Target Shoots the Messenger

Ad Biz, courier bag, Cultures & Fringes, Design & Creativity, Lamitron, Pop Culturisms, RootPhi, Target, Timbuk2, Wal Mart

This past June, Treehugger reported that Timbuk2 was going to team up with RootPhito build a messenger bag by pressing (laminating) recycled billboards, grocery bags, posters, and the like.  The bags will be called Lamitron, and their development process has been closely watched by influential bloggers including Cool HuntingWired and PSFK.

Here are a few prototypes:




I dig it.  I dig it so much that I have postponed buying a new courier bag until these roll out.  Think about it, an ad guy walking around with a bag made of deconstructed ads. 

I signed up for their email and was immediately notified that Lamitron bags would be available for purchase as soon as Timbuk2 and RootPhi ironed out the production process.  That original email is lost, but it included an image with yet another example of what the bags could look like (ever mindful that they are all custom):


(sorry for the fuzzy image…I had to do a screen capture)

As you can see, one of the primary materials RootPhi and Timbuk2 were playing with was the always hip, always branded Target shopping bag.  Cool idea, right?

Not according to Target.

Today, Timbuk2 sent out another email notifying all those interested in Lamitron bags that Target tossed them a cease and desist order.  It read:


Note the Lamitron bag in this email.  The right panel, made of a Target shopping bag, has been blurred. 

Obviously, Timbuk2 is taking this cease and decist letter seriously.  Their tact and tone indicates they do not want to poke the beast for fear of legal repercussions, but come on…

Shame on you, Target.  This is a new era, and you know that.  Your marketing efforts are some of the most progressive in the world.  You have a keen understanding of how to engage customers in new, interactive ways.

Timbuk2 may be another “company” rather than a “customer”, but what they offer you is a way to keep the Target brand relevant, fresh, and at the cutting edge of fashion and design.  Why in the world would you ask Timbuk2 to remove your logo from their bags?  It is a critical step in the wrong direction.

I have not control over the process, but I’m hopeful that, in an act of passive aggression, Timbuk2 and RootPhi stop by Wal-Mart on their way to the printing press:




Cultures & Fringes, scavenger hunt, travel

I got hold of two interesting posts today that seem to tell a larger story.

The first was from Freakonomics.  Stephen Dubner got Arthur Frommer, travel magnet, to sit down and answer some reader questions.  Two stood out:

Q: What is the biggest mistake people make when traveling?

A: They fail to prepare themselves by delving deeply into the history and culture of the destination in advance of arriving. They wander as utter novices, unable to understand the sights and institutions brought to their attention. And all the lectured commentaries of their tour guide simply add to the confusion. Advance reading — a few nights at the library — is the key to a successful trip.

Q:What are your thoughts on Xavier De Maistre’s Voyage Autour de ma Chambre, in which the French writer urged that before we jet off to see the world, we should apply the same curiosity and attentiveness to our immediate surroundings? Do you think our obsession with travel blinds us to local pleasures?

A: I’ve always found that the best travelers are the very same people who are intensely interested in the history and culture of their own home city.

My takeaway is that innate curiosity prepares one to be a good traveler.  Time and curiosity prepares one (in Frommer’s words) to expand oneself.

The second post came from PSFK where Jeff Squires wrote up a piece on a new form of travel:

Urban Dare is a new competition that takes teams of two and sends them out into the city to complete various challenges in what is essentially a modern scavenger hunt. Part photo hunt, part trivia, part dares, teams solve clues to reach checkpoints where they must complete challenges and document it with a digital camera before receiving a ‘passport stamp’ and moving onto the next checkpoint. To solve the clues and get around town, competitors are encouraged to utilize any wireless technology they have at their disposal – this includes calling a buddy with Wikipedia and Google maps already open and expecting their call. Typically, the races last between 3 and 4 hours and teams cover around 6 miles. Transportation is limited to walking, running, and public transportation – no bikes, cars, or taxis.

As I’m sure Jeff knows, Urban Dare is part of a larger trend in travel: the urban scavenger hunt.

Cloud 9 offers a similar hunt.  Ultimate Quest has started a scavenger program in L.A.  Scaventures builds them out as chances for corporates to build team moral.  Singles clubs like this one in Chicago are starting their own.  Even brands have taken up the cause, including Nike (great site) and Subaru (corny site).

