In The New York Times Magazine: Fiji Green

A bottled water criticized by environmentalists tries to detox is image

This week in Consumed, a look at the efforts of the luxury/status water brand repositioning itself as eco-friendly. Is this in response to the much-reported backlash against bottled water? Sort of.

[A spokesman’s] most surprising assertion is that Fiji was already an environmentally conscious company — and that’s part of what has been “frustrating” about the media coverage. He points to various conservation efforts in Fiji, and to the fact that the brand’s entire business model depends on the aquifer there remaining pristine.

Others, of course, point to another unchangeable aspect of Fiji’s model: getting that water to far-flung markets where people will pay a lot of money for it. Fiji’s luxury-chic status has always been directly tied to the idea that this is a rare substance from an exotic place. Which, in turn, is the issue that enrages its critics….

Read the rest in the June 1, 2008, issue of The New York Times Magazine, or here.

Consumed archive is here, and FAQ is here. Consumed Facebook page is here.


Time for another Fortnightly Weekend Thingdown. For whatever reason, I didn’t see that many Things that captured my attention the last two weeks. So it’s a short list.

Also, while I usually present the Things without comment, this time I need to provide a little context for the first one. It comes from the blog on the Fiji Green website, which is part of the bottled water company’s recent efforts to position itself as eco-friendly. More on that subject in this week’s Consumed, which I’ll post soon. But meanwhile, here’s the explanation of this item, from the aforementioned blog:

On April 26th, St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Francisco held the ”Discarded to Divine“ gala, an eco-friendly fashion show and charity fundraiser. Kim, our Northern California events coordinator, recruited designers Elaine O’Malley and Lisa Anne Fullerton to create a dress made from 100% recycled and reused materials, including FIJI Water packaging, for a model to wear throughout the evening.

More here, though the pictures and description are not as illuminating as they could be. I can’t really tell how the dress is put together and how the “packaging” is incorporated. I guess those are Fiji labels, right?

Anyway, Discarded To Divine involves designers making new garments out of old, discarded ones that are too messed up to be worn on their own anymore. The results are auctioned, raising money for the St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Francisco, an organization that helps the homeless and the needy.

So far as I can tell, this Fiji Green dress wasn’t part of the auction. Perusing these pictures of the event, it looks like maybe Fiji was a sponsor, or at least was giving out water, and this model just walked around at the gala and mingled. So was this essentially just a mobile ad for Fiji and its good intentions, inserting itself at an eco-friendly charity event? A merger of unconsumption and murketing? What do you think?

Okay, two more Things:

Handwrench, via Craftzine.

Hotman Trivet, via PopGadget.

Flickr Interlude

As a bonus (for me) this is in the MLK BLVD pool, too.

[Join and contribute to the Murketing Flickr group]

AntiFriday: Orange bikes, self-loathing marketers, add-blocking, etc.

This week’s rundown of backlashing, dissent and critiques: Much more anti-ness today than last week, including someone who is anti-me!

ORANGE BIKES TAKE MANHATTAN from Kalim Armstrong on Vimeo.

1. Above, a trailer for a short film about the DKNY orange bikes promotion that ticked off some people so much they sawed the bikes in half when they realized it was a murketing effort that cyclists said shamlessly knocked off the “ghost bike” idea that is intended as a marker for cyclists killed or hit by a car. The film short, titled Orange Bikes Take Manhattan, plays tonight as part of a program of shorts at the Bicycle Film Festival. (Thanks Andrew Andrew!)

2. According one marketing executive: “Consumers hate us — the marketers and advertisers who invent new ways to spam them online and offline. The result: [ad/marketing pro] turnover is rising dramatically, and advertisers are ranked below lawyers in terms of public respect.” Ad Age suggests that the underlying problem, or the upshot, or both, is that “self-loathing has become all too commonplace in marketing.”

A marketing backlash among marketers? Well, no. The proposed solution is “Marketing with Meaning.” Examples: “ConAgra Foods, which has attracted more than 2 million visits to a healthful-lifestyle site since January, and Kroger Co., which has gotten more than 1.2 million votes on more than 35,000 designs in a contest to create the grocer’s national reusable bag.”

