Targeting the Douchebag Market

Sometimes there are products or services that I really dig, but I find myself alienated by their marketing. Two examples of this came up for me today that had me shaking my head.
In one instance, the problem was the language. Now, I adore the cloud service Dropbox. I absolutely rely on it, but in the very best sense; it’s seamless, simple, and unbelievably useful. They announced some new features in the works today, which is great, but their blog post about those changes read like it was aimed exclusively at the self-important douchebag demographic:

You’ve got places to go and people to see. But most importantly, you’ve got gumption — you’re the kind of person that takes initiative and uses Dropbox to organize, share, and bring all your stuff anywhere. Nice.

“Nice”? “Gumption”? Jesus Christ. Now, I suppose there’s a chance this was done at least partly tongue-in-cheek, but if so, they need to get better at locating their cheeks. Later, it tells us:

Now that you’ve signed up for both of these features, you can gloat to your friends that you’re ahead of the curve — a trendsetter, even.

I almost couldn’t stop rolling my eyes. And I kind of wish I hadn’t stopped rolling them, for soon I was to behold the second example. 

TwelveSouth is a company that makes elegant and useful accessories for Apple products, like the completely awesome BookBook series of device cases. (I own their BookArc for my now-sold iPad, and I now use it to hold my MacBook Air, upside down, which I have to guess is a bad idea.) They just unveiled a new set of cases for the iPhone called SurfacePad, which look seriously great. Great, that is, until you see this picture on the website.


Yes, that’s my caption.

But come on. Am I supposed to think, hey, I want to be more like that guy. I’d better get that case!

Look at that smug, douche-of-all-trades look on his face. The slump on the chair that says, hey, I’m too hip to not sit like a grouchy 2-year-old. And who ties their ties all the way anymore? Lame!

The entire gist of the marketing at the TwelveSouth website for this case is of a kind with this image. The accompanying video looks like they’re advertising either a fragrance or a hallucinogenic drug.

In other words, it clearly seems aimed at not-me. Rather, in both cases, the target audience looks to be douchebags with egos in desperate need of stroking. Who’s a handsome, important boy? YOU are! Yes you are!

This kind of thing normally wouldn’t bug me, but the thing is, I know I’m part of the demographic both companies should be targeting because I know I totally dig their stuff. But if anything, what they’ve chosen to do makes me recoil from something I’d otherwise be very much inclined to. Particularly in the case of TwelveSouth, I find my inner, self-loathing voice saying, dude, this is clearly not intended for you.

I don’t know if that constitutes a failure or missed opportunity on these companies’ parts. Despite it all, I still want that damn case.

16 thoughts on “Targeting the Douchebag Market”

  1. I’m in a restaurant sitting a table away from the douchebag who could star in all such ads. He just got done sharing—at wine-enhanced top volume—the amazingly awesome story of losing his iPhone 5 in a cab after one month of owning it and having to go buy a NEW iPhone 5 that very day for seven hundred bucks after tax, because that’s how much the iPHONE FIIIIIVE costs. (Guys, did you hear he has an iPhone 5?)
    (Oh, and enough wealth to write off losing the first one as hilarious oopsie, tee hee.)


  2. I recall once seeing a billboard featuring two guys who looked like the stars of Dumb and Dumber. It said “If this isn’t your idea of style, Hamm’s isn’t your beer.” And I thought “Okay. I will take that under consideration.” To this day, I have never even thought of drinking a Hamm’s.


  3. I thought “douchebags with an ego in need of stroking” was pretty much Apple’s core market. 😉
    Seriously though, while I’m not a fan of Apple products, I cannot imagine that approach (ie “haha you’re so lame, you just don’t get it”) is likely to be a significant persuader.


    1. Well, keep in mind, this isn’t Apple’s marketing. Apple usually says, “Hey, this is an easy thing to use! See that cute kid?”


