“Hefner’s genius is that he has linked sex with upward mobility,” Paul Gebhard, executive director of Kinsey’s Institute for Sex Research, told Time for a subsequent cover story. But more than that, Hefner had made the magazine, as he himself said, “a projection of the wonderful world I dig.” He and his lifestyle—he would soon buy his first Playboy Mansion and was already the country’s most notorious and dedicated bachelor—embodied the meaning of his magazine to an extent that would be unmatched until the advent of Martha Stewart Living and O.Hef as the ultimate brand-master, the originator of the lifestyle brand - this isn't a new or particularly controversial sentiment. As I was reading, though, I thought back to something else I'd just read - a quick bio of the (awesome) blogger Mrs. Lilen in the new TradHome (which, pardon the digression, is an amazing publication). Mrs. Lilien describes herself/her blog as "a multifaceted aspirational brand that extends across online and print media."
Accurate description? Yes. But how self-aware and meta are we these days that "multifaceted aspirational brand" is an acceptable and accessible way to describe yourself in a shelter mag (online or not)? Or anywhere for that matter?
That's a rhetorical question because obviously we are self-aware and meta enough that it's a perfectly reasonable description. Reading the VF piece on Playboy, though, made me wonder if maybe the real difference between today and the Mad Men era of bunnies and keys is that back then, for all the drinking and sexual harrassment, everybody was actually pretty innocent - because back then, every person wasn't their own personal "lifestyle brand." People were just...people.
It's hard for me to imagine an era before Hef and his smoking jackets and Martha and her scissors and bulbs and Oprah and her...stuff. I grew up with those lifestyle gurus, or people like them - Julia Child was just as much of a lifestyle brand as Martha. Today we've moved beyond that, though, thanks to blogs and other social media. The power is no longer in the hands of a few masters of the aspirational lifestyle brand. That power has gone to the masses. Every design or food blogger out there has carved out his or her own little lifestyle niche. Mrs. Lilien does this more successfully than a lot of other bloggers, but everybody does it.
Which leads me, then, to the question in the title of the post: are there too many lifestyle brands? When everybody can be their own little lifestyle brand, does that dilute the power of the few really good and truly aspirational brands out there? I'm all for the democratization of information, but I'm afraid that the answer is yes. Not everybody can create a lifestyle brand that's interesting and different and the fact that so many half-ass brands exist leads to a general sense of ennui. Aspirational lifestyle brand fatigue.
In the end, I think the benefits of easy blogging and social media interaction outweigh the drawbacks (namely, the glut of kind of crappy blogs and boring tweeters, etc.). But that doesn't mean the drawbacks don't exist and it doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about them.
So there it is: are there too many lifestyle brands? Yes, yes there are. Will that stop anyone (me) from continuing to blog? Seems unlikely.
[Images: Hef and bunny from Fox. Mrs. Lilien/TradHome from TradHome.]