“Another Tool To Deceive and Slaughter”

If you recall the May 3 Consumed on the artwork that sells itself on eBay, which was titled, “A Tool To Deceive and Slaughter,” you may enjoy this:

‘Another Tool To Deceive and Slaughter’ G.E. (2007)

Hi so to begin with please do not confuse this work with Caleb Larsen’s interesting installation A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter.

However, this sale is for a somewhat similar item, in that it is shaped like a box, although the color is white not black, and it will, once installed, perform the exact same function every time its turned on – namely it will shake violently and flood your house. It is a menace in every sense of the word – we are afraid to leave the children alone with it, in fact its eying me aggressively right now, if you ask a question and don’t hear back, assume the worst and send help. It is designed to look exactly, I mean exactly, like a General Electric washer model WHDRR4418G1WW, serial number zm185532G, in fact it so closely resembles a GE washer, that when GE sent a couple of technicians to look it over they assured us it was in fact a GE washer and that it was working perfectly, and that the flooding and shaking were due to our unspecified user error, although they did acknowledge that this model was prone to the symptoms we described. In fact this simulacrum was so effective they even offered to sell us an additional warranty extension on it, which I considered purchasing, but once again this is not a washer, it is device to slaughter and deceive, because if it was a GE washer model WHDRR4418G1WW, serial number zm185532G, then it would actually wash clothes, linens and such, and not flood my house every time we used it.

Terms of sale: you must promise to install this in your home, work, museum, or art gallery and install it exactly as described in an appropriate GE manual. You then must promise to use it on a regular basis. We are not responsible for any damages caused by the flooding and or violent shaking, that is what this item is suppose to do. You may not return it. You may not complain to GE or to anyone else, like Lowes Hardware, but you may resell it so long as the new buyer agrees to the terms of this sale as described above.

Full ebay listing here. Buy It Now for $50k; or “make offer.”

So, there’s an interesting mixture of referencing (and maybe poking fun at?) a Web-discussed artwork in order to, basically, slam a corporation’s apparently flawed product. Neat!

(Thanks, Garth!)

ArtsJournal describes being hobbled by Google

The scenario described in this post by Douglas McLennan of the very useful ArtsJournal site, is pretty much exactly what happened to this site last February — and kept Murketing.com inaccessible to most readers for more than a week. I highly recommend reading McLennan’s account of his experience of being labeled an “attack page” if you are the proprietor of your own site. I agree with basically all of McLennan’s points, most  notably this:

In my case (and probably for many others), the Google system for getting unblocked from the rest of the web sucks. Google offers low information about your status once you’ve been blocked and no information after you’ve done what they’ve suggested. For a news site that depends on constant updating, three days being blocked from most of the web is devastating.

Obviously the consequences for a site like mine aren’t that big a deal — I’m just some guy. But for a site like McLennan’s it really can be a serious problem. I’m glad his specific issue finally got resolved, and I hope the broader issue gets some attention.

A musical rebuttal to an Altlantic piece about “freeloaders”

Illustration by Jeremy Traum; click for more on the first seven interpretations.

This month’s Atlantic includes a piece by Megan McArdle called The Freeloaders: How a generation of file-sharers is ruining the future of entertainment. It struck me as a rather retro argument at this late date, but Marc Weidenbaum over at Disquiet had a more interesting response. He critiques the essays specific points here. Even better than his written reply, however, is the musical one that he proceeded to curate.

Marc (a greatly respected friend) took particular issue with McArdle’s matter-of-fact equation of the fate of “the music industry” with the fate of music, which struck him as a non-contribution to the important discussion of copyright and culture in the digital era. He figures there has been, and will continue to be, plenty of worthwhile music made whether or not the present major record labels figure out profitable business models. Now, it’s easy to say that — but Marc did something specific to make his point. Noting that the piece was accompanied by an illustration that happens to incorporate a musical score (above), he invited musicians to compose new interpretations of the illustration. So far seven have done so — for free — and Marc has posted those on his site — also for free. It adds up to 55-minute musical response. Give it a listen here.

He has also has an open call out for more musical interpretation/responses; contact on Disquiet.com.

The marketplace of (other people’s?) ideas

The blog of Burlesque Of North America pointed out the following a little while back. Here is a poster designed by Minneapolis artist Amy Jo (who you may recall is one of the folks I hired to create a promo poster for Buying In), back in 2005:


And here is a T-shirt from LRG, in 2009 :


I’m not in the business, of course, but it’s hard for me to believe that the designer of the latter just coincidentally came up with that psychedelic swirl/flower pattern, among other similarities. (And yes there are differences — the LRG shirt in my opinion is pretty sophomoric compared to the more-striking Amy Jo effort.) And I was actually surprised to see that one of the comments on the Burlesque of North America blog linked to this Frank 151 item alleging LRG had lifted another design, from Sailor Jerry, and claiming that “they have done this several other times.”