  4. There should be some general term for the phenomenon: where marketing of a product tries to imply things about the presumed user you really would not want to be true of yourself… Or just can’t see yourself being (want not even being the issue… explanation coming)… And you start thinking: can I use this product? This is messing with my identity. Will people think I’m that guy if I whip one of these things out, now? Will they think ‘He totally saw that commercial, totally sees himself that way… Let’s just avoid eye contact, now…’
    I’m pretty sure the reason I can’t buy Apple products in general for my own use is essentially this. I don’t mind buying ’em for my daughter… Totally different. But listen…
    It’s about that ‘I’m a Mac’ guy, back in those iconic commercials they did. I can’t actually stand the idea of people thinking I at all might have identified with that guy…
    Seriously, that guy really bugs me. So fucking full of himself. That subtly superior smirk. Screw you, dude. The chubby guy, on the other hand, who was Mr. PC, okay, he’s kinda…. sad. But I kinda like underdogs. Or, at least, I just can’t endorse that kind of sniffily ‘I’m so much better than you’ BS Mr. Mac was exuding.
    (Linux user, generally, by the way. Got total technical respect for OS/X. Nothing wrong with it at all. Hell, I’ve run FreeBSD boxes, quite happily…
    No, it’s totally the commercials. Seriously. Just fuck you Mr. I’m So Cool. I bet I could look as good under flattering studio lighting as you do, asshole–or, okay… maybe that’s more almost–but, seriously, Mr. Slightly Shufflingly Awkward With A Spare Tire there probably does your taxes, same as he does mine, and better than I ever would, so enough already with the attitude… and I’ll buy a Mac when Jobs is brought back to life with a painful jolt of Frankenstein lightning just to apologize for you.)
    Got what I figure is probably a related problem with so much snowboarding gear…
    Listen, I’m a completely fanatical snowboarder. Confessing how much I’m on the snow would probably suggest someone should stage an intervention. Sleep snuggled up to my board, some nights.
    But I so don’t identify with the image the manufacturers seem to think their customers should. Probably never really did. Even when I was the age of the guys (it’s almost always guys) you see in the ads, I wasn’t exactly that age…
    What can you do. Good gear is good gear. But riding it, sometimes, it’s like… Man, could I maybe get a shirt printed, just to make this feel less weird? It could say: ‘Listen, if you saw the ads for this thing, honest, I know I’m not 20 anymore. And I in no way enjoy keg parties, and I hereby freely confess just as a matter of full disclosure that I’m so square I’ve actually never smoked up in my life. Really. It’s just I’m on the snow a lot, I need a good board, and this happens to be one of those…’
    Marketing people, if you don’t have formulae for this, you totally should. I always sort of assumed you do. But something must still be wrong with it, if you can’t sell me an Apple.


  5. Surely you aren’t their target audience, because you already dig their stuff. Ads are for targeting the as yet untapped high value markets.
    The douche market is great precisely because they are mindless throwaway consumers who are minted enough to be able to get through life despite their douchery AND easily led around by their balls/egos.


  6. Here’s another extreme example of a company I will NEVER buy from due to their ad:
    But I digress.
    In the case of dropbox, their thinking tends to come from the very sensible desire to create a broad “customer profile”. You see this very explicitly in retail clothing for instance where high-end stores will be very specific about “who their customer is”. For the most part, this is something any business needs to do: define their constituency/target market. It is also a way to differentiate from the pack and focus on features/products that are desired by their customers.
    However…what a business does NOT want to do is 1) become presumptuous about who their customers are. ie that there are unexpected reasons for someone buying the product/service. and 2) Be arrogant about it., which is what is in play here. So for instance it’s all good and well to say “We have the best customers”. It’s cliche but still shows you care about them. But once you get into the territory of self-importance you do start to put off people.


  7. My favourite ad:
    “Introducing the Bogitech® Ultrathin Keyboard Cover – designed to impress so you can type in style.”
    I didn’t make this up. “Type in style?” What does that even mean???


  8. Paul, mark this – perhaps – as the moment upon which, in your later years, you can ascribe as the precise time when “it all started to go to hell in a handbasket”. 😀
    It can be a sobering experience to realize that one might no longer be part of the demographic upon which our self-identities are built.


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