Global Crocism

I get the impression that maybe the Crocs thing (Consumed 7/15/07) has peaked — but on the other hand I keep seeing them on the feet of otherwise respectable-looking people at the grocery store and whatnot. And now Adverblog points out a Japanese site that gathers of Crocs photos — “My Crocs Contest.” Not clear to me how new or old this is, but it seems like bad news for Crocs-haters. Popularity in Japan would, I can only assume, break down the American consumer segment that has most ferociously resisted Crocs — the cool-taste-trend-hunter-spotter-setters.

Absolut international incident?



Strange Maps, via The Plank:

This map, used in a Mexican ad campaign, shows what the US-Mexican border would look like in an ‘absolut’ (i.e. perfect) world: a large part of the US’s west is annexed to Mexico.

Needless to say this map made its way to ‘El Norte’, annoying and upsetting many Americans – even leading to calls for a boycott of the Swedish-made vodka. What must be particularly annoying is that this map has some basis in fact.

The Plank also points to the reaction of someone named Michelle Malkin:

The advertising firm that created the Absolut Reconquista ad is Teran/TBWA. Teran is based in Mexico City. The company’s website boasts a pretentious statement of philosophy advocating “disruption” as a “tool for change” and “agent of growth.” (Scroll your mouse over the little buttons in the upper-right margin.) The firm advocates “overturning assumptions and prejudices that get in the way of imagining new possibilities and visionary ideas that help create a larger share of the future.”

Translation: The company advocates overturning borders that get in the way of imagining new maps of North America that help Mexico create a larger share of the continent.

Well. Two things.

First: An ad agency with a pretentious mission statement full of doublespeak clichés about change and disruption? No way! Say it isn’t so! That’s never happened before!

Second: Like every other agency, what these marketing pros “advocate” is getting paid by their clients. The way they get paid by their clients is to get their clients talked about and noticed. And that was Absolut-ly the goal here. Ad agencies don’t have a political motive. They have a profit motive.

Flickr Interlude


havana club near la sagrada familia, originally uploaded by _cheryl.

Barcelona, Spain.

[Join and contribute to the Murketing Flickr group]

Deconstructed denim

Marketplace had an interview yesterday with Rachel Louise Snyder, whose book Fugitive Denim: A Moving Story of People and Pants in the Borderless World of Global Trade sounds interesting. Maybe your jeans say “Made in Country X,” but that’s not the whole story, she says:

You’ll have the cotton grown in a place like Uzbekistan or Azerbaijan — and in my book, it’s Azerbaijan — and maybe Turkey and then that’s woven, all the cotton from those countries is woven for consistency into one large roll of fabric and then its dyed in a different country like Italy and then sent maybe to India, where it might be cut, and then sent somewhere else. But you might have six or eight different countries involved in that process because of the way trade rules are set up.

And also:

We’ve now come up with these standards for food where it has to say where our food is processed and where it’s grown, but we don’t have those same standards for clothes.

Reminds me a bit of Travels of A T-Shirt in the Global Economy, a book I thought was pretty good, although I believe this one is more of a journalistic account, while Pietra Rivoli’s was a little more economics-focused. Anyway, I’m generally a fan of any account that gets beyond the oversimplified versions of ethics and consumption that tend to dominate. Check out the interview (transcript or audio) and see what you think.

In Consumed: Wild West: The Prequel

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West: How a marketing strategy turned into myth — and influenced filmmakers for more than a century

Generally I post the column without comment, but if you happen to be reading this one outside the context of the actual New York Times Magazine, you might wonder: Buffalo Bill? What’s that about?

Here’s what that’s about. Several times a year the Times Magazine has special, themed issues. One of these is the annual Hollywood issue. This year the sort of sub-theme of the Hollywood issue is “The West.” When we have these issues, I’m supposed to “write to theme” — meaning I have to come up with something that makes sense both for my column, and for the special issue.

This can be a challenge, especially for the Hollywood issues. But often what I try to do is use it as an opportunity to do something different with the column, something that pushes the boundary of what Consumed can be. Thus, for this issue, I wanted to write about the pre-Western Western: The Wild West shows presided over by Buffalo Bill, presenting a quasi-mythologized “west” to millions of people in the U.S. and Europe, well before Hollywood existed.

