Nokia 3210 & The Mobile Revolution

Slate: “In the late 1990s … There was no launch event for the Nokia 3210, and few major publications bothered to review it. In retrospect, however, it may have done as much to spark the mobile revolution as any handset in history. The 3210 and its successors redefined the role of technology in our lives, not through feats of engineering so much as feats of marketing and design. By rethinking the configuration of key components in the phone and paying attention to how young people were using it, they took something awkward and ungainly and made it simple and chic.”

“In an industry first, the designers made both the front and back covers easily removable, so users could match their phone’s appearance to their taste, their outfit, or even their mood … Third parties around the world began producing custom covers for the device, and mobile-phone retailers began using those brightly colored pieces of plastic to catch the eye of customers … Embracing its role as a toy and not just a utility, Nokia installed on the phone a simple but infamously addictive game called Snake … For the first time, the phone began to double as a personal entertainment device, a way to pass the time when you had nothing else to do.”

“The company announced the 3210 on March 18, 1999, calling it ‘a mobile phone for ultimate convenience and personalization’ and launching a marketing campaign aimed at a much younger audience than was typical for the industry. It went on to sell some 160 million units, making it one of the best-selling phones of all time. No iPhone has ever been that popular. It helped Nokia surpass Motorola as the world’s leading mobile-phone manufacturer, a title it held until Samsung finally eclipsed it in 2012.”


Eyes Over Wool: Patagonia, Ethics & Marketing

The Wall Street Journal: “Patagonia’s profit has tripled since 2008, and the company maintains a reputation for transparency and socially responsible behavior with its customers, brand experts say. But the company is learning a tough lesson: upholding a strict code of ethics while chasing mass-market appeal is a tricky balancing act.”

For example: “Last summer, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals posted a video online depicting grisly abuse of sheep at South American ranches that sold wool to Patagonia.” In response, “Patagonia assembled an in-house task force to rewrite the company’s criteria for wool growers and find new suppliers … Staff met with experts … and toured remote sheep ranches. Task-force members were on hand for shearing and the birth of lambs at several farms.”

“In July, Patagonia announced an agreement with two ranches in Oregon and Utah, which will grow wool for the retailer’s socks.” Alexis Bateman of MIT says there can be “a huge disconnect—where [marketing teams] are ready to tell the story before operations and supply-chain teams are ready and able to confirm it. It’s possible they know where the farm is, even who the farmer is, but not what’s happening 365 days a year.”


Topo Chico: Mexican Water Goes ‘Viral’

The New York Times: “Topo Chico … This super bubbly agua mineral, in retro green-tinted glass bottles, has developed a fervent following here in Texas. Devotees stock entire refrigerators with the stuff and tattoo themselves with the brand’s logo, an Aztec princess who legend has it was healed by drinking the water, which emanates from an inactive volcano in Monterrey.”

“Carbonation is added, but just enough to restore any fizziness lost during purification, in keeping with F.D.A. rules for products sold as sparkling water. The bottler makes no health claims other than that the water ‘quenches thirst’ and ‘aids in digestive processes.’ But some Texans insist it’s the best hangover cure.”

“Beyond any curative powers, many fans of Topo Chico will tell you that it just tastes good … All this love has taken the bottler of Topo Chico somewhat aback. Family-run since the turn of the 20th century, the company merged at the turn of the 21st century … to form Arca Continental, the second largest Coca-Cola bottler in Mexico … its marketing is endearingly un-slick. (Its website has numerous grammatical and spelling errors.)”

“But as part of an agreement announced in May, the Coca-Cola Company will take a 20 percent stake in Arca Continental’s Latin American beverage businesses … it’s fair to wonder whether Topo Chico will lose some of its outsider, underdog appeal.”


Kent Couch: When Convenience is a Destination

Kent Couch, owner of a gas station and convenience store in Bend, Oregon, explains his success in The Atlantic:

“We were able to set ourselves apart with our customer service. Now, our fuel attendants wear white pants, a white shirt, black belt, tie, and a pointy-looking service-station hat. Everybody’s dressed up and they deliver impeccable service: They’ll check your air, wash your windows (both front and back), give the kids a sucker, give the dog a bone, and offer to take out any trash if you have it inside your car.”

“Once we started doing that, we started getting people talking about us throughout our community, and then people outside our community started talking about us, too. That really helped us become more of a destination than just simply a convenience store.”

He adds: “Convenience stores have become a meal replacement for a some people … We sell upwards of 200 breakfast sandwiches a morning. They’re custom made: We fry the egg, we fry the bacon and sausage. We use good-quality products so that folks that are more health conscious can feel better about coming into the gas station to get a meal.”


Razor’s Edge: Harry’s Truman & Target

The Wall Street Journal: “For every annoyance a man might have, there is a brand addressing it. Bevel’s five-part shaving system is aimed at fighting irritation and the razor bumps that result from ingrown hairs … Baxter of California and Fellow Barber sell shaving creams that they say won’t clog razors … Harry’s Truman and Winston razors have a rubberized matte exterior and a textured grip pattern that help strengthens a user’s grip and control.”

