Marketplace of (others’?) ideas, Part two

Okay, then, an update on the recent-sh post, titled The Marketplace of (Other Peoples’?) Ideas. Basically this was me thinking out loud about indie creators who feel their work is getting ripped off by big companies, and what if anything can be done about it. Notably:

A prominent theory of Web-thought is that such exposure [of alleged ripoffs, online] ought to spark some kind of response and ideally resolution of the specific instances — and, you would think, a downtick in the number of such instances. And yet it seems routine.

I had a number of private conversations with various folks about this post after it went up. The upshot is as follows. Read more

Surface Effects (re: Shepard Fairey)


A few years back I met Shepard Fairey when I wrote an article about him and his design firm, Studio Number One, for Inc. We stayed in touch a little bit, and I was later invited to contribute a piece to the book Supply & Demand. Normally I decline such offers, but for various reasons I made an exception in this instance. Lately I have decided that that it might be interesting to publish that essay here. Partly because Fairey is obviously much in the news, partly in order to mark the occasion of his first major museum show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, and partly because people keep sending me email asking me what I think (or telling me what they think) about his work.

Keep in mind that this was written in 2004 and first published in 2005, so adjust the date references accordingly. (Among other things, there is obviously no reference at all to the Obama imagery.) Here it is:


imagesThe story goes like this. Some 15 years ago, when Shepard Fairey was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, a friend wanted to know how to make stencils. Fairey offered to show him, using picture of the wrestler Andre the Giant, chosen basically at random from the newspaper. The friend objected that this was a stupid image. Fairey said no, it’s a cool image — because Andre the Giant has a posse. Later they made some stickers, slapped them up here and there around Providence. That might have been the end of it, except that Fairey overheard strangers at the grocery store, discussing what the stickers might “mean.” So he put up more stickers, and a prank turned into a campaign. In a way, it’s a story that has everything. The never-ending of river of pop culture flotsam. The mastery and teaching of a skill. The seductiveness of persuasion. The power of repetition. And the curious human yearning for symbolic meaning.

That crude early image has long since shifted to a more stylized visage – the icon face — and is now most familiarly paired with the words “Obey Giant,” or simply “Obey.” It has been reworked dozens and dozens of ways, and as an open-source project that pre-dates the Internet, it has been spread by countless volunteer confederates all over the world. The icon face has been in movies, in art museums, it has been tattooed onto people’s bodies, and, yes, it has even appeared in commercial messages, and on clothing. People are still arguing about what it might “mean.” Read more

What does your sound brand like?

Anybody out there read the blogs on Just curious.

Anyway, I was poking around that site earlier this week, and noticed a blog called “Songs for Soap,” and this entry asking “Does Every Brand Have A Sound?

We all know that there is no longer the slightest stigma involved in a band, indie or established, renting its music to a brand, but I was still a little surprised to read just how far from those forgotten notions we’ve come: The entry concludes with the marketers actually lecturing musicians about how to make sure they’re worthy of such collaborations!

“Artists need to think of themselves as brands; what they stand for, what their values are and what message they want to give,” if they are to succeed in partnering with consumer brands.

So to turn the item’s headline around, the question for musicians, I guess, is: Does your sound have a brand? Maybe there’s a future career here — consultants who help bands write their mission statements and so on.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, this September 4, 2006 Consumed addressed Umpqua Bank’s unusual music-branding work with Rumblefish, whose founder is the first person I can remember articulating the “what does your brand sound like” pitch.

On a related note, the same blog has an entry on Girl Talk cutting a long-form ad “I’m a PC” ad. Interesting ona number of levels, and I hadn’t heard about it. (And again for what it’s worth: My July 20, 2008 column on Girl Talk.)

Sublime Stitching X Handmade Nation

One of the new embroidery patterns from Sublime Stitching is a tie-in to the forthcoming documentary Handmade Nation. Sublime Stitching is of course the company of Jenny Hart, of the Austin Craft Mafia; Handmade Nation is the film coming out next year, made by Fayth Levine.

Hart is also going to be at Maker Faire in Austin this weekend, along with fellow ACM founder Jennifer Perkins. Details here. Hart, Perkins, and Levine are all in the chapter of Buying In that looks at DIYism etc. Follow-up interviews with Hart and Perkins on this site are here and here. (And one with Tina Sparkles, also an ACM founder who’s in the book, is here.)

I think a promotional tie-in embroidery pattern is a really great idea. Read more

I have seen rock and roll future … and it’s a full range of lifestyle products!

