NBC Exposes Visual’s Silent Secret

A “Today Show” reporter discovers that mannequins actually lead to sales
Posted September 20, 2011

This past Sunday morning, “The Today Show” turned its spotlight on the mannequin industry. With breathless excitement, in a segment called “Retailers Send in the Mannequins,” NBC consumer correspondent Jill Lieberman detailed “the newest marketing ploy to get you into the stores.”

The report focused on what the correspondent called “specialty mannequins” – those in action postures, “lifelike figures that can even strike a mean yoga pose.” Bulging muscles. Amazing abs. Sassy poses. Pierced ears. Bright red lips. Lifelike Disney mannequins that “jump off walls, curtsy, even fly from the ceiling.” The correspondent couldn’t get over how creative mannequins are.

In for special attention was Fusion Specialties, the Broomfield, Colo., manufacturer that “saw sales jump 48 percent last year, according to the report. Lieberman visited Fusion, interviewed creative director Stacie White and even pawed a male mannequin with a solid chest and six-pack stomach. (“Stacie, who’s this big guy?” Lieberman gushed, while I thought of the ick factor if a male reporter had fondled a female form.)

Lieberman said today’s mannequins are much more lifelike than those “skinny, stiff, generic models of the past,” then went on to say that headless mannequins are all the rage (“to keep them from looking dated down the road”). Headless mannequins may be today’s rage, but they haven’t been lifelike since the French Revolution.

Mannequins are expensive, said Lieberman, but worth it because of how flexible the applications can be. “The results can be a yogi, a golfer, a fashionista!” Gosh, who knew? “Or musclemen, like these buff Nike mannequins.” Ick again.

But do they actually drive sales? For that, Lieberman turned to Wall Street heavyweight Dana Telsey. “I think what the mannequins are wearing, the setting they’re put in, influences how [people] shop.” Solid insight, Dana.

Lieberman concluded by saying, “analysts tell us retailers will continue using mannequins and paying more attention to old-fashion window dressing to get consumers into the store.”

So there you have it. “The Today Show” has uncovered retail’s newest ploy – a ploy actually about as new as the Ford Model T, Singer sewing machine and Marconi’s radio.

Am I being smug? A little. It amuses me whenever TV’s high-paid, high-powered reporters “discover” something we’ve been talking about all along.

But here’s one thing Lieberman inadvertently stumbled on. We call mannequins “the silent sales staff,” because – like so much of store design – they’re meant to be largely invisible, a backdrop to the merchandise that only subtly creeps into shoppers’ subconscious.

So if “The Today Show” has only now discovered the presence of mannequins, they’ve apparently been doing their silent job pretty well. For decades.