Please recall

1. There is no Consumed column, and no Journal of Murketing email this weekend.

2. Since the recent design tweak to this site, a constantly updated list of entertaining, distracting, or useful links appears in the sidebar at right.

Thank you.

Burdens of Wealth, Part 2: Watch out

Following up on yesterday’s post about Robert Frank’s book Richistan: I mentioned my favorite example of how wealthy consumers feel compelled to move on from anything that gets too widely adapted was in the category of watches. I have been interested in the watch market for some time, without ever really coming up with a good way to write about it.
Frank cites data from an organization called The Luxury Institute; in 2006, it conducted a poll of people with a net worth of $5 million or more, to learn what the most prestigious wristwatch might be. Cartier came in 13th. Rolex made the top 10, but “barely,” Frank writes. First place went to Franck Mueller, “a newcomer from Switzerland that sells fewer than 4,500 watches a year in the United States.” The brand’s cheapest offering costs $4,800. The most expensive: $600,000-plus. “Frank Mueller,” Frank writes, “has become the timepiece of choice for the New Rich.”

The interesting thing about watches as a carrier of prestige is that watches have, in recent years, become so superfluous for most of us. If you have a cell phone, you have the time on you; you don’t need a watch. And indeed, I have read that mainstream watch sales are hurting.

Luxury watch sales, however, are not hurting at all. (Recently even Timex has been repositioning to try to cut more lux-oriented deals.) One suspects that this is precisely because high end watches have very little to do with knowing what time it is. Indeed, Frank points out that Frank Muller’s “most popular watches the Crazy Hours, a $20,000 timepiece that features mixed-up numbers on the face.” Even a company spokesperson admits that actually using it to tell time can be “tricky.” Frank cites Business Week reviewer suggesting that maybe the best strategy is to wear this watch in addition to a second one that you can actually read.
Funny. But I’d suggest a different direction: Why not make a watch that is purely aesthetics-based, and does not tell time at all? Think of the design possibilities a watch could offer if you didn’t have to worry about the whole time-telling trope, with the annoying minute, hour, and second hands, which all seems pretty played-out anyway. People who pay twenty grand for a watch not only have a cell phone and five other gizmos at hand to tell them what time it is, they also have a variety of flunkies to drive them around and make their appointments for them. Leave watches that track of hours and minutes to the proles.

The Product Is You, No. 3

[The Product Is You is an occasional Murketing series collecting advertising that is aimed at advertisers: Magazines or television networks packaging up their consumers — that is, you, the potential ad target — in ways designed to attract advertisers. Previous installments here.]

Soapnet viewers are “#1 in Engagement” — that is, they “just can’t look away” from their favorite soaps. And there are more of them all the time, particularly in the age-groups that advertisers love most. Or so claims this ad.

Buying & Not-Buying

Clearing my desk of assorted magazines, clippings, and junk, I came across two related articles that I’d set aside to store in my “consumer ethics” file. Both concern SUV sales. Every single day, it seems, I read something else about the enlightened, green-conscious consumer who is transforming the marketplace as we speak. Sales of hybrid cars often come up in the list of anecdotes, right after the inevitable survey statistic about we Americans are concerned about the environment. And as one of these articles notes, Toyota’s famous Prius has sold more than a million units worldwide.

But the reason I’d set these articles aside is a couple of other facts and figures that jumped out at me. One is from the June 11 issue of Business Week: While sales of small cars are up fairly significantly this year, “luxury SUV sales have held steady,” accounting for 28% of new-vehicle sales.

That’s a pretty high number, seems to me, particularly at a moment when not only is Main Street supposedly green-crazy, but high gas prices have been a consistent media story.

The other clipping is from the June 11 issue of Brandweek, and examines this very point more specifically, under the headline, “What Gas Crisis? SUVs Still Cruising.”

While the Prius is doing well, the story notes, Honda is dropping its hybrid Accord, which has sold poorly. There are some hybrid SUVs on the market, but those aren’t taking off — whereas “the massive Ford Expedition, which gets a sluggish 15 mpg, has seen its vehicle sale shoot up 20% through May,” writes Steve Miller.

Both articles include suggestions that the trend may still be moving away from huge gas guzzlers, etc., and that may turn out to be right.

