A short pause

This site will be quiet and un-updated until Sunday. Just so you know.

Politics & pork

Last August, I had a Consumed column on Jamón Ibérico — “the caviar of pork products.” Apparently because the meats derived from the specially fed and raised pigs are an “increasingly popular export,” the Spanish government is planning “stricter rules” to prevent “imposter” pigs from being passed off as the real thing. Says the AP:

The agriculture ministry plans reforms so that the title ‘jamon iberico,’ or Iberian ham, will go only to meat from Iberian pigs that graze in open countryside on acorns and herbs like rosemary and thyme — the traditional technique — and not to ham from stabled pigs that are fed grain, as often happens now, El Pais said.

Ham is very serious business in Spain.

Too Cool For School

In Consumed: Working Class Studio: A design project teaches students about the market — and gives the market what it’s looking for.

Since starting his online store Elsewares as a showcase for independent designers nearly three years ago, Ryan Deussing has had plenty of interaction with recent design-school graduates looking to find their way into the marketplace. Often they have interesting concepts but haven’t worked out practical issues of production and distribution. So Deussing was intrigued when he was approached by the founders of a program at the Savannah College of Art and Design (or SCAD) in Georgia, called Working Class Studio, that is so focused on marketplace realities that it seems more like a company than a college course. “I’d never been contacted by the product-development arm of a school,” he says. He liked some of the brightly patterned melamine plates that were part of the Working Class line, and it turned out that his customers liked them, too: they ended up being among his top sellers for 2006.

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Images of Unconsumption

Steve Portigal did a turn at Pecha Kucha Night in San Francisco (20 images, 20 seconds per image) on the subject of unconsumption. See/hear the slide show via his blog. Pretty cool (and of course I appreciate the shout out).

I’m way behind on updating and re-organizing the earlier unconsumption post & feedback into a new page on this site. After two years of pretending to write a book, I’m actually sending a draft to the publishers in the next week or so, and I’m hoping that time will free up a little after that, and I’ll be able to take care of that unconsumption update and a bunch of other stuff that’s been on hold in recent months. Maybe I’ll be on top of things enough to mention NYT articles within five days of them being published. And maybe I’ll finally get around to cleaning up the list of links at right — perhaps I’ll some debt bloggers to it.

Anyway, it’s possible that this site will become somewhat less lame in the months ahead. Or maybe just lame in a whole new way.

Debts and stories

I meant to mention it earlier, but I pretty much loved this story by John Leland in last Sunday’s NYT: “Debtors Search for Discipline Via Blogs.” If you missed it, it’s worth checking out: It’s about people who have problems managing their finances, and in fact often have enormous debts, but who for whatever reason just can’t talk about it with their friends or family. They’ve found solace (and success in reducing their debts, apparently) by using the annonymous blog audience as a sort of confessional.

Like other debt bloggers, Tricia believes the exposure gives her the discipline to reduce her debt. “I think about this blog every time I’m in the store and something that I don’t need catches my eye,” she told readers last week. “Look what you all have done to me!”

For one thing, it’s bit of a thrill to read a story about blogs being deployed for something other than promotion, trashing some “mainstream” entity, or both.

For another, the story indicates that this seems to be helpful in dealing with what I think is an authentic problem for a lot of people. (Not an invented or trumped-up “problem” like “the need for personalization” or “the craving for authenticity.”) It’s a genuine new solution for an old dilemma. (A solution for some people, at least — I’m not suggesting that consumer debt is going to disappear tomorrow because of this.)

It somewhat reminds me of the work of James W. Pennebaker, who has studied the potential positive effects of writing/journaling for helping people deal with emotional/mental/physical crises and problems. I’m by no means an expert on his work, so I can’t really speak to it very directly, so I’ll just quote from this site of his: “Writing about emotional upheavals in our lives can improve physical and mental health. Although the scientific research surrounding the value of expressive writing is still in the early phases, there are some approaches to writing that have been found to be helpful.”

