If you haven’t yet seen the original infomercial for the Snuggie, please do so immediately. We were stunned to learn via AdAge that this mindblowingly lame product has sold over 4 million units in just over 3 months. That’s right, 4 million of these suckers have been snapped up by consumers who apparently related to the challenges posed by traditional blankets when trying to do things like use the remote or pet the dog.
This is fascinating on multiple levels. First of all, the Snuggie is not an original idea. An identical product called the Slanket actually pre-dates it by a couple of years. At close to $45, I couldn’t fathom why anybody would buy the Slanket at all — but even back then, I remember being shocked that it was posting pretty decent sales. Then the Snuggie infomercial came along with its 2-for-$19.95 price tag and totally knocked the Slanket right out of its own recliner. While the Slanket was positioned as a sort of eco-novelty, the Snuggie chose to embrace its silliness with a direct-response ad ripe for parody and a price that many cocooning families found hard to resist in this recession. How amazing that in this time of extreme belt-tightening, people are responding to a product that is anything but necessary! The logic is baffling: “I need this Snuggie since I will be staying in a lot more and turning down the thermostat to save money,” etc.
In his excellent book The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, Gregg Easterbrook talked about the ridiculousness of American society which had amassed so much material wealth that products like carpeted dog steps were being sold on television. He had used that as an example of how in our culture, our material needs were so thoroughly satisfied that we had moved on to feeling like we needed even the most gratuitous products and services. Of course Easterbrook’s book was written before the Panic of 2008, during the height of massclusivity and trading up. So what does it say about our relationship to consumption today when people are buying Snuggies to the tune of $40 million even as the Magical American Wealth Generator ceases to function?
It’s telling that while the premium pricing and eco positioning of the Slanket didn’t cause much of a spark, the over-the-top sales pitch of the “buy now and we’ll even send you two book lights!” Snuggie has resulted in a veritable wildfire of consumer interest. In a way it exemplifies how we’re currently grappling with our oppositional desires — we are still plagued by a compulsion to buy things we don’t need, but we’re also wanting to cut back and find great deals. The Snuggie’s marketing is funny and lighthearted enough to temporarily anesthesize us from the realities of our crumbling economy, and the wallet-friendly pricing allows buyers to feel like they’ve scored an amazing deal.
Finally, if you’ve ever needed proof that humor sells, this is it. The sheer inanity of the Snuggie has inspired a rash of parodies like the one below, leading to millions of eyeballs worth of free exposure. The same recessionary conditions that drive us to spend hours trolling YouTube are also what make the Snuggie so perfect for our newfound lifestyles as shut-ins. Clearly the parodies are not intended to sell the Snuggie, but rather to make anybody who would consider buying one feel really stupid. But hey, we’ve all learned by now that when a brand is distinctive enough to be hated, it’s also distinctive enough to be loved. All this bad publicity for the Snuggie is doing nothing but boosting their sales. Go figure.