iPad expectations

Apple said on Monday that it had sold more than 300,000 iPads on the device’s first day on the market, a figure that included preorders. That met the expectations of financial analysts who were keeping tabs on the release of the company’s highly anticipated tablet computer. … [RBC Capital] had been expecting Apple to sell 300,000 to 400,000 iPads over the whole weekend.

NYT

Apple Inc. said it sold more than 300,000 iPads in the U.S. on the first day the device went on sale Saturday, tempering Wall Street’s highflying expectations for the much-hyped multimedia tablet computer. … Analysts on average had expected first-day iPad sales of 400,000 to 500,000 units. Some analysts, such as Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, had even higher sales projections of 600,000 to 700,000 units.

WSJ

In The New York Times Magazine: Deconstructing the “New Thrift”

TALK IS CHEAP
Consumer spending finally falters — can it be good news?

This week in Consumed, as part of the Times Magazine‘s annual “Year In Ideas” issue, I look at the repackaging of falling consumer spending as frugality chic. Is this truly a sea change in values?

The truth is that we have long had mixed, even contradictory, feelings about consumption. A few years ago — pretty much at the height of our most recent nationwide spending binge — a nonprofit group called the Center for a New American Dream released a poll in which 81 percent of those surveyed agreed that Americans are “too focused on shopping and spending,” and 88 percent said our society is “too materialistic.” Not long after, the Pew Research Center surveyed Americans about various consumer goods we say we “can’t live without.” Between 1996 and 2006 the number of material necessities in our lives grew substantially. Aside from new entries — 49 percent can’t live without a cellphone, and 29 percent said the same of high-speed Internet access — our need for more familiar items spiked, too. The number of people who considered the microwave oven a necessity, for instance, nearly doubled. Some respondents added iPods and flat-screen TVs to the list. Uneasy as we may be about “materialistic” purchases, they remain a tangible proxy for progress.

Second thoughts about that paradigm are nothing new. “Too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption,” Jimmy Carter declared in 1979 in his “crisis of confidence” speech. “We’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning.” It’s hard to imagine anyone, then or now, arguing otherwise. But who, at the end of the 1970s, would have predicted the emergence of a new normal that included gas-guzzling S.U.V.’s and McMansions?

Read the whole column here, or in the December 14, 2008 issue of The New York Times Magazine.

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

“Letters should be addressed to Letters to the Editor, Magazine, The New York Times, 620 Eighth Avenue, 6th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10018. The e-mail address is magazine@nytimes.com. All letters should include the writer’s name, address and daytime telephone number. We are unable to acknowledge or return unpublished letters. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.”

“Design thinking” and corny gimcracks

I just somewhat belatedly read this story about “design thinking,” which is described as focusing on “people’s actual needs rather than trying to persuade them to buy into what businesses are selling.” This, of course, is not a new idea, although it’s always useful, I guess, to find new ways for businesses to remind themselves about the difference between innovation and novelty.

That said, what struck me as odd about the piece was the main specific example offered.

Although a company called ServiceSource asked [consulting firm] C2 to create a written report for business analysts to read, C2’s design thinkers reframed the problem to focus on what ServiceSource was trying to tell the analysts in the first place. (ServiceSource wanted the analysts to recognize that its ability to renew service contracts on behalf of technology providers could increase those providers’ revenue.)

Wait a minute. That sounds to me like this business is “trying to persuade [customers] to buy into what [it is] selling.” Right? I don’t see anything here about ServiceSource changing its business model to better reflect customer needs it hadn’t been aware of or was under-serving. It sounds like they’ve got this service they’re peddling, and that’s that.

Rather than producing a report that would probably be tossed unread into the nearest wastebasket, C2 sent the analysts a “High-Tech C.F.O. Action Figure” — a roughly 12-inch-tall male doll dressed in a business suit that delivered a brief, recorded message when its “Talk” button was pushed. …

Months after ServiceSource’s report would have been thrown away, analysts who received the “action figures” still have them.

Huh? Is this the sort of sophisticated result of “design thinking”? An action figure that bleats a sales pitch? What’s good about that? Am I missing something?

Young people love Obama because he’s so … mass?

If you’ve somehow managed to miss the endlessly repeated conventional wisdom about “Obama as brand,” Ad Age has a recap, without a hint that anybody might question itbut with a new twist.

