Brains vs. Beauty: Which Will Be Crowned?

Since 1921, the Miss America pageant has captured the attention of the nation annually. Over the last 96 years the pageant has created controversy and skepticism of the overall motives associated with the Miss America brand. However, what you might not know is that as a non-profit organization, Miss America provides over $40 million each year in scholarships to the over 12,000 young women who compete in state and local competitions all over the nation. Despite these scholastic contributions, Miss America and its contestants are under constant scrutiny for their focus on the female body, image, beauty and talent, allowing little room for the public to see the organizations intended image.

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If you tuned in to the 2015 Miss America pageant on Sunday, September 14, you’d have been delighted with over 50 Tony Bowls evening gowns, 16 Catalina designer swimsuits, 8 well-rehearsed talents, but only 5 20-second interview question answers. Throughout the competition scores are calculated as follows: Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit 15%, Evening Wear 20%, Talent 35%, Private Interview 25% and On-Stage Question 5%. Looking at these numbers, it’s easy to understand how so many viewers have become skeptical of the pageants true aims. These facts leave us asking: How can an organization that claims to be founded on improving women’s education host a pageant that is primarily scored on superficial beauty?

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Although the pageant judges hold private interviews prior to the televised competition, these are not seen by the public. With the overwhelming majority of the televised pageant focused on the physical appearance and selected talent of each contestant it is hard for us, as viewers, to believe that the final decision is based on intellect. Because we do not see the private interviews and are only shown the 20-second On-Stage interview portion, there is minimal emphasis on the contestant’s ability to share her ideas on current events/issues cognitively and knowledgeably.

As popularity of the Miss America pageant has grown, the organization seems to be straying from its original platform concept. While the pageant has always had a beauty portion, the increased focus on the importance of beauty and the “ideal” female body have created negative backlash toward the brand. Looking at Adaptive Structuration Theory (AST) we can see that the cultural obsession with “how a woman should look” has changed the outputs of the organization. As the organization has evolved to basing so much of the final score on lifestyle, fitness, talent, and beauty its current image goes against what Miss America claims to stand for. The organization has adapted its structure over the years to meet the demands of what viewers want to see. While the televised pageant remains popular, drawing over 7 million viewers, the numbers were down 15 percent from last year’s pageant making accelerated skepticism clear. Despite this drop in ratings and increase in negative feedback, Miss America is sure to remain a valued tradition in American culture.

-Angelica DiPaolo, Morganne McIntyre, Anderson McNaull, Madeline O’Connor, Rachel White

Has Urban Outfitters Stained Their Image, Yet Again?

Urban outfitters must believe there is no such thing as bad press as they appear in the spotlight once again with their controversial “bloody Kent State sweatshirt.” For those who do not know, Kent State University endured a massacre on May 4, 1970, when National Guardsmen killed four students during an anti-war protest. Urban Outfitters seems to think this is the perfect backdrop to release a “vintage” Kent State sweatshirt that seemingly resembled an article of clothing that would have been recovered from the shooting. The description of the sweatshirt reads “Excellent vintage condition. We only have one, so get it or regret it!”
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Unfortunately, this is not Urban Outfitters’ first offense; they seem to enjoy provoking controversy as the company has displayed multiple offensive products, targeting a wide spectrum that covers everything from the Jewish community to those suffering from drug abuse and eating disorders. The sad part is that the Kent State Sweatshirt along with these other offensive products continue to sell. The store claims they had no intention of referencing the shooting and that the “blood stains” were simply faded red dye due to age. Interestingly, Kent State’s colors are navy blue and gold.

This makes us question, what is the image they are aiming for and how do they expect the public to perceive them? Their website states, “Our goal is to offer a product assortment and an environment so compelling and distinctive that the customer feels an empathetic connection to the brand and is persuaded to buy.” The definition of empathy is to understand and feel the feelings of others. To blatantly advertise and sell products that offend the public and provoke negative reactions does not sound like they understand the meaning of this word. Urban Outfitters is a global brand with thousands of shoppers so how do they continue to get away with this behavior? While striving to connect with the younger generation by generating an edgy and unique look, they seem to have forgotten their own message.
At times there is image inconsistency between a company and their consumers. It seems that Urban has misunderstood their own image and is possibly trying too hard to maintain the bold identity they believe their customers are looking for. The theory of Looking Glass Self refers to the self image an individual creates based on how they believe others perceive them. Is it possible that Urban Outfitters is just trying to maintain an image they have imagined is expected of them? Is there a chance they will finally cross the line and take this idea too far?

From One Brand To Another

Week to week we commonly see companies in the news whose images are taking a hit (The NFL, Urban Outfitters, etc.) but we rarely hear about the companies who are displaying a positive image. Last week when Chick-fil-A’s founder, S. Truett Cathy, passed away at 93 years old, Moe’s Southwestern Grill posted a touching Facebook post and tweet honoring the inventor of the chicken sandwich.

