Watches, identity, and counterfunctionality: My latest, and last, word on the subject

Longtime readers know that I’ve long had an interest in watches that  really aren’t very useful as tools to tell you what time it is. What’s the point of such things? Well I used them in a Consumed column as an example of the identity power of counterfucntionality — drawing on the research of Wharton’s Jonah Berger. That column is here.

Deep Glamour has just run a series of posts about watches. This post examines watches as markers of “an eye for style and design.” This one focuses on status.

With all that in mind, I hereby announce yet another in my astounding series of quixotic side projects: Counterfunctionality, A Gallery. I’m adding one counterfucntional watch or watch-like object per day, from my very extensive collection of links. Enjoy.

Immaterialism critiqued

Today the NYT has an item headlined “Virtual Goods May Be A Blip,” noting the sales of Facebook gifts and the like, and suggesting  that despite the surprising sales numbers, there are problems that may undermine growth in this category. “How fast do prices drop when such items are mass produced?” the item asks. “Companies will have to churn out different goods in limited editions just to keep users amused.”

And: “How long can a product with no real-world value stay useful? … There’s the chance that users will realize they’re paying something for nothing.”

All very rational — and like many rational analyses of consuemer behavior, almost certainlly inadequate. I’m not sure what to say about the “price drop” issue, since virtual goods are already incredibly cheap (and frequently “mass produced”), partly because production costs, as it were, are low.

On both the specific issue of variety and limited editions (already happpening) and the more general question of whether such goods have “real-world value” or represent “something for nothing,” see this April 29, 2009 Consumed.

Dept of Updates

LEGO Twitter Fail Whale, originally uploaded by tveskov.

I forgot to mention: There’s no Consumed in this week’s Times Magazine. But go buy the Sunday Times anyway. The column will be back next week.

In other news…

Above, via Fail Whale creator Yiying Lu someone has a made a Fail Whale (Consumed February 12, 2009) out of Legos. [UPDATE: Stunning collection of Fail Whale fan-expression on If It’s Hip, It’s Here.]

I had a line in the March 10, 2009 Snuggie/Slanket consumed suggesting that perhaps Barack Obama might sport a sleeved blanket in one of his YouTube videos, in tribute to Jimmy Carter’s cardigan moment. Alas, the line got cut. But BZ points out that some guy is getting well-known conservatives (Joe The Plumber, Tucker Carlson) to be photographed in Snuggies. It’s not clear why. The Politico writeup says the guy’s “dream of getting President Barack Obama in a Snuggie, however, could prove a bit more challenging.”

Forgot to mention this earlier: Fisher-Price is phasing out “almost all” of its View-Master titles. But I’m pretty sure you can still get something cooler: A Vladmaster (subject of May 13, 2007 Consumed.)

The Sound of Young America recently had a somewhat different, but still quite interesting, episode in which Jesse Thorn hosted a panel with Merlin Mann, The Bros. Chaps, and Jeff Olsen of, on “online branding.” The (reed-like) connection to Consumed is that one of the very earliest installments of the column (January 18, 2004) was about Adult Swim.

Dept. of Updates

Above: “Us Always,” on Behance, iPhone/iPod Touch wallpaper, via ffffound. July 22, 2007 Consumed about Domo is here.

A recent-ish Consumed (January 28, 2009) about the iFart app for iPhones quoted Amar Bhidé making some points about “venturesome consumers.” Bhidé is given a more dignified context in which to discuss bad times and new innovations on the NYT site. He notes: “About 20 years ago, I studied 100 founders of Inc. magazine’s 1989 list of the 500 fastest growing private companies in the U.S. Virtually all of them had started between 1981-83 in the midst of an awful recession.” Others weigh in as well; worth reading.

No doubt you’ve caught the news that the maker of the Flip video camera (Consumed: May 25, 2008), is being bought by Cisco.

One of the founders of mixed-martial-arts apparel brand TapouT (Consumed: Augut 29, 2008), Charles “Mask” Lewis, was recently killed in a car accident.

Billy Mays (Consumed: October 26, ,2008) merch in the land of handmade? Well, Craftzine offers this on fighting sweat stains with Oxi-Clean.

NPR reports on a “markedly un-Hollywood” film festival — the San Antonion Independent Christian Film Festival. The alternative market & distribution strategies for Christian movies were examined in this November 13, 2005 Consumed about the Left Behind movies.