Neil “Millenials” Howe pops up to reiterate the assertion (noted here, and met with skepticism my Murketing readers) that he made in a recent Brandweek interview: Gen Y digs a big brand. And Obama is a big brand:

According to Mr. Howe, Gen Xers required niche marketing: “If too many people liked something, it wasn’t cool.” But mass brand experiences, from the iPod to Harry Potter, appeal strongly to millennials, who have been shown to be a more communal, pro-social generation than their predecessors.

While critics see Mr. Obama’s penchant for mass gatherings as arrogant, Mr. Howe finds it perfect for millennials: “They’re more civically connected, and they find strength in numbers.”

Gen Y and mass brands: Made for each other?

I’m not a huge fan of generation-based generalization, or people who make a living from such generalizations, but I couldn’t help but be intrigued by an assertion by Neil “Millenials” Howe in a recent Q&A with Brandweek. Here’s the bit, with the key parts bolded:

I think that millennials are capable of regenerating the whole notion of the big brand. The idea of the big brand went into decline with the Gen Xers and certainly during the late boomer period. Gen X was a generation that didn’t even want to be thought of as a generation, and it had a lot of little niches. There was never a Top 40 group of songs everyone listened to, and the generation is spread out in terms of wealth. They were cynical toward anything that was big, and this gave rise to niche and viral marketing. The whole concept of the Long Tail is perfectly designed for Gen X.

With millennials you’re returning to the fatter portion of the bell curve. This is a generation that wants to feel that they do have a center of gravity. So you’ll see the emergence of huge brands with this generation. Look at [what happened with] Harry Potter. Think of the idea of the big brand as being a dimension of the return to community.

I’m not sure if I agree, but it’s refreshing to encounter an angle on the mass-vs.-niche discussion that isn’t just about technology. It’s undeniable that technology has fractioned the marketplace, and will presumably continue to do so – but culture is affected by other factors, too. Possibly this is one of them.

What do you think?

The apparently-hot brand that was news to me

Before seeing this Business Week item, I had never heard of “TapouT, the apparel outfit that sets fashion rules for the up-and-coming sport of mixed martial arts (MMA).”

TapouT [is] an unlikely TV hit—the second season begins on cable’s Versus on July 30—but has helped catapult the company into an impressive lifestyle brand leveraging the red-hot interest in MMA.

My reaction to this was: What? Not only have not heard of the brand, or the show, I’ve never even heard of that cable network.

And interest in “mixed martial arts” is “red-hot”? Really?

Well, I guess so. The brand claims to have had sales of $25 million last year, and supposedly will approach $100 million this year. Here’s their online store. The general aesthetic is sort of like a wearable MySpace page.

So was I just totally out of it on this one? Did you already know? Are you a fan?

Requiem for a taste-maker

If there’s been much reaction to the short story “Raj, Bohemiam,” by Hari Kunzru, on the various taste-maker, buzz-creator, cool-ness blogs, I’ve missed it. And that’s a surprise: Given that William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition is such a touchstone in the world, you’d figure a fresh piece of fiction published in The New Yorker and set at the crossroads of cultural capital and commercial persuasion would get some attention.

If you’re interested in that sort of thing, you should read it. The narrator/protagonist is a certified Cool Guy plunged into existential crisis by an encounter with a fellow party-goer with some excellent vodka and a camera phone.

What was a personality if it wasn’t a drop-down menu, a collection of likes and dislikes? And now that my possessions were gone, what would I put in their place? Who was I without my private pressings, my limited editions, my vintage one-offs? How could I signal to potential allies across the vast black reaches of interpersonal space?

Upbeat? Well, no. Good read, though. Here’s the link.

(Big thanks to Brian K. for the tip!)

Nau now now

Everyone (well, everyone in the narrow slice of the marketplace that may or may not “lead” trends) appears to be going nuts for Nau.

In the last month or so, a couple of readers (not publicists) have emailed me about the apparel brand; it’s steaily been getting business press attention (and attention) as well as eco-blog praise (and praise); Coolhunting touted it earlier and is now involved in some kind of special promotional sale in New York this week (see below); and this past week PSFK published an interview with a Nau founder. (“We began Nau because, as far as we knew, there were no other companies in the apparel market designing product combining beauty, performance, and sustainability,” etc.).

Of course I’ve not been to an actual Nau store (locations in Boulder; Chicago; Tigard, OR; and Bellevue, WA) or laid on eyes on the brand’s garments (as opposed to pictures of the garments). But I’m intrigued by the level of interest. If you have any info or opinions I’d love to hear.

