There’s nothing like a second chance — especially at the hands of strangers. Imagine an SUV full of hipsters running into your living room, right now, and fixing every single thing that’s wrong with you. Ignore the cameras, honey, the Fab Five are here just for you, you, you. My God, what is that lurking in your closet?
Or maybe you hand over the house keys to your neighbor and say, “Just don’t paint the fireplace,” and when you come back tomorrow they’ve transformed your house from Blah to Wow. (If you really hate it, you can sandblast the fireplace later.)
We are a nation hungry for OPT: Other People’s Taste. Makeover shows from Queer Eye to Trading Spaces just feed our appetite for more.
Getting an actual makeover is best, of course. Imagine having total strangers — really cool strangers — pay complete attention to you for a whole day. All those doubts you had about yourself? They’re true, but we’ll fix them.
In the absence of such id-stroking, we happily watch makeovers on TV. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Trading Spaces. What Not to Wear. Ground Force (garden makeovers. Gardens!). Sure, we glean a little advice for ourselves, but that’s not reason enough to watch. There’s something slightly mean about vicarious makeovers. There’s a risk in the room, but it’s not yours. People are cornered, then forced to confront their flaws — and be good sports about it.
Makeover mania disturbs me for two very different reasons. First, makeovers feed discontent. “Experts” assure us that we are all wrong, but they can fix us if we’ll just surrender. We can’t trust our own judgment. We let someone spoon-feed us ourselves.
Sadly, this is good news for marketers. Consumers will take advice from any expert without looking hard at his resume. Look at Target: Michael Graves designed the teakettles; Philippe Starck did the baby gear. Did you know this architect or designer before you saw them on-shelf? No? Those slick displays give them credibility — and their job titles give Target credibility. Experts are the newest crop of brands, a notch better than us but still more like us than movie stars.
Which brings us to my second worry, that our reliance on strangers’ advice will compromise genuine word of mouth. Am I more likely to take Paige Davis’ advice or my sister’s on throw pillows for the couch? At least my sister knows my taste (such as it is). It is highly unlikely that any makeover expert who runs into your house and starts doling out advice has any idea what you actually like.
Even the experts we pay hardly have a clue. Take my $60 haircut. At the Aveda salon in a swank neighborhood, they gave me to Joel. He’s in his early 20s, dresses like Tony Manero and says “fabulous” every 14 seconds. “Faabulous.”
He cuts fast, and talks faster. “Got big plans for the weekend?”
“Not really,” I answer.
“You have to go out tonight. You’ll be looking so faabulous, you can’t waste it. They’ll all be looking at you.”
They-all who? I wonder.
“I can’t afford it after this haircut,” I tell him. Ha ha.
“They’ll be buying you drinks,” he says.
Puh-leeze. I’m a 40-something mom living in a farm town. My Saturday nights are spent on the couch with my husband, a video and our two good friends, Ben and Jerry.
I know: Joel is giving me patter, spa-speak, faabulous flattery. But it’s someone else’s flattery — someone half my age and four times my alcohol capacity. Someone who can dance.
Still, I tip Joel and buy styling paste and feel appropriately pampered by splurging. I even feel slightly fabulous.
So there may be some truth to what strangers say. And that’s what keeps makeovers enticing: We can look for our best selves in the eyes of strangers.
That’s the chance — and the caveat — for marketers: Be careful how you advise consumers. They’re counting on you to have their best interests at heart.