Reimagining Retro: Classic Design and the Cycle of Fashion

Reimagining Retro

In recent times we have witnessed a progressive trend in consumer markets towards modern product designs that are informed directly by classic design frameworks. From automobiles to electronics, retro design motifs have been reimagined with streamlined, new age aesthetics to produce some of the most compelling consumer goods to hit the market in decades. These new products have not only reshaped the visual landscape, but they have provided us with a deeper sense of reflection regarding the evolution of consumer culture, as well as the application of form and function as they relate to the material composition of everyday life and its various artifacts.

In the quest for market leadership, strategists must attempt to set the trends of tomorrow by first analyzing the past in order to either A.) predict the next major transition or to B.) break with the current momentum by introducing what are often idealized as “disruptive innovations”. But how does one gain the positioning needed to set the next trend, and what is the method for activating innovations that will disrupt the status quo? 

Form & Function

As form follows function, the evolution of industrial product design follows closely in tandem with the development of new technologies. Yet, technological breakthroughs of the revolutionary sort can often be far and few between. Consequently, we find ourselves in a postindustrial consumer market that is in many cases dictated by the mercurial symbolism of the fashion cycle rather than the grounded sense of demand that is driven by functional usage values. Under such conditions superficial trade dress and design motifs have not only gone a long way towards establishing a popular understanding of brand status, but they have become the dominant signifiers of performance-based valuation in the popular conscience as well.

From electric guitars to digital cameras, many modern iterations of consumer products have retained vestigial features in their form factors that serve little value other than to inform us, semiotically, how those products are used or what brands they represent, through the employment of visual references. This phenomenon has been well documented in the work of Gary Hustwit, particularly in his treatment of the subject, titled Objectified (2009). There is substantial evidence in support of the assumption that industrial product design of all sorts travel along the cyclical continuum of prevailing social norms that we understand to be the cycles of fashion. 

Theorist James Laver once posited that fashion trends existed on a 150 year cycle, which very well may have been the case at the time that he authored his analysis of the subject. But since that time the duration of that cycle has been reduced as a result of multiple factors, including technological advancements in manufacturing, distribution methods, travel, and communications, which have resulted in a virtual compression of time and space as barriers to, what Everett Rogers termed, The Diffusion of Innovations.

Trend Spotting

As strategists remain in constant pursuit of market domination through the assertion of trend leadership, it is important that we analyze the market for recent trends in order to discern the most effective ways that brands have anticipated the momentum of social preference and found ways to effectively deviate from its trajectory. In this way we might provide informed insights about design philosophy as a keynote of innovation, the role of the fashion cycle in the direction of the current market’s trends, and the possibilities for future trends that may be forming on the horizon. 

Interior Décor

Pronounced vintage patterns have become a mainstay on the palettes of interior décor suites ranging from custom studios to upscale boutique chains to mass-market big box department retailers and DIY designers. Modern producers have taken a likeness to updating these design motifs with more brilliant color hues than the traditional tones found in the originals.

 

Sneakers

 

In August 2016 Nike released the Air Jordan XXXI sneaker. In honor of having issued its marquis shoe for a whopping three decades, the brand chose to return to the roots of the line’s design philosophy by taking direct references from the Nike Air Jordan I and integrating them into the new shoe’s design, which incorporates the use of high tech fabrics and cushioning to maximize performance. The shoe is most notable for reintroducing the prominent Nike swoosh and original Air Jordan ‘Wings’ logo into its design—both of which had been largely absent from Air Jordan sneakers over the past two decades.

 

ROLLER SKATES

Rocket Skates introduced a line of lithium-ion battery powered, motorized, strap-on roller skates reminiscent of the vintage strap-on roller skates popularized in the first half of the 20th century. In recent times roller skates have taken on more sophisticated design, culminating with in-line ‘roller-blade’ design formats, but the old model has recently resurfaced in this wearable tech line which has gangrened great enthusiasm.

Cameras

Coming out of the 1960s the Super 8mm camera was a classic tool for amateur film production that was largely displaced by the coming of magnetic video cameras, which was followed ultimately by digital video recorders of all sorts (e.g. DSLR cameras, MiniCams, Drones, Smart Phones, etc.). Since that time, the “old Super 8” cameras became celebrated for their rich use of analog technology and their vintage quality. In 2016 Kodak responded to the market’s sentiments by introducing its renaissance Super 8 camera, which uses Super 8mm film stock and a digital interface to produce DIY motion picture footage using an enhanced version of the classic Super 8 perspective. More importantly, the camera’s form factor took direct reference from the old cameras with its lateral brick-like body and its trademark grip handle for diverse camerawork.

