Posts tagged “consumed”

Trash talk

I posted a few months ago on on design studio Blu Dot’s New York leave-behind/Big Brother-is-watching-you (and wants to know what you did with that chair) marketing campaign.

For anyone interested in the aftermath, Rob Walker’s latest Consumed column in the New York Times includes a few anecdotes about what happened to the Blu Dot chairs that were the campaign’s focus, and some interesting backstory from Mono, the marketing agency that put the whole performance piece/stunt/campaign together.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Excellent Rob Walker "Consumed" on Lululemon Athletica and the idea of a "lifestyle brand" – Anybody who is honest about consumer behavior knows that often what we buy is not simply some thing but some idea that is embodied by that thing. “Conceptual consumption” is the name given to this practice in a recent paper with that title by Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics at Duke University (and author of the book “Predictably Irrational”), and Michael Norton, an assistant professor of marketing at the Harvard Business School, in The Annual Review of Psychology. Their notion has various subsets, one of which is the consumption of goals.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Report: Real-world police forensics don't resemble 'CSI' – Even before the popularity of shows like CSI, there was presumably a cultural belief in the "science" behind these techniques. But the report finds that:
    – Fingerprint science "does not guarantee that two analysts following it will obtain the same results."
    – Shoeprint and tire-print matching methods lack statistical backing, making it "impossible to assess."
    – Hair analyses show "no scientific support for the use of hair comparisons for individualization in the absence of (DNA)."
    – Bullet match reviews show "scientific knowledge base for tool mark and firearms analysis is fairly limited."
    – Bite-mark matches display "no scientific studies to support (their) assessment, and no large population studies have been conducted."
  • NJOY electronic cigarette – Looks like a real cigarette, complete with glowing tip on inhale, and exhaled vapor that resembles smoke. Gives an inhaled nicotine experience, while messaging to the rest of the world that you are really smoking a real lit cigarette. Paging Erving Goffman?

    Someone was using one a party last week; someone else got out their simulated Zippo lighter (an iPhone app) and lit it for them.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • LinkedIn has a mascot? – From 2007, here's the LinkedIn Wizard.
  • Rob Walker on the origins of Twitter's Fail Whale (the indicator that the service is down). – "As with many Web-popularity stories, there’s a lot of flukiness to Fail Whale’s rise." Groan! Can anyone explain LinkedIn's completely off-brand Wizard?
  • How Google Decides to Pull the Plug (with a perspective on product development and innovation) – For many ideas, Google’s first and most important audience is its employees, and it typically tries products internally before releasing them. Google and other technology companies refer to this as “eating your own dog food.” Through such “dog-fooding,” Google learned that the early version of its calendar program was fine for parents tracking children’s soccer games, but not robust enough to meet a corporate user’s need to book rooms, reserve equipment and delegate scheduling.

    Equally important is listening to users. Most products have an official blog to explain changes, and customers are encouraged to share their thoughts.

    Google’s willingness to take risks offers a lesson to other companies about the nature of innovation, said Jeff Jarvis, author of “What Would Google Do?” “Perfection closes off the process,” Mr. Jarvis said. “It makes you deaf. Google purposefully puts out imperfect and unfinished products and says: ‘Help us finish them. What do you think of them?’ ”

  • 15 Companies That Might Not Survive 2009 – Including Rite-Aid, Chrysler, Dollar-Thrifty, Sbarro, Six Flags, Krispy Kreme and Blockbuster
  • Blackwater Changes Its Name to Xe, chooses to spend more time with its family – Blackwater Worldwide is abandoning the brand name that has been tarnished by its work in Iraq, settling on Xe (pronounced zee) as the new name for its family of two dozen businesses. Blackwater Lodge and Training Center, the subsidiary that conducts much of the company’s overseas operations and domestic training, has been renamed U.S. Training Center Inc., Blackwater’s president, Gary Jackson, said in a memo to employees that the new name reflected the company’s shift away from providing private security. He has said the company is going to focus on training.

