Built for the couch
April 12, 2022 Comments Off on Built for the couch
This past January I was walking down a trail and crossed a makeshift shooting range that the local idiots have long used on BLM land. It’s filthy, littered with Second Amendment garbage of every sort, and as I crossed, a man in his mid-60’s, obese and hobbling, turned in surprise.
“What the hell you doing walking around here barefoot?” he asked. It was in the low 50’s and hardly cold.
“What the hell you doing walking around here in shoes?” I retorted.
He laughed. “Aw, my feet are all shot to shit. I had so many operations on ’em I can barely walk nowadays. But it’s too cold for you to be out here barefoot.”
“No, it’s not.”
“How come you’re walking that way?”
“It’s good for my health and it feels good. It’s natural.”
“So’s being naked. Why don’t you walk around without any clothes, then?”
“I think there’s a law against that.”
“Nobody gonna see you out here.”
I shrugged and continued on, leaving the sad fellow to his task of picking up spent shells, but the man’s reaction bothered me. He took it as a personal affront that I was barefoot. Why? Well, most obviously because I was doing something simple and ordinary that he couldn’t do. It was like he had turned my own innocuous behavior back onto me, as if I’d said to someone whose teeth were all rotting out that I’d decided to start flossing after dinner and they responded, “Well, why don’t you floss five times a day, then?”
There was no recognition that his own immobility, swollen ankles, and essentially unusable feet might be a function of his behavior or lifestyle, no, they were the result of “operations,” and anyone out enjoying one’s feet was only a step removed from people walking around outdoors naked. This is how completely capitalism and its attack on the outdoors has removed people from the outdoors, even when they are at least, in theory, not inside.
The things we need in order to thrive outdoors we were mostly born with. What civilization seeks to do is minimize those things through nonuse to the point of dysfunctionality, then destroy those natural affects. This is why people for the most part cannot walk barefoot unless it’s for short distances on the beach, it’s why they have great difficulty thermoregulating in response to heat and cold, it’s why they can’t find their way around or remember routes, and it’s why so many fundamental bodily systems function so poorly, from the endocrine interplay between bones and muscle, to the creation and resorption of bone, to the tactile functioning of skin, to squatting flat-footed and taking a dump.
None of this has happened by accident or by random concatenation of independent events. All of it is a result of economic and political control systems that, through coercion and culture, require us to discard what we are born with and what works in exchange for artificial junk that we don’t use, don’t need, and that fails to deliver the substitute functionality promised in the marketing campaign.
Silly stuff for silly people
I’ve explained how the recreational vehicle is one small part of an ethos that creates a product which delivers obesity, immobility, cost, and control and falsely associates it with outdoors memes of mobility, freedom, and adventure. But the recreational vehicle primarily focuses on the retiree or the soon-to-be-retired. It is one of endless products that has marginal outdoors utility at best, yet that markets itself as a merit badge of the rugged, outdoorsy individualist. Such products can only succeed when there are subjects who perceive themselves as that kind of person, a Boy Scout unchained. When such products spill over into the mainstream, which by definition is comprised of flabby, indoorsy herd-followers, it provides a perfect lesson for the way in which the outdoors is turned in upon itself to become a marker, an imaginary destination, a symbol of what humans used to be and therefore a promise of the eventual emergence of the “wild inner me” just bustin’ to get out and stir shit up. Beneath this broken-down, medicated surface lies a Paleo Man, so the fantasy goes, ready to do battle with saber-toothed tigers. The indoorsy herd-follower adopts the outdoorsy merit badge dangled by the marketer, and with it the self-perception that they somehow embody the qualities promised by the product and therefore have no need of employing or developing the actual qualities inherent in being human to go out and be “outdoorsy.” The outdoors can be experienced indoors through marketing, where it is subject to the algorithm’s permanent controls of surveil, discipline, and punish.
One of the best examples of this type of product, an indoors item sold on the backbone of its outdoors marketing campaign, is Yeti. What began as a fisherman’s search for a better way to keep his beer cold, itself a thing antithetical to experiencing the outdoors, has become a trademark consumer product for lazy indoors people with jowls. Keep in mind that the better the marketing the more total the lie, and Yeti achieves this by adopting the name of a mythical Himalayan ape-like creature, “Yeti,” and tying its brand to an extreme outdoor environment synonymous with danger, legend, and the highest mountain peaks in the world. Yeti’s tag line, “Built for the Wild” is of course absurd. Its products are built for the sofa, for the car en route to work, for the office or the golf course, and for weekend excursions to the tamest of destinations, that is kiddie soccer games or perhaps a canned “hunt” where tame animals behind high fences are led between the sights of drunken urbanites with rapid-fire weapons.