Polaroid’s pioneering of the instant camera made its products all the rave throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Around the 1990s the instant camera lost some popularity to less expensive, higher clarity, 35mm film with the rising support of1-hour development found in drug stores and big box retailers everywhere.. Later digital cameras and rich media communications ate the core out of amateur analog photography altogether with instant, high resolution, digitally editable, -transferrable, and -mass-publishable technology—leaving the instant cams of the old days as little more than afterthoughts and party gimmicks. However, ‘all things analog’ have lately fallen back into favor among creative professionals and enthusiasts, largely due to the realization of the value of subtle distortion and other natural artifacts with comparison to the pristine yet ‘sterile’ output of digital systems. Polaroid has taken advantage of this trend by issuing modern instant cameras with updated features using many of the vintage design motifs of the old units from the 60s.

Leica recently introduced its line of Sofort Instant Cameras, which take design inspiration from the classic trade dress of its highly renowned rangefinder cameras, but in a miniaturized form factor. Leica has spiced up its new instant line with a vivid color selection including mint, orange, and white.

 

 

 

Record Players

Many manufacturers have introduced USB powered vinyl disc turntables for vintage music listening pleasure. Some of the designs follow antique design schemes down to the suitcase form factor, save for the digital components. However, others take inspiration from these retro product designs and flip them with brilliant colors, streamlined angles, and innovative layouts.

 

Appliances

Whirlpool front-loading laundry machines were an early leader of the reimagined retro trend at the beginning of the millennium. Since that time, manufacturers from Kitchen Aid to Kenmore have had substantial success with lines of vintage inspired household appliances, which offer a strong complement to any modern or retro interior designs.

 

 

Automobiles

The trend of reimagined retro has been especially extensive in the automobile market, as these goods are more durable, with higher levels of conspicuousness, and broader audiences. We see this trend in stylish compact family cars like the rebooted Mini Cooper, the Fiat 500, and the Volkswagen Beetle. It has also shown up in sporty classic pony, muscle, and performance cars like the revamped Ford Mustang Shelby GT, Dodge’s Challenger, and Chevrolet’s Camaro and Corvette Stingray. Car manufacturers have had much success in revitalizing classic design frameworks to inform retro inspired body styles that break with the current trajectories of automobile evolution because these disruptive designs stand out from the redundant body styles that currently dominate the roadway. These classic designs speak to the legacies of their makers and have been lauded by tastemakers, fashion-conscious consumers, and car-enthusiasts alike for their significance in paying homage to car culture at large and the brands that brought that heritage to market as an enduring lynchpin of American society.

On The Horizon

What we find in the market’s current affinity for vintage design motifs is more than a mere exploitation of consumer nostalgia—it is the recapitulation of the ‘classic’ at the conclusion of a fashion cycle. The reimagining of retro is an apparent progression from the “devolutionary” stagnation in fashion noted by Kurt Andersen as characteristic of the timeframe roughly between the early 90s and the first decade of the new millennium. It is reasonable to assume that we might have a ‘return to origins’ across industrial design in the wake of this dormant period. As these recycled themes regularly find themselves laced in a layer of postmodern sensibilities, it is also reasonable to suggest that, given the timing, context, and ‘temperature’ of this retro trend, we might expect to see a dramatic shift towards some rejuvenated version of futurism as a reaction to the prior half century. Though nothing is for certain, the current revisiting of the past has been intriguing to say the least.

I Want My MTV (Classic): Nostalgia and The Quest for Comeback

THEY’RE BACK!!!

The classics are back! Viacom’s MTV Networks division has done some shop cleaning with a format adjustment to its station programming by replacing the now defunct VH1 Classic with a “Spankin’ New” channel called MTV Classic. The MTV brand was once a definitive voice of authority on ‘all things cool’ to youth audiences. However, blinded by its own success, bloated by over-expansion, and weighted down by the bureaucratic strain of the Viacom media machine, the network’s influence has waned significantly over the past ten years. Having officially jumped the proverbial shark some time in the millennium’s first decade, the new ‘Classic’ aims to reinvigorate the MTV brand by nostalgically reminding old audiences of its golden era and introducing new ones to the critically acclaimed content that built the network into one of the premier gatekeepers of pop culture relevance. But will it work?

THE MAKINGS OF A JUGGERNAUT

Launched 35 years ago in August of 1981, the Music Television network has undergone many evolutions since its introduction as the home of Rock ‘n’ Roll video. The brand was originally targeted towards young adult audiences and it played a pivotal role in facilitating the Second British Invasion of successful rock acts into the U.S. market during the 1980s. The use of videos to promote musical recordings was a well-established practice that reached new heights after the introduction of MTV. The network’s commitment to pop culture fueled record sales and demonstrated an ability to have a massive impact on the evolution of the modern celebrity as a social construct. By the time of its heavy support of Michael Jackson’s 1983 release of “Thriller”—widely regarded as one of the greatest pop culture works of all time—the MTV brand was cemented as a preeminent fixture in the consciousness of American youth; a position it would dominate for three generations.