One of the things I have wondered about Pennebaker’s work is how important the idea of an audience is to the person who is using writing in this way. I assume even the person writing longhand in a notebook imagines an audience on some level. But is there an effect from writing online, where it’s so much easier to imagine, and possibly even obtain, an audience? Is that important to the process or not?

All of that strays away from what Leland was really addressing, and again the thing I liked about the story is that, for whatever reason, this is a manifestation of blogging that seems to be helping people really deal with real problems. That’s good.

The International Review of Wine Packaging and Aesthetics, Vol. 12. *Special double-dog edition! *

Yard Dog
Petit Verdot-Cabernet-Melboc blend; South Eastern Australia
$13 (Savannah)

Bulldog Red
Syrah-Grenache-Mourvedre blend; Paso Robles, California
$18.50 (Savannah)

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

Yes, that’s right, it’s a special double-shot of wine label aesthetics today, as we assess two dog-themed labels.

First up: Yard Dog.

As you can see, the label depicts a frightening, teeth-bearing dog, who looks starved, angry, miserable, and dangerous. This poor beast is juxtaposed against jaunty polka dots and some newsprint, in a collage effect. It’s quite an image. Particularly for a wine label.

It caught E’s attention the store, and resulted a rare instance of wanting to read the backmatter: “I really wanted some information.” Read more


I’ve mentioned before how living in Savannah, close to Fort Stewart, means that we see a lot more local-news-angle coverage of the Iraq war. Here’s an interesting example from yesterday’s Savannah Morning News, courtesy of E:

This article notes that “war games” are getting underway at Fort Stewart for 3rd Infantry Division soldiers who are preparing to deploy. This includes a “two-week mission rehearsal,” which will happen in the pine woods near the base, where trainers will “recreate an Iraqi province.” From what I gather, the normal procedure would be to send the troops out to California, to train at “mocked-up Iraqi villages” in the Mojave Desert. But partly for time reasons, trainers from the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, in California, have come here:

Fort Irwin’s 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment will act as insurgent forces, using simulated live-fire and roadside bombs. Trainers and observers will gauge how well soldiers operate in combat situations and interact with Iraqi community leaders.

About 250 Iraqi-American actors will portray a mix of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

The clothing they wear, the food they cook, and their customs and language are designed to replicate Iraqi society, said Fort Irwin spokesman John Wagstaffe.

So, what we’re most curious about, of course, is the 250 Iraqi-American actors. What are their lives like? How did they get this gig? Is it a good thing to do? Do they have the right mix of people so that actual Sunnis “portray” Sunnis, etc.? What do they do in their down time?

Religion/marketing news

KFC has a fish sandwich. So what? Well, according to KFC:

The company has asked the Pope himself for his blessing, with KFC President Gregg Dedrick sending a personal letter to the Vatican.

[The fish sandwich] is ideal for American Catholics who want to observe Lenten season traditions while still leading their busy, modern lifestyles. The company has turned to Pope Benedict XVI, beseeching him to bestow his Papal blessing for this innovative new menu item. Vatican officials confirmed they received KFC’s request, and the company is hopeful to get the Pope’s blessing this Lenten season.

Via SuperMarketGuru.com.

Typography humor in the Onion: “Wrong Font Chosen For Gravestone”

(Thanks Cousin Lymon!)

Training for empathy

WSJ “Cubicle Culture” Jared Sandberg traveled to New Delhi for his most recent dispatch (published yesterday and available to all right here), a visit to Wipro, one of the outfits that some American companies outsource their customer-service to. It’s pretty interesting stuff. There are bits on the way the firm is managed (sounds fairly progressive) and the role that these jobs are playing in boosting India’s own consumer class. But of course it’s the how-to-deal-with-service-rage stuff that I wanted to read the most:

While most calls sent overseas to India are innocuous information exchanges, there’s only so much that can prepare someone for the hair-pulling frustration that confronts Wipro’s escalation desk, where frustrated callers end up when demanding to talk to a supervisor. Only employees with a proven track record of patience get promoted to the desk.