My Private Brand on Wal-Mart’s Great Value private-label effort. This has gotten a fair amount of attention, although to my surprise few are mentioning Wal-Mart is not exactly new to the private-label game — its private-label Ol’ Roy dog food has long been the top-selling dog food in the country. (Consumed: February 22, 2004).

There’s been a slew of Barbie-related material out there, as this year is the doll’s 50th anniversary — an event marked by Consumed with this January 25, 2009 column on Margaux Lange’s Barbie-parts jewelry. That piece mentioned past studies of girls mutilating their Barbies, and recently Forbes decided to recap some of that research, from 2005, along with other examples, here.

Longtime readers know I’m really into imaginary brands, and among other places addressed the topic in this November 18, 2007 column about T-shirt maker Last Exit to Nowhere. Since one of Last Exit’s designs is the Omni Consumer Products logo from Robocop, I was of course interested in this Evil Movie Megacorporation Rebranding project (via Adfreak). Here’s the new “friendlier” identity for Omni:

Evil Movie Megacorporation Rebranding 1: OCP (from Robocop), originally uploaded by spacesick.

Finally, in non-Consumed update news:

PSFK wrote up the Unconsumption blog.

Harriete Estel Berman, interviewed by Murketing here, gets a studio visit from Etsy’s The Storque.

AshleyG, interviewed by Murketing here, is now accepting custom orders for portraits, notes Design*Sponge.

Added to the linkroll: The Stash, Noam Scheiber’s blog on TNR, in Various Other Friends.


After yesterday’s barrage of posts, I’ll leave you alone today, or rather direct you elsewhere.

1. Steven Heller has an interesting post about design “empathy,” an idea with its own logo. He also has some questions if you know much about that subject: “What I want to know is, when did empathy become first, a strategy, and second, a brand? Can you shed some empathetic (or sympathetic) light on the subject?”

2.Paola Antonelli is now writing a column for Seed.

3. Update on the 2/12/19 Consumed about the Fail Whale: ” To attract more followers to Baltimore tourism’s Twitter account, the guy who runs it, Tom Rowe, pledged that a friend of his would get a tattoo of Twitter’s iconic fail whale, and broadcast the tattooing on live webcam, if they could get past the 3,000 followers mark.” Adfreak has the picture.

Dept of Updates

Haven’t done one of these in a while, and may have missed or forgotten some stuff in the interim, but:

The March 26, 2006 Consumed was about Supreme. How is the brand doing in these gloomy times? PSFK points to an interview in Interview with founder James Jebbia (who I must say was one of the more interesting “streetwear” entrepreneur types I’ve ever interviewed). Jebbia says his business is “really good.” And: “Ever since September 11, I’ve been quite conservative in what we’ve ordered. We’ve never really been supply-demand anyway. It’s not like when we’re making something, we make only six of them. But if we can sell 600, I make 400.” There’s also some interesting stuff about Japanese consumers.

The May 15, 2005 Consumed was about Classic Century Dinnerware, sold at Crate & Barrel, and designed by Eva Zeisel. Core77 notes that Zeisel — now 103 — was recently honored at New York’s Museum of Arts & Design. Beyond The Beyond also chimes in to marvel at Zeisel, and to point out this SF Examiner piece about her.

A blog called My Private Brand reprints in its entirety the May 7, 2006 Consumed about Publix’ private-label design. Please note: Both I and the New York Times would prefer it if you would simply link to the column, rather than reprint it without permission. I’m just saying. Anyway, My Private Brand looks interesting so I’ll keep an eye on it. Prior post with a roundup of stuff I’ve written about private label evolution over the years is here.

The April 17, 2005 Consumed was about Moosejaw.The guy I interviewed, a fairly charming young man named Robert Wolfe, has moved from CEO to Chief Creative. Details here on the company blog, which says: “Moosejaw has continued to grow its brick-and-mortar presence, created a state-of-the-art multi-channel e-commerce, mobile commerce and point of sale system, upgraded its call center and warehouse distribution center, tripled the size of the Moosejaw brand apparel line and much more.”

Dept. of Updates

Quick reminder: There is no Consumed column this weekend. And now some updates.

Above: New(ish) from The Black Apple. (You may remember her from the Handmade 2.0 story.)

Rich Brilliant Willing, whose hypothetical design project Green Cell was the subject of this April 20, 2008 Consumed, get some attention for a more recent project — Russian nesting doll tables — here.

