TANSTAAFW
September 6, 2017 12:04 PM   Subscribe

 
Oh good now I can wear my cheap Chinese-made watch ironically!
posted by chavenet at 12:35 PM on September 6


"Brands function to soften and mask the raw deal at the heart of every capitalist exchange, helping justify the otherwise-insane markup." Though a bit dramatic, this is basically accurate in the case described: a "brand" that virtually no one who actually buys the object has heard of.

But branding is more commonly, as described by the Economist in The case for brands, a "form ... of consumer protection."

"In pre-industrial days, people knew exactly what went into their meat pies and which butchers were trustworthy; once they moved to cities, they no longer did. A brand provided a guarantee of reliability and quality. Its owner had a powerful incentive to ensure that each pie was as good as the previous one, because that would persuade people to come back for more."

When I buy a shirt from L.L. Bean, for example, I have an expectation of quality and consumer service that is based on my past direct experience and my indirect experience based on word-of-mouth and what appear to be independent reviews. But perhaps more importantly, it's based on my knowledge that they have an incentive to not only maximize their profits on this particular sale but also on their future sales to me and to the people I will talk to - which now has the potential to be thousands instead of dozens.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:44 PM on September 6 [12 favorites]


Wow, I really enjoyed reading that. Thanks!

I especially love that this started as as an artist residency at the San Francisco dump. What a great outcome of a cool residency program!
posted by kristi at 12:50 PM on September 6 [3 favorites]


This was way more enjoyable than I thought it would be.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 12:54 PM on September 6 [2 favorites]


TANSTAAFW

Well, time is money...

Good post.
posted by zamboni at 12:59 PM on September 6 [1 favorite]


Folsom & Co. appears through its online presence to be a watch company (or, as it describes itself, a “watch startup”) based in the SOMA district of San Francisco, which it notes is “home to web gurus, urban warriors, offbeat artists, and an unending supply of club kids.” Above the description is a photo implied to be of its offices. The photo is in fact of SPiN, a ping pong social club opened in 2016 by Susan Sarandon.
Just wanted to leave those sentences here for posterity.

OK now back to the article...
posted by Atom Eyes at 1:01 PM on September 6 [9 favorites]


When I buy a shirt from L.L. Bean, for example, I have an expectation of quality and consumer service that is based on my past direct experience and my indirect experience based on word-of-mouth and what appear to be independent reviews.

I get it, but this ignores the mention of Madewell and J. Crew's co-opting of the brand mentioned in the article:

" In “How Madewell Bought and Sold My Family’s History,” Dan Nosowitz recalls the process by which J. Crew acquired and subsequently mythologized Madewell, his great-grandfather’s workwear brand, after its last factory shut down in 2006. J. Crew now uses the brand for a line of high-end women’s clothing. Its marketing draws heavily on the age of the original Madewell, and J. Crew is fond of including “since 1937” under the logo. This is part of a larger effort to portray the Madewell brand in retrospect as a venerable, solid company known for craftsmanship and quality. But Nosowitz points out that the original Madewell was actually unconcerned with style or design, and often contracted out their clothing or imitated existing designs. "
posted by knownassociate at 1:05 PM on September 6 [12 favorites]


This is great. It's getting filed in my head under an increasingly growing category of things you might call 'shitty cyberpunk'.
posted by codacorolla at 1:09 PM on September 6 [10 favorites]


Jenny Odell (previously) is awesome. She’s thoughtful & funny in very meta ways--but her art & writing, as much as I know of it, is pretty sincere. Less infused with irony than the Museum of Capitalism, which seems like more of a thought-provoking prank. (Which I am also in favor of!)
posted by miles per flower at 1:10 PM on September 6 [2 favorites]


This is great. It's getting filed in my head under an increasingly growing category of things you might call 'shitty cyberpunk'.

