Mixed Signals: Harvey Nichols Sells a Cure for Shame

Mixed Signals is Erin Straza’s weekly musing about marketing miscellany in advertising, branding, and messaging.

Marketing messages are often crafted to sway commonly held perceptions about a specific product or a usage situation. If the message is strong enough, consumer perception will shift, opening the door for a larger customer base or an increase in sales.

Fashion designer Harvey Nichols seeks to do just that in a new TV spot titled “Walk of Shame.”

The spot parallels the shame of the morning walk home after a one-night fling with the shame of wearing bad fashion. According to the spot’s message, you can avoid all that by wearing a Harvey Nichols dress. You can walk confidently, knowing that your dress makes you look fabulous even on your walk of shame.

Credit goes to the actresses wearing the non-Harvey Nichols dresses. In these wordless scenes, the women send a powerful message of shame with their posture, the way they walk, and their tugging on their ill-fitting dresses. Their shame hangs like a cloud.

As for the spot’s star, the woman in the Harvey Nichols dress, she looks pulled together and completely comfortable in her dress (and in her own skin). We are led to believe that her dress lends such confidence that the typical walk of shame is transformed into a pleasant stroll home.

In reality, wearing a designer dress doesn’t eliminate the regret that comes with a one-night fling. Most women — 58%, according to a study published in Human Nature by Anne Campbell, Professor of Psychology at Durham University — feel tremendous regret after casual sexual encounters.

The Harvey Nichols spot is actually geared toward this majority of women, because they would be able to relate to the shame feelings portrayed. What the spot fails to mention, however, is that shame comes from violating behavioral standards. Merely shifting the perception we hold of the walk of shame does nothing to ease the regret that takes up residence in the heart.

Shame is very real and very powerful. That’s why it took Jesus dying on the cross to overcome it for us. It’s true: we need something to cover our shame. But it’s not a Harvey Nichols dress. We need Christ’s robe of righteousness, instead. But I don’t think that message, as true as it is, would do much to sell Harvey Nichols’ designer clothing.

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