I did a January 27, 2008 column about Kiva. This past I got an email from somebody at BetterLabs about an app the created: If you want to make a loan to a Kiva entrepreneur, but have particular criteria (a particular country, or maybe some particular sort of business) and want to be alerted when there’s a loan-seeker who meets those criteria, then you can try Kiva Alerts.

And in new links on the roll: Adding Yu-Ming Wu’s new blog to the Brand Underground section; Yu-Ming is a very smart guy and someone I like a lot, and appears in Buying In. Also adding The Sound of Young America blog to the Hard to Categorize category.

Dept. of updates

I have belatedly learned that KAWS was featured recently on, of all things, CBS Sunday Morning. See the video clip on Freshnessmag. Evidently the crew visited his studio back in October. In other news, the artist’s L.A. show at Honor Fraser is coming up on February 21. August 3, 2008 Consumed on KAWS is here.

Recently passed away: Jack Cover, inventor of the Taser. A May 18, 2008 Consumed about Taser’s adoption of more fashionable designs to appeal to mainstream consumers appeared is here. Interesting obit detail:

He got the name for the weapon from one of his favorite childhood books, “Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle,” one in a popular early 20th century series by Victor Appleton. In the book, the young Swift invents a rifle that shoots bolts of electricity. The story apparently continued to animate Cover’s imagination decades later, when he conceived the word “Taser” as an acronym for “Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle.” (Cover evidently added the middle initial “A,” which does not appear in the books.)

And in new links on the roll news: Adding The Entrepreneurial Agenda by friend and former colleague Robb Mandelbaum.

Dept. of Updates

parisbarbie1Craftzine notes that Margaux Lange, whose Barbie-parts jewelry was the subject of this January 22, 2009 Consumed, has accessorized a Barbie with her work, for an exhibition in connection with Paris’s “fashion week.” As noted earlier, Barbie turns 50 this year, and I expect we’ll see much much Barbie-ness in the months ahead. Designboom offers up a huge gallery of images, including many of the manufacturing process. And Lange herself points out the work of Jocelyn Grivaud, who casts Barbie in various famous art images by the likes of Vermeer and Man Ray. Interestingly, Grivaud also casts Barbie in Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe portrait; Warhol, of course, actually did a Barbie portrait.

As you know, this site was unavailable for a while, so this update is old, but perhaps you noticed that Obama likes Honest Tea, which was a Consumed subject July 3, 2005. C’mon, you know Obama reads Consumed.

You may also have seen the news that Zune sales got whacked on the holidays; the Zune minority was the subject of this August 8, 2008 Consumed.

From Method Lust I learn that Method sells on HSN. Did you know that? Method was the subject of the February 29, 2004 Consumed (and is also addressed in more detail in Buying In).

And as you’ve already heard, Michael Phelps got into some trouble recently; Ad Age looks at how this has affected his endorsement deals, and says that Speedo is among those who “leapt quickly to his defense.” A possible motive for those who snapped up a Speedo warmup jacket like the one Phelps wore was assessed in this October 3, 2008 Consumed.

Dept of Updates

Not surprisingly, there is a big sale on all merch at the Bush’s Last Day product site — get your hats, T’s, coffee mugs, and countdown magnets marked 1.20.09 now, so you can … uh… well, so you can have them, I guess. February 10, 2008 column on the brand is here.

Brandweek reports that VitaminWater is being sued by the Center for Science in the Public Interest: “The suit states that the Coke-owned brand is guilty of deceptive and unsubstantiated claims.” An August 22, 2004 Consumed mulled the brand’s over-the-top claims. CSPI’s release about its lawsuit is here.

NYT says mainstream companies are warming up to the idea of sponsoring mixed-martial-arts competitors. August 29, 2008 Consumed on MMA brand TapouT is here.

Dept. of update: Drank, Billy Mays, Uglydolls, etc.

An amusing Talk of the Town piece by Ben McGrath in this week’s New Yorker puts Drank (Consumed: December 31, 2008) to a taste test of sorts — and suggests that an “anti energy drink” may be particularly in sync with a jittery cultural moment. (By the way, I happen to have very reliable information that this piece was actuallly written before my Drank column appeared, so I’m not suggesting they’re following or getting ideas from me; indeed I’m never suggesting that with these updates.)

I must admit that when I wrote about the Buddha Machine (Consumed: July 29, 2007), it had already gotten enough attention that I figured I would basically be the last person to do so. But since its creators keep coming up with new iterations and spins on the device, and people keep discovering it, it has proven remarkably resilient. Here is Sasha Frere-Jones’ brief Q&A with Buddha Machine co-creator Christiaan Viant.