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The post read “Today we are all Chick-fil-A, Our deepest sympathy for the loss of your founder and our friend, S. Truett Cathy.” These kind words were accompanied by a graphic that combined the two companies’ logos. Thanks to their post, Moe’s has gained a large amount of positive publicity as well as praise from consumers of both Chick-fil-A and Moe’s. This tribute was a simple but genius move on the part of Moe’s. The home of the infamous Joey burrito is now being seen by its target consumers as classy, considerate, and sympathetic. Chick-fil-A even responded to Moe’s, saying “We can’t thank you enough for showing your support as we remember and honor Truett- a friend and so much more to us all.”

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While still in the public’s good graces, Moe’s is coasting right into their highlight event of the year, free queso day. On Thursday, September 18th, Moe’s will be providing free cups of queso and chips to all customers that ask. The company has been advertising the event heavily on their Twitter page, which has been a popular URL thanks to their post addressing Chick-fil-A’s loss of their founder. Whether they intended for the tweet to improve their image or not, their business will definitely reap the benefits of it this Thursday.

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Moe’s wasn’t the only one tweeting its condolences to Chick-fil-A last week; Zaxby’s, Thrive Farmers, and even country singer Brad Paisley also posted to let Chick-fil-A know that Truett Cathy will be missed. Brad Paisley’s industry is far from the production of food, and Thrive Farmers is Chick-fil-A’s new coffee supply company, but Zaxby’s is one of Chick-fil-A’s main competitors. As witnessed in 2011 with Microsoft when Steve Jobs passed away, the public admires a company who can stop to sympathize with one of its competitors in a time of hardship.

So the question behind all of this friendly tweeting is: What is each company’s true motive? Certainly each of these companies has a trained PR professional running its Twitter account, so chances are they knew that sending their condolences towards Chick-fil-A would be well received by onlookers and the media. But it seems wrong to assume that “image boosting” is the only reason one of those companies might want to make a kind gesture.

A company’s identity is carefully designed and constructed by the company themselves, but their image is defined by the public’s perception of them. Some scholars even say that “It may be difficult to judge whether corporate identity determines corporate image or vice versa.” (Christensen & Askegaard,1999) So what do you think? Is creating a positive image as simple as posting some kind words at the right time and place, or is positive image a byproduct of the delicate maintenance of a company’s self identity?

Christensen, L.T. , & Askegaard, S. (1999). Corporate identity and corporate image revisited: A semiotic perspective. European Journal of Marketing, 35, 292-315.

Has Kanye West’s Lack of Sensitivity Permanently Hurt His Image?

Kanye West has continually proved to be one of the most controversial artists in today’s music business. West constantly finds himself under scrutiny by the public for shocking things he has said or done. Since his behavior is reoccurring, it came as no surprise when he made an offensive exclamation at his concert on Friday in Sydney, Australia. Every time West does something to shock his fans, he continues to build on his negative image. After enough negative press, this image could easily become the only way people see Kanye West.

At his concert in Sydney, Australia on Friday, September 12th, Kanye West reportedly refused to play a song until the entire audience was standing. According to the Daily Mail Australia, West said, “I can’t do this song until everybody stand up. Unless you got a handicap pass and you get special parking and s—t.” After that exclamation most people in the audience stood up, but once West noticed two people remained seated, he called them out. He refused to continue on with the show until he realized that one man had a prosthetic limb and the other was in a wheelchair.

Targeting these fans was highly inappropriate and disrespectful. They were not physically able to stand up, but regardless no artist should require that his fans get on their feet during a concert. Being a paying customer gives all concertgoers the right to stand or sit as they please. West defied norms that he should have been more mindful of in this situation. By defying these social norms, West made himself look bad, which in turn reflects poorly on his image.

Kanye West made similar comments just a few days earlier at his concert in Melbourne, Australia. During that show he said, “stand up unless y’all sitting down because y’all handicapped.” He received some negative feedback from this comment, but his fans did not really take notice until the incident in Sydney. In the past, West received criticism when he interrupted Taylor Swift during her speech at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009. West said that Beyoncé deserved to win the award for best female video instead of Swift. In a later interview, West tarnished his image even further by saying he had no regrets about dissing Taylor Swift during the MTV VMA’s.

A person’s image evolves through both direct and indirect experiences, in this case, a direct one with his audience. West appears to be more focused on his identity, who he wants to be, rather than addressing his image, who the public perceives him to be. Through social media reactions, West’s metaimage seems to result in the public not favoring him as an artist due to his behavior.

Through the Attribution Theory, West’s fans analyze his behavior in an attempt for them to better understand his intentions. West’s fans want to better understand why he said what he did so they can predict what he might say in the future. By using a combination of the behavior they have witnessed and the motive behind West’s words, his fans will try to decode West’s current and future rhetoric.

