November 20, 2007 by Colin
This from Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News:
“…Mr. Ailes, who said he admires Mr. Dobbs, compared the CNN anchor’s approach with Fox’s leading opinion-dealer, Bill O’Reilly. “I think Lou got a peek at O’Reilly’s contract and saw what you can make doing opinion — particularly if you’re cranky.”
from the New York Times.
November 18, 2007 by Colin
This is a point about corporate social responsibility, using consumer marketing and Canadian company Lululemon as an example. While consumers are willing to invest a fair amount of faith and goodwill in a company without proof of a detailed CSR plan, at the first sign of a crisis, they tend to look for evidence, independent testing and videotape of manufacturing facilities with happy and well-educated workers.
Which brings us to the upscale active wear chain Lululemon.
Seaweed or no seaweed? Health benefits from the product or no benefits? That’s the question the New York Times asked this week about a fabric called VitaSea and the products made of the fabric sold by the company. The newspaper (after a tip from a shortseller of Lululemon stock) had tested two of their products for presence of seaweed, as claimed. There didn’t seem to be any.
The company’s first response?
When asked about Lululemon’s product tags and the claims about vitamins and minerals, [Chip Wilson, founder, product designer and board chair] said, “That’s coming from the manufacturer. If you feel the fabric, it feels a lot different.”
And the quotes got worse:
Director for products and design. She said the company would test the fabric in the future.“We will be diving in deeper, so that our educators on the floor can answer those tough questions,” Ms. Schweitzer said. “Right now, we are relying on the mill and SeaCell’s information.”
That’s not the best of answers. Just ask Nike or Mattel how “the manufacturer is responsible” works as a rebuttal to criticism of product quality. Which must be one reason why Canada’s Competition Bureau got involved.
The company responded quickly, noting that they regularly ask an independent lab to test their materials and products, and that they did contain fabric derived from seaweed.
By the end of the week, the Competition Bureau had struck an agreement with Lululemon to stop making claims of health benefits for the fabric.
“Those claims have to be scientific and they have to be provable,” said Andrea Rosen, acting deputy commissioner of the bureau. “The onus is on the advertiser, not the government, to prove that the tests are adequate prior to making the claims.” (NYT)
Bob Meers, Lululemon’s CEO, issued a statement after the Competition Bureau announcement, noting that:
“In order to ensure the integrity of our product labelling, we are conducting a review of the therapeutic attributes described on all product hang tags.”
That seems to mean the score is product quality = 1, product attributes = 0.
Overall, their products are better made and more stylish than other active wear products on the market. Which means this contretemps probably won’t affect the company in the long term, since they continue to expand into the United States and abroad, winning converts and customers at the same time.
[tags] Lululemon, Chip Wilson, VitaSea,corporate social responsibility [/tags]
November 13, 2007 by Colin
When I was a kid, I lived overseas. My exposure to the marketplace was at the street and store level: in Milan and Hong Kong, the majority of retail stores fronted on a street.
In Hong Kong, there were very few malls, aside from China Products, a fantastic bazaar for consumer goods made in the PRC, and the mall found alongside the Kowloon cruise ship terminal.
Which is why one particular scene from the Blues Brothers left an impression: the car chase through the mall.
As Elwood and Jake Blues careened through the suburban indoor mall, all that ran through my head was: “all those stores, and indoors as well?”
“Disco pants and haircuts!”
“New Oldsmobiles are in early this year!”
Twenty seven years after their adventure, the Dixie Square Mall in suburban Chicago remains empty. And for some reason, even in Canada, people prefer pedestrian malls with outdoor areas.
Well, except in February, when it’s cold.
October 19, 2007 by Colin
“…And from the moment we opened the front door, we all agreed later, we knew we were in trouble. The very young woman at the desk had the anesthetized air of a Barneys salesgirl who had languished too long in Belts.” (NYTimes)
That’s from Alex Witchel’s column of September 26, about a visit to a New York restaurant. I can imagine the look, the attitude and the atmosphere around that young woman, can’t you?
October 14, 2007 by Colin
How does an editor and a writer become a cook? That’s the premise of Bill Buford’s “Heat” – a book published in mid-2006. While I really enjoyed the book, one passage shed some light on the growing popularity of food porn:
“…The new shows put a premium on presentation rather than knowledge and tended to have intimate-seeming camera close-ups of foods, as though objects of sexual satisfaction.
