Commodify your 2.0 discontent

Leif Harmsen, once a Facebook user, now crusades against it. Having dismissed his mother’s snap judgment of the site (“Facebook is the devil”), Harmsen now passionately agrees. He says, not entirely in jest, that he considers it a repressive regime akin to North Korea, and sells T-shirts with the words “Shut Your Facebook.” What especially galls him is the commercialization and corporate regulation of personal and social life.


That’s right. He was so “passionately” angry about the “commercialization” of Facebook that he decided to …

… sell T-shirts about it.

The Product Is You, No. 13


[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. ]

The message here is that a potential advertiser might be under the impression that ESPN watchers (like you, perhaps) have brains clogged with information about sports, and sports only. Not so, this ad argues: They also think about products. In fact watching ESPN and thinking about sports makes them think about products (and think about products flows seamlessly back into thinking about sports.

For example, a thought train from Boston Celtics to Fighting Irish flows naturally to Lucky Charms, to cereal in general, to orange juice, and then to the Orange Bowl. The message is that if you watch ESPN, that’s how your brain works. It is all connected in your buzzing brain. Wouldn’t a Potential Advertiser want to fling its brand into that buzz?


* Related: Gladys Santiago has a Tumblr on related matters: Advertising To Advertisers. Steve Portigal has a somewhat related post, “Personas Leaking Outside The Enterprise.” Check ’em out.

Idea for a build-your-own ‘Consumed’ collection: Your advice?

From time to time people ask if there will ever be a book-form collection of Consumed columns. Whenever I really think about what such a collection would consist of, I’m confronted with a dilemma: The column has several quite disparate audiences. Which one would I have in mind when picking the columns to include? Or should I try to please everyone (which, as you know, seldom works)?

So I’ve been toying with a solution, but it involves things I’d need help with. Maybe it would be relatively easy, or maybe it would prohibitively difficult. I don’t know what I don’t know. I’m hoping to do the necessary research over the next month (although that may prove ambitious, given other commitments.)

My idea:

A build-your-own Consumed collection.

That is: Have a Web site (I guess) where there’s a sort of menu of past columns, sorted by topic. The reader could then pick and choose per his or her own interests. Want all the design-related columns? The ones that are more focused on marketing? On consumer psychology? Eco/green stuff? The  entrepreneur-focused columns? The ones dealing with more artistic or critical takes on consumer culture? Some mix of those things? Great. Just pick what you want.

Obviously some columns fit more than one category, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Also obviously, this idea would seem to work best for the e-book market, which I gather is still relatively small. (And I guess book-on-demand scenarios, which I know less about.) So it may be the front-end expense would outweigh the potential payoff. And I’m not sure how well this would mesh with the college market, where I know my columns get used a lot, so I guess I imagine that’s a market I should pay attention to.

There could also be a kind of “directors’ cut” physical version, with my own favorites (or the most-chosen columns from the pick-your-own menu?).

Anyway I’m floating this here to see:

  1. If any of you are aware of precedents or similar projects I should look into.
  2. If anybody has any advice on fining a person or firm of any kind that might be able to execute something like this. I have no idea if my notion is possible, or if it is, how expensive it would be. So any tips that might lead me to answers would be greatly appreciated. Or if you would pass this post around, that would be great too. I need all the research help & feedback I can get.
  3. Your overall thoughts about whether this is a good or bad idea.

Use the comments or email as you please.


In The New York Times Magazine: The “New” Linens N Things

A stripped-down version of a mass retailer offers one business for the Great Recession

The new version of that celebrated its “grand reopening” a few months ago may not strike the typical shopper as anything radical. The interesting stuff is in what’s behind the site, or maybe even what isn’t. …

Read the column in the August 30, 2009, New York Times Magazine, or here.

Discuss, make fun of, or praise this column to the skies at the Consumed Facebook page.



“Payback,” by Margaret Atwood

payback A while back I promised I’d start writing some about books on this site, since I get so many email requests from people looking for book suggestions. I should clarify that I’m not going to review or even recommend books, per se. I’m just going to write, on occasion, about stuff I’ve read lately — whether for pleasure or for work-related obligation. Hopefully I’ll say enough, coherently enough, that you can decide for yourself whether any given book I bring up is something for you to pursue further on your own. I’ll try a couple of these and see how — or if — you react, and decide from there whether to change it up (or even whether I should keep it up).

I’ll start with Margaret Atwood’s Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. I read it while preparing a recent-ish column. Adapted from a set of six lectures she gave in 2008, it’s very entertaining, full of interesting information, and wonderfully written.

