The ways in which Americans have fun "helped define the national character," writes Preston Lauterbach in a Wall Street Journal review of American Fun by John Beckman (3/1/14). On the one hand were the "American prudes" like John Adams, who "stood for the Puritan ideals of piety, sobriety and hard work." On the other was his second cousin, Samuel Adams, "though of the same Puritan pedigree and Harvard education" who "burnished a ‘raffish national tradition that flaunted pleasure in the face of authority.’"
John Adams "built a fine estate on the land where … Thomas Morton founded Merry Mount" some 150 years earlier, "a colony populated with Indians and freed servants" and whose "May Day festival introduced a European tradition of mass debauchery to the new land" that "made a profound impression on the burgeoning American identity." Merry Mount was "the forerunner of American fun," a response to nearby Plymouth Colony, "the legendary birthplace of American Puritanism."
Meanwhile, Sam Adams, a leader of the Sons of Liberty, "our founding pranksters … staged a series of boisterous but nonviolent demonstrations to protest the Crown’s taxation." It was Sam’s "merry dockside mob" that "carried out the group’s attention-grabbing tactics," including its "crowning act, The Boston Tea Party." This, writes John Beckman, was "pure American fun," and "even John Adams approved." In a way, the "opposing tendencies" of American work and play were reconciled by the Adams cousins.
March 4, 2014 Comments
Citi Bike is about making connections, not transactions, says Citi EVP Edward Skyler The profound change in New York City’s daily culture came into stark relief during an early January polar-vortex that encrusted Gotham in snow and sent wind chills plummeting into the subzero range.It wasn’t just that New Yorkers braved the elements; it was that the Big City’s denizens simply dug out bicycles and rode them around town as if it were hotter than July.
Indeed, some 6,669 people were tooling around on bicycles on the coldest day on record in about 100 years, according to tracking data courtesy of New York’s new Citi Bike program. Hey: If you’ve got a choice between a long walk in the freezing cold or short bike ride, it really is a no brainer. Even a year ago, such behavior would have been unthinkable simply because it wasn’t an option. It is only since bike sharing arrived in New York City last May that a two-wheeled alternative was a possibility. The program was part of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s grand plan to improve city life by providing new ways to get from one point to the next. The program was not without its controversies, but its success has wildly exceeded expectations.
Even more stunning is the program’s positive effect on the reputation of its sponsor: Citi. Just six years ago, the financial giant was widely pilloried for accepting bailout money while simultaneously shelling out big bucks for naming rights to the new Mets baseball stadium. This time, it is receiving praise even from its biggest critics. Edward Skyler, a former deputy mayor under Bloomberg and now a top Citi executive, is at the center of this remarkable return on corporate responsibility. As Ed observes, the accountability in question is not necessarily tied to opening more checking accounts or selling more insurance. It has little to do with advertising or promotions. It’s about finding a fresh point of relevance that makes a difference for everyday people — whether they are Citi customers or not. continue …
March 3, 2014 Comments
Designers are "playing with food … to solve problems of scarcity, obesity and waste," reports Julie Lasky in The New York Times (2/27/14). Among them is Susana Soares, who grinds grasshoppers "into a powder that is mixed with cream cheese or butter or flavorings." Recognizing that this doesn’t sound all that appealing, she "uses a 3-D printer to turn the paste into decorative squiggles or attractive filigreed blobs" that, as she says, "look like jewelry." The insects, she notes, are "an efficient way of getting protein."
Mansour Ourasanah, an industrial designer, is also big on grasshoppers. "You can farm them at home," he says. "which you can’t do with cattle." At the Sugar Lab, meanwhile, 3-D printers are used to decorate wedding cakes, and other confections. Because the printers can "handle a range of materials … a copy of the topper can be produced in ceramic if a couple wants a souvenir of their wedding." "Cross-culturally, people are inclined to invest in customizing and embellishing a desert," says Liz Von Hasseln of Sugar Labs.
David Edwards, "an American scientist and inventor," and founder of Le Laboratoire, is known for "having introduced a chocolate product called Le Whif, which you enjoy guiltlessly by inhaling," and Le Whaf, "a carafe that vaporizes liquid, creating a cloud of tiny droplets that is poured into a glass and swallowed." "So much of great culinary experience is sensorial in a way that goes beyond caloric content," says David, who is also known for the WikiPearl, which packages "ice cream wrapped in edible skins."
March 3, 2014 Comments
It may be a buyer’s market for pianos in China, but apparently chewing gum is another story. As reported by Kathy Chu and Laurie Burkitt in The Wall Street Journal (2/26/14), sales of chewing gum "grew nearly 14% in China last year to $2.8 billion, nearly double the level of 2009." The growth is partly attributed to "rising disposable incomes," but "aggressive marketing of gum as a way to improve oral health, increase concentration and lower stress levels is also winning over consumers." Ad spending on gum "has more than doubled" to about $1.24 billion over the past two years.
