Bad Situation

Hilarious report in the WSJ blog about Abercrombie & Fitch paying Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino of the Jersey Shore to NOT wear its brand due to “deep concern” over negative brand associations.  It’s like when so-called “chavs” started wearing Burberry tartan as the uniform of choice across the UK back in the mid-noughties.  That was one hell of a nightmare for the Burberry brand, though that brand is decidedly more aspirational than A&F which is more known for their barely clad models and politically incorrect T-shirts.   Which then begs the question if A&F is genuinely concerned about the Situation bringing down their image with all the tacky Jersey Shore associations or if they just want to fire up some good ol’ fashioned controversy for buzz.  After all, it sounds like they were the ones that released a statement about it.  If I were Snooki, I’d start wearing head to toe A&F and refuse to stop wearing any of it until they paid at least triple what they paid the Situation.  Work it, girl.  For real.

Illegal Wedding Fair in NYC

I haven’t had a spare moment to blog for the last couple of months since planning for the Illegal Wedding Fair went into high gear!  This is my better-late-than-never post about the upcoming event that we’ve been feverishly working on, with an additional note to say I probably won’t be posting anything until after June 6 when all of this is over and I have time to do normal things again like pick up the dry cleaning and wash the dishes.

So here’s everything you need to know about the IWF.  It’s NYC’s premier same-sex wedding fair event taking place on Sunday, June 6 at the stunning townhouse venue, 632 on Hudson.  It’s a 4 hour event from noon-4pm with over 25 local vendors showcasing their work, all of whom unanimously support marriage equality.  There will be gorgeous wedding cakes by Cake Alchemy and Nine Cakes, a fabulous dinner-party vignette by floral designers Poppies & Posies in collaboration with the incredibly talented calligrapher Bryn Chernoff of Paperfinger, utilizing furniture and tableware provided by Broadway Party Rentals.  You’ll be able to nibble on delicious hors d’oeuvres prepared by eco-chic caterers Stuart & Welch, as well as Brooklyn’s own DISH Food & Events.  There will be an explosion of gorgeous flowers everywhere, designed by our participating gay-friendly florists, including Saipua, Worship Luxury, and the elusive/exclusive private florist Shaun Carson.  Luxury event designer Zak Kunish of ZAK Events will be showcasing his talents, as well as Marie Danielle Vil-Young, event coordinator of À Votre Service Events.

E&V Weddings, the featured photographers of the Illegal Wedding Fair will be taking over an entire room in the upper triplex that I like to call “the Chuck Bass Opium Den,” offering retro-vintage portraiture and all sorts of photographic goodness.  Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Kelly Guenther will also be on hand to showcase what she calls her “wedding photojournalism,” as will luxury events photographer Robert DiScalfani‘s crew.  You’ll find some gorgeous wedding gowns by Lovely bridal shop in a room that looks like Marie Antoinette’s boudoir, sample beautiful favors by Amy’s Cookies and Bespoke Chocolates, and even get to talk to speech consultants at The Oratory Laboratory about how not to embarrass yourself when giving that semi-drunk and tearful speech at your next wedding.  Face Time Beauty Concierge will be doing touch-ups and offering advice on how to look your best, and wellness guru Tory Marsh will be giving advice on health and nutrition.  You can find same-sex wedding bands designed by Rony Tennenbaum, who recently opened a boutique in Nolita, and check out the beautiful stationery of both Lion in the Sun Park Slope and Atelier Isabey.  Am I leaving anything out?  All this while enjoying cocktails expertly mixed by Payman Bahmani of Life’s a Cocktail and Mayur Subbarao of Evoe to the sounds of some great performers provided by Elan Artists!  Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon, right?

If you start to feel overwhelmed you can take a breather in the gorgeous lounge space on the ground-floor created by the furniture and props rental outfit, Taylor Creative.  From there you can look across to the Speaker’s Corner and catch some amazing talks by David Toussaint, author of Gay and Lesbian Weddings: Planning the Perfect Same-Sex Ceremony, Annie Lee, principal planner and founder of Daughter of Design, and Dr. Anne Klaeysen & Law’nence Miller, officiants from the New York Society for Ethical Culture.

Meet Kirsten & Maria Palladino, the Editor-in-Chief & Publisher of Equally Wed, the nation’s premier same-sex wedding magazine and our national media sponsor for this event.  They’re coming all the way from Hotlanta so come say hi!  We’re also crossing our fingers that City Council Speaker Christine Quinn might be able to drop in to give an address so this is serious stuff!  We’ve got a ton of great products to raffle off for charity from our amazing sponsors, including a few of those famous Marriage is So Gay T-shirts.  Everyone will go home with a sweet swag bag and enjoy products from sponsors illy issimo and popchips among many others.  Our hearts are full with love and gratitude for all the awesome people participating in realizing this one-of-a-kind event.  Come on out and share the love on June 6!  Say NO to marriage discrimination in our state (and everywhere else, for that matter), and let’s hope that next year this will be the LEGAL Wedding Fair!