The band Of Montreal recently published something that reads like a short manifesto, or possibly a parody of a manifesto, with the title, “We Will Only Propogate Exceptional Objects.” The first paragraph riffs  on identity:

To project our self identity into the outer and, to amplify the howl of our self expression, we have many tools at our disposal; our art, our clothing and hair style, the way we talk…, and, for a lot of us, the objects that populate our living spaces. There are myriad vendors, attempting to contribute to our identity campaigns, creating rather dull and uninspiring products. Making the production of any new objects, at this point, almost seem criminal.

This sounds like a complaint about consumer culture. Or, again, a parody of a complaint about consumer culture. “The howl of our self expression”?

Anyway, whatever the intent, it goes in a direction that seems a little odd after having just asserted that “making the production” of new identity-stuff seems “almost criminal.” Because the real point of the piece is to announce that the band’s next record will not simply be a record. It will be a “collection.”

Skeletal Lamping Collection 08 includes T-shirts, tote bags, buttons, wall decals, posteres and even a paper lantern. The idea is that with most of these objects, if you buy the thing, you get a code for a digital download of, you know, the band’s next batch of music. If you’d like this entire lifestyle suite so that you can immerse yourself fully in the Of Montreal-ness of your “identity campaign,” that’ll be $90.

I guess this is a creative way of promoting a new release — making it more “relevant,” as they say.

It also seems like kind of a reversal of the longstanding trend of trying to make products “cool” by associating them with certain music, whether it’s the background at a hip retailer, or the soundtrack to a TV ad. Maybe at this point music seems incomplete without products — and it’s the music that now needs to be made “cool” by being associated with on-trend merch.

On what I think is a very related note: Carrie Brownstein writes about the death of the “rock star” idea here. More about that later, but a line from closing paragraph: “Maybe the death of the rock star is due to the fact that brands are the new gods and musicians merely the preachers.”

Via PSFK and Marginal Utility.

In The New York Times Magazine: TapouT


This week in Consumed, a look at TapouT and other brands that “speak to the mixed-martial arts lifestyle.”

The vague term “lifestyle” is particularly vexing in this context. Perhaps clothing lines associated with surfing or hip-hop or Ralph Lauren suggest such a thing. But what “lifestyle” might we associate with one person kicking another in the face?

Read the column in the August 31, 2008, issue of The New York Times Magazine, or here.

–> Murketing readers will recall that I floated this subject here a few weeks ago and got some great comments that both convinced me this was worth pursuing as a column, and offered me a lot of excellent guidance in doing so. Thank you!

Consumed archive is here, and FAQ is here. The Times‘ Consumed RSS feed is here. Consumed Facebook page is here.

Banksy vs. New Orleans’ top bomber?

Coudal links to a set of Flickr images apparently showing new work by Banksy, in New Orleans.

Of interest to me are this one and this one. These allude to something you may have noticed if you’ve spent time in New Orleans: Lots of squarish blocks of gray rolled-on paint, all over the place, blotting out what used to be graffiti or street art. The guy behind this is Fred Radtke, a/k/a The Gray Ghost: Basically an anti-graf zealot who rides around town and paints over every tag or other street art manifestation he sees, Radtke is a much-reviled figure among N.O. graffiti types.

This image below is not one of the ones linked above; it was taken some time later:

Originally uploaded by toaminorplace.

The earlier version had the guy painting over a flower; now the whole flower has been rollered out. By Radtke? Hard to say. Seems difficult to believe he would take the care evident here — but maybe he was flattered or amused by this.

Personally, I’ve always found Radkte to be perversely impressive. E and I were last in New Orleans in December (actually she’s been back since then), and the Gray Ghost’s blobby “work” was everywhere. I like his quote in this old article: “I know them all and they know me, absolutely,” he says of N.O. graffiti writers, and he knows they hate him. “But they understand,” he adds, “that I take out everything.” And it’s true: The guy is basically the king of kings in N.O. — the ultimate bomber.

Just Do It (Yourself?)

I’m happy that the Beautiful Losers documentary is getting plenty of attention, and I look forward to seeing it. I’m a fan of many of the artists who I gather are in it, and I both like and respect Aaron Rose. He is interviewed in the current issue of Complex talking about a spinoff project: “Make Something!! Workshops,” and I like the sound of these, too. The film’s site says:

Working with public school art programs and youth mentoring programs, MAKE SOMETHING!! will invite local children to participate in creative workshops such as sign painting, photography, skateboard graphic design, toy design, filmmaking, tattoo art, footwear design and zine making.

