KitKat: Just Plain Weird in Japan

Los Angeles Times: “Two years ago, KitKat’s marketing manager in Japan won an internal corporate award. His prize: a golden trophy shaped like one of the iconic chocolate bars. Today, the manager, Ryoji Maki, doesn’t remember why he won the award. But he’s immensely proud of what it inspired. ‘That’s how I came up with creating a gold leaf-covered KitKat,’ he said. Before long, the chocolate wafer bars were on sale in Tokyo for about $18. ‘They were like an edible golden trophy’.”

“Maki’s creation joined a long, and ever growing, list of distinctive, fun or just plain weird KitKats found only in Japan. The country is a KitKat-lover’s paradise, with so many unique varieties — an estimated 300 — that some travelers visit Japan just to try them. Many flavors are alien to the American palate, and they go far beyond Japanese staples — such as sake, wasabi and green tea — and into uncharted territory: ‘French salt,’ ‘college tater’ and ‘Muscat of Alexandria’.”

“The candy with the European pedigree went on to conquer Japan thanks to constant invention — blueberry cheesecake, cherry blossom and melon — and a linguistic coincidence that makes KitKats here a harbinger of good luck … the chocolate bar’s English name is a cognate — it sounds like kitto kattsu, which means ‘you will surely win,’ a sort of good luck blessing. Nestle leveraged the association into huge sales.”

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Fingerlings: Too Much Monkey Business?

The New York Times: The Fingerling is “a five-inch monkey that grips your finger with its legs and arms, as it babbles, blows kisses and blinks its eyes. Cradle a Fingerling in your hand and it drifts off to sleep. Press the Fingerling’s head and it passes gas. Created by the Canadian company WowWee, the Fingerling has been anointed one of this year’s hot toys for the holidays, a designation that most toymakers only dream of achieving.”

“How the Fingerling reached this tipping point — when suddenly millions of children cannot do without a $15 farting monkey — is the story of a promising idea’s going viral on social media, a large retailer’s savvy pricing strategy and the science of managing scarcity … This past week, Fingerlings were out of stock on Walmart’s website, while parents complained that they had been snookered into buying counterfeits … WowWee says it did not intentionally create the shortage. But whether by design or happenstance, there is no question that scarcity fuels a toy’s mystique.”

“WowWee had originally planned on selling the Fingerling for $20, but the giant retailer was insistent: About $15 was the magic number … When Fingerlings hit stores across the United States in August, Maya Vallee-Wagner, 7, was overcome with emotion … Her father … shot a video of his daughter’s reaction in the toy aisle of a local Target and sent it to WowWee … (which) posted it on the company’s Facebook page, and it went viral … The video was a marketing coup, just as WowWee was launching its social media push — an effort that in many ways resembled the rollout of a Hollywood movie. Gone are the days when a toy company could simply blitz Saturday morning cartoons with ads.”

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Toblerone & Trademark Triangulation

The New York Times: “When the makers of the distinctive Swiss confection Toblerone reconfigured their triangular treat last year to slim down its hallmark summits and widen the valleys between them, a potential rival — Britain’s Poundland discount chain — saw a niche in the market … while the classic Toblerone bars had become lighter in weight in the reconfiguring — though their price remained the same — Poundland’s bar would be chunkier and cheaper, at one pound, or about $1.35, each.”

“Not, of course, that this was some crude copycat. If, as some contend, Toblerone was modeled on the soaring pyramid of a mountain — the Matterhorn on the Italian-Swiss border, which is about 14,690 feet high — Poundland’s bar was said to have been inspired by two less vertiginous hills in the English county of Shropshire near the border with Wales — the Ercall, at 460 feet, and the Wrekin, at 1,335 feet. Hence the shape of the Poundland bar, with a double set of summits between each valley. And hence its name: Twin Peaks, with what Poundland called ‘a distinctive British flavor compared to Toblerone’s Swiss chocolate nougat’.”