Obviously Atwood’s subject is debt, as an idea. Near the beginning she writes: “We seem to be entering a period in which debt has passed through its most recent harmless and fashionable period, and is reverting to being sinful.” As she demonstrates, debt as sinful, or at least shameful, notion, certainly has quite a history. But over time, that’s changed — as cultural shorthand examples she notes that while Marlowe’s Faustus was guilty of over-spending, Dickens’ Scrooge was guilty of over-saving. In Scrooge’s redemption via dropping his hoarding, miserly ways, there echoes a new ethos, Atwood argues: “Money … is of use only when it’s moving, since it derives its value entirely from whatever it can translate itself into. … [C]urrency is called ‘currency’ because it must flow.”

She concludes by turning to other sorts of costs incurred and debts owed — to the planet, for instance. She returns to re-examine Scrooge.

[B]eing a creditor of such magnitude in the financial sense, he has himself become a debtor in the moral sense, and it’s this realization that’s at the core of his transformation. Money isn’t the only thing that must flow and circulate in order to have good value: good turns and gifts must also flow and circulate …. for any social system to remain in balance.

And here she posits a contemporary creature known as Scrooge Nuoveau, who does spend money: “On himself.”

“It’s not his fault that he’s a self-centered narcissist: he grew up surrounded by advertisements that told him he was worth it, and that he owed it to himself,” Atwood writes. This figure – who “his own debtor and creditor rolled into one” — is clearly a stand-in for the Western consumer. By and large the point she makes here is the costs being piled up in the destruction of the earth — someday, we’ll pay.

For me that idea of how Scrooge 2.0 thinks about debt — what he owes to himself — is the lasting insight. I think something close to this sentiment did indeed drive a lot of consumer debt-abuse in recent years (and probably still drives a lot of spending even now). I think I’ve said this before, but to me the key question isn’t always what we want vs. what  need, but rather what we feel we deserve.


  • Josh Glenn explains The New Kids: Per his generational periodization scheme. “Born from 1884-93, [they] were a generation outraged with the world they’d inherited. They were in their teens and 20s in the Nineteen-Oughts (1904-13, not to be confused with the 1900s), during which time — according to Virginia Woolf — human nature underwent a fundamental change, as a result of technological breakthroughs and global violence; and they were in their 20s and 30s during the war-torn Nineteen-Teens (1914-23, not to be confused with the 1910s).” One of the most interesting generational cohorts ever, in my opinion.
  • Randy Ludacer: Songs about Packaging at Freshkills Park: “Saturday, September 26 at 12 p.m.: Mr. Ludacer will play a set of songs based around consumer packaging, specifically written to be performed atop Freshkills Park. Randy considers it an opportunity to ‘serenade the decades of discarded packaging buried beneath.’ Attendants will also receive a seven-song ‘Songs About Packaging’ CD from Randy, including handmade artwork created from the artist’s own recycling bin.”
  • Authenticity: In The Eye Of The Beholder?: “The authors say they were intrigued by how consumers were able to judge seemingly mundane objects or mass-market brands as authentic. ‘Consumers found authenticity in The Simpsons, McDonald’s, cigarette manufacturers, and Nike,’ the authors write. ‘Another surprise was the way committed environmentalists found authenticity in work-related objects such as SUVs.'” I actually don’t think that’s surprising at all (consider PBR, Red Bull, Timberland, etc.), but I understand why some might.
  • Russian Figure | Significant Objects: “Many were annoyed by his incessant tuneless humming.” Story by Doug Dorst

How a self-branding expert self-brands

In the months ahead, a certain niche branding consultant may or may not become a mainstream branding guru, as he publishes his first book — and, more to the point, promotes the shit out of it.

When it comes to book promotion, marketing consultants often have an advantage over authors who merely write for a living: employees. In fact that’s how I’m aware of this guy’s forthcoming branding blitz. A couple of months ago one of his employees sent an email (clearly a form letter) explaining that his boss is “trying to get together a promotional bonanza around the [book’s] release.” Thus he was being “proactive” and contacting “all the business and marketing blogs and see what we can do for them.” Contest? Interview?  That was up to me; the consultant-author would do anything. “On your side,” his employee added, “anything you do with him is going to get an influx of readers to your blog due to his massive and loyal following.”

I had a hard time believing either the consultant  or his employees are readers — particularly because I generally have zero interest in such schemes, as any actual reader of this site would know — so I asked why he was asking me. He replied that he was pretty sure he’d found this site listed on the Ad Age Power 150 rankings (or whatever that list is called; I’m not sure if I’m still on it, but it’s true that I used to be). In other words, he really didn’t know anything about this site, he was just going through lists, and saturation bombing. I thought that by itself might make for an interesting interview topic, but I never followed through.