Workshops will be hosted by renowned artists from the Beautiful Losers “do-it-yourself” art subculture, which include Ed Templeton, Tobin Yelland, Geoff McFetridge, Shepard Fairey, Mike Mills, Todd James, Cheryl Dunn, Kaws, Mr. Cartoon and Aaron Rose. The work created in each location will form a continually evolving exhibition, which will be open to the public to view.

Sounds good.

And yet … despite all my good vibes about this … I must say that my reaction to the version of the movie poster above was: What’s the swoosh doing on there?

These workshops, apparently, are courtesy of Nike. Was that really necessary? “Make something” is obviously a fine message — but to me the whole idea of doing-it-yourself kind of loses its oomph if the doing has to happen under the auspices of the almighty swoosh. After all, did the various artists and creators celebrated in the film have to rely on a multinational to learn to express themselves? I think not. On the film’s site, the tab for this project is simply “Nike Workshops.” Ew.

I think this a bad move on Nike’s part — if Swoosh Inc. wants to do something good for the kids, then just do it (to borrow a phrase) and for once keep your logo to yourself.

I also just think it’s, you know, a general all-around bummer.

Not that any of this will stop me from seeing the doc. In fact I wish I could make it to the U.S. premier, in New York City, tonight.

In The New York Times Magazine: KAWS

New Looks
An established art entrepreneur makes his way into a new realm — the art world.

This week in Consumed, Brian Donnelly, a/k/a KAWS, and the relationship between art, markets, and value.

At 33, Brian Donnelly is enjoying a successful art career. Working out of a studio in Brooklyn, he has sold paintings to Pharrell Williams, the rapper and producer; Nigo, the designer-entrepreneur; and Takashi Murakami, the international art star, among others. He has also created a variety of products including toys, apparel and even pillows — and indeed he has his own store, Original Fake, in Tokyo. He has also been widely known in the “street art” world for years; one of his early altered-phone-booth-ad posters recently traded hands on eBay for $22,000. One thing Donnelly had not done until lately, however, is forge a relationship with a dealer or art gallery. This wasn’t because he shunned or had a problem with the traditional gallery system. He says it’s just that “nobody asked.”

[Now he has a bunch of gallery shows and relationship with a gallerist who] figures there’s another market for his work. “I think it needs to get out there in the art world,” she says.

Read the whole column in the August 3, 2008, issue of The New York Times Magazine, or right here.

Additional links*: KAWS site; Donnelly’s blog; Edward Winkleman’s blog; John Jay’s blog; Gering & López Gallery site.

Consumed archive is here, and FAQ is here. Consumed Facebook page is here.

[*QUESTION: I used to do this “additional links” thing all the time, then I stopped. Is it useful? Do you want it? Please let me know.]

Consumed Update-O-Rama: Bankruptcy, murketing, collaboration

Well it’s been a long time since I’ve done a Consumed updates roundup, but three things came across the radar that I’ll note here at all at once.

1. Re the March 11, 2007 Consumed on the Starbury, sold exclusively through Steve & Berry’s: Steve Berry’s has filed for bankruptcy!

This surprised me: Turns out the mall-based super-discount chain has been in trouble for some months now, apparently owing to a debt management strategy that didn’t hold up in the current credit-challenged environment.

I’d been under the impression that shrewd real estate deals were a big part of the chain’s success. And on my couple of visits to a nearby Steve & Berry’s (admittedly, it’s been a while) consumer traffic was brisk. I guess I would have assumed that its reverse-sticker shock cheapness would have benefited the place in the current slow economy.

I guess not! Debt management is another one of those subjects that gets little coverage because it’s not particularly sexy (and because companies tend not to be forthcoming about it) — yet it can mean a lot more to the success or failure of a business than any amount of press coverage or any number of celebrity alignments.

I’m not sure if this turn of events makes me look bad … but it might. If it does, well, I have no excuses. Mea culpa.

2. Re the February 27, 2005 Consumed on the Victoria’s Secret Pink brand: Ad Age has a piece that says the “thriving” sub-brand is approaching $1 billion revenues. The piece also notes the newest Pink push will be “supported and promoted by a campus tour program and paid collegiate brand ambassadors.”

Pink is, for the first time, hiring two to three brand ambassadors at each of 15 campuses. Hundreds of résumés have been received, and the selected students will go through a training program in August to prepare them for the yearlong assignment.

In doing radio interviews for Buying In, every time the subject of word-of-mouth marketing comes up, either the host or a caller invariably says something like, “Oh, come on, how much of this is really happening?” A lot, okay? It’s routine. Especially (though not exclusively) for brands targeting youth. The “college rep” strategy that was maybe used by record labels a decade or two ago is now used by a wide range of consumer-products and apparel companies, basically signing up students to “get the word out” to their pals about brands. It’s an established tactic. It’s real. And it’ s just one facet of something that, I promise, I’m not making up.