As time progressed, the cultural zeitgeist continued to inevitably shift and the network adjusted appropriately as it came to serve as not only an outlet, but a source for youth entertainment—pushing new boundaries of social norms with the introduction of its edgy original content. From MTV News to Liquid Television, the brand found wide success in the groundbreaking programming that was suddenly surrounding the music videos that had drawn its audience in from the start. As the network came of age in the 1990s it developed a liberal ethos of creative freedom, a penchant for social activism, and a brand personality with its own unique voice. This content was largely independent of the material it was force-feeding its viewers from the hand of the maturing record industry that was on the verge of its peak, and eventual rapid decline. MTV endeavored into game shows, films, and explicit animation, and it played a pioneering role in the reality television genre with its creation of shows like “The Real World” and “Road Rules”. It asserted its authority across the pop world with elaborate ceremonies for its MTV Video Music Awards and MTV Movie Awards, and it spawned a portfolio of sister channels to support its leadership role at the epicenter of pop culture media.

THE BIGGER THEY COME…

After two decades of unbridled ascension MTV sat atop a commercial empire as a ruler of influence in the lucrative teen and young adult markets. But the signs of storms ahead were already on the horizon. The thing about gatekeepers is that one can keep people outside of their gate, but one cannot force people to stand before that gate begging for entry, in order to maintain one’s status. Since 2005 MTV has seen a steady decline totaling a loss of over 50% of its reported audience size—a secular trend that has been heavily reverberated across broadcast and cable television at large. A number of forces have taken effect in the development of this outcome, and if we are to learn anything at all from the case of MTV we must examine these factors more closely in order to produce meaningful insights.

To begin, the music industry, which had served as the DNA of MTV’s core brand identity, was on the brink of peril as digital file sharing had unexpectedly overrun the traditional models of music sales and distribution in ways that the industry had not been equipped to deal with. Meanwhile, MTV, for its part, was mid-stride in the process of abandoning the central tenets of its ‘Music Television’ concept in exchange for a greater focus on original content. Critics, including A-list musicians, levied heavy charges against the network of forgetting its purpose and having disavowed itself of its intended usefulness to the audience that made it what it was. After all, what is MTV without the music? They say that hindsight is 20/20, so one cannot fully blame the company for making the programming decisions that it did at the time. The brand had amassed a streak of hit shows in the reality-based format ranging from “Cribs” and “Pimp My Ride” to “Jackass”, and “Laguna Beach” with its series of spinoffs. Reality television was all the rave at the start of the millennium with shows like “Survivor” and “American Idol” storming onto the scene at the forefront of an onslaught of low-cost programming that would dominate both airwaves and cable for a decade to come. As an early innovator in the category with an established track record of success, MTV had the expertise and every logical impulse to pursue the reality market with the intensity that it did. Except, it did so at the cost of its identity. But the cultural climate of the time had pointed the network in that direction. The ending of “TRL” was a necessary evil, as the TRL stage and its fanfare had grown past their prime. By that time, the novelty of exceptional artistry and production values in music videos had long worn off. Everything that could be done in a four-minute audio-driven clip had essentially been tried, and referenced, and tried again as though it were new.

For quite some time MTV has faced heavily increased competition on all fronts, from music programming to pop culture news to scripted and reality programming. The sheer increase in total volume of cable stations presents a significant challenge for the network in holding its ground. It has been so inundated with competition in the digital space that even its solid online platform has not been able to gain a dominant position against the scores of newcomers to the alternative, lifestyle, and pop culture media spaces. Most importantly, the way young audiences are consuming media has been rapidly changing, and there has been limited substance that MTV could offer, in form or in function, that is consistent with those changes. Millennials and Centennials are cutting cords left and right. The commercial blockbuster has significantly given way to the long tail of on-demand and niche oriented media—much of which has been the compelling product of independent producers, operating outside of the massive conventions of industrial machines. Unsurprisingly, this timeframe coincides directly with the launch, and astronomical rise in popularity of YouTube, which took a major chunk away from MTV’s following. YouTube eliminated the monopoly that MTV and other music programming stations held for decades over their audiences’ ability to view the music videos of their favorite recording artists. Moreover, it made viewing a self-determined process for all videos, from all artists (mainstream and independent), for all time, with the possibility of repetition, rather than the random, single play programming of recent material from mainly signed artists, offered by network stations.

