Wine Labels: The Wallaby Paradox

Quartz: “Interestingly, wine drinkers claim they don’t find ‘has an animal on it’ to be a very desirable advantage for a wine label. But five of the nine top-selling wines in 2005 in the US sported animals on their labels. And wine drinkers … rated as second-most attractive a label with an animal—Yellow Tail, with its vibrant picture of a wallaby. The label that achieved the highest rating for attractiveness was Twin Fin, with its colorful picture of a classic convertible with a surfboard near the beach. The top two labels delivered on the characteristics wine drinkers say they like: eye-catching, unique, stylish, creative, clever, and colorful.”

“Interestingly, in a cross-generational survey of the importance of attractiveness, millennials and Baby Boomers both rated a wine label’s appearance more important to them than Generation Xers did. For the most part, wine drinkers of all ages agreed which labels were most attractive … Women preferred more creative, eye-catching, colorful, and ornate wine labels than men did. Similarly, women rated plain, less colorful logos lower in attractiveness than men did.”

“Almost half of the wine drinkers surveyed—49%—said the words on the back label are at least somewhat important to their purchase decision. Further, 55% said they read a wine bottle’s back label at least somewhat often … Consumers indicated that a description of flavors and aromas of the wine on the back label is the most important information … Awards and climate information may also increase purchase likelihood. The romantic story did not increase purchase interest.”


‘Futurism’ Isn’t What It Used To Be

The Wall Street Journal: “Predicting the future, it turns out, isn’t what futurists do … What futurists actually do is facilitate as groups of people work through a highly structured, sometimes months-long process of coming up with as many hypothetical futures as they can, in order to prepare for more or less anything … practitioners don’t think much about technological change. At least not at first. They start with all the other factors that drive change, from wealth distribution and education to demography, politics, the environment and media.”

“Futurists are relentlessly critical of their own assumptions. Once you’re done coming up with wild-eyed notions about what changes might arise as a result of various forces, you tear apart your own work … Good futurists, even though their work is as much art as science, attempt to make it rigorously quantifiable.” They “disdain … anyone willing to attempt to predict the future. In futuring circles, paradoxically, this is the mark of an amateur.”

“Aside from the fact that anything can happen, those unexpected events rapidly compound on one another. This leads to second, third and nth-order effects that can seem completely beyond the realm of plausibility until they happen. Hence the impossibility of predicting financial crises, wars and technological revolutions. But at least futurists can lend us a sort of mental flexibility, as well as the ability to think through trends that are otherwise easily dismissed.”


Solo Cups: How They Stack Up

The Washington Post: “The red Solo Cup is an elegant piece of technology … what many take for granted as simply a cheap, disposable beverage holder is the result of careful, beautiful engineering by people such as Robert Hulseman,” who passed away, at 84, on December 21, 2016.


“Before the invention of the Solo Cup as we know it, it was often difficult to remove one disposable cup from a whole stack … One of the Solo Cup’s distinguishing features, according to the patent, was the curved lip of each cup … When several cups were stacked together, the lips would ‘engage’… and rest upon each other, keeping one cup from sinking too tightly into the next.”

However: “When cups like these were subjected to crushing forces from various angles, the bottoms could warp in ways that actually made it harder to separate the cups … This is how the plastic Solo Cup gained indentations or divots in the base that made the bottoms more rigid and allowed for more air flow between each stacked cup, which allegedly had the side benefit of helping the cups come apart.”

“It’s often said, incorrectly, that the lines found on some Solo Cups were intentionally designed to mark appropriate serving sizes for different types of drinks, such as beer, wine and liquor.” In fact: “The lines are meant to enhance ‘functional performance’ and help keep your fingers from slipping.”


Jack-in-the-Box Tacos: Repulsive & Irresistible

The Wall Street Journal: “More than 1,000 times a minute, someone bites into what has been described as a wet envelope of cat food—and keeps eating. Jack in the Box is known to most of the country for its hamburgers and bigheaded mascot. But for many of its devotees, the magic of the fast-food chain lies in its interpretation of a taco … A tortilla wrapped around a beef filling that is dunked in a fryer and topped with American cheese, lettuce and hot sauce, the taco appeared on the menu in the 1950s … Jack in the Box now sells more tacos than any other item on its menu thanks to a legion of fans who swear by the greasy vessels even as they sometimes struggle to understand their appeal.”

Aficionado Heather Johnson says the taco is “vile and amazing.” Fellow traveler Mike Primavera describes a “soggy, nasty middle” and the “rim of crunchiness on the outside.” He adds: “You can’t look at it too long before you eat it. You just kind of have to get it outside of the sleeve and into your mouth.”

“Despite some unusual qualities, Jack in the Box hears from a lot of customers that the tacos are close to authentic,” says Jack in the Box product marketing director Jen Kennedy. “We are always imitated but never duplicated.” She says the tacos allow customers to “take a break from the norm and instantly satisfy their cravings.”


Cereal Killer: ‘Product 19’ Flakes Out

Slate: “When you hear the name Product 19, you’ll either flash on an experimental invention from some corporate R&D department, or, if you’re one of its fans, you might think of the health cereal, rare in the aisles of American supermarkets yet loved all the same … While most people these days seemed to barely know of its existence, Product 19 died—a slow, oaty, fade to black, leaving devoted fans desperate.”

“For nearly 50 years, it was simply an answer to a business problem, first released in 1967 as Kellogg’s answer to General Mills’ Total, which had hit the market six years prior … Kellogg’s needed something to compete with this healthy new blockbuster, so they began attempting to develop a vitamin cereal of their own, eventually settling on Product 19 … The cereal was made up of flakes made from a combination of lightly sweetened corn, wheat, oats, and rice, and promoted itself as providing the full daily amounts of multivitamins and iron … The original box was so covered in charts and blocks of text, it truly looked more like some experimental substance than a breakfast cereal.”

