Ad It Up

Firefox Flicks: What does it mean when consumers become producers – of advertising?

Advertising was called the “folklore of industrial society” as early as the 1950’s, when Marshall McLuhan used that phrase. Back then, though, the tools required to fashion and disseminate the images and stories of industrial products to the masses were available only to industry (or rather to the advertising agencies hired by industry). Today the folk — or at least much of the middle class — have those tools, too, and in recent years have shown a surprising willingness to use them on behalf of brands. Converse has solicited consumer-made commercials for a couple of years and has received more than a thousand; lately General Motors, MasterCard and others have asked for, and received, contributions to their marketing efforts from the grass roots. Perhaps the most famous consumer-created ad — a computer animation of flying iPods made by a California teacher — was made and distributed without any input from the makers of the product. It makes sense that Firefox, the Web browser distributed by the Mozilla Corporation, would try this approach …
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Also, not related, but in the NYT Magazine this week and worth reading: Randy Kennedy’s article about MTV making shows for cellphones, and Scott Anderson’s cover story on National Guardsmen re-adjusting to civilian life after tours in Iraq. On the latter subject, this recent episode of public-radio show Speaking of Faith is also worthwhile.

Treo: “Too complex”?

Very early on in the brief history of “Consumed,” I wrote about the Treo, I think it was the Treo 600 back then. The other day there was an interesting Q&A in the WSJ with Ed Collligan, CEO of the company that makes the Treo. Here’s the bit I liked:

WSJ: How are consumers actually using their mobile devices?
Mr. Colligan: The only thing that surprises me consistently is how little they use the devices. There is so much capability that 90% of people don’t discover. They say, “It would be really cool if you had a MP3 player in here.” We do.

Many people use the Treo as a phone. People come to me all the time and say, “I love this thing, it has changed my life. I just run my whole life with it.” I’ll get their device and I’ll go into it. They have 12 addresses in it and a few appointments. … Essentially, the devices are almost too complex for a lot of people. And it is one of our challenges.

We hear so much about the demanding and super-savvy consumer, it always makes me chuckle to hear the actual reports from the front lines of commerce that, in fact, people aren’t even mastering the devices they already own. I don’t know how much more blatantly that can be expressed than in the form of consumers asking for functionality that already exists.

And yet: Does it matter? I suspect people want the most awesomely functional device even if something simpler (and cheaper) would actually do the trick. Maybe 12 addresses and a few appointments are all that some of us need to keep track of, Colligan’s exasperation notwithstanding. But there’s still something appealing in the idea of owning all that hyper-functionality: “conspicuous utility” is the phrase I used in “Consumed.” Or maybe some people are attracted by one bit of the functionality, don’t care about the rest, and would rather just spring for the well-known device and keep alive the vague hope that some day they’ll exploit its full powers, rather than spend a lot of time and effort researching the optimum choice.

Either way, maybe Colligan shouldn’t be annoyed or bummed out that consumers aren’t as clever as they could be. Maybe, considering that they’re buying his device anyway, he should be really, really happy.

Retail Memories

Flickr photo by Jeff Richardson.

Flickr is thoroughly, consistently fascinating. And lurking about in its endless depths are plenty of images that in one way or another relate to brands, products, consumption, and material culture. Here, for example, is one of many Flickr images of the recent Apple store opening in Manhattan.

I got to this particular set by way of an extremely detailed report from someone who arrived at the new store on Tuesday (to wait for the actual opening … on Saturday.) If you want all the details on who those people were who waited on the street for several days in order to visit a retail location, well, you have your link. The highlight: “With just 15 minutes left before opening,” one guy in the line, named Steve, ” turned to his girlfriend Patti and proposed to her. She accepted, and that set off a ripple of ‘Awwww’ back through the crowd, and up to the Apple staffers.”

Great story to tell the kids. Anyway, the site containing that report is ifo AppleStore: News and Information About Apple Computer’s Retail Stores. I ended up there by way of a link from this Wired News report: “Fans Storm Apple’s 5th Avenue Store.” Another account, from one of the Apple fans pictured above, can be found on her blog.

Building Value

Buildings of Disaster: What a collection of disaster-themed souvenirs says about design, commerce and taste.

Not long after Hurricane Katrina, Constantin Boym was reading a news article that referred to the New Orleans Superdome as “a symbol of all that went wrong” on the Gulf Coast before, during and after the storm. When he read that, he says, he realized that the sports stadium now stood for something quite different from — and much larger than — its intended function. “It stood for that terrible event, that historical event,” he says. And that made it an appropriate addition to “Buildings of Disaster,” a series of “souvenirs” produced and distributed by his design studio, Boym Partners. …
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Faux Logo

The Blackspot: A brand that appeals to the toughest consumers — the ones who are sick of brands.

“Dylan Coyle, who is 24, studies music at San Francisco State University. He has been a vegan for five years and is a careful consumer. Last year, somebody asked him what he wanted for Christmas, and he said he wanted a pair of Blackspot shoes. This was a considered choice: the shoes are made from ‘vegetarian materials,’ including organic hemp and recycled tires. They are manufactured in a ‘safe, comfortable union factory’ in Portugal and sold by the creators of Adbusters, a magazine best known for its withering critique of the advertising business and of mindless materialism….”

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