I like Yeti because it exemplifies an entire genre of things, wholly unnecessary and virtually all superfluous or useless as a thing that will increase your time spent outside, the possession of which brands the subject as one who does in fact spend a lot of time outdoors and more importantly who experiences the outdoors with premium, expensive products and general badassery. This in turn enhances the subject’s appearance to others and on social media and ultimately to oneself. Yeti benefits from this fake appearance loop by enticing subjects to make further unnecessary purchases, by describing them as members of “Yeti Nation” and by ginning out sippy cups, for example, in ever-changing color arrays that stimulate even more brand loyalty and something so bizarre that it’s hard to grasp, that is, the collecting of mass-manufactured ice coolers and wine tumblers.
Yeti is pedestrian in its offerings and copycat in its marketing, taking paths already clearcut by L.L. Bean, Land’s End, Jeep, Filson, and countless other products and services that use the outdoors as purchase bait. But unlike makers of pants and shoes, arguably necessary items outdoors if only to avoid jail time, Yeti’s entire existence is built on a concept that completely negates the outdoor adventurism it projects. In other words, perfect marketing is a perfect lie.
This especial lie is the lie that experiencing the outdoors requires thermoregulation of food, drinks, and especially booze. Yeti originally belonged to the category of crap called a “cooler,” whose purpose was almost exclusively to chill your beer while sitting in the backyard. Because someone found utility in coolers for other things, rarely for example, fish caught in a river or stream, and much more often meat caught in a supermarket waiting for its glory moment on the grill, subjects eventually accepted as a matter of course that keeping cold things cold and hot things hot was a must for the outdoors.
That outdoors consisted of backyard picnics, boats, campgrounds, and any other place where you could drive a car. Why a car? Because a medium sized, 30-qt. cooler filled with ice and beer weighs at least 50 lbs. No, you’re not hiking that up a steep trail on a multi-day backpacking excursion, wheels or not. But before we leap off the deep end of whether or not coolers have utility, let’s return to my main argument, which is this: in order to experience the outdoors you need less, not more. This means that crucial activities like eating and drinking need thermoregulation no longer than it takes to prepare the item, and the thermoregulation is almost invariably heating. After that, hot things get cool and cold things get warm.
For all of human existence no one seemed to mind. People traveled outdoors, worked outdoors, lived outdoors, never thinking that the momentary pleasure of a hot coffee was something that needed to be extended for six hours. No one ever considered that beer or whiskey, historically consumed warm, had to be cooled–and kept that way–in order to drink them outdoors. To bring the whole thing up to 2022, no one through-hiking the PCT expects ice cubes in their cup. People who have to hike, bike, or walk long distances find incredible satisfaction being outside without the guarantee that everything will be refrigerated until the moment of preparation or consumption.
To the contrary. The more time that people spend outdoors in virtually any context, the more they dispense with these superfluities. Fighting ambient air temperature is a pain in the ass, and the longer you’re outside, guess what? Your body becomes amazingly skilled at staying warm when it’s cold, and cool when it’s hot. All it takes is time. People who spend lots of time outdoors tend to eschew all the little comforts because they are more trouble than they’re worth, but, and this is the death-knell for capitalism, they also start to take pride in NOT needing things. In order to frame it as a kind of wackiness, capitalism calls it minimalism, but in fact neither our minds nor out bodies do well with a surfeit of things. We evolved to adapt to famine but not to obesity. Minimalism isn’t a fringe approach to organizing your mini-storage or your closets. Having fewer things is a requirement for experiencing life in general and the outdoors in particular. Being outdoors accustoms you to dispense with things you don’t need, and worse for capitalism, to think critically about the things you acquire, especially when you’re the one who has to lug it up a trail, pack it on your bicycle, stow it in your canoe. Beginning bikepackers are easily spotted by how much stuff they have. Hikers carry less with experience, never more.
