Great moments in direct mail

Some 30,000 Dutch women (or maybe just most of them were women, I’m not sure) received letters that looked handwritten, seemed to come from a secret admirer, addressed them as “darling,” and said: “”When are we going to have a drink again; I am really curious about you,” the letters said. All were signed, “lots of love, M.”
Actually the letters were from Renault, as part of a marketing effort on behalf of one of its cars.

The Amsterdam headquarters of Renault was bombarded with angry calls from more than 500 people — mainly women, among whom the car is popular — who had received the letters in the post.They complained their partners either suspected them of carrying on an illicit affair behind their backs or that they believed they themselves had a secret admirer wanting to meet them.

Full story. Via Agenda Inc.

75 things taken seriously

As a longtime fan of Joshua Glenn, I’m pretty curious about the book he has put together: Taking Things Seriously. “A wonder cabinet of seventy-five unlikely thingamajigs that have been invested with significance and transformed into totems, talismans, charms, relics, and fetishes…. The owners of these objects convey their excitement in short, often poignant essays that invite readers to participate in the enjoyable act of interpreting things.”

In all, sounds like a thoughtful take on on material culture (which is, of course, my beat, so I’m a little biased about why I think this project is such a good idea) by an interesting bunch of contributors including Paul Lukas, Thomas Frank, and Luc Sante.
I was also pleased to learn recently about Glenn’s Brainiac blog on the Boston Globe site, where he’s got a post listing all contributors and a running account of praise received.

In praise of dubious trend stories

For months I’ve been reading and hearing about the supposed backlash against bottled water. The stories, whether online or on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, always point to those couple of restaurants in San Francisco that serve tap water, and say that the bottled water industry is concerned about the tide turning against them, and so on.

And at some point, every story includes some equivalent of what’s known as “the to be sure graf.” That term refers to the paragraph — sometimes literally beginning with the words “to be sure” — that completely undercuts the entire thesis of the story. In this case, the To Be Sure Graf discloses that bottled water sales are rising steadily. That is to say: There is no backlash.

Yes, people are raising concerns. Yes, they make an excellent case about the downsides of bottled water. But in terms of marketplace proof that consumers are actually changing their behavior in a measurable way? It’s not there. As the WSJ noted yesterday: “Bottled-water volume rose 11% in the first half of 2007. Soda volume decreased 5.9%.”

In general, this kind of thing drives me crazy. But I’ve decided to stop complaining about it. Because I’ve had an epiphany. Bullshit trend stories can be a force for good.

What I mean is, it has occurred to me that it’s possible that the bullshit trend stories about consumers fleeing bottled water could, eventually, if they achieve critical mass, actually cause consumers to flee bottled water — or at least to recycle their empties.

For years, activists have made the case against bottled water. Lately, that case has also been made in some pretty good articles. But that hasn’t been enough to make any particularly noticeable impact on consumer behavior. So maybe dubious trend stories will do the trick. If enough people keep writing them, then some day, they will actually start to be true.

Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses … because their outfits are totally on-trend!

E pointed out to me this magazine ad. This project seems to come from Arrow, the apparel brand, and involves “saving” Ellis Island. Here’s the related Web site.

I don’t know what the threats are to Ellis Island, but saving it sounds like a good idea. What’s a little surprising about this ad is that line at the top of it: “Where the world came together and American style began.”

Yeah? Is that what we’re supposed to think of when we think of why Ellis Island should be “saved”? Its role in the history of American style? What’s that even supposed to mean? And isn’t Ellis Island kind of where the world came together and was instructed to assimilate ASAP? Maybe that’s why everybody in the ad is sporting the same blandly WASP aesthetic. Anyway, the United States certainly benefited from the generations of immigrants it attracted, but I kind of think the contributions weren’t really so much about style.

“The sovereignty of the consumer is inescapable”

What makes cities grow in the 21st century? This IHT article points to consumers:

In a discussion paper titled “Consumer City,” Edward Glaeser and co-authors Jed Kolko and Albert Saiz call this “the demand for density.” People now want to live in dense areas because dense areas offer what people want to consume — opera, sports teams, art museums, varied cuisine. In France, for example, he and his fellow researchers found a robust correlation between the number of restaurants and the growth of cities.