The skin-flick feel was reinforced by a range of heightened effects, especially amplified sounds of frying, snapping, crunching, chewing, swallowing. There seemed always to be a tongue, making small, wet, bubbly tongue sounds.
The “talent” (also known as a “crossover” personality, usually a woman with a big smile and no apron) was directed to be easy with her tongue and use it conspicuously – to taste food on a spoon, say, or work it around a batter-coated beater, or clean the lips with it.
The aim was spelled out for me by Eileen Opatut, a former programming executive. “We’re looking for the kind of show that makes people want to crawl up to their television set and lick the screen.”…”
The popular definition of food porn fetishizes food, either by preparing intricate and ingredient-rich recipes, accompanied by carefully composed photos (the Playboy of food porn) or the rough and sloppy presentation of clearly delicious but probably quite unhealthy entrees (something other than Playboy. I leave the choice to you).
Let’s be clear: there are two components to food porn.
One, the excessive attention paid to blemish-free and colourful ingredients. This is an ingredient list that demands the chemicals and horticultural shortcuts developed during the nineteenth and twentieth century. The luscious “money shot” of a basket of fruit, a smooth and supple tomato, a tropical fruit that seems freshly picked, even if it is a cold and heartless winter outside.
Two, the emphasis on friendly and attractive cooks, chefs and hosts. Not necessarily stunners – those pinnacles of breeding, genetics and cosmetic surgery are still left for the faux newsmagazine shows – but pleasant and entertaining folk. The kind of strangely familiar person you wouldn’t mind inviting over to help make dinner, maybe pick out some new dish sets, and even redecorate the bathroom.
As this excerpt from a 2005 On the Media broadcast further explains:
“FREDERICK KAUFMAN: It’s also shot very differently. It’s actually shot single-camera as opposed to a four-camera television format. And so it’s almost shot like a 35-millimeter film. You get an amazing angle on Giada, who is beautiful, and who always is wearing a very close-cut sleeveless top. And then you get the food, and then you get Giada, and then you get her fingers on the food. And oh, it’s so moist. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]“
I am sure you didn’t need my help to notice this. The second the Food Network became a favoured channel in dorm lounges, industry executives took note.
I’ve noticed a big difference in the food programming produced in Great Britain and the United States. (Let’s not talk about food programs in Canada) My memories of British food porn only include one scantily-clad chef: Jaimie Oliver. And there is NO WAY I ever wanted to see the bare forearm of either of the Two Fat Ladies.
Meanwhile, wholesome Western New York gal Rachael Ray has appeared in FHM. The restaurant critic at the New York Times – feared by some for his/her ability to cripple and crush new restaurants – has a blog.
All the while, some traditional food writers see this fetishization and popularization as a weakening their trade, limiting the scope and depth of food-related stories prepared for readers.
What would the apex of the food fetishization trend look like? How about Giada vs. Rachael Ray on Iron Chef? (YouTube)
[tags] food porn, food fetish, Food Network, Giada, Rachael, vegetables, popular culture [/tags]
September 20, 2007 by Colin
Short sentences that both amused and enlightened me:
“Older people are sticky”
“Mad as a box of snakes”
“Web development is for Spartan warriors”
September 15, 2007 by Colin
Opposition party operatives have always trailed candidates during elections – Canadian as well as American. As technology has become cheaper, the level of data collection has increased. Just ask former Senator George Allen. It’s the YouTube primary.
Even Duke’s in the game. Today, he offers advice on how YouTube could help Senator-in-limbo Larry Craig get out of his predicament:
Cartoon from Doonesbury, naturally.
“… To flood the zone, upload dozens and dozens of random videos which have absolutely nothing to do with the clip you’re trying to make “disappear.” The real strength of the clips you’re uploading isn’t to respond directly to the video, but to confuse the YouTube user and make it impossible for them to find the video they’re looking for. The one thing every campaign can count on is that any web user has a slight case of undiagnosed ADD (attention deficit disorder). If they don’t find what they’re looking for seconds after the search has begun, they’ll tire, and give up the search …” (David All)
Wow. Just like having a “black site” in your back pocket, ready for an emergency, do you have a staffer maintaining dozens of YouTube identities, waiting to deploy them in a flood?
Or is that something you hire a consultant for?