The point here is that coolers may be cool, and they may keep your beer cold, but they have never been part of the outdoors landscape. They were made essential by people selling you beer and the idea that you can only drink it cold. The product category of cooler, which is as fiercely competitive as it is ridiculous, insists that without some means of protecting your precious “fluids” from getting lukewarm, your adventure will fail.
Coolers are also the enemy of the outdoors portrayed by Yeti because of the inordinate carbon footprint of making ice. Any company that claims to be environmentally friendly–and Yeti endorses/partners with a whole host of conservation nonprofits–while simultaneously building its business on something as damaging and frivolous as icing down beer, is going to be very predictable in its other marketing distortions.
This is why Yeti is such a great example of how the disingenuous marketing of junk is swallowed whole by gullible people who can’t imagine going outside and having to drink warm beer. Suggest that it’s better to drink the beer warm or dispense with it entirely until you can get somewhere that serves it cold (Home? Bar?), or that coffee can be drunk lukewarm, and people will look at you like you’re crazy. “Why would I do that?”
Short answer: you wouldn’t.
If they market it right, they will come
Here is Yeti’s ideology as explained by Yeti:
Of course this mission statement is chock-full of silliness and non-sequiturs. A hard cooler you’d use every day? Even in the office? The hospital? Church? Yoga class? Bikepacking? At a funeral? Their mission is to improve your time in the wild because simply being in the wild isn’t enough. It must be improved with new categories of outdoor things, such as the Yeti wall-mounted beer opener. What, nail it to a tree?
This Declaration of The Wild continues with yet(i) more dishonesty.
Note the reasons to sign up–of the four given, three have zero to do with anything outdoors at all, and that’s because Yeti knows that “colors” are what drive many in the “Yeti Nation” to additional needless purchases. Subjects actually collect this crap the same way they collected Cabbage Patch dolls and Beanie Babies. “Let’s see, which of my fifteen beer coolers should I take to Antarctica? I kind of like the Bimini Pink.”
The idea is that in order to be outdoors, or in the wild, you need amazingly rugged and, by extension, expensive gear. Yeti insinuates that if you buy anything less than the toughest and most rugged, you’ll have to “cut your adventure short.” One immediately thinks of carabiners that fail, plunging you to your death, of kayak oars that shatter and drown you in the boiling rapids, of clothing and shelter failures that freeze you to death, and of catastrophic equipment failures that leave you stranded, lost, hungry, thirsty, unable to continue.
What then is this rugged, indestructible, indispensable and expensive gear that Yeti outfits you with? Beer coolers. Wine tumblers. Duffels, totes, gimme caps and T-shirts. And my favorite, the rugged, badassy, backcountry sippy cup lid for your wine tumbler. I’m not joking, and at $10/each, neither is Yeti.
This notion of durability and its juxtaposition with the outdoors lies at the heart of Yeti’s marketing, but the problem is that they aren’t selling carabiners, rope, ice axes, down sleeping bags, or propane stoves. They’re selling beer insulators, whiskey cups, wine tumblers, wall-mounted beer openers and wheeled beer coolers, along with totes & tees, dog blankets and dog bowls. How to square the circle? With carefully vague imagery that opaquely suggests the wild in tag line, as in this photo, without ever explicitly saying what “wild” is. Could be the Eiger, could be Costco.
Here we have a fellow in a life vest, sitting in some kind of boat on some kind of body of water or likelier, tied to the dock, eyes intently fixed on the deadly adventure in front as he confidently thips from his thippy cup. Where is he going? What activity is he engaging in that requires use of neither hand? Why does it necessitate so much coffee or whiskey? We don’t know, but we know that the cup is built to last, unlike all those cheap cups that fail and cause you to cut your adventure short, and we also know that this cup-I-mean-drinking-vessel is “still performing.” Ah! A performance cup! Is that like a jockstrap? Most critically for all you collectors and rugged adventurers out there, the ad insists you, “Pick a Color” because subjects never know when a mismatched drinking vessel-and-clothing-ensemble will force them to cut short yet ANOTHER adventure down to the liquor store.
There is no end in sight to the open, unabashed absurdity of Yeti’s gear that is built for the wild. And since no one will really grasp your wildness, parked as you are in the long Starbucks drive-thru line because you are too darned wild to waddle into the shop and get your 750-kcal drinksnack, Yeti has an amazing decal for your wildmobile to let folks know that any second now you are gonna go climb Annapurna without oxygen or shoes. But should you go with the pink sticker or the taupe one?