One television commercial has a restaurant patron complaining to a chef that the crispy fried noodles "could break his teeth. She tells him his teeth aren’t good, and offers him a pack of Extra gum, which Wrigley promotes as ‘caring about teeth, caring even more about you.’" Other consumers are finding their own food-related reasons to chew gum. "Chinese food has so much garlic," says Qu Zhu, an investment banker. "I need to freshen my breath after eating." Cherry Dai, a consultant, meanwhile says, "Girls want to eat gum to stay slim."
However, Zhang Lu, 22, doesn’t quite see it that way; she says "she’s afraid that chewing gum will build up her jaw muscles and make her face look fat." Wrigley’s Michael Yeung responds that her concern is unfounded that "there’s no science" to support her fears. To make gum more appealing, Wrigley and others have added new "flavors such as grapefruit, cucumber and tea." The upside is considerable, as the average Chinese "chewed $1.80 worth of gum last year." Britons chewed four times as much, Americans six times, and Japanese 6.5 times.
March 3, 2014 Comments
Mashing up graffiti artist Banksy and the film star Tom Hanks are reaping huge rewards for the anonymous artist known as Hanksy, reports John Leland in The New York Times (2/16/14). "It’s lowbrow, silly, trivial humor," says Hanksy (who may or may not be Adam Himebauch, a restaurateur). "I never thought, when I put up my first image, that I would be where I am today. It just blows my mind." That first image was "a Banksy painting of a rat holding a paint roller" with a young Tom Hanks’s face superimposed (image).
The image, signed "Hanksy," was pasted on a wall in Little Italy and posted to Hanksy’s Instagram and Twitter accounts. In short order it was re-tweeted to some five million Twitter accounts. That was two-and-a-half years ago. Today, Hanksy’s mashups are commanding as much as $4,000 each. He has been featured in "three solo shows," two of which sold out and the third nearly so. Hanksy says his formula was pretty simple — an unlikely, pun-drenched mixture of Tom Hanks and Banksy.
Ellen Lupton of Cooper-Hewitt thinks the trick runs deeper than that, however. "It’s more than a pun," she says. "Banksy’s work is hypermasculine and serious about its underground, tough, outlaw image. And Tom Hanks is just not that guy. So the humor is putting that identity on this hyper-butch material. It’s the revenge of the nerd. It has a vibe of bringing the discourse down a notch, calling out the seriousness of art." Hanksy continues to play out the joke with images of Lil Waynedeer, Meth Rogan and Ferrell Cats
February 28, 2014 Comments
The legend of Jumbo masked a sad and savage story about a violent, alcoholic elephant, reports The Economist in a review of Jumbo, by John Sutherland (2/8/14). Following his capture in 1860, Jumbo was transported to Paris and subsequently purchased by The London Zoo. "For nearly 20 years, Jumbo was marketed as the ‘children’s pet,’ and was fondly remembered by every child who ever rode his patient back or offered him a currant bun." He was then exported to the United Sates, acquired by PT Barnum and re-imagined as "a simple, five-tonne emblem of Yankee ‘bigness’."
Less well-known is that Jumbo arrived in Paris as a "scrofulous, rat-chewed runt, and incidentally saved from the stewpot that awaited other elephants during the siege of Paris in 1870. His English keeper, Matthew Scott … restored him to health, and together with Abraham Bartlett, the zoo’s taxidermist superintendent, set about creating brand ‘Jumbo’ … What no one knew, except zoo insiders’ was that the poor beast was not ‘Jumbo’ at all." Rather, he was "a mad beast African elephant who passed his nights ramming his head against his stall and grinding his tusk to stubs."
His keeper "subdued him with buckets of whiskey at best, and at worst with chains, flogging and stabbing." He was sold to Barnum when he went into season, which wasn’t a sight for young eyes. Then came Jumbo’s untimely death – hit by a freight train. This begat a new legend in which "Jumbo became Nature itself, defeated by the Machine of Progress." He was stuffed and put on display at Tufts University as the school mascot, until his remains were destroyed in a 1975 fire. Jumbo’s ashes are now kept in an old Peter Pan peanut-butter jar in the office of the Tufts athletic director, according to Wikipedia.
February 28, 2014 Comments
The secret of the brand experience resides within the mind of philosophers, not marketers, suggests Drake Bennett in Bloomberg Buisnessweek (2/20/14). Specifically, the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer and his mentor, Martin Heidegger, giants "in the field of phenomenology," or "how human beings perceive and make sense of the world around them" offer great guidance as to the products or services that truly mean something to people.