010609ugly_cst_feed_20090106_02_36_25_1734-282-400On a similar note, Uglydolls (Consumed: February 15, 2004) have gotten a fresh wave of press because Sasha Obama has one.

The Newark Star-Ledger says: “As Seen on TV! Pitchmen Reign During Hard Times.” The creator of the PedEgg asserts: “In bad economic times, our business gets better.”Also in the piece is Billy Mays, subject of October 24, 2008 Consumed.

The new (forthcoming) Palm Pre phone is getting lots of attention, and I’ve read assessments both positive and not-so-much. Here’s the FT writeup: “Palm, a former icon of technology that was largely given up for dead by Wall Street, has emerged as an unlikely star from this week’s annual Consumer Electronics Show with a new product that many tech analysts are already comparing with Apple’s iPhone.” Remember when the Treo was cutting edge? Well: Consumed January 25, 2004.

Just looking

Shepard Fairey on Obey Giant site:

The day Obama stated his interest in adopting a dog from the shelter was a slightly brighter one for the approximately 7 million adoptable dogs & cats killed each year in this country. The staggering reality is that for each one sold at a pet store or by a breeder, another perfectly worthy one is killed.  Our nations shelters are filled to capacity with all kinds of amazing adoptable animals including, as Obama put it, “Mutts like me.”

On the heels of Obama’s comment, I got a call from Pia Salk, an animal advocate who works with North America’s largest non-profit pet adoption website, Pia simply asked if I might be willing to collaborate on a way to have my art help these animals.

Read the rest here.

Earlier: The Art of Politics in Consumed.

The charm of the imperfect

printer-pdAssociated Press reviews the Polaroid PoGo, which is the brand’s comeback-attempt product in the post instant-film era. (I wrote about Polaroid’s unwinding of its actual instant-film business in Consumed, March 16, 2008).

The PoGo is a digital camera priced at $200, with a built-in printer — so it sort of recreates the classic Polaroid idea of the instant print. (You can see a company video here, and a demonstration video that I found too long to watch, here.)

Here’s what I thought was most interesting from the AP review:

The prints  [are] grainy and the colors are slightly off, with faces tending toward a deathly blue-green….

As a camera, it’s primitive. It doesn’t have auto-focus, just a switch for infinity or close-up shots. The resolution is five megapixels, far below that of cheaper compact cameras. Neither of these things matter much for the quality of the prints, which are small and of low resolution anyway…

That all sounds bad … but maybe not.

The imperfections and limitations of actual Polaroid pictures were, in a way, part of their appeal.

I had been pretty skeptical of this product when I first heard about it, but, oddly enough, I find the flaws to be potentially the most attractive aspect of the PoGo. I wonder if any of the Polaroid diehards will, if not quite embrace it, at least be curious enough to give it a try — and if we’ll see some interesting creations as a result.

There’s already at least one PoGo prints Flickr pool. AP says the camera isn’t on the market until March or so, but I assume the “seeding” has begun (and for all I know that Flickr pool is a murketing effort from the company). But anyway I’m more curious now than I was when I first heard of the camera. We’ll see.

Consumption, values, and “do-gooding”

The Economist’s recent(ish) World in 2009 issue included a story about “no-nonsense brands” doing well in 2009, while those “priced for status are likely to suffer.”

This sounds in-line with much of the trend-pontification about the new-and-improved “values” of the 2009 consumer.

But the piece also said this:

Any brand built around do-gooding notions of organic, social responsibility or caring for the environment may need to rethinking, according to Interbrand, a marketing consultancy, as value for money rises up the consumers’ agenda.

Now, I don’t know what exactly Interbrand said. (Couldn’t find anything on their site about it.)

But if this assertion turns out to be correct, I wonder how it squares with the idea of “values.”

My thoughts on the “new thrift” are in this earlier Consumed. My thoughts on the limits of do-gooding sales pitches can be found in the final section of Buying In.

Dept. of Random

One other quick update:

Lest you ever doubt the power of Consumed, please note that after I wrote about Billy Mays in the October 24, 2008 installment of the column, the creator of not only got an autographed picture of Mays — but a rare Mays bobblehead doll! (More here.) How about that?

I meant to mention this earlier, but was just reminded of Mays by AdFreak, which reports that is using Mays in some ads: “They’re almost parodies of parodies, so unrelentingly stupid that they’re amazingly effective.”