“Product 19 never gained the household name recognition of competitors like Total, or even Special K, but the cereal did manage to hold on to a devoted fan base … But as sales of Product 19 began to slump, it began slowly disappearing from stores … Facebook groups like ‘Bring Back Kellogg’s Product 19’ began popping up around the same time … Then it stopped. Without much action on social media in the two years since Product 19 went into decline, Kellogg’s released a statement officially declaring that Product 19 had been discontinued.”


Pearl: Think Apple, Only Different

The New York Times: “Founded in 2014 by three former senior managers from Apple’s iPod and iPhone groups, Pearl has tried to replicate what its leaders view as the best parts of Apple’s culture, like its fanatical dedication to quality and beautiful design. But the founders also consciously rejected some of the less appealing aspects of life at Apple, like its legendary secrecy and top-down management style.”

“More than 50 of Pearl’s 80 or so employees worked for the Cupertino, Calif., tech giant at some point. Although Apple pays very well, many of the Apple recruits had gotten bored cranking out incremental improvements to the iPhone and the Mac … Pearl’s pitch was appealing: Make the roads safer by giving tens of millions of older autos the same high-tech safety features that the newest models have.”

“The larger company’s influence … is clear. Apple, which has about 110,000 employees, breaks big projects down into smaller tasks. Those are assigned to small teams, and each subtask is given to a specific employee, who must get it done — what Apple calls the ‘directly responsible individual.’ Pearl has copied this system … Pearl has also imported Apple’s disciplined approach to engineering. Deadlines are regularly set, and flaws are relentlessly investigated … Another Apple hallmark — elegant design — is also a core value.”


Paper Tigers: Calendars Keep Their Cool

The New York Times: “It may seem counterintuitive that a print product can thrive in the digital age. But the continued success of some paper calendars mirrors that of printed books, an industry that several years ago was confronting what seemed like the very real possibility that e-books would outsell the printed variety. Instead, a Pew survey this fall found that most readers still preferred their reading material printed on paper.”

“Bertel King Jr., in a blog post last year for Make Use Of, a technology and productivity site, made the case for paper calendars.” He wrote: “Having to open another tab, fire up another piece of software, or launch another app to access my calendar amounts to one more onscreen thing vying for my attention. Suddenly a paper planner starts to make sense.”

“Melissa Ralston, marketing director for BIC Graphic, said in an email that companies have found paper calendars to be an effective advertising vehicle with a mass market appeal. She said studies have found that 82 percent of recipients enjoy getting a calendar as a complimentary gift and 70 percent plan to do business with the company that provided the calendar.”


Sneaker Culture: The Politics of Footwear

The Atlantic: “Though it’s been touring the U.S. since it opened in Toronto in 2013, the exhibition Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture generated frantic curatorial discussions … As the exhibition shows, over the last 200 years, sneakers have signified everything from national identity, race, and class to masculinity and criminality; put simply, they are magnets for social and political meaning, intended or otherwise, in a way that sets them apart from other types of footwear.”

“Politics … fueled the rise of sneakers as much as athletics … Mass exercise rallies were features of fascist life in Germany, Japan, and Italy. But sneakers could also represent resistance. Jesse Owens’ dominance at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games stung the event’s Nazi hosts even more because he trained in German-made Dassler running shoes … Sneakers became footnotes in the history of the Civil Rights movement. In 1965, I Spy was the first weekly TV drama to feature a black actor—Bill Cosby—in a lead role. His character, a fun-loving CIA agent going undercover as a tennis coach, habitually wore white Adidas sneakers, easily identifiable by their prominent trio of stripes.”

“The growing popularity of sneakers on both sides of the political divide set the stage for a raging culture war over the shoes’ ties to criminality, or lack thereof … sneakers evolved from symbolic consumer objects into small-batch vehicles for unambiguous social commentary. In one notable example, the artist Judi Werthein designed the 2005 Brinco cross-trainer to assist with illegal border crossings from Mexico. Werthein distributed Brincos to migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border for free, while also selling them to sneakerheads for $215 per pair at a San Diego boutique.”


Dyeing Re-Born: Fashion Hews to Organic Textiles

The Washington Post: “A new crop of small businesses are investing in organic farming, natural dyes and a transparent supply chain that encourages shoppers to think about the effect of their purchases — and they’re selling their products online and in a small but growing number of U.S. stores, from small trendy boutiques to Target … The geographical heartland for most of these sustainable start-ups is India, the second-largest manufacturer of textiles in the world, behind China.”

“T-shirts from Industry of All Nations, sold online or at their retail store in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles, start at $40. But … the high cost of this clothing ideally will translate into consumers giving serious consideration to the impact of their purchases.” Co-founder Juan Gerscovich comments: “Shopping is thought of as fickle, something mindless, but in fact it is one of the most important activities an individual can do. Shopping is the equivalent of voting.”

“The Chetna Co-op connects … farmers to buyers, trains them with better farming practices and educates them on how to manage their finances. Today it sells its textiles to 16 small to midsize brands, mostly in the United States and in Europe. Denver-based PACT apparel, for instance, makes its T-shirts, underwear and loungewear entirely of the co-op’s organic cotton. In May of this year, the label landed in 460 Target stores across the United States.” CEO Brendan Synnott comments: “We want to challenge . . . Hanes, Fruit of the Loom and Jockey. Because the first thing you do in the morning is put on underwear and it sits on your skin all day long.”