Pointed Copy

In Consumed: The Ginsu. His ads were followed by a phone number and an exhortation to “act now!” And people did. Isn’t that amazing?

In the annals of completely ridiculous advertising, the original commercial on behalf of Ginsu knives has a special place. More than a quarter-century later, anyone old enough to remember it and many people who aren’t old enough to remember it will know the highlights — the guy karate-chopping a tomato, the knife sawing neatly through a tin can and the kind of hard-sell language we tend to associate with the most blatant forms of hucksterism. It’s a knife that will last forever. It’s a product no kitchen should be without. It’s the most incredible knife offer ever. And after the superlatives, the inevitable: But wait, there’s more

Continue reading at the NYT Magazine site via this no-registration-required link. This is part of the magazine’s annual “The Lives They Lived” issue.

Additional link: The original Ginsu ad, on YouTube.

Mini-Me McMansions

A pretty amusing piece in the WSJ today happens to be one of the articles the paper has made available to non-subscribers, and I recommend it. It’s about people who are so pleased with their fancy houses that when it comes time to build a playhouse for the kids, they make a miniature replica of their actual home — “Mini-Me McMansions,” as writer Troy McMullen puts it.

The lavish replicas, which can include such grown-up amenities as hardwood floors and media rooms with satellite TVs, generally cost from $10,000 to $100,000. Some run even higher than that, exceeding the median price of a single-family home ($218,000 in November). In some areas the playhouses are running afoul of local zoning ordinances, building codes and housing-development covenants, annoying neighbors who object to the backyard estates and racking up substantial fines.

Here’s the rest.

Something to do in NYC

If I lived in New York, I’d probably go take a look at this show of images by Belgian photojournalist Teun Voeten:

In an exhibit titled ” Saddam Mania,” on display at the Think Tank 3 gallery, Mr. Voeten documents a period of 10 days in Iraq’s history — just after the infamous toppling of the Saddam statue in front of the Palestine Hotel. Thousands of likenesses of the deposed despot — which could once be seen “on every other street corner” and at the entrance to every public office, Mr. Voeten said — were vandalized and finally destroyed by Iraqis and, in some instances, by American soldiers.In a room filled with striking images, Mr. Voeten shows the clash of two conflicting realities: In one, Saddam’s face is a constant reminder that his word is law; and in the reality of post-invasion Iraq, a people’s longsuppressed emotions are vented on that same all-pervading face, leaving knife slashes, bullet holes, and puddles of urine in testament to their rancor.

Although the invite image and the New York Sun article quoted above say the show was originally meant to run through late November, I have it on good authority that it’s still up. The gallery is at 447 Hudson, at Morton.

Princess Mania

I think that this story was pretty widely circulated & read, but just in case: I hereby note that I really enjoyed reading What’s Wrong With Cinderella, by Peggy Orenstein, in the New York Times Magazine. It’s about Princess mania. Here is a no-registration-required link. Here’s a quick sample:

To call princesses a “trend” among girls is like calling Harry Potter a book. Sales at Disney Consumer Products, which started the craze six years ago by packaging nine of its female characters under one royal rubric, have shot up to $3 billion, globally, this year, from $300 million in 2001. There are now more than 25,000 Disney Princess items. “Princess,” as some Disney execs call it, is not only the fastest-growing brand the company has ever created; they say it is on its way to becoming the largest girls’ franchise on the planet.

Meanwhile in 2001, Mattel brought out its own “world of girl” line of princess Barbie dolls, DVDs, toys, clothing, home décor and myriad other products. At a time when Barbie sales were declining domestically, they became instant best sellers. Shortly before that, Mary Drolet, a Chicago-area mother and former Claire’s and Montgomery Ward executive, opened Club Libby Lu, now a chain of mall stores based largely in the suburbs in which girls ages 4 to 12 can shop for “Princess Phones” covered in faux fur and attend “Princess-Makeover Birthday Parties.” Saks bought Club Libby Lu in 2003 for $12 million and has since expanded it to 87 outlets; by 2005, with only scant local advertising, revenues hovered around the $46 million mark, a 53 percent jump from the previous year.

It’s a really interesting read, very thoughtfully done.

A couple of side notes about this.

First, yes, I also write for the New York Times Magazine, so maybe this is a biased recommendation; on the other hand, I’ve never met Orenstein.

Second, I’ve been gradually adding a few old Consumed columns to this site that aren’t really available anywhere else for free, so after reading this I put up an old column about Club Libby Lu, right here.

