Normally my book recommendations fall heavily into the writing,
words, fiction-esque category (Richard Price) or the magazine writer
anthology category (David Samuels), which makes sense, because those
are the things I do, friends. And you are what you read/eat. But I am
adding another type of book to that list. And it’s on–gasp– murketing?
Rob Walker–the Consumed columnist for NYTimes magazine– wrote a
book that takes some of the major ideas of his articles and columns
over the last few years and brings them together to help try and
understand how consumer culture, trends, and marketing have changed
over the last decade or so. And the book is kind of awesome. Now,
this is more than just a passing interest of mine. I need to know
about trends. I want to know about trends. I read RSS feeds about
trends. I wear distressed jeans and tees made of ringspun cotton and
write about wallets from Singapore (Property Of!) and bags made out
of truck tarp and bike inner tubes by Swiss dudes (Freitag!). I’m
kind of a tool. But even if you’re not in this mix, the book does an
incredible job of defining and naming what is going on with (the more
clever) marketing and advertising schemes of nowadays and why–
despite our feelings that we are smart enough to no longer be tricked
by companies– we still get tricked by companies (into buying their
bejeweled Ipod holders, etc).
The books rocks that Malcolm Gladwell Tipping Point story style–the
“here is a random, yet interesting anecdote lede that’ll hook you in,
but won’t let you figure out where I’m going, which’ll further hook
you in”– and recounts stories of why the iPod sold even though it
wasn’t the first with the technology or even with the types of
improvements that it made on that existing technology, why Timberland
boots sell in the urban markets despite being marketed for scrappy
dudes who work outside, how Pabst Blue Ribbon re-made themselves by
accident, mostly thanks to bike messengers in Portland, Oregon, why
Red Bull would spend $100 million dollars on non-advertised kite
surfing trips to Cuba and Scion cars (by Toyota) would have parties
where the guests of honor were from edgy artsy small, small mags like
Art Prostitute, etc.
The main idea centers around this “murketing” term that Walker coined
to mean murky marketing that’s blurred the line so that we can’t
really tell we’re being marketed to… and also drops a ridiculous
chapter about word-of-mouth marketers… people hired to read a book
on a subway and start small talk about it, or bring chicken sausage
to a neighborhood BBQ and casually talk it up, and a bunch of other
semi-creepy things that’ll have you questioning your sister’s next
recommendation for Shake N Bake… is she actually being paid by the
Shake N Bake company? Does Shake N Bake even exist anymore? Will it
make a nostalgic resurgence, not unlike the shoe brand British Knights?
Regardless of the paranoia that may ensue post-reading, the book
makes you think hard and long about what and why you consume what you
do, and at least lets you feel kind of smart about it, even as you
walk down the supermarket aisle in a trance, searching for the Shake
N Bake for no good reason.
Oh yeah, and the Olympics are on… like all the time on MSNBC… and
I can’t stop (won’t stop?) watching. Speaking of which, I need to
go… China vs Poland, women’s volleyball is on right now and it’s
the crucial third game.
If there are any comments, speak now or forever write your piece.