But I believe the time has come for the legions of experts touting green-mania start to gauge it a more complete way. I’ve read the poll data. I’ve heard about increasing sales for this or that “green” product. I want to hear about falling sales of conspiciously not-green products. Even better, I want that kind of information to be included in the analysis — even if does not immediately support the green hype. I want the commentators, especially the ones who are basically marketing gurus and consultants, to acknowledge that eco-consciousness is not simply a matter of what consumers buy. It’s also about what they stop buying.

Okay, just had to get that out. Back to cleaning the desk off.

Burdens of wealth

Because of the day job, publishers sometimes send me books, most of which I have no interest in whatsoever; meanwhile, most of the new books I really am interested in, those never get sent to me. But in a rare exception, I got in the mail from Crown a book called Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich, which I did in fact find interesting. It’s by Robert Frank, the Wall Street Journal writer (not to be confused with Robert H. Frank, the economist who wrote Luxury Fever, among other books).

Given all the detail in the subtitle, I guess there’s not much reason to explain what the book is about. It was of interest to me because I’ve mused here about the Four or Five Americas, and maybe this is one of them. Frank divides his Richistan into three (lower-middle-upper) parts: the 7.5 million households with a net worth of between $1 million and $10 million; the 2 million households with a net worth between $10 million and $100 million; and those with a net worth higher than that, which number “in the thousands.” (There are around 100 million households in the U.S., I believe.)

The middle group is most interesting to me: $10 million is a lot of money, and 2 million is a lot of people. Enough people to form something like a common worldview, or a cultural consensus, among them.

Here’s a quick bit that I found interesting in terms of how Richistan relates to the other Americas: The spending/consumption of the broad group that Frank calls Richistanis is of course motivated in part by peer comparisons, but also by something else:

Richistanis are also spending to outrun the hordes of Richistani wannabes. The growng ranks of affluent consumers are increasingly trading up to buy goods once reserved for the rich. Luxury companies, to grow sales, are happy to sell cheaper version of their high-end products to serve this new crowd of aspiring shoppers. Marketers call it “mass luxury” and, oxymoron or not, it’s made life miserable for Richistani spenders.”

I’m used to thinking about the chasing-luxury game from the non-rich point of view: How people like say, me, will buy something like a wallet with a luxury brand name attached to it, blissfully unaware that it’s just some mundane object stamped with ersatz prestige by way of one of the licensing deals that fuel lux-company profits. Clearly it’s true that if enough people like me glom onto a lux brand, the lux crowd doesn’t want to be associated with it anymore. (An extreme version: Burberry’s chav problem.)

What I’ve given less thought to is that once Richi dumps whatever I’m buying, he has to find something else to buy, with a suitable prestige level attached to it. The example Frank offers that I like the most is the watch category. More on that tomorrow.

Beyond the working vacation

Kind of a bizarre, but funny, story in the WSJ today about people who work while on dates.

A typical working date for Scott Friedman, 47, of Denver, a motivational speaker and humorist, starts with, “‘Look, I’m busy. You’re busy. Why don’t we order in and we’ll work?'” With one recent partner who also has a demanding career, they would dine on Chinese food at his kitchen table, admiring the city lights from his windows. “Then we’d work for a few hours,” he says. “At least,” he reasons, he could glance at his date across the room. After that came dessert or a trip out for ice cream. “The actual social part of a four- to five-hour date would be 60 to 90 minutes,” he says.

Draw your conclusions about what “social part” refers to.

It’s not clear to me whether this is an actual phenomenon, or just another case in which America is such an enormous freak show that you can find a few anecdotes to support any “trend.” That said, I do think there’s some truth to this, which is listed as one of the underlying factors:

More people are plunging into all-consuming entrepreneurial ventures at younger ages; “as an entrepreneur, you don’t really separate” work and life, says [some expert].

Here’s a link, but it might a subscriber-only thing.

Liz Claiborne

I was surprised to see the obituary for Liz Claiborne this morning. The piece says that the company that bears her name (which she basically hasn’t been involved in for more than 15 years) is not doing particularly well right now. Nevertheless, one way of measuring cultural significance is whether or not a given figure becomes the basis of notorious (false) rumor, and Claiborne is central to a particularly famous one.

