When is a Car a Tiger Crossed With an Iguana?

The New York Times: “When Volkswagen developed a smallish S.U.V. to meet the segment’s growing demand, it faced a challenge: The truck had no name … VW sought the public’s input — a tricky proposition. Its unorthodox approach included a poll, which produced a stunning response. About 350,000 readers of the German magazine Auto Bild cast votes. Among the names on the ballot: Namib, Rockton, Samun and Nanuk. The winner was Tiguan, a mélange of ‘tiger’ and ‘iguana.’ Sexy? Perhaps not. But it stuck, and the Tiguan has stuck around.”

“In 2003, the Canadian division of General Motors was about to introduce a Buick model it had christened the LaCrosse. It became apparent shortly before launch that in Québécois youth culture, LaCrosse is slang for masturbation. The name was changed.”

“When it comes to signing the deal on the showroom floor, however, the car name isn’t necessarily what pushes the buyer’s buttons.” Branding consultant Robert Pyrah comments: “The product has to be king. At the end of the day, I tell clients that as long as the name isn’t bad, you can get away with most things.”

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Adidas Kicks are a Ticket to Ride

City Lab: “Starting January 16, Berlin transit authority BVG will release its own limited edition line of sneakers, a project that’s the first of its kind anywhere in the world. A collaboration with Adidas Originals, the sneakers’ tie-in with the subway will be immediately apparent to any Berliner: the heel counters feature the unmistakable seat upholstery pattern featured on the city’s public transit fleet.”

“The sneaker’s tongue will include a feature that’s arguably more striking—a fabric version of the annual BVG season ticket. That means the wearer gets free travel on subways, trams, buses, and ferries anywhere within Berlin public transit zones A and B— which cover almost all of the city—from January 31st to the end of the year.”

“Then there’s the price, which is a snip at €180 ($215) a pair. That makes them more expensive than the average sneaker, but much cheaper than a traditional annual transit pass, currently €728 ($869) for the same zones.”

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Skura: A Sponge That’s Both Smart & Beautiful


Skura Style: “With clean Scandinavian design, bold colors and resealable packaging, this sponge looks so good you’ll want to show it off … Ugly and smelly no more. Skura’s antimicrobial and fade-to-change technologies ensure that brilliant clean we all crave … Skura’s subscription service is an easy, accessible and innovative way to maintain good sponge etiquette and keep your kitchen super fresh.” (Hat tip to Bill Agee).

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Are You Smarter Than a Kohler Toilet?

The Wall Street Journal: “For some innovators, the next frontier is the room in your house most likely to have a lock on the door: the bathroom. Showcasing their goods at this year’s CES tech show, these companies acknowledge a need for privacy in that inner sanctum—then proceed to show off cameras, microphones and other sensors they’d like you to install there … consider a mirror that turns on motion-activated lights when you get up in the middle of the night, or tells you the weather in the morning. Consider setting the shower on to the perfect temperature just by asking, before you climb in. There are even ‘intelligent’ toilets in the works though how intelligent they’ll be remains to be seen.”

“Some startups see the bathroom the way others now look at the automobile: ready for an open-platform operating system of its own. CareOS—a subsidiary of a French firm which also owns connected toothbrush maker Kolibree—designed an entire health and beauty hub … While a camera in the bathroom sounds like something you’d want to cover with duct tape, CareOS chief technology officer Ali Mouizina says all of your data is stored locally. The system won’t even share it with any other smart home or media hubs in your house, unless you want it to. After all, he said, the bathroom is ‘a private place, a very special place’.”

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How Mushrooms Battle Dirty Laundry

The New York Times: Scientists from a “Danish biotechnology company … Novozymes, regularly trudge through the mud, hunting for oyster mushrooms that protrude from a fallen beech or bracken fungi that feast on tough plant fibers. They are studying the enzymes in mushrooms that speed up chemical reactions or natural processes like decay … Their work is helping the company develop enzymes for laundry and dishwasher detergents that would require less water, or that would work just as effectively at lower temperatures.”

“Enlisting enzymes to battle dirt is not a new strategy. Over thousands of years, mushrooms and their fungi cousins have evolved into masters at nourishing themselves on dying trees, fallen branches and other materials. They break down these difficult materials by secreting enzymes into their hosts. Even before anyone knew what enzymes were, they were used in brewing and cheese making, among other activities.”

