Blindingly Good Marketing from Urban Outfitters & Lisa Frank

by Rebecca Isenhart

Screencap via urbanoutfitters.com

You are about to be pick-pocketed by a dancing rainbow bear in a tuxedo.  Maybe you’re just having a bad trip, but chances are you’re just standing in Urban Outfitters.

UO, in all its marketing glory, has paired up with artist Lisa Frank to push retina-burning relics from the 90’s on college kids with plenty of disposable income and an insatiable desire to regress back to childhood.

Ironically, of course. Not because we’re afraid of plunging into the vortex of responsibility and heartbreak that is adulthood. Seriously, it’s a style choice… Hold on a sec, I need to go call my therapist.

Before you go dump your wallet out on the Urban Outfitters checkout counter, take a moment and consider that this is more like a stroke of marketing genius than a generous gift from Lisa Frank to your inner child. In fact, it’s probably a recipe for buyer’s regret.

Here are the magical marketing tactics that make me suspicious:

1. “Vintage.” We love this vague label so, so much. Urban Outfitters knows that. But Lisa Frank’s stuff barely squeaks into that category. About.com classifies fashion items as vintage if they’re between 20-100 years old. These items are on the young end of that spectrum as it is, and extremely similar products are still being sold today on Lisa Frank’s web site. Technically, things don’t have to be discontinued to be vintage – but doesn’t it kind of make them seem less special when they’re still being made new?

2. “Limited Edition.” Again, TECHNICALLY, yes. These come from Lisa Frank’s “vault,” the existence of which is verified by the video interview posted on the Urban Outfitters web site. But extremely similar things are still being sold. So they’re limited enough for a serious collector [read: hoarder of rainbows] to care, but if you just want to slap some nostalgic stickers on your iPhone case, you’d probably be better off searching Amazon, where you can get book of several hundred for less than $5.

3. The nostalgia factor. Remember how you used to be able to eat an entire jar of frosting with your finger and not puke? Remember how you used to be able to look at a Lisa Frank folder for more than 15 seconds and not go blind? Things have changed. Spending $15 on a “designer’s set” with four pencils and a weird, small notepad will not change them back.

I love the 90’s as much as the next 20-something. I’ll still defend N*SYNC against the Backstreet Boys in an argument. (Maybe too enthusiastically?) But I think I’ll raid my basement before I go running to Urban Outfitters, wallet wide open.

Are you with me, or did you already pick up some new rainbow school supplies? Leave comments!

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