Comments in the many references to David All’s original blog post note that Google’s ranking algorithm wouldn’t be fooled by this strategy, and that most YouTube videos spread virally – the correct link would be bounced from inbox to twittr account, oblivious to the flood of moronic fog.
August 24, 2007 by Colin
Earlier this month, Joe Engressia died. That name may not mean very much, but the term “phone phreak” may. Engressia was one of the first phone phreaks: using his natural ability to whistle the tones that controlled the AT&T switching network, he helped a generation of nerds to discover their interest in electronics. Along the way, they manipulated the nation’s electronic infrastructure to learn new skills, meet new friends around the world, and talk about dating and sex.
Forty years ago, personal computing was a largely inconceivable proposition. Computers, networks, phone switches and other electronic equipment were the property of large corporations. Sure, there were engineers, technicians and researchers working for those corporations, but they were employees, generally following the rules and maintaining order in the systems.
It took a small group of technically-minded and generally socially awkward people to bend those systems to their own advantage, in the process creating some of the first electronic social networks. A lot has been written about the phone phreaks who delighted in developing new tools and techniques to thwart Ma Bell – here, here and here.
“… (Joe)Engressia might have gone on whistling in the dark for a few friends for the rest of his life if the phone company hadn’t decided to expose him. He was warned, disciplined by the college, and the whole case became public. In the months following media reports of his talent, Engressia began receiving strange calls. There were calls from a group of kids in Los Angeles who could do some very strange things with the quirky General Telephone and Electronics circuitry in L.A. suburbs. There were calls from a group of mostly blind kids in —-, California, who had been doing some interesting experiments with Cap’n Crunch whistles and test loops. There was a group in Seattle, a group in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a few from New York, a few scattered across the country. Some of them had already equipped themselves with cassette and electronic M-F devices. For some of these groups, it was the first time they knew of the others.
The exposure of Engressia was the catalyst that linked the separate phone-phreak centers together. They all called Engressia. They talked to him about what he was doing and what they were doing. And then he told them — the scattered regional centers and lonely independent phone phreakers — about each other, gave them each other’s numbers to call, and within a year the scattered phone-phreak centers had grown into a nationwide underground. …
… The last big conference — the historic “2111″ conference — had been arranged through an unused Telex test-board trunk somewhere in the innards of a 4A switching machine in Vancouver, Canada. For months phone phreaks could M-F their way into Vancouver, beep out 604 (the Vancouver area code) and then beep out 2111 (the internal phone-company code for Telex testing), and find themselves at any time, day or night, on an open wire talking with an array of phone phreaks from coast to coast, operators from Bermuda, Tokyo and London who are phone-phreak sympathizers, and miscellaneous guests and technical experts. The conference was a massive exchange of information.
Phone phreaks picked each other’s brains clean, then developed new ways to pick the phone company’s brains clean. Ralph gave M F Boogies concerts with his home-entertainment-type electric organ, Captain Crunch demonstrated his round-the-world prowess with his notorious computerized unit and dropped leering hints of the “action” he was getting with his girl friends. (The Captain lives out or pretends to live out several kinds of fantasies to the gossipy delight of the blind phone phreaks who urge him on to further triumphs on behalf of all of them.)
The somewhat rowdy Northwest phone-phreak crowd let their bitter internal feud spill over into the peaceable conference line, escalating shortly into guerrilla warfare; Carl the East Coast international tone relations expert demonstrated newly opened direct M-F routes to central offices on the island of Bahrein in the Persian Gulf, introduced a new phone-phreak friend of his in Pretoria, and explained the technical operation of the new Oakland-to Vietnam linkages. (Many phone phreaks pick up spending money by M-F-ing calls from relatives to Vietnam G.I.’s, charging $5 for a whole hour of trans-Pacific conversation.)
Day and night the conference line was never dead. Blind phone phreaks all over the country, lonely and isolated in homes filled with active sighted brothers and sisters, or trapped with slow and unimaginative blind kids in straitjacket schools for the blind, knew that no matter how late it got they could dial up the conference and find instant electronic communion with two or three other blind kids awake over on the other side of America.