Programmed live-air content divided by sponsor ads has become less desirable to youth audiences as a media distribution format. This is partially an effect of viewers achieving greater control over their media consumption experiences through the use of on-demand platforms such as Tivo, DVR, YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu. This is especially true concerning the viewing of music videos. Traditional programming formats have also been undermined by the tendency of online content providers to attend to these audience preferences by using less invasive, more integrated, native advertisements as part of their UX. MTV’s target demographic of viewers, ages 12 to 34, are particularly inclined to have adopted these new media preferences and habits, making the impact on the network notably more severe. Nonetheless, these facts shed logical insight on the company’s seemingly misguided decision to shift away from music video programming towards original content. MTV has charged Nielsen with undermining the market valuation of its ad space by producing inaccurate ratings reports that fail to account for the rise in recorded and online viewership that has accompanied its steady decrease in live-air audience size. Many in the industry have suspected for some time that the ratings giant’s tracking methodologies have become outmoded and inconsistent with the reality of actual media consumption patterns in the market.

Finally, social media has severely compromised the significance of MTV’s role in the manufacturing of celebrities. In the race to construct public narratives, its one time status as one of the few outlets dedicated to celebrity coverage, updates, and exposure has fallen by the wayside at the hands of the 24 hour Twitter cycle, the open book access of Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr, and the non-stop flow of self-published, behind-the-scenes footage found on YouTube and Venmo.

 

PUTTING THE “M” BACK IN “MTV”

The network states that the new MTV Classic channel will offer "an eclectic mix of fan-favorite MTV series and music programming drawn from across its rich history, with a special focus on content from the 1990s and early 2000s." This will include favorites such as “TRL”, “Daria”, and “The Hills”, and the much-anticipated revival of the network’s critically acclaimed “Unplugged” series, which produced legendary acoustic performances from acts like Nirvana, Alanis Morissette and Korn. From a brand strategy perspective it would seem more logical to have made an expansion channel of original content while maintaining the core competencies on the flagship channel, ‘Classics’ notwithstanding. This could be done with appropriate adaptations to the modern music market by catering to the market’s proclivity for jumpstarting the careers of independent talents through viral sensationalism, similar to what has been done on REVOLT. The introduction of MTV Classic is a positive sign that the brand has at the very least heard the decade old complaints that it has lost its way, and it has responded in a constructive manner. Whether this move will be enough to salvage the aging media titan from the wreckage of the new millennium pop culture is yet to be seen. There has been much speculation as to whether or not a space even remains in the cultural landscape for a machine like MTV to thrive in the way it has historically.

 

AT THE END OF THE DAY

While the obvious strategy of not ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’—by milking the old media model for everything it is worth until it is finished—is a logical step in the midst of great transitions, if the brand is to survive, MTV must regain some semblance of its past social influence with ‘youth’ audiences both old and new. Its 40 million Facebook fans are a testament to its ability to do just that. Social media presence is an excellent start but the company has much work to do in adjusting its market offering if it aims to ever reign atop the pyramid again. Such a move may require extensive innovation in the realms of content, formatting, and platform structures. The network was founded, and reached the height of its success by continuously introducing simple yet original concepts. New developments in live experience, snackable content, and perhaps some yet to be imagined media product might all go a long way towards actualizing the network’s return to prominence. But one thing is for certain: We want our MTV, and if we’re going to have it, it needs to be retrofitted with new ideas that allow the old concepts to succeed in the new market. 

POKÉMANIA: THE DEFINITIVE CASE OF BRAND ACTIVATION

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Image by Super Dasil - https://www.facebook.com/SuperDasil/

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A NEW DAY

We have reached watershed in the cultural mainstream. One gets the notion that something odd is afoot as cars are witnessed pulling over repeatedly down long stretches of urban thoroughfare. Each day scores of pedestrians—male and female, young and old, from all walks of life—can be seen roving public areas, staring into the glowing displays of their smart phones in search of something new. They gather along the sidewalk, often smiling, greeting, and speaking among strangers before moving on to the next stop.

The driving force behind this sudden shift in social activity, as you must have heard by now, is Pokémon GO—an augmented reality app for mobile smart devices. Since its July 5, 2016 U.S. release, the game has caused a frenzy across America’s urban landscapes, and it’s not just for kids anymore! The app has had observable impacts on cultural, political, and economic trends since its introduction. There have been reports of robberies, injuries, traffic incidents, and massive player stampedes from Central Park to Santa Monica. Democratic Presidential Nominee, Hillary Clinton, even scheduled a campaign rally to be held at a Pokémon Gym, placing ‘lures’ at nearby PokéStops to draw public attention. The game, which is free to play, has topped download charts for both the Apple and Google stores, becoming the most downloaded mobile game ever in the U.S. Nintendo, which holds a 32% stake in The Pokémon Company, has seen its stock nearly double over the past two weeks. GameStop stores with virtual PokéStops and Pokémon Gyms at their locations have also seen a 100% increase in sales. T-Mobile has offered to ‘Unleash Pokémon GO’ by exempting data charges while playing the app as part of its T-Mobile Tuesdays (#GetThanked) campaign. Moreover, this has all occurred before the release of Pokémon GO in its home of origin, Japan.