Or late-period Gibson, which was not so much scifi as marketing-fi.
posted by acb at 1:21 PM on September 6 [6 favorites]


Who was it that said that the platonic ideal of consumer capitalism was a turd in a can, with all the value being in the label visible on the can?
posted by acb at 1:26 PM on September 6 [1 favorite]


I've got no beef with exposing a wristwatch reseller as an elaborate boderline-scam, and this was an interesting read.

I'm not sure an examination of the business realities behind fashion accessories and other aspirational / signaling type goods makes much of a criticism of "capitalism," unless you're content to define it quite loosely. The cost and the value of those products never bears any relationship to their manufacturing cost.

A case like this is a strange example for other reasons, too. "Folsom & Co." exists because setting up a digital campaign to hype near-disposable fashion accessories to affluent Americans requires almost no capital. The actual manufacturers of the watch - who invested money, labor, and time in the construction and organization of a factory, people who are invisible in this essay - are actual capitalists. The fact that American business increasingly seeks to outsource messy, risky capitalism itself is certainly worth highlighting and criticizing, but it's not really an indictment of capitalism.

Maybe I'm trying to shout down the wind, here, being picky about the meaning of "capitalism," but these seem like bad times to get sloppy about the definitions of such things.
posted by Western Infidels at 1:29 PM on September 6 [11 favorites]


acb: Who was it that said that the platonic ideal of consumer capitalism was a turd in a can, with all the value being in the label visible on the can?
I was reminded of this as well. I first bumped into the notion in the relentlessly grim and upsetting (and not-particularly-recommended) 1998 novel Noir by K. W. Jeter. The giant evil corporation in that book was proud of their new product concept, TIAC (turd in a can) but was pushing hard to develop the next big thig: TOAW (turd on a wire) which would eliminate the expense of the can.
posted by Western Infidels at 1:37 PM on September 6 [1 favorite]


I found it a very interesting read. Sort of reminds me of Bunny Hwang's write-up of micro-SD cards and their imitators.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:40 PM on September 6 [5 favorites]


This is so good. It explains much better than I could what's behind this free octopus ring, which I didn't have the patience to look into further when I first saw it. Alas, in the free octopus ring permutation, the supposed company behind it goes a step further by building an ethos that claims it's "a socially-minded shop for those who love the ocean." No lies there—the shop isn't actually claiming it's a charity, nor does it suggest it will donate money anywhere. But the Save Our Oceans name is clearly meant to evoke a semantic cloud's worth of notions related to those more noble goals. In a practical sense, this just makes it all the more difficult for real charitable organizations to build trust with potential donors, while also shipping total schlock that may well be made of lead and other heavy metals.

This also reminds me of when I was trying to find a small pendant or pocket watch that I could add to my EDC keychain, as well as of the "handmade" fish padlock I saw for like $50 at a flea market in Hell's Kitchen over the summer and immediately Googled at $10. There's so much of this crap floating around, and you see the same stuff over and over again, like the ever-present Etsy octopus pendant. It can be interesting to try to trace an item back to its source to find out something, anything, about its manufacture, or at least to find a lower price. Who knows its material composition? And unsuspecting fools keep buying this stuff—in my case, I did buy a few cheap watches, fully cognizant of what they might be made of, with the idea in mind that I could take them apart and experiment to find an ideal configuration for my EDC setup for cheap.

But yeah, these are just some of the many things I see people share all the time that my eyes glaze past on social media. After a certain point, it feels hard to even keep trying to mentally fight the fleeting attraction of these tiny bits of tackiness. The tactics on these sites—the timers, the supposed limited quantities, the codes for fake sales, the positive reviews from real people who apparently have no standards—are all used by more reputable sites, such as print-on-demand T-shirt outfits. I don't really blame these people for trying to make a buck—misleading people is like shooting fish in a barrel.

