I’m gardening for the first time this year and I need dirt. I know nothing about dirt. At the home improvement store, I survey a line of palettes loaded with bags of soil. The cheapest are industrial looking and devoid of life. I’m not that cheap.
Next are the standard fare, Miracle Gro and Vigoro. The pictures of gardens are lush and colorful, but I’m skeptical. I have some corporate mistrust. Are big city ad men dreaming up these names and labels in concrete skyscrapers while smog-spitting factories turn horse hooves and chicken bones into “nutrient-rich garden soil?” I don’t know, but that’s just what I picture.
Next is their more advanced formulas. Somehow I trust these less. Their gold foil and promises of 30% faster growth make me wonder what sort of evil genius concoction it contains. Will we later discover their magic growth potion causes irreversible damage? My cauliflower will grow 30% faster, but at what cost?
There’s a display for Sunday brand products. They’re beautiful. I feel drawn to them like animal magnetism, but honestly they’re too pretty. I can’t help but wonder if it’s just Miracle-Gro repackaged.
Then, I see it. Harsh pink and yellow stripes and a character that looks like a division 2 college mascot. It’s hideous. I know it’s the one. The Kellogg’s soil bag proudly reads “Organic” but I honestly knew that when I saw how ugly it was.
It strikes me that I’ve been doing this a lot lately. I have brand trust issues. I saw some ads and got drunk on the Twitter buzz, then made an impulse purchase for the latest DTC heartthrob. When the product arrived, I was disappointed.
I know there are plenty of great products being created and brought to market in the DTC format. But there are a lot more half-assed knockoffs reskinned to catch your eye while you mindlessly tap through Instagram stories.
Here’s the thing: this familiar look and feel has completely imploded on itself. Beauty has become a reverse indicator.
Want to see this phenomenon at play again? Follow me into the cereal aisle. I walk past the generics sold in bags. I see the vibrant colors of the classic cereals. There was a time when Americans believed Kix was a nutritious start to the day, but those days are long gone. I see Kashi Go Lean Crunch but I don’t believe Kashi will help me go lean any more than I believe Activia yogurt fuels those vibrant yellow arrows flowing through Jamie Lee Curtis’s abdomen.
If I check my phone, I’ll see an ad for Magic Spoon, protein packed pale puffs of lab food dusted with flavorful false sugar. It’s $10 for a box too. When I look up, I see my manna from heaven. Ezekiel 4:17. What could be more trustworthy than this biblical bran? If something looks so ugly, it must be good at its job.
I will no longer be accepting new brands. I will exclusively dedicate myself to The Whole Foods holy trinity: Bragg, Dr. Bronner’s, and Bob’s Red Mill. If your founder is not extremely old and your packaging does not have colors that seem to vibrate, a 1000 word manifesto, or a picture of your elderly founder, I’m not interested! If you combine all three, strangers on the internet will prescribe your product as the cure for everything from the common cold to kidney stones.
The more you try to use creative to catch my attention, the more I will assume you’re making up for some sad incompetency.
Rest in peace, beautiful brands. Long live the absurdists, authentics, and truly uglies.