 

Having endured the 18 years since its U.S. introduction on Nintendo Game Boy and its subsequent skyrocket to household recognition with the 1997 debut of its anime series—(ポケットモンスタ) Poketto Monsutá, meaning Pocket Monsters, Romanized and abbreviated as ‘Pokémon’, has survived to fight another day in the cutthroat arena of youth entertainment. As titans of the sector, ranging from Power Rangers to Ninja Turtles, have rollercoastered their way through the decades with brand revivals of variable success, none has matched their own initial triumph, let alone tapped into the modern market with the viral sensationalism that we have now witnessed with the coming of Pokémon GO. Other product manias, such as Tickle Me Elmo, Mine Craft, and Air Jordan sneakers, have garnered dedicated followings in their own right, yet even these have not reached the level of fervor stirring around the digital menageries of Pokémon. Perhaps the phenomenon of Pokémon GO is most readily likened unto the 1975 case of the Pet Rock.  Though such a comparison would be valid, the present state of things appears much more complicated than a basic market fad. One might do better to relate the 90s craze over the Tamagotchi to the Pet Rock. Indeed, there are strong similarities between Pokémon and these other cases, and there are many ingredients of the common fad in Pokémon’s active mix. But a different story is told by the midnight crowds found lingering in Culver City and the Santa Monica Pier on otherwise uneventful weeknights—basking in the glory of endless Pokémon lures placed on a dozen PokéStops within arm’s length of one another.

WHAT JUST HAPPENED?

Why all the fuss? Pokémon’s storylines and artwork are relatively simplistic compared to some of the more breathtaking Anime we’ve seen exported from Japan in the past two decades. Some of the creature concepts and naming conventions can seem uninspired as well. To further complicate matters, all of this success has come on the back of what could otherwise be considered an abysmal failure for a mobile application launch.  The game has thrived despite having an ordinarily fatal rating of less than 3.5 stars on the Google Play Store as a result of it being plagued by technical bugs that cause constant disruptions requiring players to restart, frequent server crashes, and reputedly questionable controllability of gameplay. So what has led so many to jump on the bandwagon of Pokémon fanaticism? How did we get here? And what happens next?

Many are scratching their heads at this extraordinary phenomenon. But there is a science to the madness, and the goal of this analysis is to shed some light on the subject for brand managers and consumers alike.

1. The release of Pokémon GO was largely secretive, causing it to gain enthusiasm through the element of surprise.

We’ve seen the ability of established pop culture brands like Beyoncé and Drake to save marketing costs and gain greater enthusiasm for their releases through the element of surprise. Pokémon is a well-established legacy brand in the gaming community with a multi-generational following, capable of shutting down Rockefeller Plaza in New York City on a brisk autumn night. Much like its musical counterparts, Pokémon GO gained momentum from the secrecy surrounding its drop date; making it an instant topic of conversation once the downloading began.

2. Pokémon GO is highly novel in its use of Augmented Reality.

VR & AR are two extremely hot spaces in the tech world currently making rapid strides toward diffusion to the critical mass. Pokémon’s ability to capitalize on this trend in a relevant way, for free, in the mobile sector, has made all the difference in the magnitude of its explosion.

3. Pokémon GO appeals to consumers of every stripe.

The Pokémon franchise is all-inclusive. It is targeted unisexually with young male gamers at the center of its nucleus alongside young female consumers attracted to the cuteness of characters like Pikachu and Jigglypuff.  In the most inner orbit, many older cohorts of these segments experience nostalgia with the Pokémon Go game, having grown up engaging with the Pokémon brand. Outside of this, an ocean of new fans has been co-opted simply due to the level of attention the game has received. Finally, in the outermost orbit, the high degree of physical interaction the game requires has streamlined an onslaught of late adopters in a relatively short time frame, as even middle-aged and senior pedestrians exercising, walking their dogs, or just taking a stroll can be spied stopping to collect loot at their local PokéStop while heading down the street.

4. The game promotes exercise and outdoor activity.

Playing Pokémon GO is a marked break from traditional gaming because it obliges players to exit their dwellings in order to play. Rather than running amuck across a virtual city a la Grande Theft Auto or The Amazing Spiderman, Pokémon utilizes a smart phone’s GPS, requiring trainers to physically move to different locations if they want to move in the game. Furthermore, the game encourages exercise by including bonuses in the form of eggs that require low speed travel to incubate, warding off the use of cars to obtain their benefits.

