Ironic normcore trifles for the aspiring middle
September 12, 2020 9:32 PM   Subscribe

In the market for a toothbrush? A razor? Sheets? A mattress? A belt?? Sick of buying stuff from “the man”? Good news! There’s an uncorporate, VC-funded, pastel-colored bland out there catering to your aspirational, values-oriented, “premium mediocre” consumer whims.
posted by chrchr (49 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh man you have no idea how long I've been looking for a normal set of razor sheets! Thanks!!
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:59 PM on September 12 [5 favorites]


FTA: Beltology: “For too long belts have been overlooked, underloved, and poorly made. We say no more!”

Now that's some Ray Smuckles stuff right there.
posted by MrBadExample at 10:47 PM on September 12 [26 favorites]


So much of this would fit prefectly in Achewood's slightly off-kilter corporate world. My favourite is:

Feetures: “We changed the rules on how socks work.”
posted by Dysk at 11:07 PM on September 12 [18 favorites]


Wow I didn’t really catch the Ray Smucklesness of it. I think things are about to get minteresting.
posted by chrchr at 11:13 PM on September 12 [4 favorites]


That was a article really really committed to making the term “bland” happen. Also, Black Milk sells tight stretchy printed women’s clothes and has for some time, so including their name just to fit the writer’s overarching concept seems disingenuous at best.
posted by 41swans at 11:20 PM on September 12 [9 favorites]


“We changed the rules on how socks work.”

You put them on after your shoes? You wear them everywhere but your feet? They come in threes or singletons instead of pairs? They help you get more blisters? Instead of buying them outright you pay a monthly fee? They are made out of gravel instead of soft fibers? They require 45 minutes of charging every day?

I can’t think of more rules about how socks [used to] work, at least without spending any effort on it
posted by aubilenon at 11:26 PM on September 12 [30 favorites]


Also, Black Milk sells tight stretchy printed women’s clothes and has for some time, so including their name just to fit the writer’s overarching concept seems disingenuous at best.

Why is that? My takeaway was that a bland is defined by how they present themselves, not by what their actual product is. They could sell anything at all, it's about how they sell it (and themselves). Did you have a different read on it?
posted by Dysk at 11:28 PM on September 12


(I guess in a sense the actual product is part of that presentation, but Black Milk fits that mould too, for me: it's just like [product category] that had existed forever, but with a minor twist! They're clothes, just tighter and stretchier than is normally considered acceptable/desirable by other brands!)
posted by Dysk at 11:31 PM on September 12


I thought this had some legit observations about marketing trends but by the end it basically just names every startup.
posted by atoxyl at 11:44 PM on September 12 [3 favorites]




Still bemused a contact lens company decided to name themselves after a space telescope most famous for having had an optical issue that made the pictures blurry. It's not as egregious as your Soylents or your Palantirs, but still.
posted by taquito sunrise at 11:53 PM on September 12 [18 favorites]


“We changed the rules on how socks work.”

David Mitchell on custard socks (from QI).
posted by Paul Slade at 11:58 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]


Still bemused a contact lens company decided to name themselves after a space telescope most famous for having had an optical issue that made the pictures blurry.

That's one way of looking at it. The other is that it's the only space telescope to need corrective optics devices (which is kinda what the company sells - get your contacts here, just like the Hubble has!).
posted by Dysk at 12:06 AM on September 13 [12 favorites]


Uh, is this not what other people think when they see that phrase?

For me it's this.
posted by myotahapea at 12:06 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


Well, to fix the Hubble, they had to put an extra optical element in there. I've referred to this process as putting in a contact lens to my students for many years.

On preview, beaten to it by Dysk.
posted by Four Ds at 12:07 AM on September 13 [5 favorites]


On preview, beaten to it by Dysk.

eponysterical!
posted by taquito sunrise at 12:13 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]




They're clothes, just tighter and stretchier

but but but, they invented the galaxy dress. I mean yea, galaxy print everything has been ripped off to infinity since then, as has all their other awesome printed spandex styles, but black milk did it first and best. (what I love black milk. I have a Hieronymus Bosch dress that is amazing)
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:19 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


Yeah, Black Milk is also way older than bland (it started in 2009) and is not venture capital funded - it was literally a bunch of people in a back room in Brisbane, Australia, sewing clothes. It also still manufactures the bulk of their nylon in Brisbane, so none of that "designed in X and made in low labor cost country".

