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weblog archives
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Friday, October 24, 2003
'Selling you a new past' (via Kottke), a fascinating article about 'memory morphing' – or how advertising makes you reassess products and services after the event... so maybe you’ll try them again. The car industry has been doing this for years; I once heard it said that car ads are mostly aimed at people who’ve already bought the car – reinforceing their decision and hopefully encourage them to make a repeat purchase. From the article: "…Professor Jerry Zaltman, a psychologist attached to Harvard Business School … claims that advertising - "if properly constructed" - can lead to the creation of false memories." It gets better:

Elizabeth Loftus, a former professor of psychology at the University of Washington... singled out a campaign by Disney - "Remember the magic" - which, she claimed, was used to invoke real or imaginary childhood memories in consumers. She reported an experiment in which people were shown an advert suggesting that children who visited Disneyland had the opportunity to shake hands with Bugs Bunny. Later, many of those who had seen the advert "remembered" meeting Bugs on childhood visits to the theme park, a feat that would have been impossible, given that the cartoon is a Warner Brothers character.

Zaltman has a 1995 patent on his ZMET system, a 'method and apparatus for eliciting customer input to construct advertising/marketing campaigns'. ZMET is an image-based research tool that enables companies to discern exactly how consumer's experience of an object or event made them feel. A kind of fiendishly complex questionnaire. In practice, the system allows a consumer to chose a series of pictures, representing moods and emotions triggered by the product. These images are then brought together in a collage to summarise their feelings, and this composite image is discussed in depth.

There's even more background to the process in this Fast Company article from 1998, 'Metaphor Marketing', which traces the history of marketing from the birth of the focus group in the 30s. It notes that the average American supermarket is stuffed with 30,000 different items. Since 1980, the number of products launched each year has tripled; in 1996 alone, companies introduced some 17,000 new products. So how can companies possibly keep up with who wants what and why? This is where new research methods come in. Zaltman’s ZMET is discussed in the paragraph entitled ‘The Truth about Pantyhose’ (scroll down).

So is this kind of marketing one of our ‘luxuries of progress’ or is it a hardcore science with wider implications? How else would Nestlé learn that ‘the Crunch bar turns out to be a very powerful icon of time’, or that women have a like/hate relationship with pantyhose? (we call them tights)? Zaltman’s work continues at The Mind of the Market Laboratory at Harvard Business School. Related, in that ‘internet of things’ train of thought. You can now search inside books at Amazon (me-fi discussion). This will definitely be something to return to.

Closely related: 'Buying sofas, stealing beauty,' a review of Virginia Postrel’s The Substance of Style. The reviewer notes that:

..esthetic plenitude fuels our economy. Producers compete on the basis of styling, and it’s not just women’s coats and automobiles we’re talking about. It’s paper clips, and pagers, and letter openers, and shoelaces, and bath mats, and bandages, and ballpoint pens. There may well be not a single item of household or personal use that is not now available in some professionally styled — and usually quite attractive — variant.

The book interprets the sheer variety of manufactured goods as a form of popular critique of high modernism - by buying the everyday, we're rejecting the tenets of so-called 'high design'. Everyone becomes an arbiter of their own very personal – and very achievable – taste.

House cleaners looking for work post ads with mixed fonts and with clip art. Ms. Postrel takes umbrage when professional designers look at these productions and cringe. She comes close to saying there is no such thing as bad design, that our pluralistic culture has made the commissar of taste a thing of the past. “I like that” rules.

But does this aesthetic plenitude really help? Or are we revelling in plain old bad design just because we can? There's a largely hidden and unexplored network of manufacturing, shipping, containerisation and distribution out there, creating endless stuff, stuff that is continuously circumnavigating the world, on its way from one market to another in order to sate our consuming desires, be they long-harboured or freshly-created, or even retrospectively reactivated.

Elsewhere. The Cuboro system. Chunks of wood. Holes. Marbles. (via Tweaks the limbs). Very pleasing: I, II, animation. This takes us to Kugelbahn, a huge site devoted to ‘rolling ball sculptures, curious machines, mechanical sculptures, automota and other ‘moving’ art, like this incredible barrel (inside). See also the extraordinary ‘Realm of the Dead'. There are excellent videos, too: I, II. More marble madness (in German), including this epic Cuburo construction. Kinetic art and mechanamorphic sculpture, the work of William Dubin.

The motor industry suffers another product-naming fiasco with the 2005 Buick LaCrosse, which will probably look nothing like this concept version from 2000 (although at least one of the anecdotes related in the story - that the Chevrolet Nova translated into 'No Go' in Spanish - has since been debunked). More American auto wallpapers / Please do not lick this page! More eye candy, via making light / Not eye candy at all. Under Fire: Images from Vietnam (via Douze Lunes). Golly / Attaboy, a weblog / film strips. Have a great weekend.

Update. The last three commercial Concorde flights just went over: I, II, III.