5. Pokémon GO exploits the benefits of several entertainment categories.

Pokémon GO has achieved an optimal balance between the two wildly popular realms of gaming and sports entertainment. The sheer volume of Pokémon, the level of engagement available with each species of creature, and the logical structure of the game place the franchise in a class of its own. Like a sports league, there is room for every fan to have their favorites. The game’s roster offers the collecting and hording aspect commonly associated with sports trading cards. Trading cards have historically been a premier part of the Pokémon merchandise catalog, with the same virtual competition component of other successful card based anime brands like ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!’ The physical aspect of the game gives players an active experience similar to participation in a sporting event, while the large number of participants makes the gameplay comparable to a Multiplayer Massive Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) such as League of Legends, World of Warcraft or The SIMS. The greatest advantage of Pokémon GO is that it retains the benefits of both these entertainment categories with a successful brand that is primed for mainstream consumption beyond the restrictions of either the gaming or sports communities.

 6. The game is designed to increase its own level of exposure.

Pokémon GO is a textbook example of brand activation. It has initiated a self-perpetuating cycle of reinforcement for itself and the Pokémon brand. After Beta testing the game with instructions, Pokémon GO was released with limited tutorial resources built in, leaving players to either search the internet for advice or—as was intended by the game makers—converse with other gamers. The more people speak about it, the more the game comes to bear on the public conscience. Also, it is important to note that the game is unique in that it is a highly conspicuous experience because people can see trainers playing from substantial distances. Seeing people play all over also weighs on the public conscience. Even with hit interactive group apps like Words With Friends or Candy Crush Saga it is not necessarily apparent from close proximity, let alone down the street, that someone is playing one of those games. Pokémon GO players are identifiable as they pace sidewalks and parks, and often even in closed and tented vehicles, merely from their erratic stop-and-go driving patterns. The readily apparent popularity of the game combined with the manipulation of supplies of prized Pokémon and the resulting public reactions have lead to an excess of media attention, which has in turn expanded awareness and enthusiasm for the game. Add to this mix the increased sale of merchandise, and the cycle goes on with no end in sight. The monetization of the game’s virtual landscape through sponsored Stops and Gyms is an obvious route to riches. Retailers have recently begun to capitalize on the game’s success independently, while adding more flame to the Pokémon fire.

7. Pokémon GO is a shared social experience.

Not since Facebook blazed onto the scene, fresh on the heels of an ailing MySpace, have we seen this level of activity generated around a consumer software product. Yet Facebook was about the functional value it offered rather than the cultural impact it signified as a brand. Although the defeat of its predecessor was largely a culturally driven phenomenon, Facebook’s major selling point had more to do with its use benefits in establishing social connections, and its symbolic distinctions from MySpace per se, rather than the type of brand affinity that we witness with product manias. Pokémon GO is a social application in nature, but it is very distinct from Facebook or similar social platforms because its social aspect is based on short-term real world interactions, rather than sustained virtual interactions.

In a society bursting at the seams from the effects of systemic injustice, sharp divisions in political ideology, and severe challenges to economic stability, Pokémon GO taps into what is perhaps our most basic of human instincts—the need to be connected and experience togetherness. Trainers greet one another on the streets with respectful nods, and smiles. They congregate around Stops and introduce themselves as they discuss their game performance. They go to urban centers with excessive PokéStops and flood them with lures, drawing non-stop crowds into the wee hours of the night. In these spaces there is a general sense of euphoria in the air among the crowd, as literally thousands of players experience the overstimulating joy of catching weeks worth of rare Pokémon in one fell swoop. They appear to relish the act of being included in the massive momentum of this cultural tsunami.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Speculators have all wondered, “How long will it last?” As with all manias and rapidly rising cultural phenomena, Pokémon GO must inevitably peak and level off. However, there is much in store for its future as it will undergo evolutions in rules and play, as is common with mobile applications. The Pokémon franchise faces no shortage of material with which to expand this product. Theories have already run wild on the Internet about the introduction of several powerful characters not included in the current version, the introduction of trading, and other changes to the game. Only time will tell if the game and brand are able to sustain their success once the plateau is reached. Regardless of that outcome, the fact remains that Pokémon GO has owned the summer of 2016, left its mark, and in so doing has reinvented the way brands must think about activation. All we can do now is watch, learn, and try to “catch ‘em all”.

SIGN OF THE TIMES

It seems consumers have fallen out of the GAP just as swiftly as the label once insisted that they fall into it.  Mid-tier basics clothing labels, once touted as the preeminence of American fashion sensibility, have suffered since their reign during the 1990s. Juggernauts such as J. Crew and GAP, which essentially sold overpriced, inconspicuously labeled basics, have lost their mojo, as fashion heads scrounge to figure out how and why.