Tickets are $35 per person / $60 per couple – available here via Brown Paper Tickets, the first and only fair trade ticketing company.  See you at the party!

Banksy’s Pop-Up Premier

Photo by FRANTZESCO KANGARIS for the Independent

British street artist-turned-global-brand Banksy struck publicity gold again this week with the limited pre-release screening of his super-hyped film, ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop‘, in a cold, dank pop-up cinema hidden in a tunnel underneath Waterloo train station.  Called The Lambeth Palace, the temporary 150-seat theater is screening the film for 10 days prior to its nationwide release on March 5.  Needless to say, tickets sold out instantly and are now being scalped online for upwards of £200.

It’s truly brilliant (and ironic) how marketing-savvy Banksy is.  Despite never having abandoned his anti-corporate, f*ck-the-man message in his art, and never having actually sold out to the powers that be, the man simply cannot avoid having everything he touches turn into solid unobtanium.  Just when you think, “Oh my god, that fratboy has a Banksy poster on his wall,” the artist does something absolutely genius like quietly open an animatronic petstore in the village as he did in late 2008, making you smack your forehead and repent for ever having considered thinking he was passé.  The Lambeth Palace is yet another one of these surprising moments of Banksy brilliance that make him nothing short of an inspiration.

New Banksy work @ The Lambeth Palace

Improving Coffee IQ

Coffee Cupping at Intelligentsia's NYC Training Lab

I went to a coffee cupping session the other day at Intelligentsia Coffee‘s NYC Training Lab.  Cupping is similar to wine tasting and is mainly used professionally in the industry as a way to evaluate coffee quality.  I’ve seen it done before by a roasting expert on an innovation tour I led last year in Tokyo on the topic of connoisseurship, but this was my first time trying it out myself.  Our Intelligentsia coffee educator showed our little group how to evaluate three types of ground coffees in multiple stages, from dry to wet, stirred (called “the break” from when you puncture the upper crust of grounds that forms), and to finally tasting  after most of  the floating grounds have been scooped out.

I felt totally smell-deaf at first as the only descriptive word that came to my mind when smelling the grinds was ‘coffee’.  But with increased focus and some imagination, I eventually managed to find some more nuanced descriptions to write down on my chart of aromas and flavors, like ‘almond cookies’ and ‘molten chocolate lava cake.’  (Perhaps I was just hungry?)  It was encouraging to realize at the end of the session that despite the group consisting mainly of first-time amateurs, in general people seemed to be writing down descriptions that were roughly in the same ballpark.  My favorite description given by a fellow attendee about a particularly complex coffee was, “like a winter wonderland in the spring!”  Sort of makes you think  about coffee in a whole new way, doesn’t it?  Like wine, cheese and chocolate, coffee is well on its way to becoming better known for its origins and artisinal qualities rather than as mere commodity.

It’s a shame that Intelligentsia doesn’t yet have a coffee shop in NYC.  Luckily you can still get their superior coffees in many cafes around town like Kaffe 1668 in Tribeca, a beautiful shop owned by Swedish twin brothers.  Not only is the coffee amazing, courtesy of Intelligentsia, they have delicious pastries and the shop’s Svenska design aesthetic is utterly charming.  Anyway, the cupping session costs only ten bucks and it’s open to the public so if you’re a lay coffee-freak like myself, I highly recommend it.  And from a marketing perspective, what a lovely way to get consumers to interact with your brand and foster brand loyalty!  I for one am totally sold; especially on their Rwandan Bufcafe.  Upgrade your life!  Go buy some good beans!

MUJI in Motion

It’s not often that I find myself mesmerized by a brand website but then again MUJI is not like any other brand.  Check out their Play MUJI site here and tell me you don’t find it intoxicating!  What an unbelievably beautiful way to showcase a ton of products without boring or overwhelming the viewer.  I love the way they use movement in each of the frames but in deliberate timing that leaves some frames still so as not to bombard you with too much stimuli at once.  It’s also clever how you can change the music if a particular tune is driving you crazy while you scroll through and lust after all the genius products displayed.  Given that MUJI is all about great design that combines simplicity with high functionality, it’s perfect that they’ve figured out a way to showcase those qualities so seamlessly in this site.  I know there are a bunch of MUJI stores in NYC now, but I am still counting down the days until my next trip to Japan because there really is no comparison to their flagship store in Yurakucho.  They sell everything from MUJI food, plants, eyeglasses and bikes to entire houses.  If there ever was a reason to visit Tokyo, the MUJI flagship store would be it.  Seriously.