Assessing this, Anti Advertising Agency lives up to its name and critiques the critique: “A different type of more stealthy, manipulative message.” (That AAA post has drawn some comments worth checking out.)

3. Speaking of AAA:Add-Art is a free Firefox add-on which replaces advertising on websites with curated art images. Created with the support of Eyebeam, Rhizome, Add-Art releases new art shows every two weeks and strives to feature contemporary artists and curators.” Intro/demo here.

List continues after the jump. Read more

To Do In Chicago: ‘Buying In’ at Printers Row Book Fair

I’ve never been to Printers Row, but it appears to be a big event.

This time around — even I’ll be there! So if you’re in Chicago, come by. I may have some more on details & incentive on this front soon. Here is what I presently know:

Mark Bauerlein and Rob Walker

In conversation with Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn

University Center /Lake Room: 525 S. State Street

Presented by McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum

Saturday, June 7th- 11 a.m.

Here is Mark Bauerlein’s site. Here is Eric Zorn’s blog. Here is the site of the book fair.

And now: You now know everything that I know. More later … perhaps.

Flickr Interlude

[Join and contribute to the Murketing Flickr group]

Threadless: Still beloved

Well I can only imagine the folks at Threadless must be pretty darn happy with their recent Inc. cover story. I mean, “Most Innovative Small Company In America,” it doesn’t get much better than that! If you somehow still are not familiar with Threadless, and why it’s so popular among democratization-of-everything biz theorists, the piece offers a comprehensive and extremely positive overview. (I attempted to make some different points about the Threadless model in this 7/8/07 Consumed.)

A few minor things interested me the most, though they were not the focus of the piece:

1. There’s passing mention of the break between co-founders Jake Nickell and Jacob DeHart; the latter is still on the board but “no longer works at the company,” and declined to be interviewed. I wonder what the story is there? Has someone else written about that and I missed it? The article says DeHart “had lost interest in expanding Threadless.” Why? This made me curious about what he’s up to, and I sort of wished for a sidebar about him.

2. The company’s Naked & Angry sub-brand or spinoff or whatever it is, is described as coming “later this year.” This idea has sort of been in a beta mode for an awfully long time. I’m sure curious to see what it develops into.

3. On a related note, I either didn’t know or had forgotten that Insight Venture Partners has a stake in Threadless. I wonder what this implies about the brand’s future? It doesn’t sound like they would have needed venture money, since the story says they’re making 30% margins. And by and large, venture capitalists are looking for blow-out growth, or rather blow-out valuation increases (and “liquidity event”). Threadless has started opening stores, and according to the story is open to other retail arrangements (including Urban Outfitters under the right circumstances). No doubt Threadless is a good business, but I don’t see it being an IPO candidate unless they make some pretty radical steps.

None of this is meant to suggest I see any particular trouble on the horizon for Threadless. I don’t. But they do seem to be reaching a crossroads of some kind. It’ll be interesting to see which way they go.

(Related: In addition to the aforementioned Consumed column, I did a Q&A here on Murketing with Threadless star Glenn Jones about his own brand.)

Have you made your own bag yet?

You can make one out of a map (via Craftzine):

Or, if you prefer, out of a book (via Coudal):

Or if you’re extra ambitious: Make a messenger bag — out of bags! (Trash bags, no less.)

To Do in NYC: Leif Parsons show

Leif Parsons, who had a wonderful run as the illustrator of Consumed, has a show coming up (with his friend Duane Burton) — in fact the opening is Thursday night. Details:

Invisible NYC
148 Orchard Street NYC
May 29th through June 28th
[Tuesday through Saturday from 12-8)

Opening Thursday May 29th 7-10

Check it out!


Zune fandom: What’s it all about?

Here’s an odd rabbit hole I just fell into and climbed out of: Zune fandom.

An item on Listening Post about Gamestop deciding not to sell Zunes anymore jokily noted that this “could lead to a bunch of the Zune-logo-shaped neon signs that have shown up there becoming available on eBay, much to the delight of Zune freaks everywhere.”