A slight clue...Nothing lasts forever.

It didn't make sense then, and it makes even less sense now. People bought into the lifestyle of the GAP when it was a fresh feeling as the brand spread its position into shopping malls nationwide, becoming a staple of the new American air of sophistication that marketers were pushing into the ether during the 90s. With everything from electronics like the sparkly new iMac computers to television shows like Dawson's Creek, Frasier, and Felicity, the new age of opulence was only beginning to gain its ground as the critical mass began adopting 'cellular phones' (before they were 'Smart'), at the zenith of dial-up, when subscribers flooded chatrooms and online instant message services that attracted group cohesion like AIM, before YouTube was a website or social media was a buzzword. Those days are long gone, and though the proverbial Kool-Aid is still selling, the flavors have all changed. We've seen this phenomenon elsewhere. Starbucks is long past its prime and as goes the overextended mass gourmet coffee house so goes the overextended masstige fashion basics retailer. Once emblems of social capital in both trend and lifestyle, now fleeting memories of an era since forgotten.

In Project Designer ID, the GAP was one of the most difficult brands to categorize because it was priced as a mass luxury brand but there was nothing very luxurious about it anymore. It was understood that at one time its adoption of the white cube aesthetic in its retail boutiques was a symbol that placed it on the forefront of progressive, mainstream elitism—or at least in the aspiration of such—but now it was a hackneyed concept that had been used and abused by a thousand other more competitive, more innovative brands with better business models. And GAP, following the old adage, "if it ain't broke don't fix it", stuck with its once winning formula that would increasingly become the object of its repulsion as time progressed. It did not change, it did not update, it did not modify. Twenty-five years after the start of the decade that saw these brands steamroll the fashion industry with overpriced premium-quality basics, they are still selling overpriced basics at slightly higher relative prices with slightly lower relative quality, despite the fact that no-one is buying it anymore, literally. But why?

To answer that we have to determine what the primary change is that has taken place. It could be argued that the market has changed, and that the core product category is no longer valid, but then again they are basics. They never go out of style, and they rarely change in a way that can compromise a producer's market position once it has established its consumer base. Competition has grown more fierce, and this has had a lot to do with it, but in traditional consumer goods markets, both durable and consumable, the market leader usually retains its dominance under the benefits of perceived authenticity as the copycats duke it out for the number two and three spot. The leadership position in the fashion basics market was a trend, but not one based upon bold innovation. So what, then, could have been the cause of the demise of the leadership in this mass market sector. Surely these brands have been replaced by their competitors in the fast-fashion sector, such as H&M and UNIQLO. Enthusiasm for the combination of value and quality offered by these labels was a sentiment regularly expressed by industry expert respondents during the Designer ID interviews. But in as much as the competition undercut the leadership of the premium basics market, they were able to do so because they changed the meanings within the value system in that market, and they were able to do this because the consumer changed and they recognized it.

This is fashion we are talking, where nothing ever stays the same. The trends even change their pace and become more diversified as time progresses. Telecommunications, manufacturing technology and shipping service networks have all but annihilated the periodic flow of fashion 'seasons'. When premium basics brands thrived in the 90s, twenty-something Generation X'ers were ecstatic about their $15 premium cotton tees that they had bought beneath the track lighting of the beach wood floored white cube known as the GAP. Those consumers are now forty-something and have since moved on to the greener pastures of consumer sensibility, where a T-shirt is a T-shirt and a pair of jeans is largely a pair of jeans unless you pay an arm and a leg for them. Where brand equity is something that is not merely proclaimed for no apparent reason, but earned through both authentic and paid associations, and status is substantiated by positioning, which necessitates exclusion on some level. There is no middle ground for premium basics. The term in and of itself is an oxymoron. Unsustainable over-expansion is a perfect formula for eventual regression. So why the premium price for standard goods pretending to be premium?

This brings us to our second point. By the time the GAP's streamline, postmodern white cube aesthetic had made its way to Ikea and Ikea had made its way throughout the American heartland, you might as well have stuck a fork in the fantasy that was being hocked at 1200% mark-ups in the form of solid color and melange jersey knit tees being sold by these retailers. It was done. What else was there? There were the cool celebrity endorsements that featured dance routines from the likes of Missy Elliot and Madonna, and that time that LL Cool J shouted out FUBU in the middle of a GAP commercial. All legacy artists at this point. What was once young and hot is now respected for its contribution to pop culture but no longer a driving force. Which brings us to our final point.