Once you have swallowed this nonsense, Yeti can say whatever they want, and they do. Somehow we started off talking about rugged and durable stuff for the wild, and now, all of a sudden, we’re talking about folding chairs. Why? Because no matter what your adventure, it ends sitting. Most probably, that’s how it begins, too.
Someone lost a lot of hair or gained a giant ulcer when the boss walked in and said, “Freddie, write me some copy for an adventure chair.”
Why? Because the idea is so dumb it beggars belief. Let’s start with the name, the “Trailhead Camp Chair.” Does no one at Yeti know that a trailhead is where the trail begins? Unpack the car, put on the boots, shoulder the pack, stride up to the trailhead and … unfold your chair to rest your ass? Even accomplishing that bit of adventure is harder than it seems because this particular folding chair has instructions for “How to fold and unfold your Trailhead Camp Chair.” Let me guess! Do you … unfold it? And then when you’re done … fold it?
The ad copy is gibberish. Conquer a killer trail and then sit in a folding chair? Folks, no one carries a folding chair up a killer trail, and Yeti knows it. The folding chair demographic is the RV demographic, the soccer parents demographic, the ever-widening-ass demographic, but not the killer trail conqueror demographic. How can you tell? Because the photos to go with the chair show exactly what’s up: people meandering down a flat path, a chubby fellow on the beach, and two lumbersexuals in a classic car who have driven not hiked to convenient parking just off the road.
Adding to the silliness, the chair’s stuff bag looks like it’s filled with the family ski collection. Groaning in at 13.3 pounds, it weighs almost as much as the entire recommended daypack weight (15 lbs.) for a 150 lb. hiker, and more than a third of the total weight for that same hiker on a multiday excursion. No wonder this chair never makes it past the trailhead. If it did, the average Yeti user’s next photo wouldn’t be atop a scenic bluff, it would be atop an operating table with the back surgeon.
Yet even the trailhead will never be attained by the average Yeti subject, and the ad copy lets you know that although the brand is all about badassery, the product is all about bigassery. It provides something called “hardcore comfort,” which, unless it’s an excerpt from a genre of home video, I have no idea what it means. And of course “best in class for legendary durability” is code for “even your butt won’t crater this unwieldy ass-sack.” Totally flummoxed by their own jibber-jabber, the copywriting team concludes that “you and your chair are going places.” And there you have it: adventure and hardcore ruggedness distilled into sitting on your ass.
What more is there to say about Yeti and its utterly contrived outdoors imagery? Well, there’s this:
Outdoor adventure in the form of dog bowls and dog beds, totes & bags, and of course what Paul Bunyan, Daniel Boone, and Davy Crockett lived for: accessories. The last sentence says it all, though. “We know you’ll never camp in Alaska, and we know you couldn’t tell a tarpon from a tampon, but we will keep your beer, wine, and whiskey cold while sitting in the backyard with friends, I mean getting drunk watching TV.”
Slave labor for Yeti
While Yeti manufactures its superfluous junk in China, a country that has politically enslaved the people of Tibet and that has turned most of the populated province of Xinjiang into a re-education gulag for ethnic Uighurs, it doesn’t stop there. In fact, it’s safe to say that Yeti’s success in the ruthlessly competitive outdoor crap market is largely due to its sophisticated and unmatched “brand loyalty” program, a/k/a Yeti Nation, a/k/a subjects working for the Yeti algorithm for free.
One of the first things you notice on Yeti’s web site is the astounding number of people who have reviewed their products. I’d never seen anything like it, and chalked it up to my general ignorance. Then I decided to do a comparison, and indeed, Yeti’s online reviews are nothing short of mind-blowing. For a standard 20 to 30-quart cooler, here is how Yeti stacks up in terms of product reviews.
- Yeti 24-qt: About 3,300 reviews and counting
- Rtic 20-qt: 428 reviews
- Coleman 28-qt: 28 reviews
- Titan 20-qt: 35 reviews
- Igloo 25-qt: 294 reviews
- Tourit 30-qt: 11 reviews
- Magellan 20-qt: 66 reviews
- Xspec 60-qt: 0 reviews
Yeti is more than a category crusher in terms of subject engagement. No competitor is even close. Yeti’s 14-oz mug has over 6,000 reviews, its beer coozy has over 2,000, and even its dog bowl has over 700 reviews. Who knew dogs were so picky about their outdoor adventure eating vessels?
