Any cosmopolitan woman, or at least one who likes fashion and beautiful things will be entranced in watching both Sex and the City movies.
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Women with a wide range of tastes will be educated on the latest pieces from designer labels, but most of all, will be entertained while subliminally brainwashed by the indirect marketing of such labels. Long-time fans of the television series version live as successful, glamorous, sexy and very attractive New Yorkers vicariously through the characters of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte.
Constantly dressed in fashionable clothes, possessing the finest of things and dining in the most upscale restaurants, the characters exude sophistication and poise and embody different personalities of modern women. They empower women to be strong and effectively deal with the challenges in their careers and family lives.
Sex and the City (SATC) has become a goldmine for advertisers who are eager for the characters to endorse products by wearing, holding, looking at or verbally mentioning the product name.
Giving the audience a visual of the product or the logo also goes a long way in creating a memory that is easily retained in the audience’s mind, and possibly, lead to purchasing such items.
Aside from being viewed as a marketing tool, SATC’s emphasis on women being fashionable and beautiful sells an ideology that that is how women should be in order to feel fulfilled as a person and to be able to attract men.
The advertisers of the movie prey on women’s insecurities and their intense need to be accepted, admired and loved. Having very attractive actresses does not only create more insecurity about readers’ looks but also a more passionate desire to achieve the characters’ look by purchasing the cosmetics and fashion they used to look that attractive.
Several brands have partnered with the producers of the movie for advertising purposes. These brands have met with the producer earlier on so that they are included in the film in ways that range from being mentioned in some lines in the script, or appearing on the screen.
On their part, the brand owners will do their share in publicizing the movie with their own “commercials, posters, sweepstakes, viewing parties, events in stores, contests, ticket giveaways and even products with labels inspired by “Sex and the City” (Elliot, 2008, para.4).
The lead character of the show is Carrie Bradshaw, a writer who is beloved by the audience as they witnessed her Cinderella story from being a struggling writer who had difficulties getting by with her finances, but is consumed with an overwhelming desire for signature shoes, mostly by Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo, both labels known for their steep price (Elliot, 2008).
A Macintosh Apple Laptop computer became synonymous with Carrie’s work. Over the years, she has progressed from having her own newspaper column to being an author of several books and writing for the fashion magazine, Vogue.
She has had a string of romances with different men, but her one great love is known as Mr. Big, who fleets in and out of her life until eventually, they both end up together in the movies.
Being connected to Vogue, Carrie had the opportunity to pose for a spread in the magazine wearing designer wedding gowns under the labels of Vera Wang, Carolina Herrerra, Christian LaCroix, Christian Dior, Oscar dela Renta and Vivienne Westwood. These designers are considered crème de la crème of the fashion industry. Eventually, Carrie wears a Vivienne Westwood creation on her wedding day.
Samantha is the character who is very liberated and unashamed of her obsession for sex. In the television series as well as the movies, she was portrayed as a sexually aggressive woman who goes after any man she wants to have sex with, no strings attached.
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She is a very successful publicist who handles the business affairs and image of her high profile clients, one of whom is a young, handsome and popular actor who became romantically involved with her for five years. Being single, she freely goes on trips to various locations and answers to no one.
She has the financial freedom to sustain a luxurious lifestyle. In one scene in SATC 2, some men ran after her thinking she stole one of their imitation Hermes Birkin bags and as they pulled it from her, they realized hers was genuinely hers (as well as genuinely Hermes!) because her things were inside it.
Samantha yelled, “You broke my Birkin!” may have been deliberately inserted in the dialogue to advertise Hermes’ newest addition to their line of handbags.
Miranda epitomizes the full-fledged high-powered career woman who is torn between her successful law practice and spending quality time with her husband and son.
It came to a point when her husband resorted to having a one-night stand with another woman because Miranda refused to have sex with him due to her heavy work schedule.
For sure, there’s a multitude of working women who can relate to Miranda’s character and would stay tuned to what she does in her difficult work-life balance situation. Fashion-wise, Miranda is mostly dressed in fastidious corporate suits with a flair that reflects her smart personality. Otherwise, when she is at home, she is the plain jeans and shirt type of woman.