But my regard for those who only share stuff like this all the time is inevitably lowered—although even that starts to feel like thin-slicing of a sort, like splitting hairs. When everyone shares links to online schlock-peddlers, when misspellings are rampant, when every other site shared on social media is clickbait with a helping of virus, why bother getting worked up about it? In some sense, it feels like all of this lowers us, debases the discourse, perverts the marketplace. And yet in another sense, as this lays bare, it's really what the "better" brands are doing as well, just with better quality control. And it's just what people with tables along the streets of cities like New York do every day, albeit with more technical sophistication behind it—but no less obfuscation, as who knows the origin of all that schlock on the streets? At least a screenshot can be traced back a ways, even if it's sloppily obfuscated. I trust that more than I trust a peddler, in some strange way. Strange times!
posted by limeonaire at 1:41 PM on September 6 [3 favorites]


Mr.Know-it-some: "But branding is more commonly, as described by the Economist in The case for brands, a "form ... of consumer protection."
"

I highly, highly dispute 'more commonly', as in: most brands don't actually protect the consumer, but rather trick them into buying products which are A) overpriced B) bad quality C) actively bad for them or D) A+B+C. Among myriad others: Coca Cola, Beats, McDonalds.

Brands protect companies' investment. Government agencies (sometimes) protect consumers.
posted by signal at 1:49 PM on September 6 [6 favorites]


I enjoyed the article, even if all the investigation was just googling. It would have been nice to see what a watch expert could learn from taking it apart, or what a materials scientist would say the "possibly metal-plated plastic" strap was actually made from.
posted by w0mbat at 2:09 PM on September 6 [1 favorite]


This was a really interesting read! Thanks!
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:11 PM on September 6


See also: some recent ad I saw for "free" underwear, where it said "limit five" so I figured hey, $7.95 S&H for five pairs, that's worth trying. Hahaha, nope, $7.95 S&H on EACH pair, plus tax. Which of course you don't see until after you've provided your email address (so betchurass when I got the email saying I still had things in my cart, that got a quick "Report as spam").
posted by solotoro at 3:22 PM on September 6


Well, time is money...
rebuttal
I've never had my time supply cut off for non-payment
posted by thelonius at 3:32 PM on September 6


setting up a digital campaign to hype near-disposable fashion accessories to affluent Americans requires almost no capital

This is what the term "late capitalism" is for. In the past, "capital" meant physical resources or manufacturing capacity or the ability to acquire the same with money. The financialisation of the economy means that soft capital in the sense of brand recognition or mind share can be just as valuable as hard capital, because it can be used to attract investors who possess hard capital.
posted by tobascodagama at 3:57 PM on September 6 [2 favorites]


But what about those CueCats? They're just giving them away! Down at the Radio Shack!
posted by lagomorphius at 4:53 PM on September 6 [11 favorites]



I highly, highly dispute 'more commonly', as in: most brands don't actually protect the consumer, but rather trick them into buying products which are A) overpriced B) bad quality C) actively bad for them or D) A+B+C. Among myriad others: Coca Cola, Beats, McDonalds.


You've got this wrong. Consumer protection doesn't usually protect you that way: A) overpriced B) bad quality C) actively bad for you. I think it's better that there be relatively few cases where a government entity should protect you from those things. I'll bet most of us here have a soft spot for at least a few goods that are one or more of those things (as I listen to an iPhone, sit on a Harbor Freight stool, enjoying a Mickey's).

Rather branding is a kind of consumer protection in that when you buy Coca Cola, Beats, or McDonalds, you can be reasonably sure to know exactly what you'll get. As opposed to brands that you may not be familiar with. This is why a brand itself can be such a hot property. That's often what companies try to buy when they purchase a brand. Sometimes they continue the brand's tradition, sometimes not.