3. Re the January 14, 2007 Consumed on Timbuk2, and the July 8, 2007 Consumed on Threadless: Timbuk2 has a line of bags with Threadless graphics on them. Via Josh Spear.

Q&A: Jenny Hart of Sublime Stitching

And now, the last of’s series of three Q&As with Austin Craft Mafia co-founders who I interviewed for one of the closing chapters of Buying In. Jenny Hart is the founder of Sublime Stitching, a successful business that encourages people to do-it-themselves with embroidery patterns, kits, and books, and she is also a widely respected creator and artist in her own right.

Here she talks about her Crafting A Business column in Venus Zine; about getting asked for business advice; about dealing with big companies (including when to walk away); and about why it’s hard to explain the DIY movement. Check it out:

Q: As with Jennifer and Tina, I’ll start with the Craft Mafia(s). How do you see the ACM at this point, and all the new Craft Mafias that seem to keep forming?

We constantly struggle with the best and most effective way for us to organize, and recently we had a meeting where we made some really important decisions about who we are at this stage. Because, several of us are no longer running businesses or have moved on to other things. We decided that at this point the group needed to continue to support the other mafias in terms of being an administration of the hub site, but we’ve never sought to be a group that dictates the structure or activities of other mafias other than some general guidelines.


Q: One thing that’s happened since we talked for the book is you’ve started writing a kind of business-advice column for Venuszine. I get the impression there’s a lot of hunger out there for business advice as people look for the way to turn their creativity into a way to make a living. Is that sort of how this column came about? Are there things about being an “indie” entrepreneur that are different from being a “traditional” entrepreneur? Read more

Q&A: Tina Sparkles

Today, Murketing is pleased to present the second in a series of three Q&As with Austin Craft Mafia founders who are in Chapter 13 of Buying In. Tina Sparkles built a considerable following with Sparkle Craft, which of late has been best known for her handmade, Earth-and-animal-friendly guitar straps.

Aside from the ACM, however, here she addresses a few surprising developments: On May 9, 2008 she announced she was taking her last orders for guitar straps and moving on to new things. More on that (including what went into the decision), below, as well as her thoughts about crafting and doing-it-yourself and consumption and ethics; about the pleasure of teaching others crafty skills; about why she stopped buying new clothes three years ago; and about a new book she’s working on that ties all of the above together. Here goes:

Q: Let’s start with the Craft Mafia(s). One of the things that really interested me about the ACM is I’d never quite seen an arrangement like this — you’re all independent, and your affiliation seems, to an outsider at least, to amount to sort of quasi-formalized mutual support. How do you see it at this point, and how do you think a setup like this helps the new Craft Mafias that seem to keep forming?

A: The Austin Craft Mafia is an odd magical little creature. Mostly, we are just a group of friends, a family. From the beginning we have always made decisions about our group as we went along, without any big grandiose plan about what we are or what we wanted to be and I think that has really allowed us to grow as a group organically. We tackle issues and opportunities as they come along and keep communication open and fair.

As far as other Craft Mafias are concerned, I feel like the whole bonding-together-to-have-a-bigger-voice is what attracts people to form their own groups, as well as having a localized community to support their individual endeavors.

Q: When I spoke to you while I was still writing the book, more than a year ago, you mentioned that you were considering trying to find a local manufacturer, so you could focus more on design. But now you’ve got a whole new direction — what went into your thinking on that? Read more

Q&A: Jennifer Perkins of Naughty Secretary Club

jen and burt, originally uploaded by Naughty Secretary Club.

Here, as promised moments ago, the first of a three-part series of Q&As with Austin Craft Mafia members who pop up in Chapter 13 of Buying In. Jennifer Perkins makes and sells jewelry through her Naughty Secretary Club, and like the rest of the ACM is one of the crafty world’s more impressive success stories.

In addition to the Austin Craft Mafia’s unique small-business support-system model, she talks here about her TV hosting experiences (and whether she would do that again), about the Etsy impact on the DIY scene and crafty businesspeople, about how much she loves Twitter (among other social-networking tools), and about the future — which for her includes a book she has coming out later this summer, The Naughty Secretary Club: The Working Girl’s Guide To Handmade Jewelry. Here goes:

Q: Let’s start with the Craft Mafia(s). One of the things that really interested me about the ACM is I’d never quite seen an arrangement like this — you’re all independent, and your affiliation seems, to an outsider at least, to amount to sort of quasi-formalized mutual support. How do you see it at this point, and how do you think a setup like this helps the new Craft Mafias that seem to keep forming?