Here’s the column:

The western genre and the Hollywood mythmaking machine match up so nicely that it’s hard to imagine one without the other. But the hunger — and the market — for a reassuring romantic national creation story as a pop-culture staple did not wait for the movies to be invented. In the late 19th century, even while the frontier was still a place and not a memory, “Wild West” shows traversed the United States and even Europe, drawing millions of spectators who paid to witness the western idea acted out as entertainment. As Larry McMurtry once put it, “The selling of the West preceded the settling of it.” …

Continue reading at the NYT Magazine site.

And after you’ve read it, you might be interested in the following bonus material that I didn’t have room to address in the column: Read more

Maybe global consumers know the difference between George Bush and Starbucks

If I had a dime for every story I’ve read about “trouble for American brands” in the global marketplace because of the U.S.’s poor reputation in the world right now … well, then I’d probably have something more fun to do than post this Business Week story about MTV Arabia:

How will the likes of Justin Timberlake and Rihanna go down in a region that’s not exactly brimming with goodwill toward Americans? Better than you might think. Middle Eastern youth may not agree with U.S. politics, but they can’t get enough of Western music and fashion. “The myth about the Arab world is that people go to bed at night hating the U.S. and wake up hating Israel,” says James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, a think tank in Washington. “But go to any mall in Saudi Arabia, and you’ll see kids in jeans and baseball caps hanging out at Starbucks and McDonald’s.”

Great moments in promotion: Tainted swag

Anne Elizabeth Moore points to this Brandweek article:

Japanese car shoppers who test drove a Nissan vehicle were given a free logoed coffee mug for their time as a thank you. At least one consumer probably wished he had said, “No, thank you.”

According to reports, after drinking from the China-made freebie, he felt ill. It was later discovered that the mug contained excessive amounts of lead. More than 140,000 mugs were subsequently recalled.
. . .

Recall revisited

As you may recall, this very site wondered allowed in mid-August, when the blame-China response to the Mattel recalls was at its most mindlessly shrill, whether the magnet problem — which caused a much larger number of toys to be recalled than the lead paint problem — wasn’t a design issue, not a manufacturing issue.

Apparently Mattel says the answer to that question is yes.

Mattel has said repeatedly that its biggest recall had nothing to do with China or shoddy production.

That recall of more than 17 million doll accessories and cars — coming just after one lead-paint recall of Chinese-made products and in tandem with another — was because of high-powered magnets that could break loose and pose a serious danger if swallowed.

The problem, Mattel’s Eckert said again and again, was in design, not manufacturing.

Nevertheless, as this story indicates (via Wal Mart Watch), at least some politicians and other observers are determined to make this a demonize-China story. And maybe the speculation that Mattel is simply kissing ass to keep in China’s good side is correct. But next time read a hysterical assessment of the “China poison train,” at least keep in mind that the story might be more complicated than that.

Recall question

Here’s what I don’t quite understand about the latest recall, of various Mattel toys. It’s being positioned as another example of the China/supply/manufacturing-chain problem. About 250,000 of the toys had lead paint on them, as I understand it, and this seems consistent with that positioning, since the paint is being blamed on murky subcontracting.

But most of the recall is about something like 9 million toys with small magnets that can (I gather) easily come out and be swallowed. That sounds more like a product-design issue, no? If the design included these little magnets, and did not include any way to prevent them from being removed or whatever, then what difference does it make where the design was executed?

Moreover, it appears that some of these 9 million toys being recalled were actually sold as many as four years ago. Mattel was already involved in an earlier, similar recall, and a different company that had a similar problem with small magnets has already paid out millions of dollars to settle lawsuits on this same issue.

I’m not saying the magnets aren’t a serious problem, because from what I read it sounds like they are. I just don’t understand the general suggestion that the problem is the fault of shady outsourced manufacturing firm(s). Maybe I’m missing something?

Pringles & Marlboros for everybody

I’ve read a slew of articles suggesting trouble for U.S. brands in non-U.S. markets, as the global opinion of America has soured in the last few years. Nevertheless, USA Today reports that consumers are “developing a taste for American-brand products” in … Iraq!

The story quotes one Baghdad resident describing the flavor of Pringles as “incredible.”

A couple neighborhoods away at the upscale Honey Market, shelves are stocked with Duracell batteries, Dove soap, Kellogg’s Froot Loops cereal, and Kent and Marlboro cigarettes….

