earthy vein offers a light-hearted primer on investing, which includes some interesting historical background without getting too serious.

He starts with the basic tenet that if you invest $200 a month for the next 35 years and earn an eight-per-cent return, your RRSP grows to $426,000. But if you start five years later you wind up with $283,000, a difference of nearly $143,000.

There are chapters on the basic investment vehicles, such as bonds and stocks, and he admits he had to fight with his editor to have two chapters on mutual funds.

He also has a chapter called SNOB (Sometimes Not Overly Beneficial) Investments, including stock options, hedge funds and wrap accounts, which he says “are marketed primarily for their snob appeal.”

- Financial books compete for investors' attention, Canada.com, February 17, 2005.

2. In 2006, Americans consumed, per capita, more than 25 gallons of bottled water -- twice as much as in 1997 and almost five times as much as in 1987. And what ignites Elizabeth Royte’s reportorial spark in “Bottlemania” -- at least initially -- is the ecological cost of all those plastic empties: We discard between 30 billion and 40 billion bottles of Poland Spring, the most popular brand, in a year.

Like her previous book, “Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash,” this tautly paced volume more closely resembles a travel narrative than a tree-hugging jeremiad. Royte doesn’t traffic in platitudes, moral certainties or oversimplification; she’s unafraid of ambiguity. Seamlessly blending scientific explanation and social observation, she pursues the course of Poland Spring back to its source in Fryeburg, Maine.

“Fryeburg is tied up in fits,” she writes. “Its abundance of fine water has cast its unwitting residents into the middle of a social, economic, and environmental drama.” Her mordant wit comes in handy: “It’s easier to picture kids guzzling beer out here than deer nuzzling around mossy springs,” she notes. “But Fryeburg, for all its out-of-season torpor, once bustled with economic activity: sawmills and timber operations, a shoe manufacturing plant, a couple of machine shops, corn shops, and dozens of thriving dairy farms. Now, it has the water-extraction business, which contributes nothing to the town’s long-term economic welfare.”

What drives this obsessive thirst -- this compulsion to pay for something we can essentially get for free? Royte characterizes the nationwide craving for bottled water, “in a country where more than 89 percent of tap water meets or exceeds federal health and safety regulations,” as both an outrageous marketing coup and an unparalleled social phenomenon. Beginning in the late 1970s with Orson Welles' high-toned television pitches for Perrier, bottled water has been promoted for its snob appeal as much as its health benefits. Jennifer Aniston’s recent spots for Smartwater strike Royte as typically absurd. “Some ads depict her naked and others place her, clad, in an elegant restaurant, where her plastic water bottle looks, to someone with my peculiar mindset, like litter amid the crystal stemware.”

‘Bottlemania’ by Elizabeth Royte, LATimes.com, June 1, 2008.

3. In the ‘80s, consumers hung around malls like ripe tomatoes waiting to be plucked off the vine.

To the delight of shopkeepers and advertisers, the snootier a product's image, the better. Consumers believed that the higher the price, the better the quality. Especially if they were laying out bucks for a prestigious name brand.

“It costs more, but I’m worth it,” actress Cybill Shepherd purred in commercials for L’Oreal hair color and cosmetics.

But in the 1990s, the consumer’s cry echoes the key line from “Network,” the 1976 movie: “I’m mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore.”

The exasperated voice of the ’90s consumer is turning up in commercials for brands and companies from McDonald’s to auto dealerships. It’s the voice of someone who no longer wants to pay for image-building intangibles, who just wants a good product for not too much money.

One of the best examples is the new round of Subaru spots by Wieden & Kennedy, the Portland ad agency that proved with its Nike ads it can detect the pulse of the consumer even in the thick of a lingering recession.

“Don’t tell me about wood paneling, about winning the respect of my neighbors. They’re my neighbors. They’re not my heroes,” grates narrator Mark Fenske’s relentless voice in one spot.

“I don’t want a new car every few years. I want to save money. I want to have money. Tell me. Give me the facts,” he says in a Subaru Legacy sedan spot.

And later: “Stop talking new. Stop talking shiny. Start talking sense. Tell me.”

Who knows whether these lines will sell Subarus? That’s up to Fuji, the company that makes Subaru cars. If the cars live up to the promises of hardy practicality, if the sales people and the dealerships live up to the informative, fact-based image the ads create, then they will.

If they can sell cars by saying what the consumer wants to hear, these ads will do it.

Ad agencies, at least, are hearing the anguish of consumers who believe they have less money to spend and who no longer enjoy paying top dollar for anything just to look prosperous or hip.

Chris Wackman, Subaru's marketing vice president, felt his vision clear as he listened to the words in the ads.

“When I first heard the copy read by the copywriter, not by Fenske, it seemed very obvious that the person who is seeing (routine car commercials) is saying: ‘Hey, come on. Don’t give me that . . . Don’t give me another car running down a beautiful, wet, curvy road. That doesn’t do me any good. Not that fru-fru stuff.’ ”

This is the anti-ostentation decade. Charlotte Beers, head of the Ogilvy & Mather office that just won the Jaguar account, will probably search for a way to make the sleek British cars seem more practical.

Highland Superstores Inc. has dropped sales clerks’ commissions and garbed them in cozy sweaters to reassure tightfisted consumers that they won’t be paying more than they need to for that videocassette recorder or personal computer. Other stores are following suit, eliminating the commission that makes sales people push consumers too hard.

McDonald’s commercials promise cheerful, accurate service – “We’ll double-check your drive-through order so you don’t have to” - or they’ll give you your meal for free. Most people can't even associate this concept with drive-through service.

Snob appeal is out. Subaru even documented this, just in case someone chose not to believe it, with University of Oregon research that shows 25 percent of Baby Boomers selected “self-respect” over “being well-respected by my peers” in a recent study, up from 14 percent 10 years ago.

Subaru has a name for this consumer, whom it wants to attract: the “role-relaxed” consumer. “Role-relaxed consumers seek activities and products that satisfy their own criteria for quality and value,” says a company handout.

Advertisers are beginning to hear the message, loud and clear. How about the companies that sell the products and services touted in these pragmatic ads?

- Snob Appeal Loses Appeal For Consumers, Advertisers, The Seattle Times, July 28, 1992.

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Go to Zhang Xin's column

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About the author:

Zhang Xin(张欣) has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

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