Anyway, the obit doesn’t mention that, but does have the more practical facts about her actual impact:

Ms. Claiborne correctly anticipated a market for affordable business-like clothes that women could wear to compete with men in professional workplaces. In her no-nonsense way, she became a role model — and her label an inspiration — to those who were looking to break through glass ceilings, as she had done.

As a designer, Ms. Claiborne did not care to be considered a trendsetter. She placed practical concerns over the glamour of the catwalks and the prestige of designer prices. Her arrival as a fashion brand was well timed, catching the beginning of a great change in American society as women headed to the workplace in large numbers.

She created a new foundation for a modern working woman’s wardrobe, which had begun, she once acknowledged irritably, as the bland reinterpretation for women of a man’s navy blue suit and tie. Blouses that closed with frilly bows did not appeal to Ms. Claiborne. Her creative expressions were made of colorful tailored separates that could be mixed with other pieces to create many outfits.

As women made headway in corporate America, Ms. Claiborne expanded with office-friendly sportswear that conveyed a potent blend of intelligence, strength and femininity. It eventually transcended the workplace, becoming a lifestyle brand. One of her first designs was a velour peasant blouse; she sold 15,000 pieces in one season.

The Product Is You, No. 2

[The Product Is You is an occasional Murketing series looking at advertising that is aimed at advertisers: Magazines or television networks packaging up their consumers — that is, you, the potential ad target — in ways designed to attract advertisers. Previous installment here.]

I watch Bravo. “Top Chef,” “Project Runway,” sometimes that Kathy Griffin thing, maybe other stuff too. So it’s only fair that the second installment of The Product Is You should take a look at the sequel to the previously mentioned Bravo ad. This one offers up a deconstruction of the typical Bravo-watching man. In other words: This time the product is me.

Like his mate, Bravo Guy greets the world with a blank and empty gaze, toting fresh purchases, his credit cards visibly at the ready for more shopping.

Some details:

A “rock t-shirt” that he “bought online, but he still digs the band.” In other words: He’s a poseur with a Peter Pan complex. (And who apparently doesn’t even have it in him to wear his “rock t-shirt” unless it’s covered up by a borderline-generic button-down.)

The “latest cell phone,” crammed with individuality-boosting ringtones and wallpapers, plus a Bluetooth earpiece that is “part design statement.”

Credit cards “most recently used at the mall for lunch and shopping.” Ah, lunch at the mall. It’s the perfect setting for a Bluetooth design statement. Stop by Hot Topic for some new T’s when you finish those waffle fries, rocker.

A linen blazer: “Learned to ‘make it work’ by watching Project Runway.” Translation: Takes orders from the little flickering images of good-looking people on his TV set. That’s why you’ll love him most of all, advertisers. Get to this bundle of insecurities before his next self-medicating shopping trip. He’s waiting for your help ….

Bottom line: Now you know what I’m really like.

The International Review of Wine Packaging and Aesthetics, Vol. 13

Barossa Grenache; Australia
$16 (Savannah)

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

Let’s face it: If you buy a wine called Bitch, you know full well that you’re buying the label, and whatever’s inside the bottle is pretty much an afterthought.

Many labels that are meant to stand out from old-school “traditional” designs do so by presenting a more approachable, unpretentious image. Bitch, however, is an example of what might be characterized as a ’tude wine, with a label that’s not so much unpretentious as defiant. Read more

Label decoding

I meant to bring this up earlier, for those of you who have an interest in wine packaging: There was a really interesting segment on KCRW’s Good Food a couple of weeks back about “the best method for reading a wine label and finding the perfect wine.” In this case that doesn’t mean evaluating packaging aesthetics, it means “decoding” the factual information about the wine, its geographic origins, production history, and so on, which turns out to be a little more complicated than one might suspect. And a good amount of the information is provided in text form here (scroll down when you get there).

The wine label can tell what the grape is, where it came from and how much of a specific grape is in the bottle. This detail can range from a general location, “California,” to a more detail reference — where in California, what region, what vineyard location and literally which row and vine number within that vineyard. (Think of a vineyard as a neighborhood, within a state, region or country.)