Dynamic Crowd Wisdom

The latest edition of Rob Walker’s Consumed is about Threadless, a darling-of-the-blogosphere site that sells user-submitted/user-chosen t-shirt designs.

The voting system is straightforward: users rate each submission on a 0-to-5 scale and offer comments that range from the constructive to the unprintable. Still, some submissions never make it to the voting stage, usually because they ignore format rules, raise copyright issues or, sometimes, are simply “awful.” (Kalmikoff says that eliminating ugly designs before a vote is an infrequent but sometimes necessary measure to “protect the experience” of Threadless voters.) While most winners have scores of 2.6 or higher, one recent batch included a design with a score of 2.0. That’s because the final decision about which T’s actually get made and sold has always involved a bit of nonpublic number crunching. For example, Threadless looks at how many 0s and 5s a design gets; designs that inspire passionate disagreement often get printed because they tend to sell, Kalmikoff says.

Seems anything but straightforward! But that’s okay, I think it reveals several truths around wisdom of crowd stuff. Neat how the decision process is iterative and cumulative, as the community gets smarter and tries to game the system, and as Threadless gets smarter and tries to right the system. This sort of evolution is completely unacceptable in politics, say, but seems to be innovative when done by Threadless.

I love the blunt naivete of putting forward X choices and having people pick, and then the sophisticated noodling that comes out later as the community grows in sophisticate. It’s not unlike the elaborate hierarchy of individuals, monitoring, and other checks-and-balances created by Wikipedia, outlined by the NYT magazine last week. A simple idea and simple implementation becomes arcane and complex by inches. Is this entropy? Human nature? Evolution? Line extensions?

Adventures in taste


I run into these Kettle Chips any time I’m in a fancy/yuppie/specialty kind of food store. I admit to not having paid attention closely over the years, but I remember them appearing as a brand of authentic old-timey traditional (i.e., “quality”) chips, and it seems that all of a sudden they’ve been coming out with crazier and crazier flavors.

This would be a good Consumed piece, don’t you think? How did the brand offering evolve to what it is now? Their website outlines their commitment to adventurous flavors, all natural, and more on the type of ingredients and preparation process. Much of that is typical for a food company, but the flavors is an interesting twist. I’m reminded of Method, who have built a story around cleaning products that are safe, not animal-tested, effective, smell good, and are packaged to look good. You can pick one or two of those (i.e., beautiful packaging) as a hook and identify with that, rather than have the whole story be important. It’s surprising to see a gourmet/quality story with unusual flavors, it’s surprising to see a safe cleanser with a gorgeous package that you can leave out. But beyond surprise is a sense that these might be the real attractors, while all that other stuff is just fine, of course.

Meanwhile, thinking about flavors reminded me of the awesome social commentary found in this riff from the Kids in the Hall:

In the beginning, there was Miracle Whip. One kind of cheese, and fish came in sticks. Bread was white, and milk was homo [there is a carton of “homo milk”]. Our condiments were mustard, relish, and ketchup. Our spices were salt, pepper, and paprika. These were our sacraments. [closes fridge]

Garlic was ethnic. Mysterious. Something out of the Arabian Nights. And then one day it happened. Food exploded. People, yeah, people put down their Alan’s Apple Juice and share of pudding, picked up a bowl of tofu, slathered it with President’s Choice spicy Thai sauce, yeah, and washed it all down with a mango-guava seltzer.

You know, there are so many new products nowadays and I confess half of them I can’t identify. I guess it’s like that with people too. You know I can’t tell a pita bread from a cactus pear or a Korean from a Filipino. I feel left behind. I do. I’m not *modern*.

I’m embarrassed to buy water in a bottle unless it’s for the iron. And I still believe– call me square but I still believe that tangerines are just for Christmas. You know what? I think it all started with marble cheese. I do! Yep. Well, think about it ’cause right after they introduced that, they came up with salt and vinegar chips. Then it was sour cream ‘n’ onion, homestyle, before you know it chips were being sold in a tuuube. Where will it all end?

Portigal in the New York Times Magazine!

I was interviewed by Rob Walker for his most recent Consumed column, about unconsumption (in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine).

In a sense, what Freecycle has done is channel the same blend of utility and pleasure that motivates consumption itself. Steve Portigal, a business-strategy consultant based in Montara, Calif., founded a Freecycle group for the San Francisco area’s coastal communities in 2004. “Getting something you need and getting rid of something you don’t need are both satisfying as problems solved,” he points out. But while we’re all well trained in the former, the latter often exceeds our patience and know-how.

I’ve written here before about Freecycle. Also, Walker has a good thread on unconsumption on his blog. I think it’s a fascinating area that is ripe for more exploration and solution development.

Walker on Poketo

Rob Walker’s Consumed takes a look at Poketo

The project that became Poketo began in 2003 with a show at a space called Build, in the Mission District, featuring work by six artists. This time, in addition to paintings, the exhibition included wallets. The physical objects were all the same (stitched-together vinyl and plastic, folding to 4 inches by 4 inches), but each artist printed his or her own design on a set of a dozen wallets, which were priced at $15 each. While it is not unusual for a well-known artist to dabble in consumer goods that are more accessible to a wider audience, the wallets essentially reversed that formulation. These consumer goods served as promotional items that might draw attention to the work of a lesser-known artist. “We wanted to expose our friends to the wider world,” Myung says. Wallets were a particularly good medium, in that they are carried around, not hung on a wall at home.

We bought two of these gorgeous wallets at WonderCon a couple of years ago. I got a lot of great comments for my interesting wallet, featuring a sci-fi cartoon scene with aliens and interplanetary landscapes.

Not my wallet, but similar, by the same artist, Martin Ignatius Cendreda.

But it was a piece of crap. It was horribly designed, with insufficient holders for cards and an extraneous change purse (change purse? In a wallet?). And it didn’t last at all. I repaired it myself with clear packing tape many times. I was thrilled to have an ordinary item that was made special by its visual and artistic appeal, but why trade off basic functionality? Eventually, I gave up. I bought a recycled rubber wallet that is more subtle in its beauty (and its story), and I won’t go back to something that doesn’t work for me. I’d like to have seen Walker (or anyone else that reviews the work of these darlings) acknowledge that the product isn’t usable and doesn’t last.

viral user-generated meme content goes mashup

The Chron gets on board with the whole viral-meme-user-generated-content thing. At least in their articles.

The SoaP meme began, as most great things do these days, with an individual blog entry. Screenwriter Josh Friedman recounted his adventures with doctoring a script for a movie about — why not? — snakes. Snakes on a plane. Snakes on a plane with Samuel Jackson. Could it get better? It could not, reasoned SoaP fanatic Brian Finklestein, a law student at Georgetown University who started last year as part of his quest to be invited to the movie’s world premiere. His blog has since morphed into SoaP central, gathering news, rumors and the latest spasms of SoaP-inspired creativity.

While appreciating his efforts, New Line has kept its corporate hands to itself. ‘They’re excited about what’s going on online, but they realize if they get involved directly, the organic, spontaneous feel will be gone,’ Finklestein says. ‘A lot of what’s fun about this is that people are doing everything on their own. If the studio became involved, it would lose whatever charm and cache it has. I’ve gotten phone calls from marketers asking what they can do to make this work for them. The answer is that there’s not much you can do — except not sue your audience. The music industry can learn from this.’

Very well put. For a more in-depth exploration of this type of approach, check out Rob Walker’s classic article about Alex Wipperfurth and the letting-things-be-what-they-are marketing for Pabst Blue Ribbon. Walker, by the way, who writes the Consumed column for the NYT magazine, now has a blog.

By the way, User-Generated Content is now referred to as UGC (or so I read in Media magazine), and Snakes on a Plane is now referred to as SoaP. How cool(?) is that!


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