In my opinion, Frommer has it right – we need time and preparation to enjoy travel – but the catch is most people who can afford trips to foreign lands lack time.  There in lies the demand for a type of travel where people can learn about a place – sometimes on the run – in way that is familiar.  It’s fast, often based on technology, always based on gaming, with an outcome of personal expansion.

American is the Coolest

American Apparel, Bob Hope, Cultures & Fringes, Made in USA, Pop Culturisms, Trends, USA, Voltron

The year was 1984.  The day was December 25.  I was crying.

My hopes of a year filled with wonder and excitement had been dashed, and I blamed Santa.  He had not given me a piece of plastic critical for maintaining a competitive edge with friends at school:

Instead of getting the coolest of all cool toys, I sat next the the tree and clutching yet another Transformer. It was alright – better than my brother’s He-Man action figure – but it was no Voltron.

Oh, Voltron.  How I coveted thee…I had to maintain composure, express gratitude, and make it through the day.

The holiday season of 1984 will go down in infamy for two reasons, neither of which has anything to do with Japanamation.

The first was the Cabbage Patch craze. My family avoided it as we had no girls younger than 45. The second was the Made in the U.S.A. campaign that was launched just after Thanksgiving that year. Here is a snippet of that work (the only I could find).

Few campaigns from my upbringing are as powerful as this one started by the Crafted With Pride in U.S.A. Council, a conglomerate of American textile companies angered by what was inevitable. As America entered a post-industrial state, it sequentially shipped all of its industrial base to newly-industrializing countries. Clothing was the first to go. Soon everything else would follow.


“Made in the U.S.A.” became a battle cry for blue-collar Americans and lunch-pail conservatives. It became synonymous with flag-waving, trade unions, and a belt that was quickly rusting.

Flash forward 20 years to a New York Times article published this past week.  From the article:

“Made in the U.S.A.” used to be a label flaunted primarily by consumers in the Rust Belt and rural regions. Increasingly, it is a status symbol for cosmopolitan bobos, and it is being exploited by the marketers who cater to them.

For many the label represents a heightened concern for workplace and environmental issues, consumer safety and premium quality. “It involves people wanting to have guilt-free affluence,” Alex Steffen, who is the executive editor of, a Web site devoted to sustainability issues, said in an e-mail message. “So you have not only the local food craze but things like American apparel, or Canadian diamonds instead of African ‘blood diamonds,’ or local-crafted toys.”

With so many mass-market goods made off-shore, American-made products, which are often more expensive, have come to connote luxury. New Balance produces less expensive running shoes abroad, but it still makes the top-of-the-line 992 model — which the company says requires 80 manufacturing steps and costs $135 — in Maine. A favorite in college towns from Cambridge, Mass. to Berkeley, Calif., each model 992 features a large, reflective “USA” logo on the heel, and an American flag on the box.

American Apparel, which carries the label “Made in Downtown LA” in every T-shirt and minidress, famously brought sex appeal to clothing basics that are promoted as “sweatshop free.” In the process it won the allegiance of young taste-makers.

If Bob Hope were alive today, I’m sure he would have a thousand jokes to talk about this turn of circumstance.  In the matter of a generation, “Made in America” has switched from blue to white collar and from protectionist rhetoric to progressive idealism. 

For more information on the “Made in America” movement, check out the following:

Still Made in the USA 

From NYT:

Ms. Sanzone, 47, who lives in Alexandria, Va., started [this website] three years ago to list and promote American-made products, for environmental and economic reasons, she said.

Unlike many “Buy American” Web sites, which feature images of weeping bald eagles or quotations from Pat Buchanan, Ms. Sanzone, a Democrat, keeps her site nonpartisan. In the last month, she said, traffic has jumped fourfold, with new visitors including vegans, green shoppers, “Free Tibet” activists and visitors from the Web site Many said the recall of Chinese-made toys inspired them to act, but many also told her that they were starting to expand their focus beyond toys.  

To support the “Buy Rad a Voltron, Already” movement, send checks to:

GSD&M’s Idea City

828 West 6th Street

Austin, Texas 78703

Ingenuity Trumps Consistency for Jones Soda

Brewtopia, Co Creation, consistency, Cultures & Fringes, Digital Media, ingenuity, Jones Soda, Trends, User Generated Content, van Stolk, Web 2.0

Dino Demopoulos, author of the blog Chroma, uncovered a great article about Jones Soda published in Beverage World this past Friday.