You might wonder what on earth drives a subject to give their opinion about a cooler? Well, there’s a very good answer for that, and it is of course the algorithm. But first, take a quick look at this random sample of comments subjects made about their lunch bag cooler. Keep in mind that they felt so strongly about a little plastic folding bag that they went online, logged in, and shared their thoughts with the world. I say that not to denigrate the comments, whose vapidness and pride at owning a status symbol speak for itself, but to indicate how engaged these subjects are with the algorithm. They have a choice about which site to waste their time on, and it’s the Yeti algorithm that, for a few seconds or minutes, wins out.
Co-opting outside for beer and profit
The cascade of subjects who fervently opine on all things Yeti doesn’t happen by accident, it happens by savvy marketing that is several steps ahead of old-school cooler companies like Igloo and Coleman. Yeti has deliberately followed the Apple model. Create a “premium” product through branding and never, ever, ever sell it at a discount. Better to thrive at the top of the market with giant margins than fight to the death over almost invisible ones.
That premium product, which itself is silly because cold beer is still cold beer, is created by an interplay between two algorithms that feed on each other, and ultimately on you. The first algorithm is called “Yeti Nation Insider,” where subjects get “insider access and perks when you join our faction of Yeti diehards.” Back in the day, we called that a “discount.”
But this algorithm is so much more because it functions to transform the mundane act of buying a cup into a tribal community working together to accomplish a mission. What mission? The mission of acquiring more things and the mission of telling the world that they are members of an exclusive club. Nothing is more powerful, and insider clubs have been around for ages because of that. Yeti’s algorithm goes a step further, though. In the old days, when you joined the Eagles Official Fan Club, you got “inside” info about the band and the option to buy their stuff first in line. The thing offered was the thing you bought.
But with Yeti Nation, whether a registered insider or simply a subject who identifies with the awesomeness of the company and its gear, the thing offered–an outdoors experience–is absolutely never the thing bought. Yeti doesn’t sell the outdoors, it sells giant, unwieldy plastic things that make it harder to get outdoors. And in order to pull off this sleight-of-algorithm, Yeti has a sophisticated set of offerings that keep the “insider” coming back for more. More what? More imagery and puff about the wild times they’re going to have, drunk, sitting atop a beer cooler.
Those offerings, which include professional endorsements, film, prose, photography, and events are expensive to make and account for a healthy part of Yeti’s marketing budget. It’s hard to say what’s foremost, but the list of paid and unpaid hacks is long, white, and male. These endorsers, whether they are bozos like Steve Rinella (“I’m an environmentalist with a gun”), or Austin hometown guitar heroes like “Little” Charley Sexton, reinforce the Yeti drumbeat that is primitive, meaty, red-blooded, and redolent of sweaty men grunting behind taut deep sea fishing rods. These endorsements are the part of the algorithm that makes subjects want to be part of the Yeti mystique and brings them into the second algorithm, which is Yeti owners’ product reviews and Yeti’s presence on social media platforms.
It’s easy to understand why Yeti is fixated with cowboys, bull riders, hunters, and fishermen, just as it’s easy to understand why Yeti doesn’t (yet) give one twisted fuck about gravel cycling, mountaineering, or the Barklee Marathons. Raised in the ultra-white, ultra-right wing, ultra-racist enclave of Dripping Springs outside Austin, Yeti’s founders quite naturally took the ideologies they grew up with and exported them to their nascent cooler-drinkware empire as they cast about for the right outdoors marketing message. In other words, huntin’ and fishin’ and rodeo. Broader demographics and political correctness have diversified their endorsers somewhat because Yeti has become a generalized status symbol and fashion statement. The hypocrisy was gamely copped to by CEO Matt Reintjes when he said, “We talk about being ‘built for the wild’ but we don’t want to define what that means.”
They don’t have to. It’s white, it’s male, and it’s true to the core guy experience of getting drunk in a boat or a blind while pretending that he’s stalking deadly prey.