The consumer is more intelligent. This is a point not to be taken lightly and it will be discussed elsewhere on the Doniccé Report in greater detail at another time, but for the sake of this argument suffice it to be explained as follows: As time goes on consumers become more aware of the tactics that marketers employ in order to attract their attention and those tactics consequently lose their effectiveness on those consumers. It is also a general condition of modernity that the availability of all types of information to the general public increases at exponential rates. With these two facts in mind we are (more importantly the GAP is) left to deal with the fact that the sociocultural nuance that allowed these brands to sell overpriced basics uninhibited for over a decade was temperamental—it was conditional based upon the consumers' lack of knowledge, the newness of the incoming era of the 'trading up' model, and the cleanness of the basics as a staple of modern fashion, underscored by the postmodern retail aesthetic and the sophisticated adoption of pop culture in the production of what might be described as ultra-trends. It was also effective as a potent and articulate reaction to the perceived tackiness of the previous era's aesthetics found throughout the late 70s and the 80s. The mass adoption of cell phones spelled the democratization of luxury. In prior eras the Generation X'ers had only seen cell phones being carried by movie industry agents and executives like Dave on cartoon episodes of Alvin and the Chipmunks. For crying out loud, in the 80s Dave used a car phone! But the point is that by the mid-2000s showing car phones or cell phones were no longer a symbol of status, they were an everyday occurrence...well maybe not car phones, those were a joke by that time...a bad joke at that. Likewise, by the same period, white cube aesthetics, and the clean designs of basic attire were no longer sufficient symbols of social affluence or the aspiration thereof, as they were in the 90s. Nor were they potent reactions to the aesthetic standards of the previous era, as the 80s were long gone, and the 90s were defined by neon iterations of art deco, large shoulder pads, asymmetric hairstyles and geometric silhouettes which did not contradict with the visual paradigm of the GAP. Moreover, by the mid-2000s neither the GAP's core audience of Gen X'ers nor the Millennials were dumb or desperate enough to pay premiums for basics attached to the previous decade, when the fast fashion sector had kicked into full gear offering the same or a similar quality of products, with the same aesthetic, the same lifestyle and value propositions, at a—not just lower but—discounted rate.

In addition, as the 2010's rolled out, the luxury market had taken its boldest turn into the mainstream after a two decade campaign of 'bling'. With the widespread popularity of lifestyles marketing and media, popular audiences were feasting on the voyeurism of the Hilton and Kardashian Klans' 'wealthier than thou' brands of entertainment, MTV's Cribs, The Food Network, and luxed-out music videos. All this, as Hip Hop impresarios such as Jay Z and Kanye West followed closely in the footsteps of Russell Simmons in endeavoring to straddle the line between street credible urban influencers and cosmopolitan socialites amongst the denizens of genteel private affairs like the Met Gala and the Vanity Fair Oscars Party gaining greater and greater publicity amongst a more diverse general audience. Therefore affordable fashion and the luxury segment have thrived at the expense of fashion's middle market. The global financial meltdown and the longterm trend of increasing wealth disparity have done nothing to oppose this process.

The who? What Gap? ...J What? Who's Crew?

Under these conditions we see the rise of the polarized environment which Hyland so tactfully outlines in the above linked article. And it is here that we discover, accordingly, why there is no longer space for anyone to 'Fall into the Gap'.

      

How Television Shapes Our Worldview

Check out Chapter 18, written by our friends  Stylés Akira and Larry Ossei-Mensah 

It's Been a Great Year!!!

Over the last half of the twentieth century, television has become the predominant medium through which the public accesses information about the world. Through the news, situation comedies, police dramas, and commercials, we learn about the world around us, and our role within it. These genres, narratives, and cultural forms are not simply entertainment, but powerful socializing agents that show the world as we might never see it in real life. How Television Shapes Our Worldview brings together a diverse set of scholars, methodologies, and theoretical frameworks to interrogate the ways through which television molds our vision of the outside world. The essays include advertising and public relations analyses, audience interviews, and case studies that touch on genres ranging from science fiction in the 1970s to current “reality” television. Television truly provides a powerful influence over how we learn about the world around us and understand its social processes.

Now available for purchase @: 

https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780739187043/How-Television-Shapes-Our-Worldview-Media-Representations-of-Social-Trends-and-Change

http://www.amazon.com/How-Television-Shapes-Worldview-Representations/dp/073918704X

https://books.google.com/books?id=1mmYAwAAQBAJ&pg=PA171&lpg=PA171&dq=how+television+shapes+our+worldview&source=bl&ots=FtH4Qcmqaw&sig=yqqC53hcnXnUBchqI6YAIwFIlAM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=95NdVfKjDYysogSx8oGwBA&ved=0CD8Q6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=how%20television%20shapes%20our%20worldview&f=false

...and others.