“The sovereignty of the consumer is inescapable,” Glaese says.

The number of these “consumer immigrants” – those moving back to the city seeking a better quality of life – is relatively small compared with the hundreds of thousands of poorer economic migrants who traditionally head to the inner city.

But the “consumer immigrants” have a special significance because they are rich….

Glaeser et. al.’s paper, which is actually from 2000, can be downloaded as a PDF here. I haven’t read it yet, but I intend to. I’m wondering about that restaurants comment — a “correlation” between city population growth and restaurant numbers doesn’t seem to prove much.
Via Creative Class.

More New Era street cred

I’m a little late on this, but what can I say, I’ve been busy.

Remember this earlier post about New Era and gang-related cap designs that surfaced in Cleveland? Counterfeit Chic notes a similar ruckus in NYC. According Fox News (so it must be true):

Outraged local activists charge that New Era, the caps’ manufacturer, and the New York Yankees — whose famous interlocking NY cap features a choice of a red and black bandanna design for the Bloods, blue and gray for the Crips and a gold crown for the Latin Kings.

Another low-utility watch

This an Abacus watch. According to the Josh Spear site: “Ignoring the fact that you may miss appointments by a few minutes thanks to the, um, interpretive visuals delivered by the watch, this thing may represent the most immature representation of time since the cuckoo clock, a fact further solidified by the watch’s refusal to tell time until the wearer is perfectly still.” It costs about $150, here.

Earlier notes on low-utility watches here, here, and here.

Mad Men Musings: Who’s a moron?

So this piggish ad exec and his colleague are pondering the mystery of women as they sort through their agency’s research on behalf of a cosmetics client, and the piggish guy says, “I don’t speak moron. Do you speak moron?”

Apart from suggesting to the Mad Men audience — once again — that the typical 1960 ad agency employee held a truly contemptuous view of women, surely the line is an intentional echo of David Ogilvy’s famous observation: “The consumer isn’t a moron,” he admonished his fellow ad-makers in Confessions of An Advertising Man, published in 1963. “She is your wife.”

Ah, but on Mad Men, most advertising professionals seem to think their wives are morons. So it’s no great surprise when the secretarial pool is herded into a room to try on lipsticks, and the ad gang watches through two-way glass, amusing themselves with a barrage of nasty and condescending remarks about the women. Then again, Mad Men itself doesn’t seem that impressed with the female consumer of 1960. When one secretary declines to paw through the free samples, and manages to articulate an opinion that rises above the incoherence of her peers, she’s treated like singular creature: A thinking female. She’s treated that way by the fictional ad men, but also, really, by the show itself.

Now that she herself has apparently been drafted into the efforts to create advertising to sell lipstick, we’ll see what the writers have her come up with.

The interesting thing about Ogilvy’s famous quote is that he was making a broader point about the importance of facts in advertising. What the consumer wants, he wrote, is “all the information you can give her.” Amusingly, he suggests that in a market where “competing brands are more and more alike” (sound familiar?), sometimes the best strategy is to list facts that are true of all products in a given category. For instance, his ads for Shell gave consumers facts, “many of which other gasoline makers could give, but don’t.” (We saw this idea deployed by Mad Men central character Don in the first episode, for client Lucky Strikes.)

In other words, Ogilvy was really pretty much neutral on whether the consumer was a moron. His point was that the consumer doesn’t want to be treated like a moron. The ad pro may or may not be fluent “in moron,” as our piggish friend above put it, but better not use it to communicate. That’s an interesting distinction to think about next time you hear a contemporary marketing expert going on about today’s savvy consumers. Let’s face it: We’ll never never know what they’re saying behind the two-way glass.

[Complete Mad Men musings archive here.]

Product of the day

Tattoo Bandage Assortment. Perfect for Amy Winehouse, or whatever self-cutting tattoo fan you love. Via BB.