The ambassador algorithm initially created product chatter among the hunter-fisher demographic, i.e. core credibility among the most credible, but it wasn’t until 2014 that Yeti, on the basis of a tracking survey done the year before, began to methodically branch out from the core outdoorsman-who-couldn’t-be-outdoors-without-cold-beer to the wannabe outdoorsman, in this case the rural denizen who hunted and fished but who spent most of their time working. This strategy proved so successful that it allowed Yeti, always pushing the social media chatter between casual and dedicated enthusiasts, to connect with the mother lode: the true urban wannabes who will never get closer to a gator than the orange or purple one in a plastic bottle.
In a way, the wannabe in Poughkeepsie is directly in line with Yeti’s founders, the Seiders brothers, people who trumpet an outdoors that in Texas does not exist. No state has fewer public lands as a percentage of total acreage. No state has such a paltry offering of national parks (two if you don’t count the historical national parks). California has nine. Texas, more than twice the size of California, has a measly 76 state parks whereas California has 278. Texas has virtually no open public lands for hunting as compared with states in the west, all of whom, save Alaska, are far smaller than Texas.
The outdoors for Texas hunters and fishers is private and it’s expensive and it’s white. So it makes perfect marketing sense that the Seiders brothers would pimp the image of the great American outdoors outside their home state, where the public has zero access to the very places that Texas privatized long, long ago. This mean-spirited hypocrisy defines Yeti, a good ol’ boy company with a good ol’ boy network built on the privatization of the outdoors and magically repackaged as the free, wild, unbounded West. West of Texas, that is.
At the same time, Yeti has stayed ramrod true to its white guy beer chugging roots. The endorsers, even in 2022, are still in the main white guys throwing ropes at barnyard cows, shooting arrows and bullets at tame park animals, and catching fish raised in a nursery for the thrill of letting them go again. And people who get queasy at the thought of beheading a trout get to be part of the tribe by purchasing a cup, joining a spam list, and writing a dumb review, no blood ‘n guts required.
This second algorithm of real product reviews (?) and social media participation has catapulted Yeti so far ahead of the competition that they’ve now become a cultural icon, a symbol not simply of badassery, but of that pinnacle known as potential badassery. If they ever figure out that this formula works just as well with all of the other outdoor activities that Americans don’t do but wish they did, they are truly going to make it big. In the meantime, the social media/product review algorithm reinforces the Yeti sales platform with more unpaid labor, and this page, torn right out of the Face book, shows no sign of abating because subjects now vie on platforms like Instagram for Yeti’s acknowledgement of their #yeti hashtags. It’s not enough to work for free and buy overpriced superfluous landfill. Now subjects have to go on the dopamine hunt by soliciting Yeti’s approval and recognition in the form of a re-post/re-tweet.
“We just got re-posted by Yeti, honey! WE’VE MADE IT.” #vanlife
“Great. Does that mean we have money for milk this week?”
How “outdoor gear” ruins your outdoor experience
Yeti’s cash cow is its line of hard coolers. Its cheapest one costs $250 and will hold a few cans of beer and some ice. Virtually identical products, sourced in the same place Yeti coolers are made, China, cost about $50 purchased wholesale. Since Yeti manufactures its coolers, the actual cost is much lower, likely as little as $20 for a cooler they sell for $250. Even with another $50 per cooler for marketing and distribution, the smallest cooler in Yeti’s lineup is extraordinarily profitable, which profitability goes through the roof as the sizes, and therefore prices, balloon. Their 330-qt. monster retails for $1,500 and likely costs less than $200 to make and bring to market.
Make no mistake about it. With roughly a dozen different models of hard cooler, this category is by far the most significant. Even though Yeti’s drinkware has about 20 different products, and even though the profit margins are even more extreme (likely less than $3 to make, market, and sell a $30 cup), it’s the hard cooler category that rakes in the revenue, and it’s their original product that Yeti pushes hardest. A Texas company, they follow the cowboy maxim, “Dance with what brung ya.”
But this is not an economic analysis of Yeti’s profitability. If you are silly enough to spend hundreds for something you can buy equally as good for tens, good on Yeti, bad on you. The point is that the cooler, Yeti’s flagship product, is by definition designed to keep you tethered as close to the indoors as possible. Think about it. Once you’ve spent $500 on a cooler that weighs well over 100 pounds when filled with 82 lbs. of ice or 67 cans of beer (Yeti’s helpful yardstick), where in the world are you possibly going to take it? And how?
