Life is Short. Why Not Arby’s?

Business Insider: “On January 14, 2015, a Twitter account named Nihilist Arby’s (@nihilist_arbys) was born, and it didn’t take long for Arby’s corporate office to notice. With a double beef and cheese as its avatar, the angst-ridden account confronted followers with a negation of everything they held dear in life and offered they fill that void with a sandwich and curly fries.” Sample tweet: “Drain the blood, cure and slice the flesh, season and fry the potatoes, feed them the sugar water. Be born. Toil. Die. Arby’s. We sell food.”

“By mid-February, Nihilist Arby’s had 13,000 followers and … a significantly better engagement rate than the real Arby’s account, which had nearly 400,000 followers … in August, Adweek revealed that the man behind the account was Brendan Kelly, an adman from Chicago and longtime punk-band frontman. Arby’s would soon make peace with its nihilist counterpart, flying an executive out to meet Kelly with a bag of food and a puppy.”

The backstory: “Kelly was working at the ad agency FCB when he found himself in a conference room with a brand executive pitching Twitter strategy to the head of social media … He imagined a scenario where someone in charge of a brand’s Twitter account … had a ‘red pill’ experience, a reference to the pill in The Matrix that frees people from an artificial world. This social-media employee would be ‘exposed to how f—ing horrendously tragic life actually is — you know, how meaningless everything is,’ Kelly said, laughing. A phrase that popped into his head was ‘Nihilist Arby’s,’ which had less to do with anything specific about Arby’s and more with how goofy it sounded.”

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New England Scrambles to Save Country Stores

The Wall Street Journal: “For 203 years, the Francestown Village Store served its tiny New Hampshire town, selling everything from fresh-baked bread and live fishing bait to winter hats and groceries while offering a place where residents could gather and gossip. But the institution, formerly known as the Long Store, closed earlier this month … hit by changing consumer habits such as online shopping and residents who increasingly commute out of the town of 1,600 for work and shop at large grocery stores on their way home.”

Designed to provide everything rural residents might need, general stores often are packed to the gills with things ranging from tools and electrical supplies to fly swatters, newspapers, meat and other food, long underwear and maybe even a bottle of champagne. Many offer postal services and function as a town center, where locals debate political issues or find out who in the community needs help.”

“Vermont is losing three or four general stores a year, and is down to about 80 from more than 100 a decade ago … In Putney, Vt., the local historical society raised money to buy the embattled Putney General Store and in May took over the day-to-day operation there. In Bath, N.H., Scott and Becky Mitchell jumped into an auction last year and bought the historic Brick Store, which is so old that the sides of its counter are angled to allow women in hoop skirts to get closer to the merchandise.” Says Becky: “Customers come and say, ‘thank you for saving it.’ The town really needed it.”

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Web Design: ’90s Style Returns

The New York Times: “Web designs have come a long way in 20 years, but some are taking a step back to evoke a sort of hipster nostalgia for the early days of the internet … Some websites are purposely cumbersome to navigate, with loud, clip-art-filled pages. Others employ a simplistic Craigslist-style utilitarianism that feels like a throwback to an era when web pages were coded by hand.”

“While millennials and members of Generation Z — those born in the years from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s — may not remember what the web looked like in the era of AltaVista and GeoCities, the retro designs tap into the current cultural revival of all things ’90s … For those who are older, these sites recall the improvised internet of their youth, in the days before mobile optimization and beta-tested user interfaces brought a sleek uniformity to modern web design.”

For example, check out: Salazarla. Or: Everything Now. And then: Solange.

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Adidas Grows ‘Creator Farm’ in Brooklyn

Business Insider: “In Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in an unassuming warehouse space just across the street from a stone supplier, Adidas is plotting the future. That’s where the company has built its Brooklyn Creator Farm, a relatively secret location where Adidas hosts a small team of designers from studios around the world. Their job? ‘Creating culture,’ said Marc Dolce, VP and creative director at Adidas.”

“The farm is separated into two parts: the designer’s area, and the Adidas’ Brooklyn MakerLab. The MakerLab — which is one of three in the Adidas ecosystem — has all the high-tech machinery and materials needed to create any kind of sneaker or piece of apparel the designers can dream up … The designer’s area itself is chock-full of idea boards and materials to inspire … Global Creative Director Paul Gaudio said it’s called a farm because the brand wanted the space to be ‘earthy and real and where you can get your hands dirty’.”

“The farm designers are influenced by the fluid and dynamic culture of where they are in Brooklyn. For example, a designer can join a night running group and learn not just what they need from a running shoe, but what these runners do for fun and what kind of lives they lead … “In the end, it’s very much a brand statement,” Gaudio said. “It’s who we are; It’s who we want to be. It’s so deeply connected to that strategy of understanding where culture happens. New York City is the place.”

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Brandless: When The Brand is No Brand

Quartz: “E-commerce company Brandless launched last week, but it is already billing itself as the ‘Procter and Gamble of millennials.’ The startup sells a variety of Brandless-branded foods and household goods, supplied by its proprietary partner manufacturers, and all priced at $3 … The company promises to keep prices low by eliminating the BrandTax, a phrase it requested a trademark for last November, and which it defines as the ‘hidden costs you pay for a national brand.’ Its simple white labeling was designed by a team of product and marketing experts and food scientists.”