I mean the only thing that fits the mold of bland is the Color Noun naming thing, which is hardly unique.
posted by Jilder at 3:03 AM on September 13 [6 favorites]


So they are modern infomercials
posted by noiseanoise at 4:17 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


This piece lost me when it asserted that Imperfect Foods or whatever it’s called is doing social good by marketing lumpy produce as though that produce is actually regularly discarded instead of turned into a million kinds of processed foods. Lumpy produce usually doesn’t make it to consumers because it’s not efficient to pack and the lumps increase likelihood of bruising or other damage.
posted by bilabial at 5:40 AM on September 13 [16 favorites]


I swear Instagram ads are nothing but a stream of Blands, or maybe it's just my feed.
posted by tommasz at 6:10 AM on September 13 [11 favorites]


This needs to be a fucking sticker* and put on every obnoxious fucking ad from these late-capitalist beige vampires

Rarely do blands declare: “We were founded to exploit a niche and leverage venture capital until the target of our disruption buys us out.”

* perhapz I should make a vc funded bland to make these stickers. blandr?
posted by lalochezia at 6:11 AM on September 13 [8 favorites]


These companies also seem to buy the bulk of podcasting ads/paid reccy's from the podcasters.
posted by Slackermagee at 6:56 AM on September 13 [22 favorites]


I was very surprised that that was not mentioned once in the article.
posted by Selena777 at 7:24 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


Black Milk

Uh, is this not what other people think when they see that phrase?


Honestly I think, "Hoo boy. We are going to need gas masks to clean out this fridge."

But that's a great poem
posted by thivaia at 7:24 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


Oh and this jam.
posted by thivaia at 7:25 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth, Imperfect Foods (formerly Imperfect Produce) is also just cheaper than most grocery stores in a lot of areas that it serves. A lot of its food comes from rejects from the restaurant supply chain that normally doesn't cross over into the consumer grocery supply. So whether or not you buy into the narrative of "rescuing" veggies that would have gone to waste (I don't), you can still get a pretty good deal on some pretty good food (I do).
posted by StruggleBus at 8:05 AM on September 13 [7 favorites]


I tend to think of these kinds of brands as "Facebook shit"--the kinds of interstitial ads that are just the cost of using that platform.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:25 AM on September 13 [5 favorites]


I've bought some stuff from a couple of these places in the past few months, and for me, I think the appeal is that I have choice fatigue, and they don't offer you a ton of choices. Like, I needed to buy extra-long sheets, because my mom needed to use a hospital bed, and hospital beds take extra-long sheets. So I went to Brooklinen, and they had three kinds of sheets: normal, fancy, and linen. It was super easy to select "normal," pick out three of the five patterns they offered, pay with PayPal, and they got delivered in a couple of days. I didn't have the emotional energy at that moment to think about sheets, and buying from Booklinen meant that I didn't really have to think about the fucking sheets. It's actually similar to the appeal of Aldi, which is way on the other side of the price/ hipness spectrum. Aldi only has one brand of peanut butter, and it only comes in one size, so the only decision I need to make is whether to buy creamy, crunchy, or natural. And I truly don't care that much about peanut butter, so I appreciate not having to wade through a ton of choices.

So while I hear them about branding and venture capital and whatnot, a lot of the appeal of many of these places is that they tell you that you'll get a perfectly acceptable version of the thing, and you won't have to think about it very much, sort through a zillion fake reviews on Amazon, or go get it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:26 AM on September 13 [28 favorites]


Given the article's own point that the (barely hidden) business model of these companies is mostly "hold out for the buy out", I'm a bit dubious that they've actually "won the wallets of a generation." (In the aggregate, maybe? I'm guessing that Ikea & Target.com & of course Amazon are eating their sales figures for lunch.)

Still, though, I suppose because I'm not really on social media, I had no idea there were so many of them. I spent most of the article clicking on links going, "Really? There's a bland "disruptor" for that? Wait, there's more than one?"
posted by soundguy99 at 9:38 AM on September 13 [4 favorites]


Choice fatigue is definitely part of the appeal, I think. I don't think I've signed up for any of these, even though some of those podcast recs are oddly compelling -- but I definitely get the appeal of "oh thank god, decent sheets/socks/razors I don't have to think about ever again."

It reminds me of what I've been seeing on store shelves, where there are a growing number of semi-generics ("Everyday Essentials" and the like) that seem to take their branding philosophy from this XKCD. I sometimes find myself reaching for one of those unapologetically generic items even when a name brand is cheaper.

OTOH, judging from the article a lot of these blands are big on individualization, where you have to answer a bunch of questions in order to personalize your normcore razor-sheet experience. I wonder if that's just an aspect of the choice-fatigue phenomenon ("let me tell you about ME instead of your company telling me what options it offers"), or if there's really two different things happening here.
posted by Not A Thing at 9:50 AM on September 13 [4 favorites]


I think one of the things is that capitalism will embrace and devour anything.