Third, yet another Times Magazine contributor, Stephen Dubner (who I did meet, years ago, but have no particular contact with these days), happened to note on his Freakonomics blog that “Princess” is not only among the top three names for dogs — it’s also among the top 750 or so names for babies!

The International Review of Wine Packaging and Aesthetics, Vol. 10

El Felino
Malbec, Mendoza, Product of Argentina
About $15 (Jersey City)

[Note: Here I finally finish clearing the Jersey City inventory of wine-label-related entries.]

[Note: This is the tenth installment in a regular Murketing feature. For previous installments and an explanation, go here.]

Earlier this year, R. wrote a “Consumed” column about “critter wines” — meaning wine labels that featured a representation of an animal. (Or “critter.”) Yellowtail was the high-profile example in that piece, but of course there are many, many critters on the wine aisles these days.

And in this case, we picked this up because we liked the cat illustration. It’s a bit more arresting than a lot of the critters you see. A little more stylish. Yet still somehow cute. And of course it’s all about cuteness. But you knew that.
Read more

Art of the deal, and the deal as art

The always enjoyable Giant Robot includes in its latest issue (number 45) a Q&A with Takashi Murakami, which of course I read with great interest. The interview was conducted by GR co-honcho Eric Nakamura, and in places it’s a little odd; I guess Murakami is an enigmatic guy, but I wish there had been some follow-up and clarification on some of his answers. (A question toward the end — “Is it important for you to create a legacy with your art?” — is answered: “What would be ideal is if copyrights became stronger — like Disney — through national ordinance, and to be able to survive economic dangers, changing executive positions, and the outbreak of internal conflict.” What’s that supposed to mean?)

Anyway, some of what Murakami said was not only enigmatic, but pretty interesting and (to me, at least) amusing. He out-Warhols Warhol when asked about what he learned by collaborating with Louis Vuitton and answers that it was the contract he and LV’s president devised. Not the things that were the result of that contract (the LV-Murakami handbag being, presumably, a prominent example) — the contract itself.

After the contract was signed, we both felt – we both agreed – that we had started something worthy of toppling the ‘art’ that had been built up by Duchamp and Warhol. While I can’t disclose the contents of that contract now, I have a secret expectation that if the seal were to be broken in 100 years, the contract itself would go down in art history as the most important piece of art I ever made.

One of a kind

In Consumed: DNA portraits: How one company tapped the desire for really, really personalized consumption.

In his 1983 book “Class,” Paul Fussell observed that “there’s hardly anything you get from a catalog that can’t be personalized,” including napkin rings and car mats, or “a stoneware pie dish reading, ‘Pies by Karen’ (any name available).” Fussell had merciless fun scrutinizing “the pathos of these constant assertions of selfhood.” Of course, the technologies of personalization have become much more complex since then, and unique-as-you objects are widely seen as markers of sophistication these days. And at a time when the singularity bandwagon is stacked high with customized sneakers and pimped-out laptop cases, a company called DNA 11 has found a way to stand out: It will turn a sample of your DNA into a piece of abstract art. “Each piece is as unique as you,” its Web site promises. “Absolutely one-of-a-kind.” …

Continue reading at the NYT site via this no-registration-required link.

Additional link: DNA 11.

Flickr Interlude

Flickr photo by maproomsystems

Labor problems

You may have noticed a headline here or there last month, noting that Nike was ending a contract with one of its offshore suppliers, a Pakistan-based manufacturer called Saga Sports. The problem was evidence that Saga was using at least some child labor.

The Christian Science Monitor has an article taking a more detailed look at this, written by David Montero. “By severing its contract with Saga, Nike is likely to score moral points with its customers in the West,” Montero writse. “But it’s also likely, observers agree, to sink Saga, a corporate giant that makes about 6 million of Pakistan’s annual production of 40-million soccer balls,” employs thousands of stitchers, and depends heavily on Nike as its top customer.
Saga is based in Sialkot, Pakistan (population: 3 million), where the article says that 80 percent of all soccer balls are produced, adding up to a $210 million business category that employes around 45,000 stitchers. (“For as long as there have been soccer balls in Sialkot,” which is more than 100 years, “the hands of children have stitched them,” the piece adds.)

Obviously the article doesn’t suggest that child labor is okay, nor does anyone quoted in the piece say so. But it’s a pretty interesting look at a problem that’s more complicated than it might first appear to be. Check it out.

The hood

I’m not sure what the hook is for this piece, or why it appeared on the op-ed page of the NYT, but here’s a brief rumination on the hoodie.