To be clear, I’m not making any allegations myself, as I have no idea what LRG’s side of the story might be. As you probably know, a variety of similar instances involving big companies and indie creators are explored on the site You Thought We Wouldn’t Notice. Often the posts there come from creators who feel ripped off.

A prominent theory of Web-thought is that such exposure 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. And it looks like LRG didn’t even respond to the allegations on either the Burlesque of North America blog, or on Frank151. Aren’t there swarms of social-media consultants out there claiming that companies have to seek out and address complaints and allegations — whether they come from the creator, or from a third-party observer — or suffer marketplace consequences? Is that theory true or not?

Or does a creator who feels aggrieved have to do what Jenny Hart did and file a lawsuit*? I don’t want to get sued myself, so let me just be clear, again, that I really do not know enough about copyright law to say how the various allegations noted above would fare in the legal system. And maybe there are explanations — maybe LRG, for example, has some plausible reason for the apparent similarities between their designs and Amy Jo’s, and Sailor Jerry’s. If so, you’d think that they’d want to say so in public. But maybe in real life, despite what the social-media folks say, it’s easier for them to just ignore it?

[*10/24 update: I originally wrote that Hart “sued,” but that’s technically wrong as the suit was filed, but not served. My apologies. I’ll follow up later on this to set the record straight in a clearer way.]

Commodify your 2.0 discontent

Leif Harmsen, once a Facebook user, now crusades against it. Having dismissed his mother’s snap judgment of the site (“Facebook is the devil”), Harmsen now passionately agrees. He says, not entirely in jest, that he considers it a repressive regime akin to North Korea, and sells T-shirts with the words “Shut Your Facebook.” What especially galls him is the commercialization and corporate regulation of personal and social life.


That’s right. He was so “passionately” angry about the “commercialization” of Facebook that he decided to …

… sell T-shirts about it.

Repellent design?

6a00d8345250f069e201157140ec1d970b-300wi6a00d8345250f069e20115704bcdf9970c-300wiThe Dieline points to the above images and this explanatory post on Pentagram’s site. Apparently it’s a reaction to the most recent anti-tobacco legislation. Pentagram’s DJ Stout “suggests that to comply with the crackdown, tobacco companies should embrace the restrictions and make cigarettes look truly dangerous.”

I guess these are meant to examples of that idea — but I think these packages look totally awesome.

(And by the way, re the text, I don’t know if that’s a real cigarette-package warning or not, but I’m pretty sure all regular smokers “eventually die.” Non-smokers too.)

How consumers disapprove

Perhaps the now-infamous failed Tropicana redesign was pulled so quickly because people used assorted online media to complain and talk back to the company and so on.

Or perhaps this was more a matter of consumers using a more old-fashioned — and infinitely more potent — form of expressing disapproval: Not buying.

I assumed Tropicana must have had some sales data that affected their decision to scrap the new look. But wow, that data is much worse than I would have guessed: According to Ad Age, sales dropped twenty percent (unit volume) in the weeks after the redesign!

Tropicana reps cryptically suggest to Ad Age there’s no connection between the sales falloff and the design retrenchment. Riiiiiight.

Tropicana and the consumer-brand dialogue

Somebody was interviewing me today about the book and the current economy and all that, and the conversation turned to Tropicana bowing to consumer pressure (apparently) to junk its recent redesign. What does that episode say about the present state of the “secret dialogue between what we buy and who we are”?

Well, for one thing it’s an example of one manifestation of that dialogue becoming somewhat more open — in the sense that one of the things the Web does is make visible consumer sentiments that would have been harder to quantify in the past.

More interesting, though, I would suggest, is that the episode underscores the surprising degree to which consumers want to participate in this dialogue. By that I mean: If nobody cares about brands anymore (as various experts have claimed for years, and are claiming once again with the recession as the new rationale), then why in the world would anybody go to the trouble of emailing a company, or starting a Facebook group, about package design? After all, the juice didn’t change. So, you know, who cares?

Lots of people, that’s who. Marginal Utility picks up on a comment from some Tropicana exec that the decision was made because the brand’s “most loyal consumers” were supposedly unhappy: “That they bother to complain is precisely what makes them loyal,” Rob Horning writes. “Others would probably just buy something else without a second thought. Myself, I would prefer to be one of those others.”

