With Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace, some bicyclists are “rebelling against the tight-and-bright look” he popularized, reports Kevin Helliker in The Wall Street Journal (5/20/13). The look of Lance was, of course, all about Lycra, pointy helmets and brightly colored jerseys – a “team kit” as its called. But since “Armstrong has admitted using performance enhancing drugs … looking like him maybe isn’t so cool.” “People just want to ride bikes without looking like a mamil,” ways Mia Kohout of Momentum, a biking magazine, using a pejorative term for a “middle-aged man in Lycra.”
As a result, “new cycling apparel has emerged from giants like Levi’s, and startups like Swrve, Aether Apparel and Rapha, the Prada of cycling wear. Their customers, they boast, can go from bike to boardroom without changing.” Greg Shapleigh, general manager of Giro, a maker of cycling apparel, meanwhile suggests that the trend away from the Armstrong’s style wasn’t totally a reaction to his faded glory, and had “been in the works for some time.” “The Tour de France just doesn’t mean that much to most people,” he says.
Josh Horowitz of Broken Bones Bicycle Company takes it a step further: “The things we cyclists take pride in are what make other people think we’re idiots,” he says. Cyclist Derek Fox, meanwhile, says the “peacock” look can incite “Spandex rage” among motorists, comparing the reaction to “what a bull must feel when staring at the red cape and golden epaulets of the matador.” With the shift to a more conservative style, cycling in America may begin to resemble Europe, “where biking connotes images of commuters in office wear,” not “sweat-inducing competition.”
May 21, 2013 Comments
A new line of high-tech apparel for commuter bicyclists looks just like office wear, reports Claire Martin in The New York Times (5/19/13). The dress shirts and slacks, via Ministry of Supply, were developed by a gaggle of MIT students who independently but simultaneously were working on filling a gap in the clothing market. "One was Kit Hickey … who had been frustrated that her Brooks Brothers suits were so stiff compared to her rock-climbing togs." Another was Aman Advani, who had been "cutting tubes from his dress socks and stitching them to the feet of his sports socks."
Kit and Aman met Gihan Amarasiriwardena, who had been working on "a dress shirt that could withstand the rigors of bicycle commuting," and his then-collaborator, Kevin Rustagi, at MIT’s entrepreneur center. The foursome decided to join forces as their vision was essentially identical: They are applying "an engineering process used in aerospace design to help understand how the body’s skin moves, so that their garments will stretch in a similar way. They use thermal imaging to find the spots in the body that generate the most heat, so they can determine where to place vents in the shirts."
In some cases, "the fabric was created with a material that NASA designed to regulate astronauts’ body temperatures in 200-degree heat changes … While the primary task of most athletic apparel is to manage sweat, this fabric keeps the body cool, preventing perspiration from occurring in the first place." To make sure the designs are suitably stylish, Ministry of Supply "tapped it customers from its beta stage for feedback … A New York fashion designer then incorporated the suggestions into new designs … Since last June, the company has sold 128,000 shirts and pants through its website and its Boston showroom."
May 21, 2013 Comments
"E-commerce as a term will become obsolete in five or six years," says Neil Bloomenthal in Knowledge@Wharton (5/11/13). It’s an unlikely prediction, perhaps, from the co-founder of Warby Parker, an e-commerce venture widely credited with disrupting the eyewear category with high-quality, fashionable, inexpensive ($95) frames. But it wasn’t long after Warby Parker launched its e-commerce site that customers began emailing them, asking to visit their headquarters to try on glasses in person. At the time, "headquarters" was just an apartment, but Neil and his co-founders agreed, and "something special happened," says Neil.
"They saw us sitting on the couch, working our laptops, responding to orders, talking on the phone with customers. They saw the people behind the brand, which is so rare … We realized we could learn from those customers – what they liked and what they wanted. Those people became some of our best customers." Warby Parker has now taken that insight to its logical manifestation – "an expansive store in New York City’s Soho neighborhood" that opened in April and quickly attracted "lines down the block to get in." "This is the convergence of e-commerce and bricks and mortar," says Neil. "The idea that it’s one or the other is ridiculous."
Neil says Warby Parker "chose Soho because it has an art and literary history … Our store is near where many of the ‘Beat’ writers used to eat and drink," he says. The design is "inspired by classic libraries … with books and old-school rolling library ladders. An in-store optometrist is on hand to perform eye exams seven days a week for $50. Shoppers may track their appointments on the appointment board, designed after the train arrival and departure boards at Grand Central station. Another store is planned for Boston." The retailer also has "stores-within-stores" boutiques in LA, Nashville and San Francisco.
