Pushers and Wet Wipes

If you’ve been living in an information-free bubble for the past week, you may have avoided hearing about Tuesday’s Apple announcement. The company introduced two bigger iPhones and the Apple Watch, which, in the words of Senior VP for Design Jony Ives, “will connect with the wearer at an intimate level.” When linked through your nearby iPhone, the Apple Watch will allow you to impart a wrist tap or pattern of taps, deliver a stroke-by-stroke doodle, send short snippets of audio, and even feel the rhythm of another watch wearer’s pulse against your skin. The Apple Watch, like the new iPhones, will also be usable as a near-field payment device.

How much of this will actually catch on is an open question at this point, but as Tom Goodwin points out for AdWeek, it’s not really about the technology itself, but the changes in user behaviors that could result. In a world in which we’re literally able to tap customers on the wrist, how do we make our messages worthy of the interruption?

300px-Bono_Edge_Foxboro_09212009_U2360Perhaps this is the question Apple and U2 had in mind when, at the same ceremony, they announced that Apple had already inserted U2’s new album, Songs of Innocence into every working iTunes library in the world. U2 was paid by Apple for the deal. Songs from this “modern-rock wet wipe,” as Sasha Frere-Jones of The New Yorker dubs the album, will be also be used in a TV campaign promoting Apple’s new products, though clearly some are annoyed at the presumption.

Other companies, like BET, ESPN, and Walgreens, have been using value-added intrusion in the form of mobile notifications to bid for consumer engagement. Viewers of the Hip Hop Awards in October will be able to submit guesses about show content to BET’s awards app and get notifications about how they’re faring against the guesses of other users. It may seem like a small thing, but in the small-screen world, little things have big implications. Brandon Lucas, BET’s Vice President for mobile, calls push “a more seamless way to connect consumers to the content.”

The Apple Watch’s new unit of notification, the Glance, may be another nod in this direction. Dan Shanoff describes it, for NiemanLab, as a “neutron of news.” The watch screen “demands constraints like journalism has rarely dealt with,” he writes, but deal it must. As Shanoff points out, “the audience wants to go faster.”


Lotus_Drum_-_Steel_Tongue_HandpanDemand isn’t always in the driver’s seat. As a case in point, consider the handpan, a relatively new musical instrument, which is growing up with a decidedly different set of values. Its inventors, a pair of Swiss artists, didn’t want to mass produce it, so they required prospective buyers to send them hand-written letters and come to Switzerland to pick up the instrument in person. Other companies have since started making handpans, but they’ve retained many of their forbearers’ business practices, eschewing mass production and relying on lotteries and waiting lists to manage demand.


It isn’t exactly news to anyone who watched the HBO series The Wire, but drug dealers are branders and marketers, too. Photographer and former addict Graham MacIndoe has a book out, All In: Buying into the Drug Trade, from small press Little Big Man which contains photos of the glassine heroin bags that he shot during his five year addiction. The names have a sardonic bite to them, especially when you consider their goal: to keep junkies chasing after “new,” more potent product.

In terms of the needle and the damage done, we can almost certainly agree that drug dealers have questionable business ethics. But how do they compare to, say, the people who market to our kids? Anyone who’s taken care of children, if only occasionally, can probably remember wanting to get their hands around the throat of the person who came up with the Happy Meal or Chicken-Dance Elmo.

Boys-Life-cover_1919-09And it’s not just the stuff our kids want us to buy for them. Sometimes it’s the stuff they’re getting for free. The Boy Scouts of America, for example, recently organized a platform called Scouting Works to help companies, like Jack Link’s and AT&T, reach scouts and their families. And you thought scouting was all about making lanyards and learning to start a fire. The Boy Scouts do offer a communication badge that covers media and persuasion, so the kids may at least be equipped to understand the hidden price that might be attached to the giveaways.

We’ve written before in this space about the costs and limits of persuasion: whether advertising is capable of shaping or overcoming free will and whether there’s even such a thing as free will in the first place. Despite what the cynics might say, there is economic benefit to a media-savvy citizenry that’s capable of separating the message from the motive. Unenlightened consumers are more likely to get caught up in bubbles and scams, and we’ve seen how such follies can end up hurting every segment of business and society. Unenlightened markets risk stumbling over some of the same roadblocks.

To that point, author Christine Bader writes for Fast Company about social aspects of economic development and how the master of social work (MSW) could become the new MBA. Bader, a former manager of policy development for BP, talks about the value, and necessity, of reaching out to local communities on the way to meeting business objectives. If that sounds like a panacea, it may be partly because we’ve bought into a philosophy of business that, in Bader’s opinion, pushes its interests, “and the interests of society, so far apart.”


White Apple Watch mockup by Justin14 (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWhite_AppleWatch_with_Screen.png) via Wikimedia Commons.

U2 photo by xrayspx (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABono_Edge_Foxboro_09212009_U2360.jpg) via Wikimedia Commons.

Handpan photo by Azharrbrown (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALotus_Drum_-_Steel_Tongue_Handpan.jpg) via Wikimedia Commons.
BoysLife photo, public domain (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABoys-Life-cover_1919-09.jpg) via Wikimedia Commons.