To me, that’s definitely a more reasoned response: I mentioned that we at Murketing HQ disliked the new design, and responded by trying some alternatives. While we talk about this kind of consumer/design trivia all the time around here, it never occurs to us to get involved in some kind of Web-enabled protest movement, or at least not about the way a package looks.

After all, it’s not like the aesthetics of Tropicana is some kind of important issue worth rallying around — certainly nothing worth treating like a consumer-rights battle that pitted the grassroots against corporate power.

And yet, there’s at least some evidence that certain observers see this incident in precisely those terms. For example, Marginal Utility also noted the Kottke entry on the Tropicana episode, which declares: “We won!”

Mexico Snickers ad appears to be a fairly blatant ripoff

A (new) friend of Murketing passes along an interesting example of the, uh, inspiration for a TV commercial from a big agency. It’s a Snickers ad that ran, as I understand it, in Mexico.

Here is the opening sequence of the 2007 skateboarding video Fully Flared, which features skaters doing various stunts amid concrete ruins — made remarkable by various explosions that occur during and just after said stunts. If you’re into that sort of thing, it’s pretty impressive. I gather Ty Evans and Spike Jonze were the principle filmmakers.

Here is the Snickers ad, as posted a few days ago on The Berrics. It features skaters doing various stunts amid concrete ruins — made remarkable by various explosions that occur during and just after said stunts.

You get the idea: Very similar. (Though in the latter, the skaters eat some Snickers bars.)

The Berrics also posts this Smoking Gun-like document which appears to be the pitch & storyboarding for the ad. The agency is BBDO. In case you’re curious what The Berrics’ view is of this, the ad is referred to on their site as “The BBDO Attrocity.”

Perhaps there is more to the story? If not, it does appear pretty blatant and shameless.

Redesign Fail! Tropicana capitulates

If you follow the design world at all you know doubt know that Tropicana’s redesign was, um, controversial. There are always those who will argue that controversy is just another form of buzz, and long-term good for a brand. Apparently, Tropicana owner Pepsi doesn’t see it that way in this case:

Redesigned packaging that was introduced in early January is being discontinued, executives plan to announce on Monday, and the previous version will be brought back in the next month.

Wow. I really can’t think of another example of such a retreat (in the context of a high profile package redesign, I mean). Earlier I liked to this Brandweek bit that says “The new packaging has 20 design trademarks and copyrights. It took 30 people five months to develop it.”

Probably this story will largely be positioned as an example of the enhanced power of consumers to complain — the NYT story is full of the usual email-and-Facebook exaples, etc. And maybe that’s partly true.

I also think, however, that this was a particularly egregiously unneeded and badly executed redesign. I say that, basically, as a shopper: Here at Murketing HQ we had several discussions about how weak and generic the new look was — and while we did not bother to write the company or join any Facebook groups to express our displeasure, it did actually cause us to start trying different OJ brands.

Now, Murketing HQ is kind of a weird place, and not representative of normal consumer (or even human) behavior. But still.

My personal take is that as a redesign, this one was emblematic of the worst tendencies of some designers to want to change everything, and for no good reason — to undervalue the power of the familiar. I can just hear the discussion about how the orange-with-a-straw-in-it symbol was corny and “dated,” and that that the excellent Tropicana logo letterforms were stale and should be scrapped and made “contemporary.” The result, inevitably, was a look that I suppose is very “now,” but in the worst way: It looks like everything else. Just my two cents.

Trivia: The design firm on this was Arnell, which came up in a December 9, 2007 Consumed about the (much-hyped in the design world) Home Hero fire extinguisher. Is that still around?

Crafty thought: Stop picking on grandma

The resurgence of the handmade movement under the banner “This isn’t your grandma’s …” has left some seasoned crafters with mixed emotions. “On the one hand, when I first heard it, I knew exactly what they meant, so that is a good thing for marketing,” [Boston-based doll artist Mimi] Kirchner says. “But it got old really fast. Now it sounds like the slogan of people who have no idea what the history of craft in America is all about.”

True, most of what’s considered hip in the craft world these days isn’t what our grandmothers were doing. But the roots of today’s craft brilliance grow in the rich soil toiled by our grandmothers.

Good point. The rest is here.

Etsy sales and “handwashing”

I don’t want make too much of this, but it’s interesting that as retail sales and consumer spending have fallen, and, you know, media coverage of the economy has basically devolved into one extended freakout, Etsy says its sales have continued to rise.