Last but not the least is Charlotte, the romantic type of woman who has it all – elegant beauty, a kind heart, a happy and complete family living in an opulent home. Charlotte’s high breeding reflects in the classic pieces she wears and owns.
She is a cultured woman who used to work as a museum curator, but now shifted to being a full-time mother who tends to tag her equally well-dressed children along. With her girlfriends, Charlotte blends well in terms of sophistication and serves as their moral compass, as she is outspoken of her traditional principles of integrity.
On the surface, viewers will be captivated by all the charms of the characters donning beautiful clothes and shoes and despite the consistent high standard of beauty they uphold, they do not fail to show that they also have human frailties.
More than being able to imagine themselves wearing signature labels, expensive jewelry and flawless make-up is being able to relate to the characters as women facing ordinary everyday dilemmas and life-changing situations – Carrie’s relationship issues, Samantha’s struggle with Cancer and feelings of emptiness despite having everything money can buy, Miranda’s work issues that conflicts with her marital life, Charlotte’s adjustment to being a hands-on mother after several years of just dreaming of children, and so many other relatable issues that women face in their lives.
The various forms of media that cater to women may best be understood when viewed from the perspective of women themselves (Stevens, Maclaran & Catterall, 2007).
Radner (1995) contends that ‘women’s culture’ positions women’s genres within a ‘muted’ communality of women whose perspectives are shared within the bounds of equality and sisterhood and have the tendency to mock the concept of male dominance in society.
This is evident in SATC in some scenes when the girlfriends talk about their roles with regard to their men, most especially the scene in SATC 2 when the Arab women shared their utmost desire to be like the American characters who can freely express themselves in dress and language.
In Arab culture, women are treated as if they are invisible and literally, they are covered from head to toe and are repressed in expressing their femininity and sexuality in such a traditional culture.
Moore (1997) argues that women’s genres mostly appeal to fantasy but offer ‘emotional realism’. This irony may be appealing to its targeted audience because they may be able to relate to the content of the material but in the guise of a fictional perspective.
Geraghty (1997, 1998) add that the key characteristics of such genres are escapism and fantasy that allow women to enter ideal worlds far from the realities of their own lives. Such escapism may be construed as acts of resistance to the current social order and the genre of women’s literature challenge cultural norms that uphold masculine dominance (Modleski, 1982; Light, 1984; Beetham, 1996).
In another perspective, Lane (2009) shares that “Sex and the City offer to the viewer a dual-position. The viewer is not only engaging the text for pleasure but also to “read” it and decide what they value in the text, marking them as both viewer and voyeur” (abstract page).
It transports the viewer to varied worlds of existence ranging from those real to them to others that they have never even dreamt of. Working girls see themselves as Miranda, for example, who have to deal with men colleagues to cut off their voices by putting a hand in front of them to silence them.
Heartbroken women relate to the plights of Carrie and Miranda as they vacillate between missing their men and staying unforgiving to their indiscretions. Suspicious women relate with Charlotte as she is not at peace away from her husband thinking he might cheat on her anytime.
Frustrated women who used to be independent, powerful women who now have no choice but to stay home to be submissive to their men in support of their careers can relate to Samantha who want to see herself re-emerge from the couplehood she has established with Jared and breathe again as her own woman.
Viewers of SATC may be pulled into the fantasy that the movie sells and advertisers exploit such desires of women to be in the possession of the products the characters seem to endorse. If such is far from the viewers’ reality, then it serves as an escape to the humdrum lives they lead, using ordinary, affordable products that are mass-based.
One consolation is that they get to be familiar with the newest trends and the “in” labels, and that would give them an edge over their peers who are so enmeshed in their own lives to care about the shallowness of fashion, jewelry and accessories labels such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Rolex and jeweller H Stern.
The character of Louise, Carrie’s financially-challenged but smart and stylish assistant serves as one midpoint in viewer’s dream fulfillment. Although she is not rich, she gets to use designer handbags that she rents for a few days.
The rental outfit, Bag Borrow or Steal, was endorsed in the movie as Louise mentions the company in one scene where Carrie admired her handbag and asked how she could afford it.
