Masstige! You know you want some. The professional Marketing “thought leaders” are doubtless pleased with themselves for having come up with this conceptual big umbrella – in order to curate a subtle filter between us and our aspirations – or perhaps just to throw proverbial shade. Bear with me. I’ve planted the seed, so I assure you I will come back around to fill you in after I’ve told my little tale.
Mainly, this is the story of a fridge, and a boy and a girl who dreamed big. When we found our apartment a few years ago it had a lot going for it, but the kitchen was the weak spot. The appliances were somewhat long in the tooth and lackluster in their performance. We could soldier on with the bottom-of-the-line gas oven and the wheezy dishwasher, but the sub-par refrigerator was a daily bummer. We’d all gotten used to the luxury of the fridge with filtered water on-demand and automatic ice at our last dwelling, and we were finding it hard to go backwards. And backwards included a very noisy motor and an unreliable freezer that messed with our ice cream supply. We determined that it was important for us to make a change.
I floated the following proposition to our landlord: if you’ll go halves with us (up to a cap) we would like to buy a new and improved fridge, which will become yours as we will leave it behind when we someday move out. That seemed like a good deal to them, and they agreed.
All three of us spent a lot of hours on the sales floor of Lowe’s, seduced by the allure of ‘smart’ features – some sublime, some ridiculous. I oohed over the water system that would dispense a specific amount of water, like 32 oz., from a touch of the control pad button. That control pad also had a “Shabbat mode.” Intriguing but very extra. Our daughter really dug the idea of the multi-layered door that let you open one side to reveal a sort of half-way house for the individual cans or bottles of beverages before reaching the inner sanctum. She also would’ve been tickled if we’d chosen the one with a Keurig coffee machine embedded in the door because it seemed so space-agey. We were committed to the filtered water dispenser and automatic ice, but that was as fancy as we planned to go. From the range of features displayed on the fridges in our price range, we knew that we had lots of options.
Our fridge stands at one end of the kitchen, unencumbered by any surrounding cupboards, so we were excited by the idea of having some freedom around choosing the size, and knowing we could gain more cubic feet of storage space. I was tired of wrestling and rearranging six or seven items in the freezer every time I wanted to put in something new. We chose a lovely French door model fridge with a freezer on the bottom – a first in my experience – and went through the whole purchase process. The service warranty, delivery arrangements, all was falling into place nicely for us to be well set up with a shiny new refrigerator for our holidays.
Some time after that shopping expedition and before the date of delivery, my husband and I realized at about the same time that we hadn’t taken the narrow width of the kitchen doorway into account. Our apartment was built in the 1920’s, and the doorways, including the two kitchen entrances at immediate right angles to each other, are pretty narrow. It’s very unlike both of us that we should have spaced this out, and Chris measured and, phew! It was going to be a nail biter with an inch to spare, but according to the printed specs it should make it through fine.
Emptying a refrigerator is a pain. When I got my warning call that the guys would soon arrive, I quickly pulled out the contents of the fridge and freezer. Some things went into the double sink, other items went into cooler bags. I hustled so that I’d be ready in time.
The disappointing news came swiftly. With the wire grill that extended from the back of the new fridge, there was no way it was going to make it in through our kitchen door, even with the fridge’s door removed. It was a sad affair, sending those delivery guys back where they came from and putting all the condiments and whatnot back into the old fridge. There’s nothing like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!
So a few weeks later, we tried again and confined ourselves to looking at ‘counter-sized’ refrigerator models that were shallower. Fortunately, we still had plenty to choose from. This round of deliberations seemed to take even longer, but ultimately we chose another French door model we were excited about. It had fewer push buttons on the door panel, but it had nicer lighting inside and the fun feature of a dedicated water pitcher that was housed inside the door and would refill automatically when replaced. Fancy! And functional.
So what’s masstige?
I was going through the drill of hauling food out of the old refrigerator, take 2. Frozen food was sitting in my zippered cold bags; beverages, condiments, and miscellaneous jars were piling up on the counters and in the sink when the delivery guy set the still-doorless new fridge at its spot.
Looking at the open interior, I saw a big piece of cardboard covering the width of the top portion of the fridge. On the cardboard, printed in big letters was the word masstige.
I’d never heard of it and was immediately curious. While they were shoving our old, landlord special onto the back of their truck, I quickly did an internet search of the term.
If you haven’t guessed already, the term basically means prestige for the masses. The word is a clever if mildly disdainful mash up, coined by marketing pros about 15 years ago, to elide ‘mass’ and ‘prestige’ and refers to consumer goods that posture themselves as luxury items but are priced to attract plebeian shlubs like ourselves. Attainable luxury. It’s true, our new fridge was upwardly mobile, but we knew what we wanted. It wasn’t a SubZero model with a starting price of $10,000 but it was good e-bleeping-nough. As a Harvard Business Review article “Luxury for the Masses” from 2003 put it, masstige goods “occupy a sweet spot between mass and class.” Armani/Exchange is a masstige brand outlet for Armani’s more well known line of haute couture – at much lower prices (yet still pricey!). Apple products too, though they struggle with their own identity as a masstige brand, because they’d rather be considered as a provider of luxury products. [See Harvard Business Review article: (https://hbr.org/2014/10/apple-luxury-brand-or-mass-marketer)]
Maybe this bit of jargon shouldn’t have captured my fancy so much, but I was both amused and offended by its revelation. For all that I’m a well-educated middle-class-at-least person, I wasn’t in on the joke, and so I had to conclude that I was part of the object of it. And what is the point of the coiners of masstige, in offering up the ‘sweet spot’ on a range of products that we heretofore could only admire in the fictional homes of affluent people we saw on television or movies? Is it to put us down or raise us up?
And maybe I am being too touchy here, but why shouldn’t people of all economic levels want better quality things? “Masstige” has been the American way since around the time the Colonists rebelled against King George III. And from a consumer point a view, (and I feel like I’m paraphrasing one of my history professors here, from a lecture on the Industrial Revolution) from the time when a man could walk into a J.C. Penney department store and buy a suit off the rack for the equivalent of a couple of days wages when the previous option was going to a tailor to have it handmade, for an amount that was utterly prohibitive, his world of options opened up. So when it seems like most manufacturers are embracing a race to the bottom, to make the cheapest most disposable products they can in order to protect the profit margin, the quasi-luxury products may be the last bastions of quality – at least for the 99%.
So I’m not going to let the tweaks of those marketing Marie Antoinettes (“Let Them Eat Cake!”) get me down. Patronizing tone aside, the masstige concept brought a lower energy, more full-featured fridge that helps us to waste less food into our home, and at a price we could afford. Thanks for thinking of me.
Oooh. Fancy! It’s the “flex zone.”