Whitepaper: R.I.P. Aspirational Lifestyle Marketing

© for Branding Mag

If advertising industry award shows ran an “In Memoriam” tribute, similar to the Oscars or Grammys where they spotlight those legends who have died in the last year, it might include “aspirational lifestyle marketing” as something that has finally passed away. But no need for any weepy tributes, though, because as far as marketing tactics go, aspirational lifestyle marketing kind of sucked. It was mean, playing off our own insecurities about body image, financial position and fashion sense.

Rather than lifestyle marketing, perhaps a more apt term would be “insecurity marketing”, because most of us will never be as good an athlete as Patrick Mahomes. Nor will we have skin like Jennifer Aniston or live in a two-story, glass floor-to-ceiling, post-modernist home in Malibu and gift a spouse an $80,000 car for Christmas. Perpetuating this notion of an easily achieved, ostentatious lifestyle is marketing 101 for most brands and agencies, but post-pandemic it easily grades an F.

To be sure, the last five years have found aspirational lifestyle marketing waning in its usefulness. Why? A part of it is due, I think, to the ease with which internet sleuths can easily unearth every skeleton in your brand’s closet: All of your unethical supply chains, poor hiring/promotion practices, environmental issues, etc., are there to be discovered and amplified to a massive audience on social media.

But who can blame brands for wanting to keep the aspirational lifestyle marketing play going; after all, not so long ago, every brand wanted to be a lifestyle brand. Relatively mundane purchases, like a mattress or bottled water, became lifestyle choices that connoted some smart, urban way of life that consumers saw for themselves. The brand’s marketing didn’t reflect who its customers were but rather a lifestyle that its product was a part of. Creative and design teams took it from there, defining the lifestyle that a brand imbues and then manifesting it through the ads created in collaboration with top photographers, directors and actors and using large post-production budgets to clean up any cracks (both literally and figuratively) that appear.

But as Sam Cooke sang, “A change is gonna come.”

Dawn of post-demographic branding. The smartest brands today are replacing the negative of aspirational lifestyle marketing with something that’s substantive and positive–call it “post-demographic” or “post-lifestyle.” It simply means that, if you do something that has value, you don’t need to focus on any one specific demographic because it resonates with everyone.

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