“Novozymes and its rivals have developed a catalog of enzymes over the years, supplying them to consumer goods giants like Unilever and Procter & Gamble … In 2009, Novozymes scientists teamed up with Procter & Gamble to develop an enzyme that could be used in liquid detergents for cold-water washes.” Phil Souter of P&G comments: “We knew this was something that consumers would want. I think this is a very tangible and practical way people can make a difference in their everyday lives.”

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Why Do Shoppers De-Value Digital Goods?

Harvard Business Review: “Despite the many advantages of … digital goods, companies find again and again that people value and are willing to pay considerably more for … their physical counterparts … experiments suggest that the key driver of this value loss is not the resale value of the good, or how much it costs to make, or how long it can be used, or whether it’s unique or popular. We find that the key difference is that digital goods do not facilitate the same feeling of ownership that physical goods do.”

“Because we cannot touch, and hold, and control digital goods in the way that we interact with physical goods, we feel an impaired sense of ownership for digital goods. They never quite feel like they are ours, and when we feel that we own a thing, we psychologically inflate its value. As a result, digital goods don’t enjoy this premium we extend to things that we own.”

“Ownership may be achieved by increasing users’ feeling of control through touch interfaces, and customization opportunities that involve users in the production or design of the product … people may devalue autonomous devices that require little or none of their input … those devices will not benefit from the value premium extended to goods for which people feel psychological ownership … Because perceived ownership is impaired for digital goods, people may not feel that their piracy causes the same harm to their owners as does the comparable theft of physical goods.”

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Walkability: Pedestrian Retail Prospers

The Wall Street Journal: “Despite a glut in U.S. retail space, some developers are building more, just not in the form of malls but alongside new homes in smaller chunks than before. The target clientele: younger and even some older Americans who are looking for cheaper housing in the suburbs but favor areas with urban trappings such as restaurants, offices and shops … The focus is on a design that is pedestrian-centric, where residents would have to walk only short distances to get to the grocery store, shops or the gym.”

“In Fort Worth, Texas, residents at the RiverVue Apartments, a new 375-multifamily-unit rental complex, need only a minute to walk to a Whole Foods in the next building. Other shops and restaurants such as REI, Sur La Table, Piattello Italian Kitchen and Taco Diner are also within walking distance.”

“Some retail property owners are constructing residential units or offices in or next to their enclosed malls or open-air shopping centers, or in some cases on top of street-fronting retail stores. Along with additions such as medical offices and hotels, a built-in shopper base helps support foot traffic to the stores and restaurants. Office workers and out-of-town hotel guests might also find it convenient to have food and entertainment options nearby.”

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‘Potheads’ Inhale The Instant Pot

The New York Times: Instant Pot is “a new breed of 21st-century start-up — a homegrown hardware business with only around 50 employees that raised no venture capital funding, spent almost nothing on advertising, and achieved enormous size primarily through online word-of-mouth … devotees — they call themselves ‘Potheads’ — use their Instant Pots for virtually every kitchen task imaginable: sautéing, pressure-cooking, steaming, even making yogurt and cheesecakes. Then, they evangelize on the internet, using social media to sing the gadget’s praises to the unconverted.”

Company founder Robert Wang “listed the Instant Pot on Amazon, where a community of food writers eventually took notice. Vegetarians and paleo dieters, in particular, were drawn to the device’s pressure-cooking function, which shaved hours off the time needed to cook pots of beans or large cuts of meat. Sensing viral potential, Instant Pot sent test units to about 200 influential chefs, cooking instructors and food bloggers. Reviews and recipes appeared online, and sales began to climb.”

“At one point, more than 90 percent of Instant Pot’s sales came through Amazon.” Mr. Wang also revealed a secret: in every official photograph of an Instant Pot, the unit’s timer is set to 5:20 — a series of numbers that, when spoken aloud, sounds like ‘I love you’ in his native Mandarin. ‘It’s a subliminal message,’ he said. ‘It shows how much we care about our customers’.” He adds: “We know we really make a difference in people’s lives. It’s really gratifying.”

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