After some legal wrangling, Poundland “was permitted to begin selling in its nearly 900 stores the 500,000 bars already in production — provided it changed the background color of their wrappers from gold to blue. And the lettering was changed: to gold, from the original red. Once the initial 500,000 bars have been sold, Poundland said in a news release, it will ‘revise the shape’ so that the bar ‘better represents the outline of the Wrekin and Ercall hills’.”

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‘Unboxing’ is the Holiday’s Hottest ‘Toy’

The Wall Street Journal: “Taking a cue from the YouTube phenomenon known as unboxing—viral videos in which people theatrically unpack hot new products— companies are churning out tiny charms, stickers and golf-ball-size critters, all tucked away inside layers of plastic. The mystery objects have become one of the hottest categories of toys this season.”

“Unboxing videos, also big with technology and fashion reviewers, have become a key way children learn about new toys, and their popularity has grown exponentially in recent years. A recent search for “toy unboxing” on YouTube, a unit of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, brought up more than 12 million results.”

“Australia-based Moose Toys, maker of the popular Shopkins grocery-store figurines, launched its Pikmi Pops in September. The toy, a plastic lollipop-shaped container, hides ‘mystery items’ such as stickers, lanyards and charms … Each of Spin Master Corp.’s Hatchimals Surprise, released in October, holds plush twin critters in a single egg that cracks open after being cuddled.”

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The Huarache: When Weird is Beautiful

Quartz: “The Nike Huarache almost never existed. The shoe, made of a sock-like bootie encased in a supportive exoskeleton, was definitely unusual when Nike began showing around the prototypes in the early 1990s. Practically nobody placed orders, and Nike seemed to have little choice but to kill the idea. Lucky for Nike, one product manager didn’t listen … the Huarache has become Nike’s top-seller globally.”

“The shoe dispensed with a number of conventional ideas in sneaker design. It had no heel counter—the firm backing of the shoe that wraps around your heel to support it—opting instead for the distinctive, harness-like strap, similar to a sandal. (A ‘huarache’ is a kind of Mexican sandal.) It also used neoprene, which had never before been done in a running shoe … when no one placed orders after seeing the prototypes, Nike decided not to make the shoe for release.”

Tinker Hatfield, who designed the shoe picks up on the rest of the story in his new book, called Sneakers: “But one of our product managers actually thought it was awesome, and without proper authorization, he signed an order to build five thousand pairs even though there were no orders. He stuck his neck way out there. He saw what I saw. And he took those five thousand pairs to the New York Marathon, not a place you typically went to sell shoes, and he sold them all in like three days at the exhibition hall right there near Times Square. Word got out. They went like hotcakes. In a month, we went from zero orders to orders for half a million pairs.”

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Fake Meat: Growing Bloody Fast

Business Insider: “Fake meat is a fast-rising food category that could change the way we eat. It replaces animal products with alternatives made from plants that look and taste like meat, with the goal of reducing the global dependence on animal agriculture.”

“The substitute meat market is expected to grow 8.4% annually over the next three years, reaching $5.2 billion globally by 2020, according to Allied Market Research … Companies that produce fake meat and seafood, ranging from ‘bloody’ burgers to sushi made from tomatoes, have targeted college campuses as testing grounds for their creations … In October, startup Impossible Foods announced it will expand distribution of its vegan burger, which sizzles on the grill and bleeds juices like real beef, to universities and company cafes.”

“Impossible Foods opened its first large-scale production facility in September, which will allow it to produce at least four million meatless burgers a month by year’s end … New Wave Foods, which manufactures an algae-based shrimp alternative, and Ocean Hugger Foods, which is working on plant-based seafood — including a raw tuna substitute made from tomatoes — have also set their sights on food-service companies as a path for distribution.”

