Meta-Brand News: March 2007

John McCain’s political advisers “need to rebrand” their candidate, one adviser tells The Wall Street Journal.

The Florida “Gators have become a brand name to rival Nike,” declares a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I think Suffolk as a brand is very strong,” an English farmer tells The Evening Star.

“Jane Austen has become a brand,” notes Spiked Online.

Angola “needs to be promoted like a brand of quality, innovation and as the best option for investments in Africa,” AllAfrica.com says in summarizing the views of Angola’s deputy foriegn minister.

“Luka Bloom is like a brand name,” Luka Bloom explains to The Daily Telegraph.

Lacrosse players the Powell brothers “have become a brand name,” according to The Towerlight in Baltimore.

“So should successful sports players of the future all expect to become a brand like David Beckham?” asks Varsity: The Indpendent Cambridge Newspaper.

“While LL Cool J has grown to become a brand, he is still known as Todd in his personal life,” observes the Hollywood Reporter.

The character Hannibal Lecter “has become a brand,” says The Prague Post.

“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.

Standards vs. “American Idol” voters

In a recent installment of the Murketing Journal email, I mentioned this piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which argues that the show’s popularity partly reflects a desire for authority and arbiters of standards.

We might think that Americans are eager to celebrate talented young people who can thumb their noses at the older generation and thus exorcise the lingering resentment so many harbor from being graded and evaluated in the classroom. But what American Idol reveals instead is a veritable hunger for realistic evaluation. …. The show reveals a respect for expertise.

That struck me as an interesting point of view at a moment that, to me, seems pretty hostile to official sources of authority. Crowds are better than experts, open-source is better than anything involve a “gatekeeper,” and so on.

And today I see that the Associated Press has an article suggesting that nose-thumbing may be popular among American Idol watchers after all. Sanjaya Malakar, “who is considered to be one of the weakest performers” on the show, keeps avoiding elimination because he gets so many votes from viewers.

In the online community and in Malakar’s home state of Washington, the croaking crooner seems to have a loyal following of friends, family and fanatics who would like nothing better than to see him achieve the ultimate “Idol” success and be the last singer standing in May.

Simon Cowell has supposedly said he’ll quit the show if this guy wins. And:

One YouTube contributor in New York has launched a hunger strike and vows not to eat until the 17-year-old is ousted from the show.

Identifying herself only as “J,” the woman says she believes “other talented contestants” are being eliminated by those who think it “funny to try and sabotage American Idol by voting for a lesser contestant.”

“Ex-soldiers & old tires”

Lots of people write to me to pitch their products, and often they claim to be regular readers of Consumed. Very few of them, however, say that they are writing from Addis Ababa. So I was at least a little curious to get a note from Kiru Alemu, who wrote to “introduce my firm, soleRebels. Based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, soleRebels, produces the finest artisan-crafted footwear that use nothing but artisan-crafted & eco-sensible materials in their creation.”

It was a really long email, but that sounded interesting-ish, so I continued. When the note transitioned into the products’ background/creation story, and I hit the part about he company “using two things the country has plenty of that are otherwise going to waste: ex-soldiers & old tires,” I finally concluded that this was, in fact, something a little different. A few bits of the email:

In Africa (and in fact throughout the world) simple folks and rebel armies (like Ho Chi Minh’s guys) alike have worn a basic sandal made from discarded tires and rubber. Why? Because they’re comfortable, durable, economical, effective, resourceful — all qualities that are damn good, both for us and for the planet. (Plus they’re damn slip resistant, which, I suppose, is good when you’re climbing around the mountains trying to stage a successful rebel assault …. ) Here in Ethiopia, recycling things is a way of life; in fact we’ve been recycling for years without ever calling it recycling. When you have limited resources everything is valued and valuable, everything has a purpose. Even if it’s not the original purpose it was intended for….

So we re-imagined the traditional selate shoe (tire shoe) in a dynamic new fashion. Combining the expertise of several traditional Ethiopian artisan areas — from hand spinning and hand looming cotton, to footwear hand crafting — we married these with a unique modern sensibility…. We started looking around for some ex-soldiers who had been injured, were recovering, and wanted to work. Finding plenty of disabled ex-soldiers was NOT hard at all. (Sad to say, ex-soldiers, particularly in Africa, are often injured and/or otherwise what employers call un-employable). Once the word got out about what we were doing, we didn’t need to find them anymore. They found us. And it just rolled from there….

Today soleRebels provides work for over 50 men and women, many of whom are disabled or veterans of one or another conflict, or persons who otherwise have limited prospects for employment and yet who, as you can see from the products they make, are incredibly talented and skilled.