I'm not that impressed with the article so much, however, echoing Western Infidels post. "Free" stuff has been around a while. How many well respected brands started out as rinky dink fly by night operations? Drop shipping isn't a new concept. And watches themselves run a very large variety, from practical to disposable fashion. Am I really supposed to be surprised/concerned when someone sells/drop ships a free watch for $10 shipping, and it turns out to be junky and/or abused in the mail? Daniel Wellington is mentioned, which are a step above the free watch scheme, but not really worth all that much more. But people freely spend much more on them. Is a Patek Philippe really worth six figures? Even if it's not likely to keep better time than a $10 Casio? Which might happen to share the same quartz Miyota movement as that free Chinese watch and the Daniel Wellington.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:12 PM on September 6 [3 favorites]


This was great. The Facebook conversation with Soficoastal is amazing.

The Museum of Capitalism was awesome. I wish we'd gone more than once.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 5:54 PM on September 6


I really enjoyed this read, and also the format it was presented in. Is there a name for the style device of presenting an essay as an itemized list?
posted by Naib at 6:28 PM on September 6


This is fantastic.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:30 PM on September 6


Looks like a cheap Skagen knockoff. I like the aesthetics of Skagen, but the one I bought for my wife seems like it couldn't be more fragile if it was made out of candy glass and frozen unicorn tears.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:06 PM on September 6


MetaFilter: I'm Not That Impressed With The Article So Much
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 9:04 PM on September 6 [1 favorite]


BrotherCaine, I've had Skagens for more than a decade now and don't take good care of them (ie never take them off, and I work with my hands a lot, yard-, housework and kids). The first one lasted for seven years until the glass cracked, the second one is still going strong. Idk maybe they break earlier if you're a lumberjack or bear wrestler? But they do seem to be decent quality for everyday citydweller wear.

Loved the story but I agree with the sentiment upthread - the whole overarching 'capitalism' spiel seems a bit much.
posted by The Toad at 9:18 PM on September 6


2N2222: "Rather branding is a kind of consumer protection in that when you buy Coca Cola, Beats, or McDonalds, you can be reasonably sure to know exactly what you'll get. As opposed to brands that you may not be familiar with. This is why a brand itself can be such a hot property. That's often what companies try to buy when they purchase a brand. Sometimes they continue the brand's tradition, sometimes not. "

A fun story related to this sort of thing: At one time (heck maybe they still do, I don't currently have many serious drinkers in my social circle) BCLCB used to collect money in some way (tax? Fines? Membership fees?) from brewers and distillers operating in the province. The people doing the paying could either use cash or they could make payment of their product in kind which was of course a killer deal for them. BCLCB had a house brand of most spirits and this is where the in kind payments went to. The house brand was always the cheapest option for rye.

Now my father was Crown Royal guy and could recognize the colour of Crown Royal in BCLCB bottles (both were clear). Whenever some in kind Crown Royal came though he'd buy it all; usually a few cases. And then he'd be drinking Crown Royal on a BCLCB budget.
posted by Mitheral at 9:32 PM on September 6 [3 favorites]


most brands don't actually protect the consumer, but rather trick them into buying products which are A) overpriced B) bad quality C) actively bad for them or D) A+B+C. Among myriad others: Coca Cola, Beats, McDonalds

But the McDonalds brand helps you whether you want McDonalds or not. The alternative is constantly going in to check out a new restaurant and finding out that it's yet another another one of those franchises that serves those so-called burgers.
posted by straight at 10:03 PM on September 6 [2 favorites]


...which is why brands are also used to hide the source of a product or service. I mean, I'm sure we all know that Old Navy, The Gap, and Banana Republic are the same folks, but there's a reason they've branded them differently (it's even more interesting if you remember pre-GAP Banana Republic).
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:27 PM on September 6 [1 favorite]


I'd bet one free watch that this is run by a couple of people living the Digital Nomad lifestyle in Chang Mai. In their free time they write productivity think pieces on Medium dot com.
posted by dominik at 12:12 AM on September 7 [6 favorites]


This is great. I noticed I was getting art supply products advertised to me on Facebook, and they had the similar fake-deal-countdown and fake notifications about purchases across the world. A little digging turned up their he same products on AliExpress and Amazon, too.