The advertising was built into the movie because the company’s name was incorporated in the script (Elliot, 2008). What’s more, the lead character was delighted with the idea of renting signature labeled bags for women who cannot afford to buy one for themselves yet.
Not all of the products endorsed by SATC are high end. There are affordable, everyday items such as Coca Cola, Vitaminwater and label-less clothes from vintage shops (Carrie’s actual wedding outfit the day she officially married Mr. Big at the city hall).
It shows that anything that works for the individual is good enough to be endorsed even by characters who are supposedly known as consumers of high class products. It also shows that SATC is also targeting mass appeal.
It is no surprise that common brands such as Diet Coke, Cadbury, Kellogg and Max Factor, among several others, decided to join the bandwagon and invested in cinema advertising when SATC 2 was being promoted (Johnson, 2010). The first week’s showing of the film had filled up advertising slots, as they were booked much faster than the first movie.
DCM cinema sales house report that the featured brands “brands will use the film to engage with a “highly receptive, affluent female audience” (cited in Johnson, 2010, para. 6). Advertisers have shown that they have strong confidence in the “cinema’s power to connect with audiences” (cited in Johnson, 2010, para.7).
Specifically for SATC, Chris Carlisle,the president of marketing at New Line Cinema, the film’s distributor calls the movie the “Super Bowl for women”, meaning it has the tremendous ability to attract an enormous amount of dollars worth of advertising (Staff, brandrepublic.com, 2008).
It is the ultimate marketing vehicle too for places like New York, which is the main setting for the movie, as well as two destination spots for tourists, Mexico for the first movie and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates for the second movie. The movie highlights the special features of the places which implants in the viewers’ minds that these are must-see places they have to visit someday.
Abu Dhabi was marketed as the new Abu Dhabi, showing the facilities of an ostentatious hotel that charges $22,000.00 per night. To most viewers, this is an impossible dream, considering they do not have that amount of money to spend on any vacation. In any case, watching the movie in that setting becomes very educational and entertaining.
It is notable to mention that of the four women who can endorse books, Samantha is the least likely to do so, due to her hectic lifestyle, but in both movies, she is the one seen reading books that the movie features. In the first movie, it is “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne, which Samantha turns to in her frustration with her change of lifestyle in California.
This book was not as emphasized as the other book in the second movie, “Breakthrough” by Suzanne Sommers, which is about maintenance medication to keep looking young and self-help treatments and exercises mostly for menopausal women.
Apart from her endorsement, it was likewise shown as being read by Arab women. This adds credibility to the book as being able to transcend cultures and changing women’s lives.
SATC presents the liberated lifestyles of the characters who mostly subscribe to non-traditional values. They seem to follow a different set of moral rules that traditional society may frown upon such as acceptance and celebration of gay marriage, women being unable to perform traditional domestic roles, and treating sex as a hobby or pleasure sport.
To illustrate respectively, the gay wedding scene of the characters’ gay best friends portrayed in SATC 2 was even officiated by Liza Minelli, a Hollywood legend. Carrie has proclaimed that she cannot cook dinner for her husband, and insists on buying dinner every night.
Samantha jumps to bed with any man that catches her fancy. Being known as a series that unashamedly promotes sex for unmarried women, SATC titillates the curiosity of most women, even those who pride themselves of upholding the strictest of morals.
Non-traditional family values were also highlighted in the movies. As examples, in Carrie and Mr. Big’s marriage, it was considered if they can take a break from their marriage 2 nights in a week and have those 2 days for themselves.
Charlotte keeps a nanny for her children and relies on her to do the challenging parts of motherhood. This same nanny has also become a threat to Charlotte as she is very young and goes around without wearing a bra, and may easily tempt Charlotte’s husband away from her.
Although many conservative eyebrows may be raised at such issues depicted in SATC, more perspectives will be broadened by it. The viewers will follow the developments in the movie and recognize that it is the reality that is happening around them no matter how they look the other way and pine for the traditions and morality they have grown up with.
Now that it is established that the movie endorses lifestyles, values and products, how does it affect viewers? Being able to relate to the different characters in the movie enjoins the viewers to be part of it. When an individual relates to Carrie’s role, for instance, it will have an influence on that person.