So far, the email said, the primary consumers have been American and European tourists traveling in Ethiopia. But: “In May, we will be shipping our first US retailer, Urban Outfitters…. This will be the first time any Ethiopian firm has shipped footwear to the United States, and the first time an Ethiopian firm has shipped DIRECT (no middleman) to a major US retailer.”

I would say that this is pretty much fascinating. The Consumed column, of course, is only concerned with things that are actually on the market and being, you know, consumed. So for now I can’t do anything with this in the column, but if they do well, who knows? Meanwhile, I thought this was different enough to pass along to you, the loyal Murketing reader. (Not as an endorsement, since I don’t endorse much of anything, but as something worth keeping an eye on. And of course if you have thoughts or comments on any of this, I’d love to hear it.) I look forward to seeing these shoes actually hit the market, and how they sell.

Further email exchanges with the incredibly nice Kiru Alemu yieleded a catalog and a number of images of the shoes, which you see above. The company doesn’t have a web site, and I’m not in a position to fact check any of the above in any direct way. On the other hand, I don’t have any particular reason to doubt it. And it’s certainly the most intriguing bit of unsolicited product email that’s come over the transom in quite some time.

Some sort of update will follow in the summer months, when the shoes are on the market.

A book about “Streetwear”

The title is, in fact: Streetwear.

I don’t know anything about it beyond what’s here, at the author’s site. Could be interesting.

On a possibly related note, We Make Money Not Art has an interview with “a PhD-candidate in critical fashion design,” partly about a project that “engages with social and subversive fashion design. [The project] takes a critical and political look on design and in particular on the fashion system and its networks. By organizing workshops and distributing booklets, the project tries to demonstrate in a very approachable way how to critically hack and re-form the operating system of modernity and the industrial modes of production.

I don’t really know what any of that means. But, again, could be interesting.

All in the execution?

The problem: With utility rates rising sharply in the Ukraine, many people there have simply stopped paying their utility bills.

Solution: An ad campaign. With attitude.

How much attitude? Well, the main figure used in the billboards and television ads was Joseph Stalin, “a man whom many Ukrainians blame for killing one-third of the country’s population during the famine in the 1930s,” the Associated Press notes.

In the television ad, Stalin is shown in grainy black-and-white footage being applauded by hundreds of party members as a dubbed-over voice says: “Those who don’t pay for their heat should be punished!”

Okay, okay. That’s actually too much attitude. The campaign has been called off.

V. hot

Our heroes over at Stay Free declare the Prank of the Month:

A guy in Switzerland, pretending to be a representative from Gucci, called up a weekly paper and reserved a two-page spread. He then sent in a fake ad of himself naked from the waist up, flanked by a bottle of Gucci fragrance. When the bill went to Gucci as he requested, hilarity ensued.

Entertainment

We’ve never watched America’s Next Top Model, but lately I’ve been indirectly kept apprised of the show by the local newspaper. This is because someone from Savannah is among the competitors, so the paper runs an update every week. (Savannah is not a big news town; there was also a local on American Idol, and when she was voted off this week, it was a front-page story.)

I bring this up because of this week’s Top Model summation:

Savannah resident Brittany Carrigher made it through the third round of America’s Next Top Model, remaining a favorite of the judges with her interpretation of a model electrocuted in the bathtub.

Fantastic.

Tune in today

Rosemary Williams, subject of the recent Mall of America merch Consumed, is scheuled to appear on NPR’s Talk of the Nation today. If you have access to the show, check it out. If not, I’ll update this post with an audio link later.

Update: As promised, here’s a link to the audio. And here’s a link to the show’s blog, where there are a couple of interesting comments.
Big thanks to Talk of the Nation for giving full credit to me, Consumed, and The New York Times Magazine for hooking them up with Rosemary after they read about her work in my column.

Kidding! We got no ancillary hype at all. So sad!

Good questions

Here’s the most interesting bit I’ve read regarding the big pet-food recall that you may have heard about:

Part of the problem: the food “was sold under 88 brands, including popular labels Iams and Eukanuba and private-label brands sold at large retail chains. Nestle Purina PetCare Co., Colgate-Palmolive Co.’s Hill’s Pet Nutrition Inc. and Nutro Products Inc. also recalled some products made by Menu Foods.”

That’s 88 brands. Has any one of them stepped forward to communicate directly with consumers? I’m asking because I haven’t seen anything. Only press releases. It’s early I know but if someone’s visiting a pet food web site today, there’s only one reason. Why isn’t a substantial recall message on everyone’s home page? At this moment, no word of any recall at all on a Purina site.

Is it because no one wants to address the startling fact that 88 brands — everything from cheap Ol’ Roy to Eukanuba — come out of the same 2 plants? How do you explain that? Can you? It’s a situation that baffles even pet experts: “How can a more expensive and theoretically higher quality food be made side-by-side with lesser products?…where is the quality control or oversight by the companies whose names are on the cans?….If each brand was actually being made according to a separate recipe, then what need would there be to recall every can made for every company during a three month period – unless they all shared common ingredients before being labeled and priced differently?”