And if you’re in New York, the brand is having a sample sale at the Openhouse Gallery (201 Mulberry Street, NYC), “VIP Night” March 5, everybody else March 6 through 9. If you go, again, I’d love to hear about it.

Cutility

The Washington Post‘s Linton Weeks offers an entertainingly cranky piece on “cutility.” Examples: “Everyday tools and objects are receiving total makeovers. Orvis sells a tool kit that includes flower-patterned pliers, scissors and utility knife. Target offers a toilet brush holder shaped like a black bear.” Needless to say, cutility is a theme of many Consumeds, and I wish I’d thought of the word. It’s got phad written all over it! Anyway, Weeks writes:

Alan Andreasen, a marketing guru at Georgetown University, says the trend toward cutility is “an attempt by lots of people to individualize both themselves and their possessions.”

He equates the cuting-up of the commonplace with “tattoos, customized cellphones and ringtones as a way to step away from mass commoditization.”

Credit, he says, goes to the clever marketers who have found ways to breathe life into mundane commodity categories. “Sure,” he says, some “people have lots more discretionary money to spend on these things, but I think it’s more about the idea of trying to be your own person.”

Last note on the marketer Facebook invasion

Ad Age’s Matthew Creamer on the rush of marketers into Facebook-land that I was pondering earlier this week:

Not since the advent of blogging four years ago have ad and media types so jumped on a new-media bandwagon for their own communications and networking purposes.

It’s as though the ad business, frustrated with voyeuristically looking on at the rampant growth of younger-skewing sites such as MySpace, finally has a network of its own and has responded with an eruption of self-expression….

Why the sudden rush to a platform that’s been open for some time? “A lot of marketing people felt they were too late on blogosphere 1.0, which was very generous to those who moved fast, so they’re trying to avoid that this time around,” said Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer at Nielsen Buzzmetrics. “Also, they’re realizing what all the college kids did: that Facebook is a solid platform with sticky appeal.”

All of my “friends” are going to be marketers

Has anybody started a Facebook backlash yet? I see Newsweek is speculating on whether Facebook can hang onto its “cool.” I’m in no position to judge such things, but I will pass along this one anecdotal observation.

A few months ago, I joined Facebook. This in itself is a bad sign, but then again I’m a journalist who covers consumer culture, and in the course of snooping around on something or other, I basically had to join. I did just enough with my account to make it clear who I was, and why I was there, and then got on with whatever I was working on.

Soon I started to get friend requests. I would accept, log out, and get back to work. That has continued. I think I have 30 friends at this point, but I’d have to log on to check, and I don’t want to bother. Here’s what’s new:

Recently, an increasing number of the friend requests are from marketing people. Consultants, ad agency folk, the like. So far, they’ve mostly been from people who I actually have interviewed or am friends with or have some other connection to. But yesterday I got one from a guy I really don’t know, he’s just a marketer type who has pitched me in the past. I can’t decide whether to accept. I think this is a bad sign.

I guess it’s inevitable that this kind of thing will happen, and that it will happen, in particular, to me. And I have nothing against Facebook, which seems like it might be worth spending time on, if I had any time to spend. (That’s why I can’t decide whether to accept this guy’s “friend”ship, because I’m holding onto the possibility that I may actually find Facebook useful at some point.) And at least Facebook doesn’t give me the same instant, throbbing headache that MySpace did.

But as an observer of marketers, and of trendiness, I would say that there may be a familiar pattern here, following Second Life and MySpace. First there’s an audience. Then the marketers (and the journalists and the trend-watchers) flood in. And then there’s a backlash. Often led by the marketers, the journalists, and the trend-watchers. So we’ll see.

Update: Mike Arauz answers “Yes. The Facebook backlash is now underway. (And like all respectable backlashes these days, I’m sure we will see the backlash-to-the-backlash before most Facebook users have even had a chance to update their status.)” I think is parenthetical point there is good. Here’s his whole post.
And: AdPulp weighs in, and notes earlier chatter of Facebook fatigue.
Plus: More related links in the comments. Thanks all.

Blame Gwyneth

Anya Hindmarch, designer of the cotton tote with the words “I am not a plastic bag” printed on it, which has inspired some consumers to stand in line and in a few cases knock each other down to acquire it, is sticking with her story that if the fabulous people in her customer base blare their eco-concern, the rest of us will fall in line. “There was a time when what was cool was drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes,” she tells Time Magazine. “Now it’s all healthy living, and I think fashion had a part in that–people seeing photos of models and celebrities–Gwyneth Paltrow walking around carrying yoga mats and bottled water.”