“The new specialty brands tend to cost more than mass brands, though in some cases the razors are cheaper. An eight-pack of Harry’s blades costs $16, and its Truman and Winston razors cost $9 and $20, respectively. By comparison, a five-pack of Gillette blade cartridges for its Mach3 razor costs $15.99 on, and the razor costs $9.49. A 6.7-ounce container of Harry’s shaving gel costs $6, compared with $3.49 for a 7-ounce can of Gillette shave gel.”

“In a sign of the smaller brands’ growing clout with consumers, Target Corp. will start carrying shaving and skin-care products from Harry’s … Target hopes that joining with an online subscription service like Harry’s will also help it grow its online men’s shaving sales, including its Target Subscriptions service, which replenishes everyday items on a schedule. In Target stores, Harry’s will occupy prime real estate in grooming departments, a 4-foot section starting at the entrance of the shaving aisle. A 5-foot razor in Harry’s signature “Total Orange” will flank the display.”


Snapper Trap: Something ‘Fishy’ Here

The Wall Street Journal: “When the environmental group Oceana conducted a large study of the issue three years ago, the results were shocking. Scientists performed DNA tests on more than 1,200 samples from nearly 700 different stores and restaurants in 21 states. One out of three fish were mislabeled … and the numbers were even worse in big cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Boston.”

“The poster child for the problem is red snapper, which many experts cite as the most faked species.” Mark Stoeckle of Rockefeller University comments: “When you buy [red snapper], you almost never get it.”

“Seafood uniquely lends itself to fraud. The supply chain for it is opaque and convoluted, and most white-fleshed fish—which is to say, most fin fish—looks similar when filleted. For unethical suppliers, it is easy to substitute a lower-cost fish for a pricier one … Part of the problem is that seafood comes in thousands of varieties, including radically different species, of which hundreds are widely available for sale. Realistically, consumers can’t be well-informed about all of these different sorts of fish.”


Haute Stuff: The Economics of Ethnicity

The Atlantic: “The more capital or military power a nation wields and the richer its emigrants are, the more likely its cuisine will command high menu prices … Consider the divergent trajectories of Japanese and Chinese cuisines in America. In the past few decades, Japanese cooking has become something to emulate in haute cuisine, with elite Western chefs frequently visiting Japan to observe how chefs there are preparing and plating their work … Meanwhile, the status of Chinese food remains held back by many Americans’ perceptions of the country and its economy.”


“The cuisines of France and Italy … have had very different histories in the U.S. precisely because those two countries have sent different volumes of people, of varying levels of wealth, to American shores. The fact that large numbers of poor French immigrants never settled in large portions of the U.S., along with the country’s reputation for sophistication (and fussiness), helped propel French food to becoming the standard against which other cuisines were measured.”



Is Coffee The ‘Jet Fuel’ of The Airline Industry?

The New York Times: “Airlines blame flight delays on many things — missing paperwork, storms in faraway states, planes stacked up at La Guardia — but one explanation in particular trips up some travelers. It’s the broken coffee maker in the airplane galley … The miracle of human flight with onboard snacks is one of humanity’s great achievements. How is it, then, that a balky coffeepot can bring a jumbo jet to a dead halt? It turns out to be a surprisingly complex problem to fix.”

“Onboard coffee machines … cost anywhere from $7,000 to $20,000 apiece. And they are electrical, so if one isn’t working, the ground crew needs to make sure there’s not a problem with the circuitry that could cause a fire or other hazard … The Federal Aviation Administration requires coffee makers to have safety features like circuit breakers and wiring insulation to protect against onboard fires. So when a coffee machine misbehaves, maintenance crews must inspect it to ensure there is no risk.Other special features include latches to ensure that the coffeepot does not shake loose during turbulence.”

“You can’t just put Mr. Coffee in an airline,” said Jeff Lowe, president of Aviation Fabricators, a certified airplane repair station in Clinton, Mo. “You have to do all kinds of engineering and analysis and provide test results to the F.A.A. to get approval.”


‘Used Book’ Stores Are Booming in NYC

The Wall Street Journal: “Little known fact: New York, the publishing capital of the world, is actually a collection of islands overlaying a slow-moving, subterranean tide of used books. The relentless, inexorable flow of review copies, uncorrected proofs, used paperbacks and discarded textbooks swells and accumulates by the hour. Is it any wonder, then, that the city’s used bookstores—the only agents gutsy enough to curate this terrifying onslaught—are thriving?”

“As a result, it doesn’t cost much to stock a secondhand book store in New York. Shop owners say they will typically spend $1 to $3 to acquire a used book they can resell for $10, compared with $6 for a new book with a $10 list price. Some cut acquisition costs further by offering store credit in lieu of cash. At Molasses Books in Bushwick, Brooklyn, customers barter used books for beer, wine or coffee.”

“Some shops have gotten clever at finding alternative revenue sources. The spacious, elegant Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in SoHo, for example, charges up to $15,000 a day to close the store for film shoots—far more than its typical daily sales revenue of $1,500 to $2,000 … The Strand, meanwhile, hosts a booming business selling and renting books ‘by the foot’ to decorators, set designers and homeowners.”