Goodwill has joined the ranks of major chain stores experimenting with local micro-brands, opening a pilot boutique for high-end recycled clothes in little San Anselmo, California. And now it finds itself in the spotlight for what they feel is a little creative license, but some locals feel is a cynical lie.
Goodwill recently opened Georgi & Willow right in the heart of downtown San Anselmo—just a block from my office—offering the antithesis to the typical thrift store by recycling designer clothes and staging them in a high-end boutique. Great idea.
They took an innovative approach to business, and tried to match it in their approach to marketing, which today of course demands social media. They have a Facebook page, a Google+ profile, a Twitter feed, and a Pinterest page. They have a Picasa album, they’re all over Yelp, and I’m sure there’s more I’ve missed. They’re hitting all the bases.
But that wasn’t enough. What’s a big social media footprint without a compelling story? Bad advertising, that’s what. So Goodwill baked up a story—in fact, they probably baked it up at the start. Georgi & Willow isn’t just a cute name for the store. They’re the fictional boutique owners. Two local women who grew up in San Anselmo (wink, wink) have been BFFs and fashionistas since high school, and finally decided to follow their dream and open a clothing boutique.
Here’s a thread from their Facebook page:
Looking forward to a trip out to Bodega Bay this weekend for a hike and a little beach time. Where’s your favorite Marin beach? – Willow
Robbie Check out the tide tables – at low tide Bolinas Beach is gorgeous.
Georgi & Willow Great recommendation, Robbie! I can’t wait to check it out! -Willow
It’s clear that some people are in on the “secret”, and engage tongue in cheek. But others are under the impression that a couple of childhood friends have opened a local boutique, and find the experience jarring when they learn the truth. One woman was so upset she showed up at the local town council meeting to complain, while others are commenting on Yelp and the local news sites.
This is not an appropriate way to promote your store, it’s deceptive and frankly takes the customers for fools. I think that Goodwill should tell their story instead of a fake story.
As a long-time marketer and a local, I find several serious problems with Goodwill’s approach.
The core motivation that drives social media is the desire among consumers to thwart the manipulative lies of marketing. We all know marketing has an agenda to shape the way we see the world and to get us to buy on command. Sharing our experiences with others gives us better access to the truth, and forces marketers to be more honest. That’s why social media has such a strong imperative for authenticity, and it’s precisely why an approach like Georgi & Willow feels so much against the grain.
From what I can tell, Goodwill is generally a force for good. According to their web site, Goodwill Industries is an international non-profit providing “job training, employment placement services and other community-based programs for people who have a disability, lack education or job experience, or face employment challenges.” A citation on Wikipedia claims they earned $4B in 2010, and 84% of earnings went to employment, training and support services to more than 2.4 million individuals.
That’s good. But it doesn’t mean their local foray into social marketing is good. My problem with Georgi & Willow is that it’s clearly trading on the impression of a homegrown business founded by local people just like you and me to make the store more appealing and buzz-worthy. Apparently, good clothes, a good location and a good business model are not enough. We need to be wooed with this fiction that the founders are local—while, ironically, real local business owners watch angrily from the sidelines. At its core, the whole comes across not as a cute and savvy marketing technique, but as a cynical lie—the same old little manipulative marketing lies we’ve always been told to get us to notice brands and buy things.
It’s also a little bit creepy.
Marketers have always dressed up their ads in little fictions designed to make them seem more familiar, or featured real people telling us their authentic stories. But Goodwill is doing something different. They’re co-opting the very heart of what binds us as neighbors and friends—the little details of life that connect us in some shared experience: having gone to Drake High School, knowing certain local trails, going to Bolinas beach next Saturday. They’re invading our personal sense of identity.
That sense of identity is something we all cherish. It’s why we choose to live where we do. In a world dominated by global brands that have made everything more generic, the little details that bind us with friends and neighbors are what make our lives feel unique and authentic. To have that become just another currency for a large corporation—however well intentioned—to trade on just to manipulate us into shopping at their store may be creative, but it’s also creepy and not a little misguided.