Thursday, September 20, 2007

Has "Awareness" Become Big Business?

Wristbands, magnetic ribbons, metal stars – we've all seen them, and some of us have probably even purchased one or more of them. Naturally, the phenomenon starts with only a few sightings and quickly escalates into a ubiquitous trend that may or may not hold the same meaning as when it first began.

In the era of viral marketing, I'm reminded that visibility is the at the core of its strength, and online isn't the only way to get it done. Last year, a man was arrested for positioning a few Lite-brite™ figures around the city of Boston after his installations caused a civil stir of terror proportions. I'm not sure how it hurt or helped awareness of his personal cause, but for other causes deemed more socially appropriate such as the support of our troops or disease awareness, the results are quite clear – if a little fuzzy about how that awareness translates into "support" or "research and/or prevention". But if someone is making a tidy profit on these things, and clearly someone is, is there another more message-oriented cost at the other side of the equation?

Curious about what the metal stars I was seeing hung up on houses everywhere actually meant (if they meant anything at all), I did a little research. Apparently, according to who you ask and where you derive your information, they originated from the Amish barn makers who used them to signify edifices of their manufacture – or a copyright of sorts. Then, during WWII, gold and silver versions were erected in plain sight to signify a family member either currently serving or lost in service to the military respectively. Today, the color signifiers have changed from gold and silver to blue and a gold, with brown added to represent a war veteran. However, it doesn't stop there. Now referred to in some camps as "Amish Barn Stars", some folks simply like the looks of them and have taken to buying them for decoration. In fact, websites such as this one offer them in so many sizes and colors as to boggle the mind, with prices ranging from $12.95 to $139.95.

Good business, unfortunate product hysteria of what seemed a tasteful and traditional tribute, or something else entirely? I'm not really sure. What say you?

No comments: