Posts Tagged ‘nike’

The Price Of Luxury

October 17th, 2023 2 comments


In a famous quote by P.T. Barnum, it was stated that, ““Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.”  His reference was of course to ‘popular’ acts he featured in his eponymously named circus with partner James Bailey. The baser the acts, the more popular they seemed.  In the day, bearded women, tattooed strong men and morbidly obese people of ambiguous sexuality were unusual curiosities.  Today of course, not so much.

A very similar sentiment was expressed by H.L. Mencken, an American journalist who invoked, “No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

Anyone paying attention to current events would have to concur with the sentiments expressed by these insightful men, so many decades ago since they are confirmed again and again in our own lifetime. Today, the appetite for base amusement continues unabated and it seems that there is no spectacle too crass or raw for public consumption.

The success of so many enterprises and individuals over the decades have relied exclusively on this principle.   While invoked in reference to the American public, people of all nations are no less susceptible.  Vast empires have been built on selling consumers not just the idea, but the need, to get or experience, the next big thing. In our time,  some of the best exponents of this are such companies as NIKE, Apple and Louis Vuitton, the inspiration for this post.

Without this urge to consume fed by savvy enterprises willing to satisfy a virtual bottomless pit of demand, we wouldn’t have the grotesque consumer economy we see worldwide today. The dark side of this enormous consumer economy is the associated debt that has been taken on by naïve consumers.  At the center of this consumer vortex are the so called ‘luxury brands’ that cater to those especially insecure types who need to express their superiority over others by association with a prestigious marque. Quite a combination: the need for amusement as well as the need to assuage insecurities.

And thus it was bizarre to observe that during the insanity of the past few years of lockdowns and sequestering, companies such as LVMH, the French based vendor of premier ‘luxury’ brands actually had record sales!  How odd that during a period when people weren’t allowed to venture outside their own homes, that they would feel the need to buy a $6000 purse or $3000 alligator shoes.  The expensive cognac, I get; why drink swill if you’re in jail.  To be sure, many high priced marques do provide higher quality products, that’s not the issue. The issue is the need for average consumers to ostentatiously display these goods as a means of separating themselves from the hoi polloi. It always seemed odd to me that someone sporting a garment with CHANEL imprinted on it in bold letters was essentially broadcasting their deep insecurities.  No wealthy person would display their lack of taste in such crass fashion.

This mindset of association with brands is much worse among those who are clearly unable to live in this world.  It’s truly bizarre to see young ghetto kids wearing sneakers costing many hundreds of dollars when they couldn’t find 3 bucks for a McDonald’s burger. But it’s no less different than the suburban couple up to their hairline in mortgage debt needing to own a Mercedes and a Range Rover.

Marketers have done their jobs brilliantly in creating the insatiable demand for things that are entirely discretionary.  They’re even able to do this with food.  Next time you go to Whole Foods, have a look at the range of prices for eggs.  You will pay much more if you want to be associated with the woke crowd. Marketers have successfully capitalized on people’s need to be associated with success and wealth. Imagine the 20 something mall gal sporting a Louis Vuitton labeled bag.  As if anyone is going to associate her with Paris Hilton.

Nothing wrong with aspiring to better things of course.  That’s the natural order of things.  However, what the little people manage to do is to make people like the Bernard Arnaults of the world even wealthier…which separates them even more from their aspirant customers. Ironically that’s exactly what the little people want to do when they flash their Rolexes to the peons. And isn’t that the entire point of the Instagram generation?  To show others exactly how vanilla others’ lives are compared to theirs?  They are only emulating what works for the big guys.

Sanctimony Comes To Golf

June 11th, 2022 No comments


With all of the ongoing vexations occurring in the world today, the latest headline grabber comes from the sports world.  As we all know, the world of ‘sports’ has changed dramatically over the last few generations, evolving from earnest competitions among talented participants to become grossly commercial endeavours pitting billionaires vs billionaires and their stables of ponies.  Sports is big business and most everyone in the world is a fan of some kind of sports activity.

Worldwide, but especially in the US, sports is not a pastime of leisure, or of dilettantes.  It is serious business as virtually every college and university in America has a sports program that is the farm system for players hoping to turn professional.  None of these programs would exist if not for the monetization potential of any particular sport.  I suppose the javelin toss and hammer throw could be the exceptions.  They’ve yet to make the televising of throwing spears or iron balls appealing to the masses…. but maybe one day.

There is no question that money is the lifeblood for sports; we’ve become accustomed to eye popping sums offered to professional athletes based on their perceived ability to fill a stadium, draw TV viewership or hawk products.

One of the few sports to have escaped (somewhat) this crass commercialism was golf. Sure, the players wore logo’d shirts and hats, but the players were always portrayed as gentlemen whose goals were loftier than just the prize cheque for winning a tournament.  It was good enough to be recognized as good.  Or it was… until money started to drive the game, which began with Arnold Palmer and ultimately with the monetization of Tiger Woods.  As the game changed from the genteel sentiments of Bobby Jones to the present day “Nascar-ing” of the sport, money has become the dominant influence of the game.  Forget Titleist or Callaway, the number one driver in golf….is money.

The recent uproar in the genteel golf world laid bare this reality as an upstart league, the LIV tour, backed by wealthy Saudis, sought to lure top tier players away from the long established PGA tour by offering eye watering amounts of money to play in their tournaments.  To illustrate the lure, consider that Tiger Woods, arguably the greatest in the history of the game, won 18 major tournaments along with 82 regular victories.  His total earnings for his career amounts to just over 120 million dollars.  Dustin Johnson, with only a fraction of Wood’s success was offered 125 million dollars, just to come over to the new league. I’m not going to judge Johnson’s sense of allegiance or values, but we all know, he isn’t going to win 18 majors and 82 tournaments in his career.  The same is true for all of the other notable names that have elected to forgo the PGA brand for the LIV offering.  In other words, these athletes are doing what every other athlete does in any other sport, they go to the highest bidder.  Money has affected golf; what a shock!

Of course the other criticism levelled against the defecting players is that they are supporting a regime which has an abysmal record on human rights.  Not only that, but the Saudis are the source of nationals responsible for terror attacks on the US.  None of those accusations are unfounded.   But as in most narratives, there is the other side of the coin.  Nike, one of the biggest sponsors of players on the PGA tour, (and in fact all sports) manufacture most of their gear in China, a nation which pays as much attention to human rights as Italian drivers do to stop signs.

You could argue that the big money paid to elite athletes sponsored by Nike are in fact off the backs of suffering worker bees oppressed in China.  It’s somewhat akin to the superiority that drivers of electric cars feel over petrol drivers, even though their electricity is made from burning coal.  If we’re going to demonize nations for their repressive actions, that’s fair.  It’s also fair to then point out the repressions in all nations, including the US and Canada, oft considered paragons of liberty.

It’s fair to say that the past two years have seen the most repressive human rights agendas perpetrated by these very nations that most vocally protest the deeds of the Saudis.  As of this writing, Canada for example, has yet to allow all of its citizens from leaving the country. Certain parts of the US still force people to inject harmful products into their bodies in order to work.  Bank accounts are seized over actions critical to the governments.  I don’t expect PGA players to refuse cheques issued by sponsors in these countries.

Both arguments against the defecting players are hypocritical.  No one amongst us would pass on an offer of significantly higher income for doing the same thing.  That is illogical. If we expect these guys to play for the love of the sport, then people should also be expected to work because they love accounting.  As for the association with human rights thuggery; have a look in the mirror; objects are closer than they appear.