May 20, 2013 Comments
Garrison Keillor says he hopes the "art of storytelling" is dead, reports Mike Vilensky in The Wall Street Journal (5/16/13). "Storytelling is not an art," Garrison elaborates. "It’s a craft. People learn how to do this by practice. Someone who approaches plumbing as an art is not someone who’s going to make you happy." He made the comment at the annual Moth Ball, hosted by The Moth, "a non-profit organization that promotes storytellers and hosts live recitations."
The Moth’s guiding principle, according to executive director Sarah Haberman, is the "belief that everyone has a fascinating story to tell and that the raw story should be allowed to take center stage without any embellishment." To that end, a "cadre of young storytellers whittled down their tales to just one-minute each for a ‘story slam’ before the crowd. Many of them spoke of brushes with the law, fights with their families, coming out as gay, or encounters with foreign people."
Sarah says the experience is "like ultimate fighting, but kind of more terrifying." She also says she "pretty much" made all of her current friends through storytelling. Garrison, meanwhile, says the secret of effective storytelling is actually pretty simple: "have an audience," he says. "That’s how you find out if it works or not … They like it if it’s good; if not, it’s not. It’s as simple as that." The Moth Ball also bestowed the 2013 Moth Award, "celebrating the art of the raconteur" to filmmaker Albert Maysles.
May 20, 2013 Comments
Execution-driven insight is the true measure of good branding. By Beth Ann Kaminkow. Our industry is funny in that certain words and concepts become the latest obsession. It’s almost like the way fast-fashion fads become the must-have look of the moment. Insights is one of those hyper-used words. We are data-mining for them; deep diving for them; anthropologically exploring for them; crowd-sourcing for them; quantitatively polling for them; neurologically testing for them; swarming for them; social listening for them; and the list goes on.
That’s not all bad, but the fact is that insight without execution is nothing more than a good dream. Execution is what turns insight into reality … and the dirty little secret is that not all great insights lead to great execution. Truth be told, an insight is only as good as the execution it drives. Unfortunately, it sounds a lot less sexy to value execution more than insight — isn’t that putting more significance on the tactical versus the strategic? The answer is that one without the other limits the possibility and potential of both. Insight that delivers move-the-needle execution, or execution-driven insight, is the unit of analysis of good branding. continue …
May 20, 2013 Comments
"Apps have stolen some thunder from browsers," but now browsers are fighting back, reports Jessica E. Lessin in The Wall Street Journal (5/14/13). Google, for instance, "which develops the Chrome browser, released software that allows developers to add voice-recognition to their web pages, so users can browse the web while speaking. It also released a Chrome app for its Google Keep note-taking service that syncs notes directly with its Google Drive storage service … Microsoft has been tailoring its Internet Explorer browser for touch, focusing on making it responsive and fast for tablets."
Jay Sullivan of Mozilla, makers of the Firefox browser, "says browsing is going to become more social through new and easy ways to share what people are browsing with friends." The Firefox browser now offers "the ability to integrate with social-networking sites so users can see updates and messages from Facebook within the browser’s frame … Mozilla is also working on embedded communication features," enabling users to drag a video into a chat screen and share it immediately. Mozilla is further promoting a "new identity system called Persona, that aims to eliminate passwords."
A browser company called Maxthon, meanwhile, has developed "the ability to sync downloads and local files across devices via its browser … Consumers will be able to send the data to a cloud storage account or other device." The technology already "has some 120 million monthly users, most of them in China," and works across "desktops, mobile phones, tablets and even in-car systems." Currently, Microsoft’s Explorer is the leading browser for desktops, with a 56% share, according to Net Applications, with Apple’s Safari the leader "on mobile phones and tablets, with 59% share."
May 17, 2013 Comments
The history of spam is a story of innovation, reports Evgeny Morozov in a Wall Street Journal review of Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet by Finn Brunton (5/10/13). "From a certain perverse perspective," writes Finn, "spam can be presented as the internet’s infrastructure used maximally and most efficiently." He begins with the very "first spam message, sent in 1971," by Peter Bos, an MIT engineer who "used his privileges as a system administrator to urge a thousand fellow engineers – including some at the Pentagon – to oppose the Vietnam War."
His spam message: "There is no way to peace. Peace is the way." Like those who followed him, Peter was "testing the limits of the technology, seeking new ways to hijack our attention, even as we seek ways to screen them out." However, it was another seven years before the second known spam message, sent by, yes, a "marketer working for the computer giant DEC," who "abused the printed directory of all addresses on the Arpanet – the most important computer network of the day – to advertise a DEC open house."