Talking together on a phone hookup, the blind phone phreaks say, is not much different from being there together. Physically, there was nothing more than a two-inch-square wafer of titanium inside a vast machine on Vancouver Island. For the blind kids there meant an exhilarating feeling of being in touch, through a kind of skill and magic which was peculiarly their own…”
[tags] Facebook, Friendster, MySpace, blue box, phreak, Engressia [/tags]
July 19, 2007 by Colin
The word’s out, thanks to some clueless bookstore employees and some impulsive online booksellers. The NYTimes tells us that the latest volume of the Harry Potter series is violent:
“…at least a half-dozen characters we have come to know die in these pages, and many others are wounded or tortured. Voldemort and his followers have infiltrated Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic, creating havoc and terror in the Wizard and Muggle worlds alike, and the members of various populations — including elves, goblins and centaurs — are choosing sides.”
This is only logical. Having set up the ideological framework for a world populated by wizards, muggles, wandmaking dwarves and cuddly yet gigantic henchmen, J.K. Rowling has followed the Edgardo Diaz playbook in exquisite detail:
- Identify a trend in popular culture that hasn’t yet accelerated
- Personify that trend with a diverse group of individuals
- Develop a family-friendly storyline and marketing message
- Differentiate your product by emphasizing the attributes and quirks of your characters
- Deploy an aggressively effective multi-channel marketing machine
- Continue to produce product based on the same storyline, despite a changing cast of principal characters
Most importantly, when your principal characters eventually age out of your target market – get rid of them! Replace them with more appealing, more refreshing and more malleable characters.
That was Edgardo Diaz’ script for Menudo, and it’s obviously what J.K. Rowling has in store for Harry Potter and the gang from Hogwarts.
Nothing like a nice slaughter and wholesale cast overhaul to clean the decks for the next iteration of the wizard franchise: a wide range of spin-off books.
After all, Rowling has already announced that she’ll be producing an encyclopedia of spells, characters and place names. This is an excellent first step to ensure the mythology established by the Harry Potter series remains front of mind with readers of all ages and types: pre-teens, teens, adolescents, young adult, mid-age crisis, wiccan …
Next steps? Brand diversification, much like the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Judy Blume and Boy’s Own series.
- Haggrid’s Guide to Outdoor Adventure
- Your Twin Brother’s a Third Wheel at the School Prom
- Distinguishing Family Pets from Family Enemies
- Geocaching by Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs
Books for Young Girls
- Dealing with Others’ Jealousy, by Hermione Granger
- I’ve got a Crush on My Brother’s Friend, by Ginny Weasley
- Undermining the Establishment for Profit, by Lucius Malfoy
- The Dumbledore Way: Harnessing Your Inner Strength
- Oligarchic and Anti-Competitive Behaviour in Diagon Alley
- Long term effects of poor parenting, by Dr. Draco Malfoy
- The Golden Snitch and HyperExtended arms
- Cranial Injuries, Short Term Memory Loss and the Bludger
- Will Those Eyebrows Really Grow Back: a Laboratory Safety Guide
- A Danger and A Benefit: A Dragon’s role in limb loss and reconstruction
For more on how the higher education crowd consider Harry Potter, see insidehighered.com
[tags] Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling, Pottermania, Deathly Hallows, Menudo, boy bands, Hermione, Weasley, Dumbledore, Hogwarts [/tags]
July 18, 2007 by Colin
A potpurri for you, folks.
Matt Allen has convinced music festivals like Pitchfork, online game sites, Levis and others to underwrite his ice cream truck and its free goodies. His site sounds more participatory than the write-up in the Chicago Reader.
Elsewhere in Chicago, the market for fake sneaks threatens to overwhelm the smaller sneaker boutiques:
“…Here in Chicago, the Croatian Sensation South Side shoe dealer claims to be numero uno in the sneaker black-market. This twentysomething works nights as a bellboy for an upscale downtown hotel and sells shoes by day.