To prepare for that assignment, they role-play angry callers. Much is scripted, like leaving a follow-up voicemail to see if a technician’s visit resolved a problem. But agents aren’t trained to respond to rage with anything specific. Listen and solve the problem, they say, and the customer will mellow. Amid entreaties to reboot, one can hear the language of sympathy: “I know how you feel.”

But only experience can prepare employees for consumer rage, managers say. Before Wipro’s Mr. Banerjee managed the escalation team, he was an agent. One of his first calls involved an American who ran over his briefcase with his car. His pen survived but his laptop didn’t. The man said he’d write a letter of commendation to the pen manufacturer but would write to newspapers to complain about the computer maker, where he had friends in high places, Mr. Banerjee recalls. “Nothing trains you for that,” he says. No matter how unreasonable or stupid, he adds, “You have to be empathetic.”

It’s only Tuesday

At least it is where I am. Kinda wish I was someplace else.


Robert Adler died last week. He was an engineer for Zenith, and was in on one of the biggest inventions of our time, as I see it anyway. As the Associated Press obit notes:

Various sources have credited either [Eugene] Polley, another Zenith engineer, or Mr. Adler as the inventor of the device. Polley created the “Flashmatic,” a wireless remote introduced in 1955 that operated on photo cells. Mr. Adler introduced ultrasonics, or high-frequency sound, to make the device more efficient in 1956.

That’s right, this guy helped invent the clicker. Where we would we be without our clicks?

Cute geopolitics

Given my interest in all things cute, I was of course drawn in by this news:

As Japan sheds its postwar pacifism and gears up to take a higher military profile in the world, it is enlisting cadres of cute characters and adorable mascots to put a gentle, harmless sheen to its deployments.

”Prince Pickles is our image character because he’s very endearing, which is what Japan’s military stands for,” said Defense Agency official Shotaro Yanagi. “He’s our mascot and appears in our pamphlets and stationary.”

That’s right, Prince Pickles (“saucer-round eyes, big dimples and tiny, boot-clad feet”) is the “image character,” for the Japanese military. Because endearingess is what the Japanese military is really all about.

According to this story, Foreign Minister Taro Aso, addressing art students at “Tokyo’s Digital Hollywood University,” said: “The more positive images pop into a person’s mind, the easier it becomes for Japan to get its views across ….. You are the people . . . involved with bringing Japanese culture to the world.”

The Scent Sensibility

In Consumed: Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day: A cleaning fluid brand that combines the idealized Midwestern mom with boutique chic.

Depending on where you first encounter them, you might, for a second or two, mistake Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day products for some venerable brand. (Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap leaps to mind.) Aside from that homey name, you’ll notice the text-heavy design on these detergents, counter-top sprays and dishwashing liquids, definitely out of step with the sleek, uncluttered and information-light look that dominates modern packaging. But a glance at that text quickly reveals that you have not stumbled upon a holdover from the days of retail past: “Aromatherapeutic household cleaners” is certainly not an old-school product claim. And, in fact, the Mrs. Meyer’s brand is only a few years old; from a line of a half-dozen products in 2001, it has grown to a range of items that include soaps, wipes and even pet shampoos, sold in about 3,500 grocery and other stores across the country.

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“Marketing and evangelism are the same thing”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on “an innovative marketing campaign by Victory World Church in Norcross[, GA].”

The billboard campaign, titled “My Story,” works like a television show cliffhanger. Every couple of weeks, the billboard reveals a new face from the silhouetted figures and alludes to their dramatic personal story. A caption directs commuters to a Victory Web site, where motorists can read their stories and even watch their videotaped testimonies.

Victory’s Web site reinforces the subtext of the billboard campaign. There’s no stained glass or organ music on the site. The faces look plucked from a J.Crew ad.

Also included: Expert commentary from a CUNY prof who has an interesting-sounding book coming out called Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age. And: Another church that’s planning a “social networking campaign inspired by Web sites such as MySpace and Facebook.”