The incident first raised the question of the relationship between advertising and "electronic mail systems." The question was partly answered by new laws and technologies designed to thwart spammers, who responded by tricking filters with "litspam," and innovating with language itself. The rise of "social media and search engines" opened up additional opportunities to innovate. Spammer innovations have now produced a "contemporary spamming economy" that is almost "fully automated: It’s one set of algorithms trying to outsmart another set of algorithms."
May 17, 2013 Comments
Dale Katechis mixes beer making with mountain biking to create an unlikely brand identity, reports Jen Murphy in The Wall Street Journal (5/7/13). Dale is the founder of the Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont, Colorado, and every Tuesday night he and his employees go for a three-hour bike ride, "followed by beer and food at one of the three nearby restaurants he owns." They do this year-round, even in the Colorado snow. Dale says he invariably craves a can of Old Chub Scottish-style ale during the ride.
"It’s important to promote healthy living at work," says Dale. "It’s the way I live my life. It also allows me the vices I love, like eating and drinking great beer." On Tuesdays and other weekdays, "many employees are at the gym doing walking lunges, crunches, and tossing medicine balls … One day a week, a yoga instructor leads a class." Mark, himself, doesn’t limit his bike rides to Tuesday – he’s usually out on his mountain bike "about four days a week," and on "weekends he goes on four-hour rides with friends." He also has a personal trainer for his wife and kids, as well as his staff.
In terms of his respective passions, the mountain biking came before the beer making – he started racing BMX bikes in high school and experimenting with home brewing in college. He opened his first restaurant in 1997 and two years later "built a homebrew system in the restaurant’s basement, turned it into a brewpub and introduced Oskar Blues beer." Dale "now has a 35,000 square-foot brewing facility in Longmont" and another brewery in North Carolina, "near Pisgah National Forest, one of his favorite spots to mountain bike." The Oskar Blues brand is now sold "in 32 states."
May 16, 2013 Comments
Henry Ford doubled wages for his workers but demanded certain lifestyle standards in exchange, writes Richard Snow in The Wall Street Journal (5/10/13). Richard is author of I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford, in which he describes Ford’s decision in 1914 to increase "the base wage in his factory" to "five dollars a day," or twice the prevailing rate. However, the increase was contingent on workers having a neat home, healthy children, and a spouse, if "below the age of twenty-two."
The policy was detailed in a manual that stated the company purpose, in part, as "to better the financial and moral standing of each employee and those of his household; to instill men with courage and a desire for health, happiness and prosperity … to provide for families in sickness, in health and old age … To make a well-rounded life and not a mere struggle for existence … and to implant in the heart of every individual the wholesome desire to Help The Other Fellow." Investigators made sure employees lived up to their part of the deal by visiting their residences, unannounced.
For some, this was a fair exchange for a generous wage; others felt their hard work at the factory should not be subject to further scrutiny from Ford’s Sociological Department, as it was called. Some found creative ways to fool the investigators (like having their landlady pose as their wife). But the arguably oppressive paternalistic system perhaps did "more good than harm," and found a fan even in reformer Ida Tarbell, who concluded that the results were "worth all you can set against them, and the errors in the plan will provoke their own remedies."
May 16, 2013 Comments
The hamburger of the future is busy replicating stem cells in a test tube in the Netherlands, reports Henry Fountain in The New York Times (5/14/13). That future is variously known as "in vitro meat, or cultured meat" – or "shmeat" as some affectionately call it. It centers on "the delicate task of growing the tens of billions of cells needed to make the burger, starting with a particular type of cell removed from cow necks obtained in a slaughterhouse." Needless to say, it is a future not likely to arrive at a supermarket near you anytime soon.
"Getting cultured meat to the supermarket is going to be difficult, and controversial," says Gabor Forgacs of Modern Meadow, a start-up dedicated to finding a way to make shmeat happen. Meanwhile, a five-ounce test-tube burger created at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, "assembled from tiny bits of beef muscle tissue," cost $325,000 to grow and is still not quite ready for consumption. Dr. Mark Post, the tissue engineer fabricating the burger, hopes to cook it up in a few weeks at an event in London. He’s sampled it already and says that, even without any fat, it "tastes reasonably good."
The hope is that shmeat "could greatly reduce water, land and energy use" as well as greenhouse gases, while also satisfying growing "worldwide demand for meat." It may not please vegetarians because Dr. Post’s burger "will never be completely animal-free." But he says his goal is not to eliminate cattle ranches entirely, but to "reduce the global herd a million-fold … The point is," he says, "we already have sufficient technology to make a product that we could call meat or cultured beef, and we can eat it and we survive," adding, "I feel strongly that this could have a major impact on society in general."
May 15, 2013 Comments