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Fake Apple Store: Not Bloody Likely

Boing Boing: “The good-natured prankster group Improv Everywhere had some fun a few Sundays ago when they converted Manhattan’s 6-train glass elevator at 23rd street into a fake Apple store. They told people it was a pop up to replace the iconic glass Apple store which is closed for renovations until early 2018.”

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Amazon & The Delivery Experience

Axios: “Amazon has gotten so good at moving merchandise that it now accounts for 43 cents of every dollar spent online in the U.S., according to eMarketer … Lost in this torrent of news are indications that Amazon’s revenue formula is fundamentally changing: from a reliance on retail and cloud services, the e-retailer appears likely to power future growth with fulfillment and shipping services to third-party sellers.”

“Amazon’s latest offerings — Seller Flex and Key — are next in the line of this tradition. Seller Flex launched last month: It’s a new courier service that ships goods from outside sellers to customers’ homes. Amazon Key was announced last week: Using a smart lock and an indoor security camera, this program offers in-home delivery for Amazon Prime members. ‘This is not an experiment for us’: Peter Larsen, Amazon’s vice president of delivery technology, tells WSJ, ‘We think this is going to be a fundamental way that customers shop with us for years to come’.”

“The key to understanding Amazon is its monomaniacal focus on giving the customer what he or she wants, even before they know they do. Amazon is not going to wait around for FedEx and UPS to experiment with changes that could improve the customer experience, whether that means new products for home entry or faster delivery options. And history shows it would be wise to take notice when Amazon starts experimenting in your backyard.”

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Toyota Yui: Your Father the Car

The Wall Street Journal: “If you love your car, Toyota Motor Corp. thinks your car should love you back. That’s the reasoning behind the company’s artificial-intelligence project, dubbed Yui: an onboard virtual assistant that gauges your mood, indulges in personal chitchat and offers to drive if it senses you are sleepy or distracted. In one Toyota video, shown at the Tokyo Motor Show, a woman sits on a seaside cliff, talking about her father with her car. ‘He sounds like a great father,’ says Yui, in a baritone male voice. ‘You’re a bit like him,’ the woman says.”

“To be sure, rarely do futuristic vehicles at auto shows make it to the roads. But Toyota plans to start testing a car equipped with Yui on Japanese roads in 2020. In autonomous-driving mode, the seats recline and massage your back in a manner Toyota says will slow your breathing and calm you down … Toyota imagines Yui being treated like a friend or family member, with whom access to social-media accounts is shared.”

“It wants to monitor your social-media posts to know if you are obsessed with a particular band or sports team. It also wants to monitor the news, so it has potential context when you look happy or sad. Did your favorite team drop out of the playoffs? Did your favorite singer come out with a new song? … Not all car makers see people wanting a humanlike relationship with their cars … ‘I’d rather not have this, because I’m a private person,’ said Yasuko Takahashi, a 54-year-old office worker… ‘I’d rather have the cars talk to each other, instead of me,’ she said.”

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Balenciagas & The $700 Socks

Quartz: “Typically just a minimal, stretchy knit upper and a sole, sock sneakers originated with big athletic brands. But luxury labels have since eagerly taken up the thread, pushing the form to deliberately emphasize the resemblance to socks. In the normal course of fashion’s trend cycle, mass-market brands have begun copying them and producing their own versions too. They now exist in seemingly endless iterations across a variety of price points, and embody some of the big currents moving fashion today.”

“Right now the style is exemplified by Balenciaga’s Speed Trainers. The shoe is basically an elastic ankle sock, mounted to a sole. They cost $595 to $695, depending on the version, and are currently sold out in popular sizes on a number of sites … They’re popular enough that fast-fashion chain Zara has introduced a pair that looks unmistakably like Balenciaga’s, except they cost just $70.”

“Sock sneakers are basically yoga pants for your feet. Unlike the pieced-together panels of leather and other materials that form other styles of sneaker, they conform to your foot without confining it … Just as importantly, the look is just right for the present moment, when all things athletic continue to have a major influence on the look of clothing.”

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