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Can It Get More Real?

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It has been more than two years since the Feb. 22, 2004, finale of HBO's much-loved Sex and the City. The last, poignant line that the show's star, Sarah Jessica Parker, uttered as sex columnist Carrie Bradshaw was: "And you can drive up and down this street all you want, because I don't live here anymore."

Ironically, Carrie & Co. live on, not only in syndication and on DVD, but in the hearts, minds and lifestyles of many 20- to 40-something single women who proudly wear their unmarried, unfettered status on their stylish sleeves. It came as no surprise then when I read recently in The Hollywood Reporter that HBO is developing a Sex and the City-style reality series that will "attempt to capture the vivacity, sexuality and friendship of women in a big city."

So, what's the big deal? After all, as one of my colleagues pointed out the other day, the American Idol weekly audience is three times the size of the 10.6 million U.S. viewers who tuned in to the SATC finale. I'll give him that: The program's viewership never reached mass proportions. The thing is, the numbers don't tell the whole story.

Even if you didn't watch it, you knew about it. It became virtually impossible to escape its wide-reaching, watercooler-worthy, pop-culture pull. Obviously, HBO is trying to repeat a successful formula—one that advanced the social conversation, not to mention commercial interests!

At a time when traditional advertising is being challenged, the show proved the influence of product placement when it's in the right place and worn by the right people. In fact, I would argue that, even though the show first ran on commercial-free HBO, SATC was a weekly half-hour commercial—and not just for Manolo Blahniks, whose namesake once quipped that Parker was one of his "miracle workers."

With shopping bags full of wry humor, double entendres and spectacular shoes, Carrie and the girls reinvented the cosmo, recreated the cocktail scene, made Sunday brunch a global obsession and helped New York reclaim its place as the übercity.

It was also a powerful endorsement of "singleton"-hood, with the SATC foursome emitting an aura of being in control of their professional, emotional and sexual destinies. Strong-willed Carrie unseated chardonnay-swigging, man-starved Bridget Jones as the poster girl for singletons everywhere, replacing "desperate" with "empowered" as the adjective du jour for single women. The male bachelor stereotype had met his match in these women taking pleasure in sex and not planning on settling down anytime soon.

I guess the reality-series format will test whether this stereotype is truly credible. I can only hope that creative editing doesn't result in lowest-common-denominator portrayals of overgrown adolescents or wives-in-waiting. Sure, each of the fictional characters had a discerning trait—Carrie's neuroses and Samantha's nympho-like tendencies, for instance—but they were also terribly multidimensional. To truly recapture the magic that was SATC, the creators need to show the "real-life" Carries, Samanthas, Charlottes and Mirandas just as human—just as real.

No doubt this new series will mirror, as SATC did, this growing society of individuals who are staying single longer and, arguably, getting more affluent with each year. With discerning and demanding consumption patterns, they have long-term, lucrative potential for marketers. Just look at today's booming market for Brazilian bikini waxes, high-end fashion and other indulgences, fueled by the disposable income of singletons.

As SATC creator Darren Star once pointed out, Parker was this generation's answer to Mary Tyler Moore. Ours is a bipolar generation made up increasingly of singletons—one that seems invincible, yet is totally vulnerable; one that delights in extravagance, yet glorifies in simplicity; one that craves stability and longevity, yet is comforted by disposability—whether it's casting away last night's Chinese food, last season's handbag or last week's sexual partner. It is a generation that has left many marketers bewildered. Just when they think they have it figured out, this elusive group does an about-face.

It's more important than ever for marketers to understand this population that views friends as family, luxury as deserved, individuality as imperative, sex as a commodity and the city as a hotbed of like-minded singletons.

You don't have to fake this reality. It exists.

Ann Mack is director of trendspotting at JWT and a former 'Adweek' editor. She can be reached at ann.mack@jwt.com.