A support group is exactly what the Austin Craft Mafia is. We have an understanding that if we do an interview we are sure to mention the Austin Craft Mafia. If any of us take out advertisements we mention the Austin Craft Mafia. I have the Austin Craft Mafia printed on all my products packaging and more! It is a very reciprocal relationship where it behooves everyone involved and their businesses to be a part of the Austin Craft Mafia.

In the early days Jenny Hart, Tina Sparkles and I could not afford to place ads in magazines like Venus and Bust alone, so we split the ads three ways. When we started branching out and taking out individual ads, we decided to mention that we were the Austin Craft Mafia. That way the members of the Austin Craft Mafia still benefited from our individual ads in some way. If Jenny was taking an ad out in Ready Made and I wasn’t, as long as the ad said “Austin Craft Mafia” it helped my business in a roundabout way. If Vickie Howell sends out an order it has a Naughty Secretary Club postcard inside the envelope as well; when I ship out an order it has a Sublime Stitching postcard inside. We are like a small-business support system.


We don’t regulate to a great degree what the other Craft Mafias do with their groups. We have a few guidelines, but how they run their show is up to them. We are very open about our structure and how it works and some groups have started a similar thing and others have taken it in different directions. Some craft mafias are interested in using their group to help their businesses along and other mafias use the group as a form of crafty camaraderie. The Austin Craft Mafia only meets as a group once every several months (though we see each other socially constantly) we use a Yahoo group as our main form of communication to make life decisions. Some other mafias get together and craft together weekly and monthly. Either way it is supportive.

Q: You’re among the ACM members who have dabbled with television, on the DIY Network (where oddly they don’t seem to identify you as Austin Craft Mafia members — odd given the recognition that the name has in the indie craft movement). Is that something you see being part of your future, either in a bigger way, or a different way? And what did it mean for your career/business? Read more

Threadless: Still beloved

Well I can only imagine the folks at Threadless must be pretty darn happy with their recent Inc. cover story. I mean, “Most Innovative Small Company In America,” it doesn’t get much better than that! If you somehow still are not familiar with Threadless, and why it’s so popular among democratization-of-everything biz theorists, the piece offers a comprehensive and extremely positive overview. (I attempted to make some different points about the Threadless model in this 7/8/07 Consumed.)

A few minor things interested me the most, though they were not the focus of the piece:

1. There’s passing mention of the break between co-founders Jake Nickell and Jacob DeHart; the latter is still on the board but “no longer works at the company,” and declined to be interviewed. I wonder what the story is there? Has someone else written about that and I missed it? The article says DeHart “had lost interest in expanding Threadless.” Why? This made me curious about what he’s up to, and I sort of wished for a sidebar about him.

2. The company’s Naked & Angry sub-brand or spinoff or whatever it is, is described as coming “later this year.” This idea has sort of been in a beta mode for an awfully long time. I’m sure curious to see what it develops into.

3. On a related note, I either didn’t know or had forgotten that Insight Venture Partners has a stake in Threadless. I wonder what this implies about the brand’s future? It doesn’t sound like they would have needed venture money, since the story says they’re making 30% margins. And by and large, venture capitalists are looking for blow-out growth, or rather blow-out valuation increases (and “liquidity event”). Threadless has started opening stores, and according to the story is open to other retail arrangements (including Urban Outfitters under the right circumstances). No doubt Threadless is a good business, but I don’t see it being an IPO candidate unless they make some pretty radical steps.

None of this is meant to suggest I see any particular trouble on the horizon for Threadless. I don’t. But they do seem to be reaching a crossroads of some kind. It’ll be interesting to see which way they go.

(Related: In addition to the aforementioned Consumed column, I did a Q&A here on Murketing with Threadless star Glenn Jones about his own brand.)

Catching up: Ghostly/Adult Swim project

Going through the list of things I’m behind on, here’s one I wanted to be sure to mention: Independent record label Ghostly International‘s collaboration with Adult Swim on a 19-track collection called Ghostly Swim. You can download the whole thing for free here — and see Ghostly “mascots” BoyCatBird in a video titled “City Suckers.”

Ghostly founder Sam Valenti IV gave Murketing a great Q&A last August, here. I wrote about Adult Swim in Consumed, 1/18/04.

Mr. Valenti talks about the Adult Swim project with Coolhunting, here.