This is not the first time Kanye West has done something outrageous, and it certainly will not be the last. When artists and other people in the spotlight continually practice certain behavior, can we as viewers begin to predict their next move? Can we attribute their behaviors to an underlying motive?

- Hannah Rodgers, Kaitlyn Russell, Anna Joy Zima, Malia Swift, and Spencer Brenes

Mobile Savings Apps: How Back-to-School Shopping is Changing

Ten years ago, we sat next to our parents while they flipped through the Sunday newspaper looking for back to school deals, picking out the newest school supplies and must have backpacks to check off our supply lists. As technology became more of a centerpiece for mass advertising, television commercials and billboards were the next big thing. Today, smart phone apps are beginning to change the way we tackle back to school shopping lists, making the once tedious process more accessible and fun for the entire family.

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Major corporations like Target and Wal-Mart are appealing to digital natives and the “tech savvy” with their apps, Cartwheel and Savings Catcher. These companies, already well known for their low prices, have branded their apps to make it easier for their customers to get the deal. According to Target, Cartwheel users have already saved $107,297,608- and counting! Not only do these apps help you save on everyday items, the more you access the app the more savings opportunities you’ll receive. Cartwheel invites users to “play more save more” to unlock “offer spots” that were otherwise not available. The Wal-Mart Savings Catcher allows you to compare their deals to other stores and guarantee to match any lower price you find. Not only will using these apps save you money, they’ll save you time and make back-to-school shopping more interactive.

While it’s easy to recognize apps created by these major corporations, apps like Key Ring are making a name for themselves in the mobile savings world. Although not tied to any major brand, the Key Ring app has become popular as one of the most helpful when it comes to savings. Creator, Chris Fagan, released on the apps website that in its first year on the market Key Ring had 400,000 installs. That number quickly grew to 1,000,000, and now stands at more than 10,000,000 four years later. Unlike Cartwheel and the Savings Catcher, Key Ring’s interactive experience goes one step further. By allowing you to make and share shopping lists, view deals from multiple retailers, store your existing loyalty rewards cards, and scan barcodes on the spot users can organize and complete their back-to-school shopping with ease.

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As the motive for discount shopping opportunities increases, easier access through mobile apps gratifies the modern shopper’s needs. The Uses and Gratifications Approach explains how individuals actively seek out media to satisfy their individual needs. Like with back-to-school shopping, mobile apps allow you to search and apply discounts directly to the items you need faster than the hours spent cutting coupons in the past. As digital natives we ask ourselves: Why would we spend hours scouring newspaper clippings when we can access thousands of discounts with the touch of a finger anywhere we are?

Angelica DiPaolo, Morganne McIntyre, Anderson McNaull, Madeline O’Connor, Rachel White

More Book for Your Buck

The process of ordering books is an inevitable part of higher education yet, each semester I cringe at the amount of money spent on textbooks. As we progress through college, our textbook prices seem to rise with us. While many of us blame our professors for requiring certain books, the flaw is in the publishing industry. Knowing that students are forced to pay the price, publishers drive up prices without fear of repercussion.

The College Board recently stated that the average college student spends $1,200 per year on textbooks and supplies. This equals out to about 14% of tuition and plays a significant role in the debt burden of students. This chart from College Insurrection gives you an idea of how inflated the cost of textbooks has become since 1978 and the rapid rate at which these prices are increasing.

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While buying our books in stores or on campus has become almost impossible with the prices we would need to be willing to pay, the Internet has answered our cry for an affordable option. With websites like Chegg, we have the ability to buy and even rent both used and new textbooks. By shopping online, it eliminates the role of wholesalers, retailers and distributors. As a result, students save money.

Websites such as Chegg are targeting college students who want to save big bucks on textbooks but now, Chegg is finding ways to keep customer retention by branching out and becoming more than just an online book shop. The website has successfully implemented Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, into their interactions with customers. New Directions for Institutional Research explains how CRM works when an organization or company can find new avenues to pursue, in addition to, ways to interact and better serve the customer.

Chegg has anticipated the needs of their customers well and this is apparent right on their front page. The website offers help with homework at the same place the students buy their textbooks, as well as, step-by-step solutions for your courses, scholarship connections and course scheduling and reviews. All of these benefits keep their current customers engaged and coming back for multiple reasons. By attempting to be more than just an online bookstore they strengthen brand loyalty and ensure a lasting relationship with students.

If all of this textbook talk is stressing you out… Rest easy knowing that there are companies like Chegg out there trying to correct this problem.  Congress is even getting involved with the Affordable College Textbook Act, which alleviates some of the financial burden.  Though textbook prices will remain an issue for students in the foreseeable future, there is help on the way.  What would you like to see done to put a little more money back in your pocket?