  • $7.93 million of goods sold — a 5% increase over August.
  • That represents 544,157 items sold, a 5.3% increase from August’s stats.

Interesting. Etsy’s not exactly positioned as a bargain-hunting site. Maybe all it means is that its in a growth phase, being still relatively small, that would be pronounced in a more optimistic economy. Or maybe it means that “handmade” stuff is holding onto value in consumer minds that more mass goods are not holding onto.

The latter theory reminds me of something I read the other day on the Greenjeans blog, which asked, “Is ‘handwashing’ the new greewashing?” Basically this refers to making stuff look handmade.

I wonder if I didn’t see a hint of the next big marketing trend today on the cover of the graphic design magazine HOW: “Incorporating Handmade Elements.” They actually call it “Design 2.0” suggesting the techie look is out and the handmade look is in.

Greenjeans’ Amy Shaw continues:

I think perhaps because handmade makes us feel safe, and makes huge corporations seem kinder and gentler. And in today’s struggling economy, those companies that can make consumers feel warm and fuzzy will have a huge advantage.

Maybe this helps explain Etsy resilience? If so, then perhaps there’s more “handwashing” to come. . .

Domo v. Target = End of Domo?

Brandweek said recently (9/15/2008 issue, but  I can’t find a link to the story) that Target is making Domo a centerpiece of its Halloween promotional efforts.

Erik Nakamura declares Domo is now dead, backs up his argument with pictures.

[Domo licensing was the subject of this July 22, 2007 Consumed.]

AntiFriday bonus! Potential 3M backlash?

Across the transom comes the mystery email of the day, reading: “It was recommended that I pass this on to you..,” followed by this link. It goes to a post at All About Content, headlined “3M Carjacks the Post-It Note Jaguar.”

This is the story of how a $24.5 billion multinational corporation refuses to pay a small licensing fee to the amateur photographer who inspired its commercial campaign.

The short version of the allegations is:

In December 2006, somebody covered a car in Post-Its (above), and the images got a lot of Web love.

In spring 2008, 3M got in touch to license the image(s).

Apparently not wanting to pay the requested sum, 3M simply recreated its own version of the idea — Video — to use at point of sale, etc. (Below.)

Post-It Note Car Stolen by 3M, originally uploaded by Scott Ableman.

I’ve done zero reporting on this, so basically I’m simply telling you that All About Content is outraged, and makes this familiar argument about backlash peril:

If you’re a corporate marketer interested in getting into social media marketing, viral video promotion, link bait, etc., I suggest consulting with people who know the communities you’re targeting. Any of us could have told you that stealing photo ideas from the community and using them to pimp your office supplies is not a good move.

So what will the consequences be for 3M? Well, we’ll see.

Thanks: Mystery tipster.


AntiFriday: Your weekly compendium of backlashes, dissent & critiques

* Those of you who follow the links in the sidebar at right, or via the Murketing RSS feed or Delicious, may recall the stories about an Army-themed clothing line launching soon at Sears. Apparently some are not happy about this deal, because some of the clothes will feature the patch of the 1st Infantry Division. Politico quotes one vet saying: “That patch is to be worn by only people who served in the 1st Division. What right does the Army have to sell our patch?” More about the history of the Big Red One patch here. [Thx: Braulio]

* “EtsyBitch is a communal blog of likeminded Etsians who are tired of the demeaning treatment, abuse, and general mismanagement of the Etsy.com site.” [Thx for the tip: Harriete (who I should clarify wasn’t endorsing the blog, I don’t think, just telling me about it.)]

* “Corpoetics is a collection of ‘found’ poetry from the websites of well-known brands and corporations. Nick Asbury has visited various company websites, found the closest thing to a Corporate Overview, and then set about rearranging the words into poetry.” Examples here. [Via Design Observer.]

* The Association of National Advertisers has sent a letter to regulators arguing Google-Yahoo search advertising deal “”will likely diminish competition, increase concentration of market power, limit choices currently available and potentially raise prices to advertisers.”

* Center for Science In The Public Interest going after Sparks. Earlier CSPI went after Spykes, an A-B product that was pulled (not long after being the subject of an April 29, 2007 Consumed).

* Anti-Advertising Agency talks up a documentary called Bomb It, “about the battle for public space between graffiti writers and advertising.”

* Triple backlash special: The Grinder zings an ad by the Corn Refiners Association that’s meant to backlash against anti-high-fructose-syrup sentiments. Got that?