This morning, I walked past a sign in front of the Lululemon yoga apparel store in downtown San Francisco. The sign said, "Do one thing a day that scares you."
Really? Just one thing?
My day is already chocked full of things that scare me; from answering my phone to opening my cable bill or watching promos for "Keeping Up With the Kardashians". I don't need to do more scary things; I've already met my daily quota – and then some (and if I want to do something truly scary, all I have to do is try on a pair of those Lululemon low-waisted stretch yoga pants. That could traumatize me for weeks).
But what really scares me is this kind of precious, oh-so-self-conscious marketing parading as something else. The harder companies try to appear "authentic", the more phony-baloney they seem – and the more manipulated I feel.
I don't shop at Lululemon. Horror of horrors, I don't even do yoga. But I do know that Lululemon is a wildly successful brand with a cult-like following (known as "Luluheads"). Their founder, Chip Wilson, has a reputation for being a marketing genius.
Well, Chip, you certainly got my attention with that sign of yours. I'm sure it was meant to prompt some long overdue introspection – and send me running into your store to buy a $100 hoodie. Instead, it immediately set off my bullshit detector. I wanted to run as far away from Lululand as I could get.
Frankly, I resent having a retailer that sells overpriced yoga pants and sports bras doling out unsolicited advice on how to find enlightenment and improve self-esteem (you really want to boost my self-esteem? Try raising the waistlines on those damned pants).
But I get it: what that sign was really saying was: Lululemon is an authentic, unique brand...we don't sell clothing...we sell self-improvement, personal empowerment and one-size-fits-all spirituality. Oh, and we're also just so darned irreverant and playful!
What I didn't realize was that the cheeky advice on the store sign is only the tip of the Lululemon self-improvement iceberg. When I checked their website, I discovered an entire Lululemon "Manifesto". For sheer wacky-ness, the Manifesto is the motherload – a splendid mishmash of the practical and the downright wierd.
Some of the items are clearly related to yoga, health and exercise:
"Sweat once a day to regenerate your skin."
"Breathe deeply and appreciate the moment."
"Stress is related to 99% of all illness."
"Drink FRESH water and as much water as you can."
Those seem harmless enough. After all, if you sell yoga clothes, it makes perfect sense to espouse tips about health, exercise and stress-reduction.
But the Lulunuts don't stop there. Because then the Manifesto veers off into a bizarre mix of cutesy, philosophical and utterly random gems such as:
"Dance, sing, floss and travel."
"Communication is COMPLICATED. We are all raised in a different family with slightly different definitions of every word."
"Listen, listen, listen, and then ask strategic questions."
They've also included some helpful retirement planning advice:
"Don't trust that an old age pension will be sufficient."
There's this radical notion (inspired, no doubt, by a fortune cookie or Suze Ormon):
"Friends are more important than money."
And this lulu of an insight:
"Nature wants us to be mediocre because we have a greater chance to survive and reproduce. Mediocre is as close to the bottom as it is to the top, and will give you a lousy life."
Yogis tell us to "live in the question". After reading the Lulu Manifesto, my only question is: "WTF?!?"
I guess what I'm supposed to think is, "Those wonderful, selfless people at Lululemon aren't even interested in money. They care about me and share my values. Wow. That's so cool." Instead, all I can think about is how this cagey company managed to earn a cool $350 million last year by yuppi-fying yoga wear and serving it up with some quasi-New Age hogwash.
For all I know, maybe the Luluheads embrace this BS with the same devotion they have for the Lulu Groove Crop Pants ($86) and the Push Ur Limits Tank ($52). Or, maybe they just enjoy the clothes and the cachet.
As for me, I have a sudden need to breathe deeply and chant very quietly, "Spare me. Spare me. Spare me."
But hey, at least I did one scary thing today: I took a closer look into the dark soul of Lululemon. Be afraid. Be very afraid.