Decoding a wine label can make us more savvy and multiply our pleasure with the wines we select.

Meanwhile, speaking of labels, the International Review of Wine Packaging and Aesthetics returns, after an inexplicable hiatus, later today.

Urban’s image

Something I did not know until pretty recently is that Urban Outfitters has a cool-spotting-ish kind of blog. One recent post pointed to the work of Barnaby Barford — “mass produced ceramics get remixed,” the site says.

Another post points to another web project called Free Yr Radio. “Urban Outfitters loves College and non-commercial radio so we’re putting on shows in our stores to help raise money so they can keep their share of the airwaves.” Also mentined is that Free Yr Radio is “crafted” by Urban Outfitters, and Yaris. Yaris is the Toyota car brand that seemed to be trying, a year or so ago, with the DIY/craft asthetic. (Its slogan was “D.I.Y. — Drive It Yourself.”) This got a mixed reaction. Urban, meanwhile, has kind of been a favorite punching bag of indie designers, crafters, and so on, because it’s got a reputation for stealing ideas.

I’ve heard many anecdotal reports of Urban trying to reach out and do damage control with the indie community. I’ve not heard many reports of anyone being convinced. I’m not sure how these online projects will help or hurt those efforts, but I’m quite curious.
Something to monitor.

Sprayable Zen

Here is Recue Remedy, stress-relief spray. Actually, “A Natural Stress Relief Spray.” When you’re stressed, I think you spray it in your mouth. Or maybe if someone’s freaking out in a meeting, you spray it in his or her mouth. Also said to be good for pets.
Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t there something a little Saturday Night Live about this? According to the company site, it’s Yoga In A Bottle. They’ve trademarked that phrase, so watch out. “Your Inner Calm On Call.” It also comes in a liquid form that dose your water with, but I like the spray idea better. I want to be able to spray my inner calm.

Stories and T-shirts

Stories are a pretty important part of consumer behavior. Sometimes that means the story of the consumer him- or herself. Sometimes that means the story of the product.

Here is an interesting experiment in linking stories and consumption: A just-launched clothing brand called Graey, which is offering up part one of an online comix-style narrative, featuring characters in Graey apparel. It happens at, which I believe “went live” today.
So far the story — both the story on the site, and the story of the brand — is pretty much in the germinal stage, so it’s hard to make a judgment about any of it. But I’ll keep an eye on it.

To Do in NYC June 27: No Mas Lottery Event

The always-interesting team over at No Mas (see the Murketing Q&A with No Mas mastermind Chris Isenberg here) sends word of an event Wednesday night in New York that I can’t go to, but maybe you can:

The Lottery
Wednesday June 27
31 W. 19th Street / Between Fifth & Sixth

Happening the night before the NBA draft — where the drawing of random ping pong balls from a hopper determines the order in which general managers get to make their selections — the project/event “examines the role of fate in life and basketball.”

In this Lottery, the ping pall balls will turn seven lucky attendees into ‘general managers’ who will get to draft their pick of artwork from a giant wall of 8X10 portraits — one for each of the original 105 players drafted [under the lottery system]. It’s a process that Isenberg hopes will get attendees to ‘think about how weird it is that the lottery exists and has a huge effects on these players’ lives’ and to reconsider ‘the famous, the fallen, and the forgotten in relation to this ritual.

The project was inspired, he says, by Patrick Ewing (the Knicks’ dream-come-true-via-lottery choice in 1985) and Len Bias (the Celtics’ jackpot-turned-misery choice the following year).

Sounds promising! More here — including RSVP info;I gather that you need to do that if you want to go. So check it out.

Trading Partners

In Consumed:’s Swap Meat: How one online cool-stuff experiment evolved from promotion to swapping to selling.

Creative people want to express that creativity. Meanwhile, they need to make a living — possibly by finding an audience for some buyable form of that creativity. This is an old predicament, but the Internet enables new experiments in resolving it — like the Swap Meat, a project of a Web site called Coudal Partners is a small firm based in Chicago that does branding and design work for clients and has also created products of its own. is certainly a promotional tool for the firm, but just as certainly a constantly updated trove of interesting links and cleverly entertaining goof-off projects. Which is more or less how the Swap Meat started. Read more