And while we’re on the topic of well-designed brand websites, check out Uniqlo’s Uniqlock if you want to find out what time it is anywhere in the world while watching random Asian women dancing.  Right now they happen to be dancing in Paris but they switch it up from time to time.

Yogurty Goodness

The resident economist shot over a random post yesterday from Slate about NPD Group’s announcement that the Food of the Decade is (drumroll please)…yogurt.  According to Harry Balzer of NPD, the percentage of Americans who consume yogurt regularly went up from 17% in 2000 to something like 28% by the end of the decade.  That’s a lot of yogurt.  And not surprisingly, marketing has had a lot to do with that, with companies having introduced over 1,200 new yogurt products to the market since 2005 according to market research firm, Mintel.

We’re all familiar with the game-changers:  Yoplait’s tubular Go-Gurt, which you can freeze and stick in a kid’s lunchbox, made yogurt more accessible to kiddies, and then of course there were those seriously seductive claims by Dannon’s Activia that bifidus regularis was gonna make you poop as regularly as Jamie Lee Curtis, the Redeemer for all the Constipated.  Despite all the snickering, Activia’s move to start a public dialogue on how frequently we move our bowels paid off big time, resulting in over $130 million in sales its first year followed by a 50% increase in the second year.  Furthermore, the yogurt trend is far from over.  Compared to the decades-long obsession with probiotics and the relentless campaigns against constipation that I’ve witnessed in Japan (to say nothing of Germany), the Activia Challenge represents just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how much more yogurt (and yogurt-based products) we could potentially sell in this country by leveraging the all-important issue of blockage.

It’s a discourse that’s still fairly new to American consumers and so I don’t blame them for being skittish about discussing their poo health the way, say, Gillian McKeith does on primetime television in the UK on her hit show You Are What You Eat. There’s Gillian at dinnertime, analyzing obese people’s poos on her special German loo and making them get colonics on national television!  If the popularity of products boasting high fiber and probiotics content is any indication, it’s really just a matter of time before Americans get up to speed and become just as poo-literate as many other parts of the world.

And seriously, why is Yakult, the Japanese probiotics brand known for their mini aluminum-sealed daily yogurt drinks, not widely available here?  It’s available pretty much everywhere else in the world, but for some reason it’s hard to locate in the US outside of Asian grocery stores.  Yakult’s line-up of probiotics products would do incredibly well in this market because it tastes delicious, comes in packs that make it easy to consume daily, and the research behind it goes decades further back than anything launched in 2005 could possibly claim.  I mean, check out this Yakult commercial with Ken Watanabe – it looks more like an ad for medication than one for drinkable yogurt.

To keep up the momentum in the next decade, major yogurt brands are gonna have to do more than just come up with nasty new flavors like Red Velvet Cake to add to their already over-crowded lineup.  They’ll have to keep on talking about regularity, for a start, and innovate by taking cues from niche premium brands like Siggi’s Icelandic skyr and Liberté’s Six Grains yogurt, which are way more on the right track with their distinctive offerings.  More on Siggi’s some other time…

Bring on the Romance

Yes, Valentine’s Day is upon us — that marketing miracle, second only to Christmas as an opportunity to move merchandise.  On this day, single people around the world are made to feel like crap (no doubt contributing to a spike in Ben & Jerry’s sales), while those coupled up are bombarded with intense pressure to express their devotion in monetary form through products and services all made doubly expensive especially for this day of luuurv.  As an ex-Marxist ex once told me years ago, I don’t believe in Valentine’s Day.  No Virginia, there is no Saint Valentine.

So if there ever was a promotion that resonated with the cackling cynic in most of us, surely it must be this amazing one currently on offer at White Castle.  That’s right, this Valentine’s Day you can book your own private booth at a nearby White Castle and get table service while eating sacks of sliders under candlelight.  You can even buy special Valentine’s Day T-shirts and fuzzy pink blankets.  The whole thing seems too ridiculous to be true, but that’s exactly the point, and why White Castle is brilliant.  As a brand they are much more of a mythical idea than a gastronomic reality for most consumers.  Think of how much free publicity they got from being the unicorn of fast-food establishments in Harold & Kumar.

Of course if you have actually been to a White Castle, you know that those little tiny burgers made from 3mm-thick slices of Spam-like protein hardly replicate the feeling of goodness and satisfaction that washes over you when you’re just imagining the brand.   The idea totally trumps reality.  The fact that White Castle is self-aware about this is what makes them the favorite black sheep in America’s fast-food landscape.  Like the Snuggie, it’s betting (correctly) that more people will respond with humor to what they represent than to what their product actually is.  The corniness of this Valentine’s Day promotion will most definitely get some unlikely people through the door that day, and what’s more, there will be a ton of organic buzz generated from it with people posting online photos of themselves being cheeky-romantical with a slider in each hand.

