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Celebrities, Pop-Ups and Dynamic Customization

April 2010

By Kateri O'Neil, Los Angeles

Lately I've witnessed a range of contemporary sociological trends in LA, including the fetishization of fame reflected in the public’s growing coveting of celebrities and, consequently, the lifestyles and possessions of the rich and famous. vitaminwater has employed a complex marketing strategy involving celebrity endorsements like rapper 50 Cent and product placement on prime-time TV shows such as "Gossip Girl".

Vitaminwater's brilliant strategy has been a personal favorite: the brand launched arcade-style pop-up locations (complete with WiFi, video games and foosball tables) that I found both well-conceived and immaculately-designed. In addition, they are conducting an online contest to elect the brand’s next flavor through inspiration from - and interaction with - a vast online community via "crowdsourcing".

"Pop-up" stores - an exciting trend I find hip, edgy, and refreshing - continue to sprout up in LA, as in cities across the nation. After the resounding success of Paper Mag's pop-up stores on Sunset Blvd in 2007 and 2008, a slew of other companies set up temporary barracks for their products, while larger projects like the recent Space 26/Designer Direct pop-up store cropped up at luxury consumer temples like the Westfield Century City.

Even Gap jumped on the pop-up bandwagon, creating a pop-up "denim bar" on LA’s famed shopping street, Robertson Boulevard.

Other brands have undertaken successful measures in diversifying horizontally, namely LA’s notorious Ed Hardy - a brand that, while not compatible with my aesthetic sensibilities, now reaps great profits from sales of its trademark lighters, beer, and miscellaneous lifestyle products.

Design standards and aesthetics have, to my content, become more forefront, non-negotiable factors in marketing. Many beverage companies have become attuned to the increasingly critical and discerning tastes (in terms of both flavor and design) of their consumers. Pepsi’s new logo reflects current graphic trends that trigger associations with Obama and the very apropos recycling symbol.

Coca-Cola even recently enlisted famed designer Karl Lagerfeld to design a limited-edition aluminum Coca-Cola Light bottle to appeal to its fashion-forward consumers.

Event-based promotional initiatives have also become increasingly rigorous in LA, with Scion, whose marketing campaign I deem near-revolutionary, blazing the trail. Scion organizes ongoing DIY art exhibitions in its Scion Installation L.A. space in addition to hosting regular Scion House Party events featuring the very hippest bands and DJs - events which also serve to compliment the brand's online radio program, Scion Radio 17.

In a similar capacity, Apple stores have been generating hipster buzz and "credibility" though in-store music sets. Other brands - like one of my favorites, Incase (and its curatorial partner, Arkitip) - have benefited from intelligent branding and product presence at smaller tastemaker parties and music festivals like South by Southwest and Coachella.

With just about every brand jumping on the green bandwagon in response to a growing consumer base known as LOHAS (those devoted to a "Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability"), the commitment to eco-friendly, organic products has infiltrated the retail environment and is reflected in an overall pro-green look and feel, epitomized in Apple’s archetypal store.

Apple’s laboratory chic has made such an impact on consumers’ widespread tastes that Microsoft has adopted the same aesthetic (with the inclusion of a bit more color) when designing its first retail outlet in Scottsdale, Arizona. Microsoft's new location is clinical yet intimate, complemented by minimal, natural decor and multiple work stations. Just as the layout of an Apple store automatically feels so familiar that navigating though it becomes intuitive, Microsoft's retail model will hopefully follow suit.

Microsoft not only intends to one-up Apple’s in-store service technologies with integrated GPS systems that will send targeted, real-time information to a shopper’s mobile phone or shopping cart, but it will also soon present Apple with a strong mobile competitor when it releases Kin One and Kin Two - mobile devices that seamlessly synch social networks and facilitate the sharing of content.

Both the eclectic "boutique" or "concept store" model and the "store-within-a-store" approach still feel very fresh and exciting, so I wouldn't be disappointed if a hybrid/conceptual retail outlet trend seized the nation. uWink’s interactive multi-service concept may well catalyze this nationwide trend with an exciting innovation that combines self-service hospitality (food), technology, and digital entertainment. Offering end-to-end self-order, self-pay, and at-the-table digital entertainment delivery solutions, uWink’s seamlessly integrated "arcade-restaurant" is located in LA’s Hollywood & Highland open-air mall and has plans to proliferate.

On-site customization counters, self-serve kiosks, interactive touch-screens, and digital displays containing dynamic information may very well soon be ubiquitous fixtures in retail environments. Many retailers are also experimenting with standalone outlets: Best Buy introduced a number of "Mobile" branches, in addition to outdoor "Express" vending machines that are currently functioning as self-serve outlets in shopping centers.

Create-your-own drink retailers like LA’s Dlush Deluxe Beverage Joint have also been cropping up around town in unison with gourmet frozen yogurt shops, allowing patrons to customize their own concoctions.

Whether or not there is a future for the pop-up/concept store fad, for the hyper-individualized approach of customization, or for commodified luxury has yet to be determined. I personally appreciate the more intelligent, intuitive, and well-conceived products and retail environments where quality has not been compromised. While we are increasingly inundated by digital overstimulation, simplicity and ease have become virtues to consumers like myself. Technology, however, is here to stay and as self-service retail models become increasingly efficient, early-adopters and mass consumers alike will necessarily adapt to ever-evolving systems to render the shopping experience process as fluid, intuitive, and instantly-gratifying as possible.

Food & Drink
Fashion & Style
Los Angeles

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