She may want to work as a writer who sets her own time on her Apple laptop, dress like her by either purchasing Carrie’s favorite things or buy cheaper alternatives.
She may set her goal on Manolo Blahniks or Jimmy Choos for her feet someday, or if she is privileged to be in a position to afford it, then she may well go to the nearest store to purchase the latest style or the exact one Carrie put in the pedestal of a closet that she had in the movie. She may choose the bridal registry at Bergdorf-Goodman when she intends to be wed, or endorse it to her engaged friends.
Word of mouth is also a strong marketing strategy. When viewers see something they like (or not) on the big screen, they tell their friends, who in turn tell theirs. This result in people being curious of the item and eventually, purchases are made.
Consistent with this principle is the image brands would like to project to the viewers. The brands and labels seen in the movie were so naturally used by the characters as if they were really part of their everyday lives. It was not the kind of advertising that pushes the product to the screen, but the viewers’ eyes chance upon them, or the whole scene may feed the viewers’ senses with a number of things and the brand is just one of it.
The viewers, in turn, wanting to have a part at least of the character’s life, inculcates the product in his system and sometimes, it becomes unconscious to her that she picks it up in the store the next time she goes shopping.
Wanting to be authentic in their scenes, the movie outfit partnered with all the big brands endorsed, one of which is Mercedez Benz. It recreated Fashion Week down to the tents pitched in the park. The brand name is showcased in the scenes depicting Fashion week, and they even got to show their sleekest models, an S-Class limousine used by Mr. Big and the new GLK luxury sport utility driven by Samantha (Elliot, 2008).
Of course it would not be authentic if in every turn of the movie scene, a brand would suddenly flash up on the screen. The characters’ lives were filled with a combination of high end and more affordable products, but the bottomline is that they sell good style.
Viewers’ hungry eyes will scan the whole scene for things they like, such as the nameless furniture and fixtures around the characters that they envision in their own homes, or the interestingly-shaped Arabian shoes Carrie bought in Abu Dhabi that they would like for themselves.
Since each character projects her own personality and style, the whole movie becomes a buffet for style preferences of viewers. More traditional women may admire Charlotte’s classic style and be on the look-out for the brands she uses. Others may memorize the dress designs and have theirs custom-fit. All these in the name of emulating the stars.
In terms of lifestyle, the characters’ are enviable in many ways. Fans who have followed the SATC series on the small screen would know that these characters had a long history that involved the named brands while also living ordinary lives.
They began as regular women living regular lives in the television series and not living such plush lifestyles projected on the bigger screen. Carrie was happy in her small apartment, and it was filled with things her fans loved as well. In the movies, she lived in an upscale New York penthouse, and it showed the progress of her life from being a struggling writer.
Effective marketing would take advantage of the consistency in the plot from the series to the movie. For instance, Bag Borrow or Steal company may just have been introduced in recent years, and the service may not have been available at the time when the series was airing.
However, in the movie, it was put in as an idea that Carrie would have endorsed back when she was still struggling, like Louis was in the movie.
So it was obvious in that scene that it tried to touch women from various states in their lives and careers… from the younger women beginning their careers to the older and more successful women who have done well in their careers and can now afford the things they wanted to buy when they were still financially-challenged.
The most meaningful thing that the movie sold to viewers is the concept of strong friendship, female bonding and sisterhood among the four women. The value of true friendship resonated quite well in SATC as the women went through the highs and lows of their lives together.
Although one of the beginning lines of one movie said something like “Women come to New York for labels and love”, and such idea was portrayed in the movie so well, the plot was filled with events that tested the bonds of friendship, and the ladies passed with flying colors.
To critics, SATC may seem like a movie that sold materialism to its viewers, but in the end of the story, the labels did not matter anymore. In SATC 1, Carrie narrated figuratively that some labels must be left in the closet, and she did not mean designer labels of items, but labels tagged on people as how they are seen by society.
She said some people do not see past the label and see the real person, which is a pity. The movie concluded that stripped of their designer labels, the four women were still dressed from head to toe, in love… and that’s one label that never goes out of style.
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