Not Beautiful Enough After Holidays

Hilarious article in the Guardian a couple days ago about people getting kicked off the online dating site BeautifulPeople.com after gaining too much weight over the holidays.  The website was started in 2002 in Denmark (where the average height of adults is 6 feet!) and not surprisingly, Brits and Americans have had a pretty tough go of it compared to majestic Scandinavians and Brazilians.  Of the over 5,000 people who got voted off the site by other users for having overindulged during the holidays, Americans comprised 1,520 followed by 832 Brits.  It’s obnoxious but also pretty brilliant from  a PR standpoint!  The funniest quote from the article is by the site’s founder Robert Hintze: “Letting fatties roam the site is a direct threat to our business model and the very concept for which BeautifulPeople.com was founded.”  All I have to say is I’m hitting the gym tomorrow for the first time since early December.  My Omron scale which measures body fat percentage is not happy.

America, America

Photo by Jens Mortensen (NYTimes)

Seeing this fantastically patriotic sweater posted the other day by Tommy Hilfiger in the NYTimes’ T Magazine blog made me smile.  It’s apparently something his daughter found in a vintage shop in SoHo that is now on display in his Fifth Ave. flagship.  I wish I’d had this to wear last week when some friends threw me an All-American themed party to celebrate my recent attainment of United States citizenship!  All the iconic American brands were represented — Budweiser, McDonald’s, KFC, Oreos, Frito-Lay, Coca-Cola — and of course, two types of apple pie (handmade and Mickey D’s rectangles).  As someone who once worked on a trend project around shifting perceptions of Americanism, it’s interesting to see how instantly these connections are made.  A lot of classic American brands currently seem to be fumbling their way towards identifying what the New Americanism looks and feels like.  One of the more interesting recent attempts that comes to mind is the Levi’s “Go Forth” campaign by Wieden + Kennedy.

The commercial makes use of a few stanzas by Walt Whitman, the most American of poets, in an unconventionally erudite effort to convey a wildly exciting youthful American energy–implying that Levi’s, like young America herself, is part of a historically rooted continuum, constantly pioneering into uncharted territory.  There is a certain nostalgia for all things Americana nowadays, and classic American brands like Woolrich, Filson, Red Wing and Bass are now cool again in ways they couldn’t have dreamed of a few years ago.  The new Budweiser American Ale is similarly capitalizing on this sudden popularity of Americanism.  I’m sure I will get a lot of flack for saying this but it really is fascinating how quickly the image of America as a brand turned around after 8 years of a semi-apologetic and embarrassed stance under Bush.  Obviously the U.S. still has more than its share of problems under Obama but the overall boost in American pride since the change-over is truly notable from a marketing perspective.  God bless America!

Aside: Check out A New Literary History of America by Greil Marcus & Werner Sollors.  It’s a fascinating (and gigantic) collection of essays on the history of our great nation.  Not your typical reference book, it really captures the richness and vitality of American history in an eminently readable way.

Tricks of the Devil

Mass: We Pray's Controller
Mass: We Pray's Wii-like Controller

Holy crap!  Or shall I say holy marketing genius?!  I was dumbfounded when I saw this website advertising what appears to be a new Wii-like game called “Mass: We Pray” that simulates church services.  “After all, a family shouldn’t have to wait until Sunday to worship the Lord,” says the voice-over in the Snuggie-like infomercial that beggars belief.  It claims to be developed a Boston-based company called Prayer Works Interactive and the site features a whole gallery of images from this virtual church experience.  A press release about this game went out a couple of days ago, pitching it as “a revolutionary videogame that allows families to go to church every day from the comfort of their own home.”

Of course, if like most normal people you are blown away by the idea of this game even existing, you are likely to click on one of the site’s other buttons for more information or to see an up-close image of this ridiculous crucifix-shaped controller.  And just like that you are made to realize that OMG, you have just been marketed to by Electronic Arts for their upcoming videogame Dante’s Inferno!!!! Suddenly you are faced with a message calling you a heretic for taking part in a Mass not celebrated by an ordained priest, and told you will burn in the 6th circle of hell.  Then, with a damning touch of banality, you’re asked to enter your birth date to watch a trailer of Dante’s Inferno and then share it on Facebook.  Did they really just go there? Yeah, I think they did.  A lot of people are gonna be pissed off — but a hell of a lot more people are gonna go buy this game next February.  Marketing is the devil’s work!