The article starts out with a brief, inspirational history of the company followed by a mission statement:

Peter van Stolk, CEO, Jones Soda, has an “ability to straddle the line between corporate head and maverick—he maintains the attitude of a creative entrepreneur while steering an 11-year-old company to strong double-digit growth in a down CSD market—is reflected in the brand itself. With youthful flavors like Blue Bubble Gum and Fufu Berry and eccentric black-and-white photos of consumers on its labels, Jones Soda retains a quirky, scrappy image. Yet the brand that got its start in tattoo parlors and skate shops now can be found in Panera Bread and Barnes & Noble, retail environments more likely to attract soccer moms than fans of the X Games. So how does a brand that built its fan base on a simple premise—“Run with the little guy…create some change”—stay relevant when it has a highly publicized [contract with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and Quest Field] and is predicted to be a global company by the end of 2008? 


“We’ve got to make sure we stay core to our roots,” asserts van Stolk. “Our mission statement is, ‘It doesn’t matter about soda. It matters about our consumers.’ We have to stay true to our goal to create emotional connections and be relevant to our consumers.”

How many times have we heard that one?  It matters about our consumers…create emotional connections…be relevant…etc…etc… 

It brings out a bitter strain of cynicism in me whenever a CEO speaks like this.  The talk is rarely walked. However, van Stolk and Jones Soda are truly delivering on their mission statement.  Here are just a few things they’ve done:

Find and audience:

  • To build a cult following, van Stolk placed Jones Soda in unconventional retail outlets, such as tattoo and piercing parlors, skate and surf shops and clothing stores.
  • To back up this produce placement, Jones Soda was one of the first to enter extreme-sport sponsorships – Tony Hawk was the company’s first athlete – and is now sponsoring cutting-edge tattoo artists like Kat Von D (the woman behind the TLC’s new show L.A. Ink).

Let that audience co-create the brand:

  • Jones Soda solicits suggestions for the next off-beat flavor from their loyal customers.  For example, Whoop Ass energy drink was a result of consumer-generated branding long before Doritos took the plunge.
  • Even the quotes found under the bottle caps usually come from Jones Soda loyalists.
  • Customers can go to to create personalized labels for 12-packs of soda to be shipped directly to their homes.
  • As part of its deal with the Seahawks and Qwest Field, Jones Soda will have photographers roaming the stadium during games taking pictures of fans and players. Those images then will be available for fans to buy and customize their own 12-packs through Jones’ patented process. In addition, Jones Soda is releasing specialty packs with Seahawks players and team logos on the bottles.


There is a lot going on here.  I applaud van Stolk for being on the cutting-edge of integrating customers into the process of branding, but it doesn’t look like he is slowing down.  His decision to tap into the popularity of tattoos puts him at the front of a changing culture (I think I read somewhere that over a third of all people ages 18-30 have a tattoo and the numbers are rising). 

Additionally, his decision to take co-creation to the stands at Quest Field is an amazing idea.  The idea of co-created bottles is not something Jones Soda owns, Brewtopia has been doing it for a while, but I have never seen a company move beyond the digital space to bring co-creation opportunities to customers in the real world.  It will be interesting to see if these photographers roaming the bleachers generate more interest in co-creation.  The very concept of co-creation alludes much of America – Jones Soda may help change that.

The final thing I’ll note is van Stolk seems to approach everything a bit differently.  Whereas Coke is focused on protecting their special sauce (and even make commercials about how much it is protected), van Stolk states “The thing I really like about Jones is that we’re not a flavor. Nobody associates Jones with a single flavor. So we can do anything we want and the limitations are what we put on ourselves.”

For the world of beverages, ingenuity has never reigned supreme over consistency.  Perhaps the this is a sign things are changing.

The Downside of Diversity is Temporary

Analysis, Cultures & Fringes, Deep Narratives & Commentary, Robert Putnam, social capital, Trends

The Boston Globe kick-started an debate last Sunday when they uncovered a study Robert Putman, Harvard Professor and author of Bowling Alone, published earlier this year.  The Globe’s article was titled “The Downside of Diversity”.  It opened as such:

It has become increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity as a civic strength. From multicultural festivals to pronouncements from political leaders, the message is the same: our differences make us stronger.