The answers are a) nowhere wild, rugged, or remote and b) with a car or a boat. Despite the absurd image of some crusty mountain man hauling 150 pounds of beer up a craggy trail, despite the fact that these things are made to tether you homeside, carside, poolside, or bleacherside, Yeti develops an individual outdoor sales tag with utterly unbelievable imagery for each of these silly booze boxes. Yeti knows that subjects can’t go anywhere without instant access to booze, i.e. you’re an alcoholic. You know that you can’t go anywhere without instant access to booze, i.e. you have the never-before-witnessed “glass of wine a day.” So instead of shaking hands, parting company, and you going off to rehab, Yeti tells subjects it’s got the perfect travel companion, one that doesn’t talk back, doesn’t snore, doesn’t complain, doesn’t buy the most expensive item on the menu, and never gets bored. Oh, and it looks an awful lot like a booze carrier I mean thing to keep your freshly caught tarpon cool.
I’m going to spend some time deconstructing the misdirections of Yeti’s anti-outdoors marketing claptrap, so grab your favorite cup of ice water and get ready. All photos are copyright Yeti and used without permission under the fair use doctrine for purposes of journalism, analysis, criticism, satire, and parody.
The photo below, Yeti’s intro to its line of hard coolers, hits hard. “Our stuff is for white guys who do manly outdoor stuff that requires lots of badass gear. Our coolers are another weapon in your arsenal of badassery.” Yeti’s “hard” coolers are “built to perform,” so unlike the penises of most of its subjects. Sizes will make sure subjects are generously equipped no matter where they go or what kind of woman they meet. Of course the photo shows a cooler with wheels. This is performance? Something clunky that slowly rolls down a pier? It’s true that for the use subjects are going to put the booze box to, it’s way over-engineered and also way overpriced.
The Roadie 24 Hard Cooler. Chief sales point: “built tall to accommodate critical bottles of wine and slim enough to squeeze behind the driver’s or passenger’s seat of a car.” This badass product is for women, as the fact that it’s for wine and that the words “slim” and “tall” get full billing. It also tells girls that WE GET IT. THE WINE IS FUCKING CRITICAL. IT’S THE ONLY WAY YOU GIRLS CAN STAND THE MISOGYNY, BOREDOM, AND DEPRESSION OF BEING HOOKED UP WITH YOUR MAN. Let’s gloss over the blatant suggestion that drinking and driving is okay and focus instead on the fact that this is a wine cooler. Okay, fine. Is this the same company that advertises its products as “built for the wild” and whose mission is to prevent you from “cutting your adventure short due to weak gear”? I can see it now, an entire cross-country adventure cut short because the cooler couldn’t hold a bottle of Two Buck Chuck.
“Harold! Let’s steer the RV back to Des Moines. This weak generic cooler gear has ruined our wine adventure!”
“But we’re already in Coral Gables!”
“I don’t care! This weak gear won’t hold our strong wine bottles!”
“Can’t we get one of those $5 styrofoam coolers at the Kwik-N-Pik?”
The sales text explicitly tells the subject that she can still get hammered while driving to the soccer game, at the soccer game, and coming home from the soccer game, but the imagery tells a different story entirely:
The Tundra 35 Hard Cooler: Next up is a slightly larger, slightly more expensive product that, surprise! Will keep your beer cool. And it’s a product that follows another favorite Yeti tack, which is to play on the status and body insecurities of purchasing subjects. The “hard” cooler, like all of Yeti’s “rugged” and “indestructible” products, communicates key messaging to men that they have hard penises and hard abdomens rather than the norm, which is penises flaccid from bad health and/or non-use, and huge guts that droop crazily over pants fasteners and that can only be hidden with the baggiest of t-shirts. The Tundra 35 “fits in nicely on a 4-Wheeler or an inner tube,” and is the “right pick for transporting provisions for a small crew.” I don’t know about you, but provisions makes me think of bacon, hardtack, jerky, and maybe some field-dressed game birds rather than what the thing is really made for: Keystone beer, ice, and more beer. Oh, and don’t forget that it’s “rotomolded for optimum adventure performance.” The performance cooler, it’s kind of like a male performance enhancer, or perhaps a performance race car, only more square and doesn’t go quite as fast. The imagery for this cooler is the imagery of the sea and (surprise!) booze.