“The summer months are when I make my money,” he says. “In the winter I’ll keep around forty pairs on hand, but in the summer I’ll have several hundred.” Buying in bulk allows him to keep his overhead low. “Last year I put in an order for 680 pairs. But if a girl needs a pair of Jordan XIs in Gucci leather to go with her new handbag, I can get them in a week.” (NewCity Chicago)
“Inside baseball” reporting of political machinations suffers from a fundamental problem: it ascribes far too much expertise and importance to the role of political consultants in a campaign:
“…“The problem with political consulting is you don’t need a license or a degree,” (Marl MacKinnon, the media consultant to Bush ’04) added. “Anyone can just show up with a camcorder. It is the ultimate in hackery — for which I am perfectly suited.” (NYTimes)
Organic Frog rightly points out how the concept of revolution is being undermined by facile and unspirited claims of “revolution”
“…Most of the time the companies using these kind of metaphors aren’t the most innovative in their sector but use the revolution concept to actually overcome this lack of avant-garde thinking.(Organic Frog)
And here’s your obscure reference to “An Album Cover” (look at 2:35 in)
[tags] revolution, hacks, political consultant, campaign manager, ice cream truck, pirated sneakers [/tags]
July 7, 2007 by Colin
I’ve been searching around for a new suit lately, mostly online. I was contemplating an updated look, but it looks like I’ll have to continue in my preppy ways, because the men’s fashions being prepared for next spring are, ummm, quirky.
I offer, as support, a review of a recent Milan fashion show – Looking like a Billion Bucks – found in the New York Times. It’s behind a subscriber firewall now, but has been reproduced on a different blog.
“… Peter Pan seems to be the ideal man. How, for example, do you rationalize the success of Thom Browne, who won a men’s wear award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2006 and who was recently hired by Brooks Brothers to help revamp the brand?
You can’t argue with the influence Mr. Browne’s clothes have had on the industry, although he was surely not the first to make suits that suggested a Pee-wee Herman romp along Savile Row. At a garden party … Euan Rellie … is seen wearing a Thom Browne suit that has all of that designer’s trademark details: cropped jacket piped at the collar, lapel, hem and pocket; shirttails left hanging; bow tie.
A caption identifies Mr. Rellie as an investment banker, … Yet far from embodying a model of fiscal authority or contemporary chic, Mr. Rellie comes across in the picture as the man hired by the caterers to make balloon animals.”
[tags] men’s fashion, summer clothes, suit [/tags]
July 3, 2007 by Colin
Plattduetsche Park Restaurant, which is a German-style beer garden found just outside Queens, hit a home run with its review in the New York Times this weekend. in my judgment, there were four key elements:
- the headline: “Get Out the Lederhosen and Prepare to Oompah“
- the first line: “BEER + sun + sausage = joy.”
- the relaxed tone of the entire review
- and, finally, the picture of the hostess, the patrons and boot-shaped beer steins at the top of the review.
[tags] oompah, beer garden, fraulein, choice placement [/tags]
May 27, 2007 by Colin
Two interesting excerpts from the NYT Magazine’s profile of Judd Apatow:
“…12-hour days in Northridge began dragging interminably. The curious appearance one day of Joey Buttafuoco (of Amy Fisher fame) manning a craft-services ice-cream truck only momentarily lifted the torpor…”
“…Next up was “Superbad,” a teenage comedy that Rogen and Goldberg had been writing since high school … Once everyone sat down, Goldberg switched on a DVD of “Superbad” auditions. For half an hour a parade of pretty faces read lines about scoring fake IDs and hooking up. Eventually, the brother of a famous movie star read for the part of Fogell, the school dweeb. He delivered his line a little too perfectly.
“Who would think this kid would have trouble getting girls?” Rogen said. “I want to have sex with this kid. I bet he’s getting pleasured right now, right below the frame line.”
May 25, 2007 by Colin
Then you’ll like Jonathon’s own personal account: How I Did It.
In keeping with the self promotional theme, I think Jonathan’s story should come in a package:
- 18 page self-published narrative
- Autographed reprint of the NYT story
- USB key of all the home made Jonathan Coulton videos
- Longwinded testimonial from John Hodgman
- Flexidisk of Jonathan’s favourite songs
- A little odd-shaped erratum sheet with a Skype link where fans can find a phone tree of Jonathan Coulton non-sequiturs.
But that’s just me.
[tags] Jonathan Coulton. Clive Thompson, indie music, music promotion [/tags]
May 3, 2007 by Colin
A handful of looks at urban text:
- Paul Shaw’s record of found typography across New York City. (New York Times)
- The hand drawn signs of the taquerias on Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn (Village Voice)
- New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual (1970) from Triborough
- joeclark’s amonthofsubways flickr set: a picture a day of signs in the Toronto Subway
- Chinatown rooftop colours from Joe’s nyc.
- London: A Life in Maps from the British Library