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  • 07.20.06

Retailing—For Real?—and Dr. Z

Ecstacy! Macy’s, the department store chain, tells The New York Times that it will star in a new reality program, “Unwrapping Macy’s,” debuting in September on WE, the Women’s Entertainment Network. Which is a good thing, of course, because there isn’t nearly enough “reality” programming on television. Sigh…

Ecstacy! Macy’s, the department store chain, tells The New York Times that it will star in a new reality program, “Unwrapping Macy’s,” debuting in September on WE, the Women’s Entertainment Network.

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Which is a good thing, of course, because there isn’t nearly enough “reality” programming on television. Sigh…

But I digress. The Times says that “Unwrapping Macy’s” will offer “a behind-the-scenes look at how the retailer operates its stores, selects merchandise, creates a catalog and runs events like the annual Thanksgiving Day parade.” Steven Weinstock, one of the show’s producers, said that life at Macy’s is “inherently dramatic,” because of creative conflicts with staff members and the deadline pressure of each passing fashion season.

Right.

Do you think viewers will ever get to see anything remotely resembling real drama or actual conflicts? Don’t count on it. Most corporate PR types can’t deal with the merest public hint of internal tension, creative or otherwise. Employees who disagree with each other? Execs stressing as a deadline approaches? That sort of human messiness doesn’t jive with the preferred, sanitized impression of shiny happy people working together in harmony. The appearance of fallibility, of discord, is just too risky to contemplate.

Just look at the Dr. Z campaign by Daimler Chrysler, which my colleague Chuck Salter wrote about a few days back. The TV ads are fine, I guess—but the web site is a farce. It currently claims that the cartoon version of Dr. Z has answered 2,393,077 reader questions. Fascinating. So, let’s look at the “recent questions” that Chrysler chooses to highlight (these are the first seven of 20 featured:

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Q: How does Dieter Zetsche pronounce his name?
Q: Who founded the Chrysler Corporation?
Q: I know what a Chrysler is, but what’s a Daimler?
Q: How do you create a concept vehicle? What is the process?
Q: Why do you create concept vehicles?
Q: How much will Smart Car cost?
Q: When will Smart Car be available in the US?

And there’s #19: “What makes the Dodge Sprinter Van so great?” (Dr. Z’s pithy response: “Dodge Sprinter is the most versatile commercial van on the market. Sprinter’s common rail direct injection (CDI) turbo diesel engine offers fuel economy, long life, and low maintenance with smooth, quiet performance. Not to mention, the van offers a high-roof option with 73-inches of walk-through height.”

Is it supposed to be ironic? Post-ironic? Who knows? I guess no has asked Dr. Z, “Why is this campaign so lame?” It’s laughable, of course—and sad. Everything about the Web screams, “Transparency!” and corporations continue to scream back, “Over our dead bodies!”