As someone who owns a traditional brick & mortar retail business, it is kind of fascinating to me where people draw the line on this watch business being a scam as compared to other ways of selling products.
posted by jimw at 1:59 AM on September 7


I liked the guy who was mad because he was going to miss the gift-giving day for his girlfriend.

"Here you go, hon! It's a free watch I paid $8 for! Love ya!"
posted by Legomancer at 6:00 AM on September 7 [1 favorite]


It would have been nice to see what a watch expert could learn from taking it apart, or what a materials scientist would say the "possibly metal-plated plastic" strap was actually made from.

The fact that it makes more sense to make the straps from plastic and coat them with a thin layer of metal than to make them from metal in one go suggests that they're churning these out in huge quantities (where cutting a few cents from the parts budget of one will save them hundreds of thousands of dollars), and that they're being engineered only to hold up whilst in the sales packaging, with every second it lasts after having been taken out of it being a bonus. Which puts these, ethically, maybe half a step above those plastic mats inkjet printed with a photo of a doormat that they sell to unsuspecting buyers.
posted by acb at 7:30 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]


Maybe disable ligatures if you're using a monospace font? (Why does a monospace font even have ligatures in the first place?)
posted by Rhomboid at 8:04 AM on September 7 [1 favorite]


(Why does a monospace font even have ligatures in the first place?)

Some sort of retro glitch aesthetic, like 19X0s/Vaporwave/pseudo-8-bit pixel art, only referencing the HP DeskJet everyone printed their homework on?
posted by acb at 8:23 AM on September 7


Or, as someone once wrote:
A commodity is, in the first place, an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another. The nature of such wants, whether, for instance, they spring from the stomach or from fancy, makes no difference.[2] Neither are we here concerned to know how the object satisfies these wants, whether directly as means of subsistence, or indirectly as means of production.

Every useful thing, as iron, paper, &c., may be looked at from the two points of view of quality and quantity. It is an assemblage of many properties, and may therefore be of use in various ways. To discover the various uses of things is the work of history.[3] So also is the establishment of socially-recognized standards of measure for the quantities of these useful objects. The diversity of these measures has its origin partly in the diverse nature of the objects to be measured, partly in convention.

The utility of a thing makes it a use value.[4] But this utility is not a thing of air. Being limited by the physical properties of the commodity, it has no existence apart from that commodity. A commodity, such as iron, corn, or a diamond, is therefore, so far as it is a material thing, a use value, something useful. This property of a commodity is independent of the amount of labour required to appropriate its useful qualities. When treating of use value, we always assume to be dealing with definite quantities, such as dozens of watches, yards of linen, or tons of iron. The use values of commodities furnish the material for a special study, that of the commercial knowledge of commodities.[5] Use values become a reality only by use or consumption: they also constitute the substance of all wealth, whatever may be the social form of that wealth. In the form of society we are about to consider, they are, in addition, the material depositories of exchange value.

Exchange value, at first sight, presents itself as a quantitative relation, as the proportion in which values in use of one sort are exchanged for those of another sort,[6] a relation constantly changing with time and place. Hence exchange value appears to be something accidental and purely relative, and consequently an intrinsic value, i.e., an exchange value that is inseparably connected with, inherent in commodities, seems a contradiction in terms.[7] Let us consider the matter a little more closely....
An analysis of capitalism must begin with an analysis of the commodity
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:28 PM on September 7


acb: Who was it that said that the platonic ideal of consumer capitalism was a turd in a can, with all the value being in the label visible on the can?
Apparently an artist named Piero Manzoni actually did an extremely literal version of this in 1961. I don't know if that's the origin of the idea or not.
posted by Western Infidels at 9:49 AM on September 15


« Older To gloss, or not to gloss? To italicize, or not to...   |   Some prehistoric art Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments