May 27, 2008 by Colin
“… What we have right now, in Brooklyn, the Bay Area, Portland, East Los Angeles—neighborhoods where bourgeois young people work at magazines, movie studios, TV shows, Web sites and advertising, so that cultural trends work like weather at sea, offering the newcomers a chance to prove themselves, upending the complacent— is a similar choice on the part of the privileged to identify with the outsider.
The outsider in this case is the nerd, because nerds are people incapable of, or at least averse to, riding cultural trends. When your greatest fear is that you will become a loser because your intuition will fail to keep up with tastes, you embrace the nerd like a little harmless teddy bear who’s the one creature in the whole wide world who would never do anything to hurt you…” (from the excerpt)
American Nerd: the Story of My People, digs deep into the recent history of nerd-dom:
“… Sure, you may have an image of an MIT guy in your head—thick glasses, pocket protector, thin-limbed, buck teeth—but there’s not one clear definition of what makes that unattractive, awkward dweeb a nerd. Once you begin to create criteria and apply them to a range of individuals, the nerd stereotype becomes even more problematic. Nugent breaks down the nerd into two basic groups: those who are excluded socially for arbitrary reasons and those who are excluded for “intrinsic mental reasons” because they prefer rational, rule-bound activities over more intuitive or emotional ones. …” (from the interview)
No, I am not sixty. No, I don’t live in New Haven.
I am preppie. Hear me roar!
[tags] nerds, prep, sociological survey, booger [/tags]
April 29, 2008 by Colin
“Nostalgia is a feeling you have for something that never worked, but you think is great anyway.” (Ralph Bakshi, in NYT)
[tags] nostalgia, Expos, Jerry Ford, Sinclair, Pacer [/tags]
March 17, 2008 by Colin
This will be a first. Faced with economic contraction and consumer apprehension, how will companies increasingly focused on service, brand differentiation, environmental qualities and aspirational marketing react?
How will consumers react? Unlike the last two economic slowdowns, consumers are feeling the credit crunch in their pocket book. Will they change their spending habits? Will they lower their expectations from products, brands or companies?
Or would they expect companies to eat the economic difficulties (including the downstream costs resulting from soaring prices for staples like grains and oil) and spare them the pain while continuing to deliver the quality?
Starbucks has sent a signal: it is slowing the opening of new stores in the United States. Frankly, Starbucks has overpopulated so many neighbourhoods with outlets it could probably close hundreds of stores and maintain its volume.
(Well, maybe. My assumption only works if people are going to Starbucks for its aspirational qualities, not simply convenience. If they think McDonalds or a local coffee house has an equally good morning coffee, Starbucks sales could fall)
Last night, John Moore asked “if Walgreens went out of business tomorrow, would any of us care?”
No. Not really. Just like we didn’t care that Pier 1 and Bombay Co. stores closed. Did YOU notice that Restoration Hardware was in the toilet?
Difference is, I don’t look for aspirational values in my drugstore. I look for cheap children’s Tylenol and brand name toothpaste. And maybe a wide selection of Mother’s Day cards late at night.
Forward-thinking companies like Target have been trying to find a price-sensitive but fashion-forward niche in the general merchandise market. Kohl’s is trying the same trick by hiring Dana Buchman. Ralph Lauren is creating a line of goods for mass merchandisers, with a separate identity from his bread and butter lines.
If the credit crunch continues, and the US dollar continues to be battered in comparison to international currencies, consumers may face a difficult choice between affordable products and all the wonderful product qualities they have come to appreciate and flaunt: environmental sensitivity, design, flavour variation, international influences, and individual portion sizes.
In the end, which comes first: value-added attributes, the pocketbook, or government cheese?
[tags] recession, aspirational marketing, consumer choice [/tags]
February 18, 2008 by Colin
Hmmm. Walter Carl, of Northeastern University, seems to zero in on Twitter as a marketing tool for hacks and flacks keen on keeping up images.