More recently, the PR company that is also working on behalf of this same guru-in-the-making sent a fairly fancy traditional promo packet to the author of the New York Times Magazine’s Consumed column,which of course is also me. The pitch explained the consultant’s energetic “honesty,” and his mastery of “the internet and social media.” The release said the book reveals “how to build a personal brand.”

Obviously what’s of interest in all this is what it says about the new world of social-media marketing (this fellow’s area of expertise). Commonly social-media branding is described as, in theory, more authentic, transparent, and precise than traditional forms of commercial persuasion. Yet I’m often struck by how, in practice, it is largely an old formula poured into a newish bottle.

  • The ethos here isn’t precision, it’s volume: If you have the resources to approach hundreds of blogs that might possibly buzz your product (even blogs you’ve never read), you have an advantage.
  • That doesn’t replace the more old-school move of hiring a PR firm to hype the mainstream media, it supplements it. (Again, if you have the resources.) The main difference is that the old-school PR firm’s pitch is largely about your new-school social-media tactics. (Hey, Consumed guy: Check out this interview he did on some blog called!)
  • Having said that, there is something of a new-media twist in “incentivizing,” as business types say, your potential online promoters, by suggesting that they will get more traffic by giving you more traffic, in a kind of word-of-mouth pyramid scheme. This doesn’t strike me as indicative of a new transparency or authenticity. At least when you see an ad, you know it’s an ad; if you read a blog rave about this guy, it might be from a real fan — or it might be from someone who just wanted to jump on the theoretical buzz bandwagon for their own reasons. (Or maybe I should say: For their own brand.)

None of which is to say that this marketing expert doesn’t have valuable “lessons” for all you brand-builders out there. I couldn’t tell you one way or the other. That’s because the one thing I didn’t get to look at, either as Murketing guy or as Consumed guy, was the actual book. Actually, I wonder if there is a lesson in that.


  • Consumers And Self-designed Products: Study: “Consumers enjoy intentionally competing against professionals” in designing stuff.
  • Tale of successful non-designer product development: Non-pro inventor “wanted a neat and simple way to transport deviled eggs to get-togethers,” and got her product idea turned into a product, “subsequently featured on QVC.” Okay, but a deviled egg transporter?
  • Spinning Lego minifig anatomy GIF reveals all: Enjoyable.
  • Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why: This is interesting! “From 2001 to 2006, the percentage of new products cut from development after Phase II clinical trials, when drugs are first tested against placebo, rose by 20 percent. The failure rate in more extensive Phase III trials increased by 11 percent, mainly due to surprisingly poor showings against placebo. Despite historic levels of industry investment in R&D, the US Food and Drug Administration approved only 19 first-of-their-kind remedies in 2007—the fewest since 1983—and just 24 in 2008. Half of all drugs that fail in late-stage trials drop out of the pipeline due to their inability to beat sugar pills.”
  • Doctors cling to white coats: “It’s as much sociology as medicine. I’m the doctor. I have status. I have the uniform. That makes me official.”
  • A Manifesto for Slow Communication: “In the past two decades, we have witnessed one of the greatest breakdowns of the barrier between our work and per­sonal lives since the notion of leisure time emerged in Victorian Britain as a result of the Industrial Age. It has put us under great physical and mental strain, altering our brain chemistry and daily needs. It has isolated us from the people with whom we live, siphoning us away from real-world places where we gather. It has encouraged flotillas of unnecessary jabbering, making it difficult to tell signal from noise. It has made it more difficult to read slowly and enjoy it, hastening the already declining rates of literacy. It has made it harder to listen and mean it, to be idle and not fidget.”
  • These links compiled via delicious, and repurposed here with plug-in Postalicious. Not enough stuff? Not the stuff you wanted? Try visiting,, and/or the Consumed Facebook page.

Flickr Interlude

typed 66, originally uploaded by Aqua-Velvet.

More here.

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Would be interested in a murketing campaign?

From the inbox:


I am working at a marketing firm, and we are doing an on line campaign for one of our clients that has an on line printing company. I found your site! Bravo the content and pictures are truly inspiring, it makes me want to go home and get crafty! I thought that perhaps your site would be a great place to get a link to my clients site on Murketing.

I know it may not be something that you have done or considered in that past; using your site for advertising but I think that this would benefit both my client and yourself. I will be offering you monetary compensation to host a link. I hope that we can work something out! I can answer any questions you may have. Let me know what you think. Thanks in advance!
Cheers, [redacted]

You’re welcome!

Flickr Interlude

“The 7-11 at the corner of Connecticut Ave and Porter St. I used to get comics here after grade school down the street.”

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