exploitative yoga advertising: solutions & new possibilities (or, how to subvert viral marketing)

Image via yogadawg.blogspot.com

Okay y’all. Last week I declared that I’m starting to feel it’s more effective to withhold comment on viral video yoga “controversies” than to get sucked into a predictable and cyclical conversation which ultimately results in increased brand recognition. Even though I want to advocate silence – for myself at least, as I find the cycle too frustrating and energy-draining – I also have to admit that I find the idea of silence a little unnerving. I value dialogue and believe in the power of conversation.

Luckily, YogaDawg came up with a pointed, yet typically light response with the above graphic. It’s interesting to think of the community as being exploited, rather than the women featured in sexualized yoga advertising – that puts a different spin on things, for me.

Is there a way to stimulate healthy discussion without fueling the fire? I decided to come up with some guidelines for how to contribute to the conversation without participating in it. Check ’em out:

1) Resist the urge to comment on the video page itself, or watch it repeatedly to “analyze” the content. These show up as pageviews and comments numbers, which reinforce the effectiveness of the ad.

2) When blogging about the latest controversy, link to other blog posts or news articles about the video, rather than embedding the video in your post and driving more traffic towards it. Rather than posting images or screenshots of the video, post positive alternatives (or pictures of kittens! tag them with “nude yoga” and confuse the several thousand people who search that term daily). I learned the hard way that a powerful image can actually detract from the conversation at hand.

3) When commenting on other blog posts, refrain from making assumptions about the models – they’re human and they actually have very little creative control over the final product (which is determined by ad agencies and marketing departments). Instead, comment on the branding and apparent strategy of the advertisement.

4) Email marketing directors and CEOs (or send a letter! on paper!). It’s convenient and easy to tweet/post a comment on a fanpage (that’s why it’s called slacktivism, yo), but these kinds of public displays are having less clout as brands are have more social media savvy (and less fear): they see this as “conversation,” not criticism. If you really want to show you’re passionate and concerned, take the time to write a thoughtful letter. As well, many social media accounts are handled by interns or outsources to agencies and feedback often doesn’t reach the upper ranks.

5) Before you hit the submit button: pause, take a deep breath and read over what you’ve written. Does your comment contribute to the conversation, or are you just saying something for the sake of saying something? Are your emotions overriding your discernment? Will others be harmed by what you have to say?

I’m sure there are more ways to subvert viral marketing. Do you have anything to add?

  1. Thanks for writing these suggestions. I wholeheartedly agree that overall restraint is a worthwhile strategy. One can spend a lot of energy grinding against the inertia of the status quo or one can try to work on viable alternatives. (It’s a tough call to decide which strategy is more appropriate of course!)

    Leaning toward the “alternates” strategy, from my long-range perspective, I think the most subversive (although indirect) act would be to focus on genuine well being and to find ways to support it in others. If people were not invested in buying their way to happiness, not invested in sexual objectification, etc. this kind of marketing would have no power. In my experience, there is nothing more empowering/subversive than realizing that your most profound and meaningful moments of being, have not come from consuming things or taking things, but rather, from dedicating yourself to a practice and training yourself to truly connect with the world and others. If more people integrated a profound level of connection with the world into their daily lives, these types of images would become as thin as the paper they are printed on. They would simply come and go, unable to arouse anything other than what they are. That would free up one’s time/energy to devote to other things – deepening one’s yoga practice, supporting initiatives in the yoga community that foster greater diversity, etc.

    • interesting, thanks for the suggestions! i also agree that by focusing on our practices and personal well-being, we have the potential to subvert overconsumption (although it’s definitely the long-term investment/slow approach). i think this is why i find the commercialization of yoga so fascinating and paradoxical.

  2. It’s tricky as I think that a good critique of yoga commercialism can be valuable for many. But at this point it’s difficult to keep it from feeling like the same old same old, which you described so well in your previous post. I chose silence (except for some comments, at least one of which was ill-conceived) in this last instance – but also felt rather silenced by that choice. Which wasn’t such a good feeling either.

    I think this strategy of responding in ways that deliberately avoid the viral marketing is good. Even better I think is the fact that it can serve to make the mechanics of such marketing more transparent. While this won’t be compelling to many, it does at least shift the focus away from the over-personalization of the issues that keeps happening.

    It’s a vexing cycle and ultimately I have no solution – but I do like the directions you’re exploring here.

  3. YES!!!

    Of course we’re being exploited. We are a HUGE, RICH, freaking market. And we have, it seems, obscene amounts of free time.

    When it comes to just ignoring the nonsense, we could call that driste.

    Meanwhile, most obviously and hilariously, the NYT has REALLY got our number. The stupider their yoga coverage, the better the linkbait.

    It’s like we’re just LOOKING for something to yammer about. We go for that linkbait every time, so their yoga coverage just keeps getting stupider and stupider. The last episode is only the most extreme. They are making SO much money on us.

    The “grunge” movement and Robert Frank (who later wrote What’s the Matter with Kansas) made a savvy sendup of the NYT a decade ago for just this kind of behavior.