Zune freaks? Are there Zune freaks? The post offered this link, showing a guy with a Zune logo tattoo (I wouldn’t have recognized the Zune logo on a bet prior to this), but the link underneath it went to a site called Zunescene that wouldn’t load.

Still, I Googled a bit and found and and and and I stopped.

I didn’t spend enough time at any particular site to gauge the fandom (or suss out to what extent the point seemed to be to aggregate ads). But I guess a million Zunes have been sold, so obviously there is such a thing as Zune fandom, but it suddenly made me curious about the nature of it. Is there a kind of contrarian cachet to Zune ownership? Is there a kind of anti-snob appeal in rejecting Apple, which I guess is basically the conformist choice of portable music devices, given its market share? Do Zune fans get excited when they spot each other on the subway or in a cafe?

Is there … a cult of Zune?

Flickr Interlude

Originally uploaded by gesa simons.

[Join and contribute to the Murketing Flickr group]

When your brand’s bad service becomes a narrative device

The Wall Street Journal today has a review of a novel called Dear American Airlines, written by Jonathan Miles. The novel takes the form of an “angry” 180-page letter, composed by “a 53-year-old failed poet and former alcoholic,” stranded at O’Hare because of a flight cancellation that could make him miss his daughter’s wedding.

While anger at the carrier isn’t the book’s plot, but rather (from the sound of it) a narrative device used to draw a portrait of the letter-writer, the timing is pretty amusing, given mounting consumer hostility to airlines in general, and possibly to American in particular since it made news by announcing a fee on checked luggage. (Update: Ad Age on American Airlines backlashing.)

So I’m sure American can’t be too excited about this, and I wonder: Do you have to get permission to use a real company’s name in the title of a novel?

Ron Paul Tide remix T-shirt

Or at least that’s what I assume is going on here. From an NYT story over the weekend about Ron Paul fans.

In The New York Times Magazine: The Flip camcorder

Convenience makes a good-enough camcorder a hit

In Consumed this week, an object lesson in the awesome power of convenience — and when it trumps quality itself.

In the consumer-products world, progress can be gauged in measurable increments of improved quality. Contemporary consumers demand such improvements all the time and refuse to compromise on the good-enough when the better is available. So marketplace success depends on quality breakthroughs: tastier coffee, faster computers, smoother-riding cars. This is always true — except when it isn’t….

A high-enough degree of convenience is exactly what makes a “good enough” product consumable. Digital-compression formats like the MP3 and most of its successors have entailed a step down in audio quality — but for most listeners, they’re “good enough” when you consider that they’re obtainable instantly (and, often, free). As Fleming-Wood points out, the camera business went through its own version of this epiphany decades ago, with the rise of one-button devices that couldn’t possibly match the quality of single-lens-reflex cameras but were far more accessible….

Read the column in the May 25, 2008 issue of The New York Times Magazine, or here.

Consumed archive is here, and FAQ is here. Consumed Facebook page is here.

Unconsumption as marketing tool

Missed this earlier, but Brandweek had an interesting quick overview of how e-waste “has gone from being a headache to a marketing tool.” Example:

Sony, which [recently] announced the availability of its lower cost Bravia M line of LCD TVs, has paired with Waste Management, Houston, for a series of events around the country. The “Take Back Recycling Program” invites consumers to leave behind their unwanted devices for no charge.

The mention of the new LCD TVs is relevant, because it sounds like most of these efforts are being positioned as add-ons to campaigns that are, inevitably, focused on getting you to trade up to something new (which is of course a big part of the e-waste problem to begin with). As Brandweek notes, there’s a good chance that concern about e-waste is only going to get more intense in the near future, as the switch to digital broadcasting consigns a huge number of cathode-ray TV sets to the dump.

So in a way this trend, if it’s real, seems more defensive than enlightened. And it all falls far short of manufacturers flat-out taking responsibility for their products in an end-to-end way that, say, Greenpeace encourages. But whatever. Maybe it’s a good start, maybe it gets the issue into more consumer minds, and it’s certainly better than nothing.