Condo complexes aren’t really selling condos these days. Instead, they sell a feeling, an image of the lifestyle that would too become yours if you buy in. And by “buy in” I mean in both senses, because first you’d have to buy that owning a condo at, say, the Hayes, would make you instantly urban-chic-hip; second, you’d actually have to buy the condo itself.


Adbusters points out that advertising hasn’t always been such a blatant appeal to pathos. The first print ads are dense with type because every possible fact has been disclosed.

The image used, if any,  is a straight forward depiction of the item for sale, very different from imagery we see today that seems to package the item with our greatest fears, insecurities, hopes, and desires. To quote from Kalle Lasn’s book “Design Anarchy,” Advertising moved from simple factual announcements into status symbolism and the stimulation of desires.”

Condo marketers really go for this style. The Hayes, for instance, employs a webpage that stimulates multiple responses. The music is ambient, the tasteful choice of post-rave kids who are now upwardly mobile adults. Images are a collage of hip style and urban culture (“techno and opera,” they promise). There’s even a film, rich in quick cuts and fast-speed camera work, that conveys the ultra coolness of the area, and by default, of those who live in these condos

Missing from the site is info on prices, among other deal breakers.

I would argue that the missing details are the most important. I know that there may be a host or “selling strategy”-related reasons for not releasing the price of homes in development, like these at  Arden Estates, but some of these condos have been for sale awhile now, and many of the units in the complexes have sold. Presumably then, a price has been agreed on and should not be treated as irrelevant info to the prospective buyer.

Similar “lifestyles” are for sale at Blu, The Infinity, and One Rincon Hill(the latter is more upscale. Notice the jazz music instead of the techno). Otherwise, aside from the music and respective addresses, the ad campaigns are synonymous.

As the likely target market of these ads, let me opine that I don’t need them. I already have a lifestyle, and I’m too experienced to know it will stay as disorganized and blighted by dog hair as it is now, no matter where I move. I already have a culture too, and I have my own definition of hip. What I need is a condo. So tell me: what are the square feet? What is the HOA? What is the asking price? Tell me quick, or I’m moving on to the next website. And please, kill the music, as the only real emotion it inspires in me is boredom. And boredom is not…”cool.”


Ad credits: CI Advertising & Old Fishing Stuff



  1. Hello, just stumbled on this site and, like you, am in the market for a condo. I have been very put off by the marketing of complexes, it is like they are meant for a different type of person than I am. I mean, I don’t even like techno! Insightful piece. You nailed a real and annoying issue

  2. interesting. Indeed, the fact that all the sites are so similar is a real problem. If they are all alike, then wouldn’t my best bet be to pick the cheapest of the lot? Probably this is not what the most expensive of the lot has in mind.

  3. Nice to see something a little more professional on this site. Was a bit frat party for awhile there

    [Editor’s Note: That’s why we hired Anna. She’s a rock star. Forgive us for taking a break from blogging real estate a couple weeks out of the year. If this site isn’t providing enough of a fix, we do also do a Tour de San Francisco (real estate) from time to time, as well as a bi-weekly sfnewsletter, not to mention represent clients in both the purchase and sale of homes in and around San Francisco, but we’re glad you’re sticking with us. See you in 2009, with all kinds of real estate porn!]

  4. no, no! Keep the crazy, funny, AND edgy informative. Not another site does it so well.

    [Editor’s note: Muchas Gracias! It will stay edgy, fun, and informative. We might even go a little off the wall. If the market is going to tank, we might as well have a party on the way down, right? Just don’t forget to tell your friends it is a great time to be a buyer, and you happen to know a great place they can get help.]

  5. As a marketer, I am a marketer’s worst nightmare, and I see through the ‘selling’ right away. It only makes me laugh. In the days when credit flowed freely, the ‘fantasy’ selling might have worked, attracting buyers who probably couldn’t afford that lifestyle but aspired to that lifestyle. These days, it should be back to basics.

    The truth is, when every new condo looks just like every other new condo, whose modern style establishes no connection, nor any artistic dialogue, to any architectural character of San Francisco’s past (like the victorian or the craftsman), and there are a massive amount of them competing for buyers’ attention, then the only differentiator left is an artificially constructed fantasy lifestyle.

    Sort of like Pespi vs coke in the ’80s and ’90s. “If you are young and hip you should drink pepsi”

  6. Well written, it touched on a lot of things I felt looking at condo’s in the city before purchasing a house in the east bay. It was simply that ‘fantasy lifestyle’ that was appealing to a certain part of my ego, not much else. And the reality is that lifestyle will never be my lifestyle.

  7. Hey all, nice to have some agreeing buyer insight, and Anon, your insight as a marketer is really interesting. Seems we all agree that now at least, the best way to market would be a direct approach, factual, no BS. That’s good advice for most everything, now tht I think about… except romance. But I don’t want romance in my condo buying. See?

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