The Washington Post‘s Linton Weeks offers an entertainingly cranky piece on “cutility.” Examples: “Everyday tools and objects are receiving total makeovers. Orvis sells a tool kit that includes flower-patterned pliers, scissors and utility knife. Target offers a toilet brush holder shaped like a black bear.” Needless to say, cutility is a theme of many Consumeds, and I wish I’d thought of the word. It’s got phad written all over it! Anyway, Weeks writes:

Alan Andreasen, a marketing guru at Georgetown University, says the trend toward cutility is “an attempt by lots of people to individualize both themselves and their possessions.”

He equates the cuting-up of the commonplace with “tattoos, customized cellphones and ringtones as a way to step away from mass commoditization.”

Credit, he says, goes to the clever marketers who have found ways to breathe life into mundane commodity categories. “Sure,” he says, some “people have lots more discretionary money to spend on these things, but I think it’s more about the idea of trying to be your own person.”

Proper comparison points for Kanye West, Michael Jackson, 50 Cent, and Norman Mailer

Kanye West has a new CD coming out in a few weeks — can you feel the excitement?

Me neither. So I was a little surprised to read West saying this about Justin Timberlake: “I look at me and Justin like Prince and Michael Jackson in their day.”

Right. Only much less popular.

Seriously, what’s he talking about? I don’t know whether it’s a permanent change or just a slump, but pop music is just not the center of pop culture to the degree it was in the Prince/Jackson era, and surely West must be aware of this. I assume part his goal was to backhand 50 Cent, who has apparently vowed to retire if he doesn’t out-sell West.

West ought to be thanking 50, who obviously has a much better feel for the entertainment zeitgeist, and how to game it: Not by making silly comparisons to the past, but by stirring up a confrontation in the present, for no good reason whatsoever.

In fact, I look at 50 Cent and Kanye West like Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal in their day. (50, of course, is Mailer.) Mailer and Vidal were trying to sell their products to a nation that had many more entertainment choices than it used to. Solution: Infiltrate one of those choices (chat shows) and make a fuss (possibly even throwing a punch). Same with 50, except he’s infiltrating the Internet celebritytainmentsphere to sell CDs instead of books. I’m not sure whether West just doesn’t get it, or if he’s trying to enlarge the feud somehow — sort of like dragging Truman Capote in.

If they can keep this hype up till the actual release date (Sept. 11), the strategy might even work.

Meanwhile, who is really the new Michael Jackson? The iPhone of course.

[Thanks, E.]

Great slogan moments: ‘Apply directly to the scar’

With interests stretching from Savannah to Padre Island, we pay attention to hurricane coverage here at Murketing HQ. The slow season had its first big event over the past week in the form of Dean, which meant The Weather Channel, which meant learning of the latest product from the makers of Head On.

You know about Head On — “apply directly to the forehead.” This was followed by the more versatile Activ On — “apply directly where it hurts.” Famously, these short and repetitive and relentless ads make no promise that the product would actually help alleviate headaches or other pains. They simply say you should “apply” the stuff. What’s supposed to happen at that point is left to your imagination.

So the new one is Prefer On (YouTube link). It’s for people with “embarrassing scars,” and features what I guess is my favorite pitch of the year: “Apply directly to the scar.” Yes!

Again, no promise of what will happen when you do. Will the scar disappear? Is Prefer On basically paint? And what bizarre series of naming focus groups led to the decision to call the stuff Prefer On?

I suppose — I kind of hope — that we will never know.

Ghostly International: The Q&A

I’ve been wanting to do a Q&A with an entrepreneurial type in the wild and woolly underground music business, and I think we have a good one here: Mr. Sam Valenti IV, of the independent avant-pop/electronic record label Ghostly International (Matthew Dear, Tadd Mullinix (aka James T. Cotton, Dabrye), Mobius Band, etc.). My Q’s and his A’s follow on subjects such as: founding a label “on the fault line of mass culture” while still in his teens, why branding matters for a music company, how a record label is like an art museum, what it takes for a new artist’s first CD to break even, and dreaming up new projects and new revenue streams like the USB-as-CD-alternative Ghostly created for the famous design store Moss. Here goes.