But a massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam — famous for “Bowling Alone,” his 2000 book on declining civic engagement — has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings…

The study comes at a time when the future of the American melting pot is the focus of intense political debate, from immigration to race-based admissions to schools, and it poses challenges to advocates on all sides of the issues. The study is already being cited by some conservatives as proof of the harm large-scale immigration causes to the nation’s social fabric. But with demographic trends already pushing the nation inexorably toward greater diversity, the real question may yet lie ahead: how to handle the unsettling social changes that Putnam’s research predicts.

From here, author Michael Jonas took his editorial down five paths. 

The first path was political.  Conservative groups are already using this study as proof America needs tougher immigration laws.  Simultaneously, the left is arguing it is time to take action and address our lack of social capital by rebuilding our social institutions.

The second path was comfort, or should I say discomfort.  Much like Florida’s defense the Creative Class, and Suroweicki’s insistence that a homogeneous crowd lacks wisdom, Putnam states the discomfort that comes with multicultural surroundings “helps explain why teams of engineers from different cultures may be ideally suited to solve a vexing problem.  Culture clashes can produce a dynamic give-and-take, generating a solution that may have eluded a group of people with more similar backgrounds and approaches.”

The third path was Putnam’s liberal philosophy.  Putnam has “long staked out ground as both a researcher and civic player, someone willing to describe social problems and then have a hand in addressing them.”  This was well documented in Bowling Alone, a book loaded with half content and half diatribe, whereby Putnam insisted the dearth of social capital in America required civic action rather than letting society take its coarse. By stepping out of the bounds of science once again for this report, many social scientists are sounding off, calling “his prescriptions underwhelming.”


The fourth path was proximity.  Putnam’s data shows that ethnically diverse neighborhoods have a “hunkering down” effect whereby individuals, unable to connect with their neighbors, have closed themselves off.  Jonas noted “in documenting that hunkering down, Putnam challenged the two dominant schools of thought on ethnic and racial diversity, the ‘contact’ theory and the ‘conflict’ theory.  Under the contact theory, more time spent with those of other backgrounds leads to greater understanding and harmony between groups.  Under the conflict theory, that proximity produces tension and discord.”  Putnam’s data seems to debunk both: proximity to diversity doesn’t produce contact or conflict but rather “brings out the turtle in all of us.”

The fifth and final path was time.  “In the final quarter of his paper, Putnam puts the diversity challenge in a broader context by describing how social identity can change over time.  Experience shows that social divisions can eventually give way to ‘more encompassing identities’ that create ‘a new, more capacious sense of ‘we.'”

In my opinion, this final path is the most important for us to understand.  Reading the data at face value ignites political agendas.  Coupling the data with Putnam’s interpretations and recommendations for action waters prevents the reader from understanding the bigger issue here.  Believing that the current trend will continue leads on to conclude that human will soon evolve into mutant turtles.  Perhaps part teenager.  Perhaps part ninja.  But I digress.

That “bigger issue” is the effects of post-industrialization on Western society.  In Bowling Alone, Putnam noted that social capital tends to get depleted and rebuilt as a society transitions from one architype to the next (from agrarianism to industrialism and from industrialism to post-industrialism), writing “America had (previously) experienced a period of dramatic technological, economic, and social change that rendered obsolete a significant stock of social capital.”

In other words, this has happened before.  At certain periods in history we seem to exhibit an unwillingness to accept our new diversity; however, a lack of acceptance does not turn into contact or conflict.  Rather, we go inside our own shells, our own caves, our own gated communities and regroup.  Soon, we will emerge with a new social fabric.

Still, Putnam downplayed this issue in Bowling Alone so that he could focus on immediate, liberal (philosophical, not political) action to change the course of what he viewed as declining social capital.  In his latest report, Putnam once again rejects the forest to focus on the trees. 

About a year ago I got really charged on this issue for a number of reasons.  After thorough analysis of the subject, I started a book.  I have no idea if it will ever get published, but one chapter outlines Putnam’s approach to social capital and juxtaposes his opinion with other leading thinkers on the subject, specifically Francis Fukuyama and Alvin Toffler.  I’ve attached the chapter if you are interested in reading more about this issue – I would love any feedback you may have:


Read more about what the critics, bloggers, and pundits of the world are saying (and not saying) about this subject here:

Financial Times

Yahoo! News by Pat Buchanan

Social Capital Blog

The Conservative Voice