Saturday, July 16, 2011

Worst Dressed Cities

This week released "The 40 Worst Dressed Cities in America." Being from Utah, I was amused by the presence of both Salt Lake(8) and Provo(15) on the list. As I suspected, they were over-generalized and religiously insensitive, but not entirely inaccurate. But while most of the article's sizable readership were busy being either offended or delighted by their city's ranking, it was the marketing aspect of the article that had me mesmerized. 

First off, it's a great title. Sure it's not even the slightest bit creative, but it piques curiosity and has successfully collected countless clicks and links. Why? Because people love lists. They're easy to swallow, and face it, "The 10 Most Amazing Marsupials" sounds a lot more interesting than "About Australian Wildlife." Lists are so effective, sites like peddle them almost exclusively.

The other thing about a list like this is that it generally doesn't need to be supported by things like facts. They are often really op-ed pieces disguised as studies or polls. Such is the case with this one. They claim (most likely tongue in cheek) a "deeply scientific, irrefutable poll," but that is clearly not the case. It appears they just took a bunch of the biggest cities and found a trend they could generalize, then filled it in with a few smaller places containing an easy target. It's very likely in fact that a list of the best dressed cities would have looked largely the same. 

For me, the credibility of the list was blown entirely by number 22: Wasilla, AK. Wasilla is undoubtedly dressed no better or worse than any of the thousands of other obscure small towns scattered across the country. The crucial difference is that their obscurity was lifted when Sarah Palin entered the political scene a few years back. Like  the Provo section, it was all too transparent that this was a case of an easy target. In fact, the article didn't even try hide it: "Regardless of how you approach the style of the now-infamous Alaskan town of Wasilla, all you'll ever think about is Sarah and Todd and the whole Palin gang. And they are terrible."

I don't mean this as a defense of the Palins' style (I'm certainly not qualified as a fashion critic; just ask my wife) nor anything else about them. My only point here is that good marketing and good journalism aren't always the same thing. This piece of questionable journalism is also a piece of excellent marketing. What were they looking for? Readers. What did they get? Lots and lots of readers. As a bonus, many of those readers added comments or links from their own site. (There are four links there in this blog alone.) It was a perfectly executed marketing campaign, designed as a critique of America's style.   

Sometimes the best way to attract attention is to break the rules. How else would Provo end up in a prestigious fashion magazine?