“… “You want to use these tools to keep up on others, in a good way, of course, and to let them keep up on you,” said Professor [Walter] Carl, whose research focuses on social media. “But their perception is it’s surveillance.” One of the main reasons people embrace social media — Facebook, for instance — is to create identities for themselves and control other people’s perceptions of them.
“Maybe Twitter isn’t the right tool for that job,” he said. “The people who I see using it are an older demographic, people in marketing or P.R. or advertising, who use it for work, to present themselves as particular types of people. They’ll twitter, ‘I’m traveling,’ or ‘I’m going to interesting restaurants.’ They’re using it to do identity work.” (NYT)
You know what? He’s 70% right.
[tags] twitter, identity, self promotion [/tags]
February 5, 2008 by Colin
As a Yugoslavian-born émigré who endured the bombings of Belgrade during World War II and whose work is urban in spirit, why do you live in quasi isolation on a lake in New Hampshire?
It was an accident. I moved here when I got a teaching job at the University of New Hampshire in 1973. I am not rapturous about nature, although I live in nature. I don’t have some sort of nature poem where I idealize a sunrise or climbing a mountain or being outdoors.”
Some more curt but witty responses from a 1998 interview in the Cortland Review:
“….I’m a hard-nosed realist. Surrealism means nothing in a country like ours where supposedly millions of Americans took joyrides in UFOs. Our cities are full of homeless and mad people going around talking to themselves. Not many people seem to notice them. I watch them and eavesdrop on them…
Where do you find your inspiration these days?
Piece of cake. One needs inspiration to write when one is twenty. At the age of sixty, there’s the mess of one’s entire life and little time remaining to worry about.
[tags] poetry, Charles Simic, naturalism [/tags]
February 3, 2008 by Colin
I’ve come to a conclusion: a third place cannot really be created. In fact, every “home away from home” I’ve visited has some dirt in the corners, cracks in the parquet, suds in the bucket …
One thing it does not have is wi-fi.
If you set out to make a “third place,” to create an environment, you (and your interior designer) will end up with a representation of your ideal third place. Or the sort of environment you imagine your prototype user personas would consider a third place. The visual cues are there:
- not only are the magazines from the current month, their spines haven’t been broken
- scented candles are evident and emitting
- wind chimes inside the building
- chalk signs with amusing sayings in even script
- no sign at all of fresh bait
A true third place really becomes part of your life, and actively engages with your life. It’s not the sort of place that helps you write a book – it’s the sort of place that becomes a book.
In the case of a riverside pub and store in Garrison, New York, the book was called “Little Chapel on the River.”
And a recent profile in the New York Times described the environment for us:
“…Nostalgia can be cheap. We’re not all soulless now, and we weren’t all noble then. The barista at Starbucks might have a heart of gold and the old-timer running the local bar might be a jerk. But in ways that are far more true than not, Guinan’s came to stand for cherished values — family ties, friendship, community, authenticity, localism — seen as being in steady decline. That’s why everyone and his dog who ever had a beer there, ever made it across the river from West Point, ever sat in the morning with a cup of coffee and a boiled egg enjoying the Hudson, every member of the Guinan’s universe who could make it, was there to say goodbye.
…“I’m not sure exactly how, but we became a comfort zone for people,” he said, “a place that reminds people of a place they went to when they were young, something that makes them think good thoughts. People need a place like this, but the reward you get for the kindness you provide is worth much more than whatever you give out. It blows me away to be a part of it.” (NY Times)
Why a profile? Because, after fifty years, the Guinan family is moving out and closing up shop.
We’re seeing a stream of similar stories in 2008 as local bookstores and record shops close up, driven out of neighbourhoods by gentrification and rising rents, and driven out of business by far greater choice available online.
Which makes me wonder – if someone was to remake St. Elmo’s Fire, where would it be set?
[tags] third place, neighborhood bar, tavern, community, small town [/tags]
January 28, 2008 by Colin
Another datapoint to add to the discussion about how youth treat their online identity. Remember when the Smoking Gun was a revolutionary resource, opening up celebrity mugshots and notable court cases for public scrutiny? Do you remember when it was an embarrassment to be arrested and booked?
“…Finally, through the state police barracks, where Sergeant Hodsden had more than two dozen young people photographed, fingerprinted and cited for unlawful trespass, with a few also cited for unlawful mischief. He cannot shake the indifference of one youth in particular, who asked whether he could use his mug shot on his Facebook page.”
That’s from a NY Times report on a party held by Middlebury, Vermont high school students at a secluded farmhouse last owned by the poet Robert Frost. They almost trashed the place – but the mugshot is still seen as a badge of honour to be shared.
[tags] headshot, mugshot, Facebook, identity [/tags]
January 23, 2008 by Colin
The forecast is in, and the men’s fashions for winter 2008 have strolled down the runways of Milan.
I love reading fashion reporting because the beat offers good writers the chance to take their adverbs, allegories and analogies for a wild ride. Throw in some strong personalities and a hint of industry desperation, and you have an entertaining mix.
Still, I thought the following passage strove a little too far to connect the world of fabric, buttons and pegged pants to real-time economic disruption:
“…DESPITE an occasional obligatory reference to the failure of the subprime mortgage market, there was little about the shows here to suggest that anyone was suffering the financial jitters. Yet perhaps the sobriety of the Armani show, whose keyword was “regal,” was a cue.
Design surprises were few in an Armani collection built on caution and control. Those are values that made the designer one of Italy’s wealthiest citizens and his brand among the most recognizable in the world. Those are his creative defaults. Thus his show read as the sartorial equivalent of a stop-loss order. The message was risk-averse…” (New York Times)
What is a “creative default”? Is that the same as “phoning it in”? Would contrasting plaids, an over sized logo and baggy fit be Tommy Hilfiger’s default?
January 16, 2008 by Colin
As you know, I love a good quote. I admire an executive that can turn a good phrase. That’s why I was impressed by Seth Heine’s quotes in a recent feature on the recycling of cell phones in the New York Times magazine.
Heine runs Collective Good, one of several companies that recycle cell phones, phones discarded for a variety of reasons, from the barely out of fashion to the brick-sized.
Heine has obviously had some experience in describing his business, managing to wedge references to a 70s television show and popular Japanese game parlour games in the same interview:
“…A store in Beverly Hills had been sending boxes of gold-plated, limited-edition Dolce & Gabbana Motorola Razr phones, turned in when customers traded up for something even newer. “That phone can’t be more than six months old,” Heine said at one point. Later, he handed an employee a Nokia with a note rubber-banded around it. It was something a friend gave him at dinner; that happens all the time, he said, “when you’re the Fred Sanford of phones.”
“…Heine’s business succeeds or fails based on how well it can assess and then realize the value of each phone. “I refer to that as the pachinko machine,” he told me. “You dump in a phone and it rattles around. It’s got to come out somewhere at the bottom.” The question is, where?
Phones beyond repair, or with little value, are dispatched … for their gold. …. The most valuable handsets find their way to a room across the hall from the storeroom, where two employees sell them on eBay. Most, however, are sold via private auction to a stable of about 20 different resellers.” (NY Times Magazine)
I think this reinforces one of the keys to building corporate value from a corporate social responsibility program: the ability to sell the intent and benefits of your business, and to do it in a familiar and evocative way. Much like what Yvon Chouinard has done at Patagonia.