The Tundra 45/65/75/105/110/125/160/210/250/350: You might think that with a big marketing budget, professional videos, great photography, and the input of thousands, Yeti would have an amazing tale of outdoors bait for each and every one of its astonishingly unique coolers. You’d be wrong. Because no matter how much money they have and no matter how many creative minds they employ, no one can seem to come up with anything deeper than “it keeps beer cold.”
And virtually every member of the Yeti Nation would presumably say, “EXACTLY!”
For our purposes it simplifies things greatly, because rather than having to analyze each cooler in the lineup according to its innovative marketing pitch, Yeti uses mostly the same photos, jiggles the description a bit, and then gives us a comparison chart that is the same for every one of the above-listed coolers, as it compares them using the only two metrics that anyone cares about and that everyone understands: how many cans of beer and how much ice. Yeti always brings subjects back to the key corporate mission, which is alcohols, and lots of them, gussied up in every manner of silly outdoor costume.
This, then, is the Tundra line. Tough enough to stymie a grizzly bear, cold and capacious enough to keep you drunk from Astoria to Williamsburg, equally at home in the blind or at the backyard soiree, spacious enough for a quartered moose or a brace of dead people, a perfect fit for an inner tube, Class V rapid, or field sobriety test, able to save mom from madness with critical wine bottles and to save dad with up to 162 cans of beer. This total lack of versatility, which is nothing more than keeping beer cold, is deceptively framed by showing diverse outdoor settings in which the beer is drunk, as if changing location somehow changes the activity. Yeti’s message is not that subjects will better experience the outdoors, but that subjects will better experience being shitfaced because no matter where subjects are–and we all know they are remarkably close to a familiar place known as “home”–the beer will be cold.
One of the things about capitalism and its insatiable requirement for more consumption of more stuff is that eventually the sales pitch becomes incomprehensible. Words and images lose all meaning, because the subject and the capitalist have agreed that the only thing that matters is BUY MORE NOW. Yeti’s marketing reaches the prostituted apogee of stupid with a cooler that I saved for last, the Tundra Haul. At $400, it perfectly captures the abandon with which a corporation will say nonsensical things to sell subjects junk that they don’t need. In this case, Yeti has come up with the amazing idea of putting its cooler … on wheels. Yes, no longer locked in Stone Age technology, the engineers concluded that wheels would make the beer trunk easier to move. Presumably someone will next start rubbing sticks together and make another momentous discovery.
What makes the Yeti Haul such a perfect piece of marketing flimflam is the juxtaposition of an active, rugged, wild outdoors experience with a product designed specifically for lazy, weak subjects whose arms can’t even lift a cooler of beer. No one questions the outdoor necessity of beer-on-wheels any more than they question the imagery of being actively lazy. This active laziness, epitomized by Yeti’s wheeled cooler, is spoken throughout their product line-up and messaging with thippy cups, blankies for the pup, chairs, and the “wink-wink” language invoking catered parties, critical wine bottles, and the shared knowledge that the moose, tarpon, amberjack, and elk are safe for another season.
This photo of the Tundra Haul is excellent. A white, slim guy in sandals has hauled the beer up the trail, the faithful mule, while his friends have set up base camp. We know it’s rugged because the blurred out tent insignia says “Big Agnes,” the legendary tent for badasses who actually camp, or who want people to think they do. This is the outdoors, then: not reaching a destination and doing something, or reaching a destination and being so fucking tired that all you can do is eat and collapse, but reaching a destination that we all know is 200 feet from the pavement, pitching a tent, and getting hammered. And whether it’s an editing mistake or the rare example of truth in advertising, we can see in the upper right corner the edge of the open hatchback. Oops! Not even 200 feet away from the car, and the outdoorsmen are so weak and lazy that they need wheels to get from the edge of the van to the circle jerk of waiting drunks.
In other words, none of the outdoors imagery matters at all. It’s eye candy, it’s a way to cruise around on the Internet, it’s a status badge that says subjects can afford $350 for something they could get for $70, but in the beginning, middle, and end, it’s about how much beer will subjects need and how much ice can they carry to keep it cold. The outdoors experience becomes sitting (there’s a Yeti for that) and staring dimly through a beer fog. The complex of senses you have, the sophisticated neural network you have to decode the stimuli, and the quantum processing of your memories to create thought are all reduced to a can of beer x 67.
Maybe you can get farther away from experiencing the outdoors than that.
But I’m sure I don’t know how.
*Many of the ideas in this blog are my brilliant girlfriend’s, who is smart af.