At one point, many of these companies were genuine. There genuinely was fatigue either in finding a good product or merit to cutting out the middleman. There's a happy medium of "no frills" and "good quality."

So of course venture capitalists and large corporations decided to emulate that model. Just as how the big breweries now either purchase or emulate craft breweries.

I think the article did its own thesis a disservice by lumping in obvious venture tech bro bullshit like Juicero with nominally useful services like Dollar Shave Club or Harry's.
posted by explosion at 10:02 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


There is something to be said for turning VC capital into salaries for talented podcast producers. There may be more efficient ways to achieve similar results.

The idea that this is different from the old model where companies pitched the same products to wholesalers and stores who then pay for laughably bad advertising seems like rather a fine point to try to make.
posted by eotvos at 11:23 AM on September 13 [4 favorites]


But for real, can anyone tell me if any of the pans are worth it? Or is the main improvement that they look pretty?
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:28 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


At least with the cookware, most of the reviews read like spon and I am hesitant to try them.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:31 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


While the actual products are ever-changing, Costco kind of does this. If they have a thing, they often only have one choice, take it or leave it (in whatever vast quantity it is packaged in). The only real choice to be made is "do I want some of ____" rather than numbly staring at a wall of choices.
posted by maxwelton at 11:34 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


I thought about making the Costco reference, but they still skew toward newfangled to some degree.

You can't get a solid handle and a 100-pack of razor blades if you want to shave. You can get a good deal on a 12 pack of Gilette's latest 5-blade offering, though.

The stuff that they manufacture under Kirkland though, gets a lot closer.
posted by explosion at 12:08 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


They come in threes or singletons instead of pairs?

No, that's Throx.
posted by darksasami at 1:16 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


mandymanwasregistered, Misen's knives are very good. I don't know anything about their other products, but I'd seriously consider buying something else from them.
posted by mollweide at 2:02 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


They come in threes or singletons instead of pairs?
No, that's Throx.


The WWE was there too, but the New Day 3-pack doesn't seem to be in the official store anymore.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 2:05 PM on September 13


The stuff that they manufacture under Kirkland though, gets a lot closer.

Indeed. You can get huge bottles of the-OTC-meds-you-regularly-take for a fraction of what a packet of 12 or 24 of them would be otherwise.

I laughed through a lot of this article just because I hear the ads on a lot of podcasts (or see them on Insta) and yet most of the stuff that isn't just a mail order product isn't even available in rural VT where I am. That said, they slowly show up here it's just always a challenge to figure out when. This thread has taught me that Imperfect Foods is now in my area
posted by jessamyn at 4:38 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


I thought this had some legit observations about marketing trends but by the end it basically just names every startup.

Like, Juicero isn’t really the same thing he’s talking about, is it? It’s just a dumb startup at the intersection of IoT and food fads, and the core device was way too shiny and expensive to fit the pattern. I guess it does fit the “simple single purpose” thing a little bit, but to me the core of what he’s really talking about is consciously low-key marketing in service of appearing simple, practical, down-to-earth, no-bullshit.
posted by atoxyl at 6:24 PM on September 13


It's actually similar to the appeal of Aldi, which is way on the other side of the price/ hipness spectrum.

Or Trader Joe’s, for that matter. Aldi, TJ’s, and a lot of these millennial brands all have pretty different aesthetics — if I were going to take a stab at it I’d say Euro normcore, kitschy/hippie, and blush minimalism — but you’re right that they share an interest in streamlining, curating, and to some extent catering to price-consciousness.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:15 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


I use quip because of decision fatigue. The amount of energy that would go into us getting a new toothbrush every few months was disproportionate to how much it matters. I wanted someone to tell me, "here just use this one."
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:49 AM on September 14


...where there are a growing number of semi-generics ("Everyday Essentials" and the like) that seem to take their branding philosophy from this XKCD...


Well, not exactly original. Welcome to the 1980s.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:20 PM on September 14 [3 favorites]


We want to empower people to use cleaner personal care products. We have to take care of our body, it's the only place we have to live.

Oy.
posted by daybeforetheday at 3:15 AM on September 15


Here in Russia, there's a Walmart like store called "Ashan" and they have a plainly labeled house brand called "kashdie dien" which translates to "everyday". They have beer, vodka and cognac. for your everyday purposes.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:35 AM on September 15 [2 favorites]


Vodka is a sometimes food
posted by aubilenon at 1:15 PM on September 15 [3 favorites]


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