[tags] Sanford & Son, CSR, corporate social responsibility, cell phones, mobiles [/tags]
January 6, 2008 by Colin
On the east end of Long Island, there’s a 1,000 watt radio station that’s extremely local:
“…Mr. Tria’s morning show, “The Dawn Patrol,” delivers a style of local radio that is nearly extinct on Long Island: a neighbor’s lost dog, a birth or death in the community, and news from the schools, the police and Town Hall. It is a slow-drip blend of slow-paced life that seems meant to waft into kitchens and mingle with the smell of bacon. (NYT)
A Ford dealership in a small California town has been bought out, a reaction from hq in Detroit to declining market share and a surplus of dealerships in the region. But not for a lack of trying:
“…All the while, Norwalk and southeast Los Angeles gradually became more Latino — 63% in the most recent Census data. Stutzke says he adapted, becoming among the first car dealers to advertise on Spanish-language television. Families poured into the dealership on Saturdays to watch the making of El Show de Keystone Ford. (USA Today)
Looking for some heartwarming stories of big box chains and international brands failing? Reason magazine tells us that the little guy CAN win – and has an eighty year history of beating the big guy. It’s a good read with a lot of historical context:
“…By understanding local tastes, Newbury Comics, Phoenix Coffee Co., La Flor De Broadway Café, and Kansas City’s Broadway Café demonstrated that localization, customer care, and authenticity are far more effective means of fighting larger rivals than agitating for anti-chain legislation.
Had Broadway Café owner Jon Cates initially looked at historical precedent, rather than petitioning city hall, he perhaps would have understood that David slays Goliath with encouraging frequency in the history of American business.”
[tags] community, audience, brand, retail, radio promotion [/tags]
January 4, 2008 by Colin
I suspect that Angelo Bepp is an everyman, hiding in plain view although ostensibly disguised as a long-term resident of the state detention facility at Attica, New York.
Angelo is a regular comment contributor to the New York Times online edition. And his comments are funny. Consistently funny. I present a selection:
What have you done to make yourself more attractive on the Web?
I post a picture only showing me from the neck up. That way my prison fatigues & number can’t be seen. I thought it was my car, I really did. How many powder blue 1971 Pintos can there be in New York?
January 3rd, 2008 Link
Executive Who Moved ‘Dem Bums’ Out of Brooklyn Is Hall of Famer
Get over it Brooklyn, its been 50 years. When I lost my dog Blinky, I got over it. Man, I loved Blinky.
December 3rd, 2007 Link
What has been your most memorable culinary experience while on vacation?
Best meal I ever had was in Tibet, a yak burger. Tastes a bit like cheetah.
November 21st, 2007 Link
Where is your favorite place to stay in a national park?
Any where that doesn’t have padded cells or bars is fine by me. I didn’t do anything to that mannequin, it fell on me.
December 21st, 2007 Link
What is your favorite easy-to-make holiday starter?
When I was allowed to indulge myself, I always enjoyed a hot dog with Worcestershire sauce & cottage cheese. Then wash it down with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue. Man, Angelo was living the life back then, before the legal thing.
December 19th, 2007 Link
Which band would you like to see reunited?
The Archies. Still listen to their albums every night. I’m 54 years old.
December 11th, 2007 Link
Shootings Test Limits of New Self-Defense Law: What do you think of Mr. Horn’s actions?
Over reacted. My house was broken into 2 years ago. I confronted the 2 misguided young men. I told them what they were doing was wrong. They still took everything of value that I owned, but they know they did wrong.
December 13th, Link
[tags] comment policy, commenter, New York Times [/tags]
December 28, 2007 by Colin
Well, not really luxury. More like the perks you used to expect when traveling by air. This is from a recent New York Times article about US Airways:
“…Another employee wondered in October 2006: “Why can we not get better quality snack items for our coach customers? One customer recently compared the generic pretzel nubs we serve to the fish food you buy in a .25 gumball machine at any zoo or park.”
Actually, fish food would appear to be too costly. “We’ve worked with our purchasing team,” management explained, “to bring in many companies to compete on our main cabin tidbit item (pretzels). To date, no one has been able to match our current cost, about 3 cents per package.” (NY Times)
h/t to Nan.
December 26, 2007 by Colin
Well, with the oldest-living Queen launching a YouTube channel* in time for her Christmas Message, I’m feeling more than a little flummoxed. This sure isn’t the tradition I remember from my childhood – which was more along the lines of “What do you mean, she’s on all FOUR channels!!!”
Over at Crying All The Way to the Chip Shop, Lee spent some time earlier this month discussing why Britain doesn’t have the same great tradition of “road songs” as the United States. There are obvious geographic limitations – what with Britain being tiny and all – but he argues that there is also a cultural and spiritual chasm between the two countries as well:
“…The truth is, we (Brits, that is) don’t look at life and see endless bright horizons and dream big dreams, we’re a gloomy, glass-half-empty kind of people and who find idealistic American positivity a little embarrassing and phony. Americans, bless their hearts, do still say things like “you can be anything you want to be” and believe it (despite evidence to the contrary) because they’re happily unburdened by history while we’ve had way too much of it and frankly can’t work up the enthusiasm for anything anymore as a result. We built an empire and won a bunch of wars and now we just want to put our feet up and enjoy England’s plucky failures …
These days the stubborn refusal to “have a nice day” feels like a defiant poke in the eye of today’s noisy, amped-up consumer culture (created by America, of course) which bangs you over the head with its global franchises, useless gadgets, trashy television, and blinged-up celebrities. In the face of that, being miserable old bastards may be the last thing we have to hold on to that’s truly ours”.
Here in Canada, we have the worst of both worlds: a faint tie to British history and past glories, a tremendously long and expansive horizon, and very little history of our own.
That means we measure our voyages in hours (“How far?” “About four and a half hours.”) and our travelogues tend to be overladen with descriptions of the scenery (“Trees. Loads and loads of trees. Oh, and an iron mine.”).
Unless you’re driving through Saskatchewan, which is three hours of flat. And a uranium mine.
We’re really into that whole consumerism thing, though. And the franchises. A mall or a neighbourhood can’t really be considered to have “made it” until it’s overburdened with American franchises.
*or ,as The Register notes, “One would like to wish you a Happy 2.0 Christmas”
[tags] England, Half English, nostalgia, Empire, Queen, consumerism [/tags]
December 16, 2007 by Colin
- Who would have thought there would be gangs of moped riders? (Is it riders, or is it drivers? After all, mopeds involve a whole lot of coasting and a fair amount of blind faith in the machine) (via SF Weekly)
- What sort of employment career leads to life as a Tony Manero impersonator?
“…a D.J. at Planet Hollywood; a guide on one of those seven-rider party bikes that used to swarm about Times Square; a multiple-time reality show contestant; a stand-in for Joaquin Phoenix on two movies; a telegram singer who shows up in everything from an Elvis costume to a chicken suit; and the head alien at Mars 2112, a theme restaurant in Midtown.” (NYTimes)
- Interesting South videos available online (via Gavin, Russell and Katie). Pique your interest and provoke your mind!
- The Women’s Health program from the Department of Health and Human Services has a Twitter feed. An interesting use of technology to pump out (relatively canned) public health messages.
[tags] mopeds, Tony Manero, Saturday Night Fever, impersonator [/tags]
November 21, 2007 by Colin
A few weeks ago, the restaurant critic for the New York Times wrote about “restaurantspeak”: the attempt by restaurant owners and employees to add colour and emotion to the rote recitation of dishes and ingredients.
In some ways, the flowery language used by wait staff and menu writers echoes the work of copywriters and marketers. If you wield too heavy a hand when attempting to infuse your marketing materials with emotion, inspiration and all those other brand attributes, you can end up sounding hollow and artificial.
And that can prompt sarcasm from your intended audience. This from Frank Bruni’s blog:
“…He asked me: “Did you care for another iced tea?”
And I wanted to say: “Yes. After a first iced tea broke my heart, I learned to trust and love again, and I bought a bottle of Snapple, peach-flavored. I cared for it deeply.”
[tags] restaurant, wait staff, waiter, script, retail environment [/tags]