Any anti-American sentiment does not extend to commerce, shop owners said.

Via Agenda.

Cleaning Up

In Consumed: Lifebuoy: A brand shows its social responsibility to the poor — by selling to them.

“Corporate social responsibility” often means leveraging the concern (or guilt) of the affluent on behalf of those less fortunate: Sell to first-world consumers and redistribute some of the profits to address third-world problems. But a case has been made for a different strategy that involves selling to the poor themselves. In a speech last month, for instance, Harish Manwani, the chairman of Hindustan Lever Limited, pointed to his firm’s marketing Lifebuoy soap to India’s sprawling underclass as an example of its efforts to bring “social responsibility to the heart of our business.” Read more

Personal outsourcing

Pretty interesting story today in the WSJ about what I feel obliged to call the democratization of outsourcing. Don’t want to edit your own wedding video? Find someone in a lower-wage economy to do it for you.

Some early adopters are figuring out how to tap overseas workers for personal tasks. They’re turning to a vast talent pool in India, China, Bangladesh and elsewhere for jobs ranging from landscape architecture to kitchen remodeling and math tutoring. They’re also outsourcing some surprisingly small jobs, including getting a dress designed, creating address labels for wedding invitations or finding a good deal on a hotel room, for example.

Will Lou Dobbs haul some of the early adopters onto his show to lash them for behaving like soulless multinational citizens robbing Americans of good jobs? Will the trend industry become radicalized when someone notices that some of these bargain-priced workers are designers?

Here’s the story.

An empire of lattes

An NYT dispatch from Riyadh on the “cultural collisions” within Saudi Arabia today, notes in passing that Starbucks cafes “are as ubiquitous here as they are in Manhattan.”

Rock and rockets

Pretty interesting NYT dispatch today from Sderot, an Israeli town near the Gaza Strip, where there’s a vital local-music scene:

In the Israeli public consciousness, Sderot is a place of poverty and danger. It has been barraged by more than 4,000 rockets in the last six years, including nearly 200 since the shaky cease-fire began in November. Six people have died from the attacks, and dozens of homes have been damaged.

And yet Sderot is also the hometown of a pop culture hero of the moment: Kobi Oz, the lead singer of the Teapacks, the Israeli pick for the popular Eurovision song contest. Mr. Oz made headlines in March when organizers of the contest suggested that his song “Push the Button” might be disqualified for carrying an inappropriate political message. [The Teapacks are scheduled to perform in the Eurovision semifinal in May.] The song riffs on the Israeli fear of being obliterated by an atomic bomb.

The link.

“Turban pride”

As someone who has some experience with disapproving parental views regarding haircuts, I was interested in today’s NYT article about young Sikhs annoying their elders — by getting their hair cut.

Sikh spiritual leaders express dismay at the rapidity with which a new generation of young men are trimming their hair and abandoning the turban, the most conspicuous emblem of the Sikh faith….

Since 1699, about two centuries after the founding of the religion, Sikh leaders have prohibited their members from cutting their hair, saying long hair is a symbol of Sikh pride. The turban was conceived to manage the long hair and intended to make Sikhs easily identifiable in a crowd.

Apparently the problem isn’t so much a decline in faith as increased exposure to “Westernization,” via media images, etc. “It was a question of fashion,” one young man who has had his hair cut and ditched his turban tells the Times. “I felt smarter without it.”

While that’s somewhat interesting — the “feeling smarter” part, I mean — what’s even better is the countering, “turban pride” movement, which seems to be fighting fashion with fashion:

Standing before full-length mirrors, an instructor shows teenage boys in baggy jeans and sports shoes how to twist the cloth into neatly layered folds on one side and smooth the pleats into sharp lines with a hooked silver pin, which is then concealed beneath the hair at the back.

A “Smart Turban 1.0” CD-ROM offers step-by-step instructions to create fashionable looks and guides new turban wearers on how to choose the most flattering style according to face shape.

To promote the turban as a fashion item, Sikh leaders have also started holding Mr. Singh International pageants. Contestants are judged by looks, moral character, personality, knowledge of Sikh history and principles, and turban tying skills. The sixth World Turban Day will be celebrated on April 13 with a march through Amritsar by thousands of turban-wearing Sikhs.