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Ugly cars

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Friday, Nov 10, 2006

I’m going to assume this jump hed, for a story about Toyota, in today’s Wall Street Journal is dripping with irony and relish it accordingly: “Scion’s Cool Strategy Is to Sell Fewer Cars.” The counterintuitive strategy of buying something ugly (like a Toyota Scion, which looks like a rolling refrigerator box) so that your purchase can make you unique is dumb enough; buying one that’s also deliberately made to be rare in hopes of enhancing its exculsivity is just downright stupid. The Scion is much like a faddish car from a few years ago, the “retro” P.T. Cruiser, which conveniently has a brand name that is as lame as the car actually is. (It must be named for P.T. Barnum, who of course noted that there’s a sucker born every minute.) But by owning one of these you show how slavishly dependent you are on brand marketers for parcelling out to you your apportioned amount of “coolness”—that you have been convinced that your own behavior alone is insufficient to establish your own worth, your own hipness (if you are determined to be hung up on such juvenilia in the first place). It’s as though you want to signal to the world with your ugly car the ugliness and insecurity trapped within your soul. (Not unlike the goth strategy of marring one’s face with pale makeup, wearing half destroyed and unflattering black clothes and getting unbelievably bad dye jobs done to one’s hair—this shows how different they are.) If you are confident about your coolness, you don’t need to buy a car that Toyota has decided in advance will be its cool brand. If you do, you’re not cool, you’re a dupe; you are announcing that you are easily swayed by marketing tactics. Snake-oil salesmen of all stripes should be saving their money for the Scion customer list, because these people can certainly be sold on all sorts of artificially rare pseudo-positional goods that sensible people recognize as worthless.  That is if Scion itself doesn’t beat them to it:


To better position it as an “underground” brand, Scion over the past year has reduced its television advertising—never very significant to begin with—to a narrow range of late-night and obscure programs, like shows on Cartoon Network’s late-night “Adult Swim” programming. (On the Oct. 29 episode of “Frisky Dingo” on “Adult Swim,” a Scion tC was talked about by the show’s characters.) Now it is re-evaluating that strategy and may completely get rid of television advertising so it can focus more on experiential marketing, including event marketing and branded entertainment. Scion already launched its own music label for emerging artists and its own clothing line called Scion Release.


Wow, those cartoon characters were talking up the Scion? Maybe I need to rethink this whole “ugly cars are for idiots” thing, because watching adult cartoons like “Frisky Dingo” is also really “cool.” And I can’t wait to check out the great bands I’m sure will be involved with this project. Scion is so cool, it’s moved beyond MySpace to Second Life, which fits, because Second Life seems to be a realm devoted in part to the creation of value through artificial scarcity.


When prizing ugliness no longer suffices to serve as a distinguishing mark of advanced taste, the next logical step will be embrace non-descript averageness—whereby we will attempt to stand out by being entirely indistinguishable. From there, the only way to be cool will be to disappear altogether.

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