Q: So let’s see if I have this right. Ghostly started in 1998/1999, when you would’ve been around 18 years old, basically because you heard and really liked Matthew Dear, and decided to record and distribute “Hands Up For Detroit.” 500 copies, on vinyl I think. How did you go about executing the basics on this, like locating some entity to press the records, and another to distribute them? And wasn’t Napster-mania pretty much full blown by then? Did that have any kind of impact on your thinking about what Ghostly should be, and/or might become?

A: Matthew and I met at a house party. I was a lonely wayward freshman and had been DJing house parties, and he was making music for fun, but we both wanted to make records. After a year of making tracks together, I took a DAT of songs that he did, along with some from our mentor, Disco D, to London, where I found a place that would cut and press your record in one shot. I guess it was wish-fulfillment in a way, that’s how I view my college years, as very fortunate, in that meeting a group of people allowed something to happen.

The idea of Ghostly was there, but Matthew was the inspiration to take up arms and create it. When we started, I felt that we missed our chance twice, in both the beginning with the P2P revolution and then a few years later with 9/11 and the death of the “good times.” I had envisioned a luxury electronic “brand,” but the idea of both pushing high-end goods and running a profitable record label seemed far-fetched after that.

I think Ghostly was founded on the fault-line of mass culture. We use the term “Avant-Pop” to refer to some of our output, in that what we make is popular music that has been subverted by our personal beliefs and preferences, which aren’t in line with what the word “pop” means. This attitude applies across all of our output, this sense of art/entertainment that is not pre-prescribed or “destinational”. There’s a great freedom in not being treated like a demographic or a Consumer, and that’s what Ghostly is about. Read more

The Bench is the new Facebook

The Bench (see here) is taking off: NY Observer, Gwanker, PSFK. It’s a bench mania!

Mad Men Musings: Secrets and Lies

The not-very-subtle theme of the most recent episode of Mad Men was secrets & lies — or, to say it more politely, “privacy.” Our (non)hero Don is not only juggling his boho girlfriend, suburban wife, and at least two other potential love interests, he also turns out to be living a plot-line right out of General Hospital: Secret identity, suddenly-appearing sibling, endless staring into space for dramatic effect, etc. No surprise, given all this, that he barely needs to bother brainstorming ideas for a banking client, suggesting that what the modern man of 1960 really needs is a “private” account. That is, a second set of books that he can conceal from the family, to fund his double life. All the fellow ad-men see the wisdom of this immediately.

The client does too — and in fact laughs with glee. Why? Because, he tells Don: Plenty of his customers are already doing this, “we just hadn’t figured out a way to charge them for it. “

Damn! Could this show be any more cynical? (I’m not even mentioning the sub-plot in which the junior exec is pimping out his wife so he can publish a short story — which he wants to do for reasons of office rivalry, not literary ambition.) Don’s skill seems to come from his hard-wired instincts for manipulating a consumer nation motivated largely by a desire to keep its tissue of lies together. Meanwhile, his corporate clients just want to monetize the delusions and duplicity of the masses, and find it hi-lar-ee-us when they succeed.

As always, this can all be (reassuringly) read as comment on the phony conformity of the 1950s and the soul-rot it concealed, soon to be washed away by that whole 1960s hoo-ha that I’ve read all about. Usually I’m skeptical of this line of thinking, since it’s often pretty easy to draw parallels between the persuasion industry depicted in the show, and the real one of today. But this time, I admit, I’m going to hide behind the hope that this was an episode about an America that doesn’t exist anymore. The only alternative would be to conclude that our era of Botox, premium denim, no-money-down jumbo mortgages, and self-promotional Web presences isn’t based on authentic self-expression, but on delusions that, like Don, we defend by hurling wads of cash at any threatening reality-based counter-evidence. Even I’m not that cynical.

[Complete Mad Men musings archive here.]