According to CEO Tina Sharkey: “The Brandless movement is the ‘democratization of goodness.’ It’s that everyone ‘deserves better, and better shouldn’t cost more.’ The $3 price point is designed to make it ‘very freeing when you shop on brandless.com.’ Brandless wants people to ‘live more and brand less,’ to ‘tell their own stories,’ and to drop the ‘false narratives’ sold by Madison Avenue. ”

“In the meantime Brandless is crafting its own narrative. On its website, the company claims the average person pays a 40% or greater BrandTax markup on products ‘of comparable quality as ours.’ This seems likely true of Brandless organic extra virgin olive oil ($3 for 8.5 oz, or about 35 cents an ounce) but perhaps less so for its organic taco seasoning mix ($3 for a pair of 1 oz packets).”

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Tony Chocolonely: Slave-Free Chocolate Bars

Fast Company: “Since hitting U.S. shelves last fall, a new kind of chocolate bar company is trying a different tactic: Making ‘100% slave-free’ its central selling point. Amsterdam-based Tony’s Chocolonely features a wrapper with the brand’s name spelled out in large, cartoonish lettering. Inside, the chunky squares are divided unevenly to represent the inequality within the industry.”

“To meet that promise, company leader Henk Jan Beltman … had to rethink nearly everything about how traditional supply and production works. Rather than contract with international traders, the company deals directly with independent in-country farming cooperatives, which sometimes receive NGO support. All participants not only share practices to grow better crops, but agree to be monitored, ensuring instances of child labor are spotted and addressed.”

Tony’s Chocolonely “was originally started by a Dutch journalist named Teun ‘Tony’ van de Keuken who, after investigating how slave-based beans were mixed up and melted down with everything else, originally decided to make an absurdist documentary about the injustice in 2004. Van de Keuken bought and ate some off-the-shelf bars and then turned himself in to the police, citing his behavior as helping finance criminal operations. Theatric aside, he wasn’t convicted, so he launched a chocolate company to prove there was another way to ethically manufacture.” Says Beltman: “It’s the lonely battle of Tony to change the chocolate industry from the inside out.”

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Tea House: How ‘Pure Leaf’ Tells Its Story

The Wall Street Journal: At the Pure Leaf Tea House, fans of the beverage can enjoy it in various ways. The emporium, which opened in New York’s SoHo neighborhood in late June, offers everything from iced chai to a Japanese-style hot ‘popcorn’ tea … the airy, 3,000-square-foot space essentially is a promotional vehicle for Pure Leaf itself, a tea brand created in partnership by PepsiCo and Unilever.”

“Brands say they are going the open-your-own-store route as a way to tell their stories—rather than relying on other retailers to do it for them. ‘You can’t do this in the grocery’ store, said Pure Leaf senior marketing director Laraine Miller, speaking of the tea house’s elaborate setup. The shop incorporates museum-style installations featuring the history and uses of tea. Company-branded stores also afford the opportunity to test-market new products and showcase tried-and-true favorites in unusual ways.”

“Retail experts say the approach can pay off in terms of creating buzz for a brand, especially given New York’s reputation as a taste-making city. And the stores can become profitable, providing a brand with another income stream.” Ms. Miller says: “In terms of return on investment, that’s not how we’re measuring it.”

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Slow Dollars: Key to Local Grocery Success

Anne Kadet: “It’s a mystery. Local markets clearly are losing business to national outfits such as Whole Foods Market , Trader Joe’s and Target. So why don’t they up their game? To my surprise, Enrico Palazio, who co-owns the Montague Street Key Food with his uncle, says he doesn’t view Trader Joe’s as competition. It doesn’t have a deli, butcher or even a respectable detergent section. ‘This is one-stop shopping,’ he says of his store. The real competition, he notes, is FreshDirect.”

“Mr. Palazio “spent a lot of money on last year’s renovation, aiming to outdo FreshDirect by making his store a pleasant place to shop. His markups reflect that investment, he says, but his prices are still lower than FreshDirect. Because his 10,000 square-foot Key Food is too small to carry products at every price point, Mr. Palazio caters to neighborhood preferences. He doesn’t sell the cheapest ice cream brand, for example, but he does stock McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream.”

“To handle more customers, Mr. Palazio says, he’d have to cram the store with more cashiers, baggers and stock clerks. The busy, hectic atmosphere wouldn’t appeal to his clientele, he believes. Burt Flickinger, managing director of retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group, says this strategy is typical of many local supermarkets. ‘It’s the slow dollar versus the fast nickel,’ he says.”

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Blind-Date Books: Novel Mysteries

The Wall Street Journal: “Booksellers across the country are enticing readers to take a chance on a surprise selected by store staff. To set up these ‘blind dates,’ the stores wrap the book to hide the cover and offer a few clues to give a sense of the hidden work’s genre and tone. ‘It’s been the most successful table we’ve ever put together,’ says Cari Quartuccio of the blind-date offerings at a location of Book Culture, where she is the store manager.”

“For customers, trusting the staff at their local store is part of the fun. The clues allow readers to select a gift for themselves. (And then, of course, immortalize unwrapping the mystery volume on Instagram.) At Book Culture, blind-date offerings are wrapped in brown paper and bear a note advising ‘Read me if you liked’ and a list of three books staff members think customers are likely to have read.”

“Book Culture’s Ms. Quartuccio says customers seldom are lukewarm about the notion of blind-date books. Fans often make repeat purchases, with some even buying stacks as gifts. Other customers are perplexed by the idea. Finally, she says, there are those ‘who get really upset when we won’t tell them the title of the book. Mystery isn’t for them, but they still want to take part in it’.”

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