The Great Online Pajama Party

Not only has mainstream advertising enlightened us to such amazing product breakthroughs as Crystal Pepsi and the Miller beer ball, but it has also served as a social barometer — a sort of litmus test of current events, popular tastes, and the social milieu.

Take the early 1990s. With a recession in full swing, employee loyalty at an all-time low, and news headlines suggesting murder and mayhem at every corner (despite statistics to the contrary), this was shaping up to be the “Paranoia Decade.” Popular advertising projected our societal insecurities like the shadows in Plato’s cave allegory.

For example, car manufacturers used airbag counts and highway crash statistics as their advertising weapons of choice. In the early ’90s, you couldn’t just buy a car. You had to buy a Kevlar. vest on wheels that was built to destroy.

But trends change with the times. As the US economy skyrocketed, these ads gave way to less menacing marketing approaches. You were eventually allowed to have fun driving a car — instead of gritting your teeth for your inevitable head-on collision with an asteroid.

“Ever notice how Plato is always cavorting about in a nightshirt?”

Over the Internet’s brief lifetime in the social consciousness, we’ve noted an industry advertising trend that has only grown the more we presumed (hoped?) it was finally going to fade away. Somehow the loungewear and Internet industries have been explicitly inter-linked.

Let us explain with a recent example. Last month, The New Yorker ran ads for Netscape Netcenter — featuring self-absorbed stock traders interspersed with self-absorbed Generation-Xers and the tag line, “Go from the dance floor to the trading floor in your pajamas.”

Not to be outdone, Yahoo and Visa countered with a more recent full-page New Yorker ad that merely printed, in bold letters, “Go naked to the mall.”

“Hi, I’m Marv Albert, and there’s nothing I love more than e-shopping at home in my diaper.”

While it’s fair to say that there’s more appeal to the Internet than lower prices on a handful of commodities, countless other examples suggest that the Internet’s power is most closely tied to your personal state of undress.

Online retailers’ recent holiday onslaught of “Rah rah! Up with e-Christmas!” ads emphasized the relative convenience of their services (i.e., if you don’t try to order anything, according to the latest research from Jupiter Communications). Holiday shoppers could avoid the hassles of parking, long lines, and perky sales assistants at perfume counters. But for many of these advertisers, the biggest attraction for consumers — or so it seemed — was shopping while in their favorite Batman long johns.

Have these advertisers stumbled upon a deep-seated, universal truth about the human condition? Did the anthropologists get it wrong? Are there actually five ‘F’s of primal human instinct, not four: feeding, fighting, fleeing, uh mating, and lastly flannel pajamas?

“What are you eating under there?”

Among the many rites-of-passage among Internet users, receiving a cheesy email come-on for a work-at-home program is one of them. At some point, underwear or pajamas are always involved. “Work at home in your underwear and turn your computer into a money machine!!!” And don’t forget lots of exclamation points — particularly in threes or more.

Performing a search for “in your pajamas” on Deja News, Greg found similar messages posted everywhere among Internet newsgroups. Greg learned that you can now work, shop, look for a job, and even get a degree at home in your pajamas, and all you need is an Internet connection.

These messages were spread so wide and thick, he even found an AOL address that Spammed the alt.2600 newsgroup — an online community devoted to computer hackers. The poster might as well have stepped into a lion cage dressed like a giant pork chop, but some risks are apparently worth taking when you have the irrepressible force of loungewear on your side. (The “2600” comes from the tone frequency once used to break into telephone systems and make unauthorized long-distance calls.)

Working for Internet companies over the past five years, Greg has also noted a particular irony: You can just as easily wear your pajamas to the office at many of these Internet companies, given their notoriously lax dress codes.

What does “casual Fridays” mean when you’re already wearing jeans and a T-shirt Monday through Thursday? (A former co-worker at CNET answered that question recently by coming to work in a suit every Friday. “Formal Fridays” may not catch on in the industry, but it at least keeps his superiors nervous over possible lunchtime interviews with the competition.)

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Pajamas

Whether it’s email Spam or a full-page print advertisement, businesses are promising consumers vicarious lives on the Internet. For whatever reasons, these lives somehow always involve being at home in our pajamas or underwear. So why aren’t loungewear stocks also shooting through the roof?

Sure, we like convenience. We even have nothing against being comfortable. But should the Internet industry continually promote a lifestyle consisting of computer-gazing zombies, devoid of any sense of decorum, with sofa cushions wedged in their derrihres? It suggests far too much underachievement on all fronts — from the advertising creatives to their target consumers.

If this is our best pitch to the mainstream public, we had better sell off all our Internet stocks now before the truth gets out.

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