"It’s applying very theoretical constructs to very concrete situations," says Christian Madsbjerg, co-founder of Red Associates, a consulting firm. "I don’t think that the people that designed theories of identity ever, ever thought about toothbrushing, but it’s very, very helpful." What Christian and his Red colleagues do, essentially, is take the focus off product design per se, and focus instead on "the context in which people unthinkingly live their everyday lives."
This is uncovered by finding the gaps between what people say and what they actually do. For Adidas, this involved a recognition that just because archery is an Olympic sport doesn’t mean they should make archery equipment — especially if their target is young men who don’t watch the Olympic Games. Meanwhile, they were ignoring "100 million women on the planet dedicated to yoga." As co-founder Mikkel Rasmussen puts it: "I’m not interested in what’s useful or convenient; I’m interested in what’s meaningful."
February 27, 2014 Comments
Bolthouse Farms thinks online photos of fruits and vegetables can be just as alluring as those of sweets and desserts, reports Stephanie Strom in The New York Times (2/20/14). Bolthouse is using an algorithm to track social-media mentions of fruits and vegetables in real time. The results are presented on "an exceptionally playful" website (link) that features beautiful photos and compares the relative mentions of say, pomegranates to pizza.
"We just want folks to understand that beautiful carrots have badge value the same way peanut butter, chocolate pie does," says Bolthouse marketing chief Todd Putman. "We were looking out across the landscape of social media, and someone wondered about how much food p+rn was actually out there and what the balance was, how much of it was fruits and vegetables and how much pies and salty snacks," Todd says. The Bolthouse algorithm quickly provided an unsurprising answer.
Based on an initial sample of some 171 million posts, 72 percent of food mentions "featured less healthy foods, while roughly 28 percent were accompanied by photos and posts of fruits or vegetables." Nancy F. Huehnergarth, a food-policy consultant, thinks Bolthouse can help change this. Noting that food marketers "glamorize … the daily consumption of unhealthy foods and drinks," she suggests that "the same techniques" could help "level the playing field." Or, as Todd says: "Why should the junk food guys have all the fun?"
February 27, 2014 Comments
James Murphy thinks that a little harmonic convergence would do wonders for the New York City subway turnstile experience, reports Hannah Karp in The Wall Street Journal (2/24/14). James says the beeping noises from the turnstiles are both "unpleasant" and "slightly out of tune from one another." So, over the past 15 years, he’s written "a unique set of notes for every station," each in its own key, such that "the busier the station becomes, the richer the harmonies would be."
The notes "would also play in sequence when the subway arrives at that stop," giving each station its very own anthem. This would not only create sweet music, but "could also help cut down on riders missing their stops … while boosting their emotional connections to their neighborhoods." James says he got the idea back in the ’90s, while traveling in Tokyo, whose metro system features "incredibly friendly beeps," and Barcelona’s airport, where announcements are preceded by "a signature four-note sequence."
James says a pending subway turnstile re-vamp affords the perfect opportunity to realize his vision, but MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg dismisses the idea and the tones as "a natural technical variation," adding, "we really don’t care." He says it would be costly, disruptive and not something the MTA would do "for an art project." However, James says his plan wouldn’t cost much at all and the reprogramming could be done when the turnstiles are upgraded to read microchips. "If it doesn’t happen," he says, "I’ll be brokenhearted."
February 26, 2014 Comments
Michael Shaw thought he owed his passengers an apology, but the railroad admonished him for doing so, reports Annie Correal in The New York Times (2/24/14). Michael is a conductor on the MTA’s Metro-North New Haven Line, out of Grand Central Station. Last Friday, his 6:52 am trip, usually an express train, was changed to a local. So, at each stop, he advised waiting passengers that they might want to wait for the next train, an express. The problem was, that train had been cancelled. Oops.
Michael felt bad about his mistake, so he wrote a letter of apology, printed up 500 copies, and left them on passenger seats on Monday morning. This is something Metro-North itself has been known to do from time to time, when passengers have been inconvenienced, so Michael thought they’d be cool with it. "I made a huge mistake in telling you, my/our passengers to ‘trust me and wait for the express train behind us, not knowing Metro North had cancelled it," Michael wrote, adding, "I will never make this mistake again."
Passengers were impressed. "It was absolutely amazing," says Katie Coleman, who thanked Michael via Twitter (he included his handle @Shawdogs65, in his letter). Metro North, however, saw things differently. It issued a statement praising Michael’s dedication and sentiments, but also stating, "we do not condone his methods of communicating them." It also advised passengers to rely on the MTA website, not their conductor, for information. Michael Shaw, meanwhile, "will be re-instructed on railroad policy."
February 26, 2014 Comments