That’s from a post at Notbillable.

Strangely enough, everybody still loves Raymond

For a variety of reasons, the sitcom seems like a moribund form. Maybe it’s because in a niche-driven world, the lowest-common-denominator element that used to make sitcoms into mass hits just doesn’t play anymore.

Or maybe there just hasn’t been a good enough sitcom lately. I was surprised to read in the Washington Post today that, according to one study that an ad-research kind of firm is pushing:

More people are watching “Seinfeld,” “Friends” and “Everybody Loves Raymond” this season than when the shows were at the height of their popularity on their respective broadcast networks.

Not only that, but apparently because of the popularity of sitcom reruns, people are basically watching more half-hour comedies than ever:

In 1993-94, the average U.S. TV household spent just under four hours a week watching comedies. This season, it’s just over 4 1/2 hours, the study asserts.

“Dressing Rooms:” A Flickr photographer Q&A

Dressing Room: Anthropoligie @ 15th and 5th ave,”
Originally uploaded by gretchl2000

The other day I came across a pretty interesting photo set on Flickr. It’s called “Dressing Rooms,” by Gretchen Ludwig, who has been taking a series of retail dressing-room self portraits. Apparently, this series developed out of a project for a digital photography class. The explanation continued: “While politically, I hate the idea of being marketed to and I hate the amount of consumption that goes on in the States, at the same time, I am a slave to it as well.”

That sounded pretty interesting, and a lot of the photographs were really striking. After spending a day or two wondering whether it was worth trying to ask the photographer a few questions, or if she’d just write me off as a weirdo who scours Flickr for pictures of women in dressing rooms, I decided to give it a shot. Happily, she either didn’t think I was a weirdo, or decided to answer my questions anyway. And the answers were interesting — even ranging into some of the unexpected effects the project has had on her shopping. The brief Q&A follows, and there are more of her images after the jump.

Urban Outfitters@ 72nd and B’way,”
Originally uploaded by gretchl2000

How did you hit upon the idea of the dressing room as a site for exploring that love-hate situation that you describe in your explanation of this set?

I have an aversion to marketing, advertising, and any other ploy to get me to buy products that are extranneous. This anti-advertising politic has developed even further to become anti-corporation. However, even though I am able to intellectualize all of this, at the same time, it’s so easy to fall prey to a good ad. Underneath it all, I have a weakness, and it’s for fashion. I try to attribute it to my visual arts upbringing and tell my friends it’s because I’m attracted to exciting visual stimuli (and there are some very exciting things going on in fashion, artistically) but the fact of the matter is, I just love clothes. It seemed so perfect to exploit this weakness in my own convictions, and to then turn my consumerism into something more, something that, once photographed, becomes anti-consumer. Read more

TV Land

If you root through the massive pile of paper that is the Sunday New York Times, you will find a magazine called Key. Key is a real estate-focused spinoff of the Times Magazine. Within Key you will find a longish article/essay by me, on the subject of property-related television shows. I’m pretty happy with the way this came out, and while it’s a little long to read online, I hope you’ll take a look one way or another. I really enjoyed writing it. Here’s the start:

What makes a house a home is a topic suitable for poetry. But a house or a home is always something else. It is property. Does this fact contain poetry? Probably not. But it does contain entertainment. It’s a form of television entertainment I’d never paid the slightest bit of attention to until I got involved in buying property myself, which happened right around the time that the long housing boom was unraveling last year. Previously invisible to me, these entertainments were, for months, the only things I wanted to watch. Buying, selling, updating, restoring and “flipping” for quick profits — it all ran together, but I watched even when I couldn’t remember if the title of a certain show was “Flip This House” or “Flip That House.”

It turned out these were two different shows, and with every “pain of U.S. housing slump” headline, the inventory of real estate entertainment looked a little more glutty. It made me ponder this curious genre’s fate….
It gets better. Here’s a link.

Dial Tone

In Consumed: Prepaid phone cards: How blunt graphics and cluttered design send signals to phone-card consumers

“The main business of manufacture is to make objects that people want to buy,” Russell Lynes wrote in “The Tastemakers,” his 1954 book. “It is not to improve public taste.” Thus he was dismissive of the way the term “good design” was being used by everyone from the Museum of Modern Art to Sears, Roebuck & Company. These days, of course, you can’t fling a Michael Graves spatula without hitting a panel discussion about the public “good” that radiates from adding what Lynes snidely called “taste appeal” to workaday objects. But not all objects. Read more

Out

Nothing here this week. Back on Sunday.