The hooded sweatshirt began, in the 1930s, as a practical piece of clothing. Champion created the first ones for laborers in the frozen warehouses of upstate New York….

Eventually, hooded sweatshirts were produced for football and track athletes, who would lend theirs to their girlfriends, and eventually the hoodie was everyday wear.

Also addressed in the piece: hoodie-wearing by hip-hop artists and Rocky Balboa.

The International Review of Wine Packaging and Aesthetics, Vol. 9

Terre Del Primitivo “red wine from Puglia.” 2003.
About $12. (Jersey City)

[Note: Here I continue clearing the Jersey City inventory of wine-label-related entries.]

[Note: This is the ninth installment in a regular Murketing feature. For previous installments and an explanation, go here.]

R bought this wine because of the photo-style label. The photo label approach is generally a bad idea, and by and large we tend not to buy wine with label photography. “It seems wrong,” E explains.

In this specific instance, the results are particularly bad. The photograph tells you nothing, and the inexplicable blocky black shape underneath it has no logical graphic function. The back says the photo “illustrates” some “cone-shaped stone buildings” unique to the Puglia region. Yeah? This strikes R. as something less than an explanation. E is more concise: “I don’t care.”

Bottom line: In our view, wine packaging ought to somehow suggest a handcrafted process, not cheap mass production.

REGARDING THE ACTUAL WINE: We can’t remember anything about it.

Extremely old-school advertising

And in other news related to marketing to people who use matches: Rick Prelinger, who I mentioned here the other day, recently sent me a book he’s put together, The Field Guide to Sponsored Films. I’ll say a little more about that later on, but in the meantime, one of the cool things I’ve already picked up from it is the existence of this 30-second ad for Admiral Cigarettes. From 1897! Needless to say, it’s silent. You can view it here.

Fire for buyers

“The give-away matchbook was one of the most pervasive means ever found of putting promotional images into the hands of the public,” according to Chronicle Books. True? I don’t know. But I sure do love the cover of Striking Images: Vintage Matchbook Cover Art. In fact, I hope the Chronicle folks made some matchbooks with that cover. Via Drawn!: The Illustration and Cartooning Blog.

Packaging Detail of the Day

Small farms — we love ’em, and we want to support ’em. This, at least, would seem to be the sentiment that the folks at Woodstock Farms are counting on. Sarah Mirk (of The Stranger) wrote in to describe her encounter package of the brand’s wasabi peas.

On the front: “a picturesque photo of a classic American small farm (complete with barn!) across the top.” And the copy on the package: “Small Farms and Agribusiness: It takes both to keep farming viable. Changing our agricultural practices on both large and small farms is a worthy vision and necessary endeavor. Small farms and agribusinesss can learn from each other the best of farming practices and rural livelihood.”

Uh, okay, that all seemed a little strange. Is this the product of a small farm? A corporation? Both? If the packaging simply repeats the phrase “small farm” enough times, she wondered, is that going convince us that that’s where the peas came from?

Then she turned the package over and noticed some more fine print: “Product of Malaysia,” it said.

My theory: The small farms of Malaysia look an awful lot like the Normal Rockwell version of heartland America. They just happen to have better supply chains and easier access to container ships.

Thanks Sarah!

Why seven?

Why is the number seven so popular? Why seven habits of highly effective people? Seven spiritual laws of success? Seven pillars of health? Etc.?

I once read a good explanation of the popularity of the number seven in self-helpy book titles, but I can’t remember where, and it’s driving me crazy.

In trying to track this down, I’ve found what I gather is a widely known psychology paper by George A. Miller, from 1956, called “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information.” (Wikipedia summary here.) It’s interesting, and it might partly underlie whatever it was I read, but my (possibly faulty) memory is that there was some more contemporary, market-linked, explanation — as in, sales figures showing books with “seven” in the title flat-out sell better. But I’m not certain. I could be totally wrong about that.

I do remember that back when I worked as an editor for personal finance magazines, cover lines like “Seven Stocks to Buy Now” supposedly sold better than “Six” or “Eight” stocks to etc.

I also came across this discussion of seven’s supposed lucky-ness, and where that might come from — the seven-day creation story, various other examples of religious and/or numeralogical seven-specialness. All interesting, but I have a nagging feeling that none of this is quite what I read earlier, and there’s something less esoteric out there, somewhere, on the subject of why seven might resonate with, say, book consumers.

If you have any thoughts, please let me know, below or at murketing AT robwalker DOT net. I will thank you seven times. Okay, once.