Plain Style: A Staple for Advertising in Retail
Being occasionally confused, or at times outraged, by a misleading advertising sign either within or promoting a retail store is not brand new to the average shopper. To either the experienced shopper or any retail employee, such misleading terminology is used whenever possible. The plain style used for such attraction is more certainly eye-catching, but almost always leaves out other vital information, often known as a ‘catch.’ Working as a retail worker the past few years may be a side job while studying English education at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, but it has influenced my critical eye not only in such retail advertising, but also other hidden or missing details in other plain style texts.
I have worked for Victoria’s Secret for over two years and absolutely love my job. However, as with any job, there comes numerous frustrations. For someone who has worked a customer service job has likely complained about numerous costumers. Unfortunately, such frustrations and unclear communication is derived from flashy, yet faulty, advertisements. What is in large, bold print is what people take note of, and can easily understand. Yet, it is the larger amount of information that is usually disguised, because the official style version of the description is not what brings people or money through the door. In addition to misleading advertising in terms of promoting purchases, such advertising strategies used also promote unhealthy standards of body image. Many aspects of advertising in the plain style such as signs, coupons, social media, and other promotions cause such confusion and frustration in a retail environment.
One coupon customers who shop with us will recognize is a ten dollar off birthday coupon. On the front, the largest font states “$100 OFF” as well as “Happy Birthday”. The most common frustration with the coupon is the large paragraph of small print on the back of the coupon. Most people do not think about looking at the back to view the restrictions and exclusions. Costumers are more likely to understand that the coupon cannot be applied to clearance items, for it clearly states so within these exclusions. However, it is the term ‘bra multiples’ that frustrates not only many costumers, but me as well. The term ‘two for’ bras refers to PINK bras that are ‘2 for $42’ as well as the V.S. bras that are ‘2 for 49.50.’ Within the aforementioned exclusions, it states that it excludes ‘bra multiples.’ This term is too vague, and deserves more explanation to clarify any confusion. Rather than using a casual and unfamiliar term, the text should go into further detail explaining that the coupon cannot be combined with the ‘2 for $42’ offer or the ‘2 for $49.50’ offer. Unfortunately, the plain style text on coupons is not the only frustration plain style language causes.
The words “Free Tote with $75 sport Purchase” was presented not only on a coupon sent out to costumers, but also on a large sign visible to those walking into stores. There are few simple words that are accessible and easy to understand. On the other hand, the hidden term, ‘sport purchase’, is the concealed “catch” in this particular promotion. As an employee, I am aware that a sport purchase includes any items from of our VSX collection, or fitness line. The modest terminology does not communicate such restrictions to customers, and many are frustrated and upset when they learn such information at the register and do not receive said free tote. Even though small print under a larger heading is usually ignored, I believe that it would be more helpful and clear to costumers if the sign clearly stated what a ‘sport’ purchase would consist of. What tends to occur is many costumers arrive at the checkout, with a purchase larger than they intended on to receive the tote, but are unable to qualify for it. At that point, most people keep all of their items, spending more money than initially planned, even though they did not receive their intended free item. This is a strategy implemented with faulty, simple plain style text in order for larger profit. This unfortunate misrepresentation is common throughout other aspects of retail as well, including strategies to include you onto their mailing lists.
PINK is commonly known as a collection by Victoria’s Secret that includes bras, panties, sweatshirt, sweatpants, and the incredibly popular, yoga pants. Several times a year, it is advertised that with a pink purchase, customers will receive a free item with their PINK purchase. Since common free items include, water bottles, mugs, flip flops, hats, totes, and more, people are excited to receive such free items. What their e-mails, texts, Facebook posts, and signs outside the store do not explain is that it is free when one is a member of PINK nation. Many times, this aspect of the hidden message is not an issue, for many people already have this application, and if not, it is easily downloadable on all smartphones. However, for people who do not have a smartphone or do wish to download the application, the sign out front stating, “Free Item with Pink Purchase” will not apply to them. After an initial discussion of the increase in smartphones and mobile cell phone plans within Chiang and Siao-Cen Tu’s article, Analyzing Behaviors Influencing Use of Mobile Coupons From The Perspective of Transaction Utility, they revealed that since, “..the delivery of coupons has expanded beyond traditional newspaper flyers and street distributions to mobile coupons. This change has led to consumers not having to passively acquire coupons from newspapers, magazines, or products…” (Chiang &Siao-Cen Tu 434). Having coupons that are easily and constantly sent via smartphone provide the easiest form of advertising. Again, this is all occurring due to vague, plain style language that led customers to downloading the application to their smartphone. I am certain that one of the ‘hidden agendas’ behind this particular strategy is acquiring personal information. Even though some costumers may refuse providing phone numbers and e-mail on the keypad at the checkout, it is impossible to have the PINK nation application without providing that information. With access to one’s e-mail and cell phone number, the company is free to send out multiple e-mails and text messages a day for constant advertising. Again, I believe on the ‘hidden agendas’ is to bombard people with advertisements as a way to become profitable. In addition to this style of language embedded into promotional coupons and signs, it is also displayed to represent other aspects.
One of the more recent advertising launches the company portrayed was themed around “The Perfect Body.” This particular launch sparked a lot of outrage, because behind the three words, “The Perfect Body”, was several of images of models, who by most modern media standards, are considered to have actual versions of said ‘perfect body’. This play on words was used to advertise new addition to the ‘Body by Victoria’ line of bras that Victoria’s Secret carries, and even though people were aware of this, they still thought of the concept to be body shaming. On an article titled, Victoria’s Secret ‘Perfect Body’ Ads Draw Criticism , found on the Huffington Post website, they discuss a petition that was started against the campaign stating, “We would like Victoria’s Secret to change the wording on their advertisement for their bra range Body, to something that does not promote unhealthy and unrealistic standards of beauty, as well as pledge to not use such harmful marketing in the future” (Huffington Post). It is interesting that the main concern for promoting such standards of beauty is not because of the models, but rather the word choice. They plain style play on words to describe the ‘Perfect Body’ was the largest concern in this public outrage.
Multiple aspects of advertising in the plain style such as signs, coupons, social media, and other promotions cause confusion and frustration in a retail environment. Unfortunately, I am quite certain that such tactics and strategies will never improve, but I hope that they do not progressively worsen. As I previously stated, I do enjoy my job with Victoria’s Secret, and plan to continue to work there until I begin teaching, but dealing with the constant conflict between costumer frustration and advertising confusion is definitely not one of my favorite duties of my position.