Bottled water? Wait a minute. I thought that the taste-maker set was against bottled water these days, having figured out that, among other things, discarded water bottles clog up landfills and take ages to degrade. (Just like plastic bags!) In San Francisco, ground zero of anti-plastic government efforts, the mayor has moved from banning plastic bags to barring the use of city funds to buy water in plastic bottles. And according to something I read, some restaurants there no longer sell bottled water, etc. Various articles in the press — such as this much-linked Fast Company piece — have railed against the foolishness of plastic water bottles. And so on.

Despite this, bottled water sales are robust, and now I know why. Because of Gwyneth Paltrow! Those of us down in here in, you know, the herd, we’re looking for signals from her, and last time we saw her she was loaded down with all those yoga mats and — I remember now — bottled water! She looked great, too. That’s when I gave up coffee and cigarettes and decided to get healthy. I bet you did, too.

Anyway, I guess the problem is that there’s nobody like Anya Hindmarch making really fashionable alternatives to bottled water. The Time piece mentions that Stella McCartney has a $495 cotton shopping bag on offer, and LV has one for a little over $1,700.

But who is making the high-end Nalgene alternative that celebrities can brandish? Apparently nobody.

One of these trend-leading designers needs to get it together and offer reusable water bottle that’s made of, say, platinum, and get it into some award-show goodie bags ASAP. To make sure the rest of us get the message, make sure it says, “I Am Not a Plastic Water Bottle,” on the side. Preferably in diamonds.

Related (and possibly useful, as opposed to a mere rant like the above) links:

1. Greener Penny overview of reusable plastic bottles.

2. Craftzine.com post on things to do with plastic bags.

[Time story via Agenda Inc.]

Coinage smackdown: “Skurban” vs. “Hopster”

I don’t know who floated the word “skurban” as a term to encapsulate the mix of skater and “urban” styles.

I do know that it was roundly mocked.

I also know that Complex has offered up an alternative, in the form of “hopster.” Which is meant to connote “hip hop + skate + hipster.”

Is this any better? Worse? Necessary? Interesting in any way? I’ve certainly listened to enough people tell me how their brand speaks to fans of hip hop and skating, as if there was something surprising or radical about that. (If someone said to me that their brand spoke to fans of hip hop and social realist fiction, I might be more interested.)
I have absolutely nothing riding on the answer, but if you have an opinion, let’s have it. No private email to me about it: Say it in public, or don’t. Calling me an idiot for asking the question is acceptable.
No obligation of course.

What’s up with Lladró?

A week ago I got an email blast from The Future Perfect about “An exclusive launch of Lladró Re-Deco by Jaime Hayon. Today, the Colette newsletter says:

Lladró presents the Re-Deco collection, inspired by the classic figurines such as girls, flowers and animals, but designer Jaime Hayon’s imbuing them with novel finishes and tones and intertwining the pure white of the porcelain with a platinum touch. … And don’t miss the world premiere of the new Lladró candle collection available on the colette eshop.

Back in January, I noted with some surprise the presence of Lladró figurines in Golden Globes goodie bags, and a comment on that post confirmed my own basic assumption: “I don’t know anyone under 65 who collects Lladro.”

So, is Lladró reinvigorating the brand for a hipper, younger, customer who takes cues from tastemaker retail like Future Perfect & Colette? Is it working? Is this a new version of a sort of forward-thinking camp? Can it all be traced back to something Andrew Andrew did in 2004 (see penultimate item here)?

I’m not sure. Interested in hearing more about the new new Lladró, I replied to the Future Perfect’s (unsolicited) blast, twice, but never heard back.

Phad watch: “Ecosexual”

Somebody used this term, “ecosexual,” in a pitch I got the other day. It’s a “new trend,” of course.

So what’s an ecosexual? Someone who could pass for gay, straight, or a bamboo-cutting-board fetishist?

Or does ecosexuality involve carbon-neutral porn, organic cotton lingerie, sex with the compact flourescent lights on, or sustainable — oh, never mind.

According to Wired an ecosexual is: “A person who’s into hybrid cars, low-energy lightbulbs, and recycling.”

Really, really, disturbingly into those things, I guess.