Friday, January 12, 2007

A New York minute.

For no particular reason other than to breathe the fetid air of possibility, Sweetie and I went to New York a few weeks back. While she shopped for shoes (and against all imaginable odds found none), I wandered the streets of SoHo clutching a Starbucks cup and trying to look like I belonged, the Elmer Fudd of cool hunters. And believe it or not, the most interesting thing I discovered on this little safari was not an obscure micro-genre of lounge music or some new level of opacity for Helmut Lang ads. It was a hole in the wall on Wooster Street called the Wired Store.

Now, on the face of it, this place wasn’t as mind blowing as, say, the new Apple store on 5th Avenue. Imagine a Sharper Image, but without most of the strange massage appliances. It was populated sparsely on this December afternoon with glassy-eyed geeks passing time until their round-two financing came through, and the occasional startled looking tourist, alternately poking and caressing the latest shiny totems of modernity.

Yawn. And so?

So this: Wired is a magazine. It’s not supposed to be a store.

Yet there it was, and it seemed to make all the sense in the world. Like a moth to a flame, I was drawn inside, and as I tried on the solar-powered laptop-charging backpack, I meditated on what seem to be some emerging truths about what brands are about here in the 21st century.

Here’s one. A brand is an advocate. Some clever duck once said, “When information is free, the only thing that will have any value is a point of view.” Wired is a brand more than it’s just the name of a magazine because it has a coherent way of seeing the world. Its reason for being is not its ability to staple piles of colourful paper together and sell them, it’s its unbridled enthusiasm for the digital age. In my head, I knew all these toys they were selling were probably products of the magazine’s advertisers; in my heart, I felt like maybe all these products had passed a test to be there.

Or how about, a brand is understood through experience. And, in a sense, the capacity for experience is kind of how you know you have a brand. The Wired Store, to me, was impressive precisely because it wasn’t surprising. Of course this is what Wired would look like if it was a store. Of course this is who would be lurking therein. Of course this is where it would be. Of course.

And this: A brand’s consumers are a tribe of shared values, not shared demographics, and certainly not, heaven help us, a ‘target’. What’s more, the beautiful thing about a brand like this is that it can be for some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time. It didn’t care who came through its doors. Although I thought it fell short in the execution, you could see the potential, here, for this place to be like a church of Wired-ness. Niketown, taken to the next level.

Yeah, so, I was pretty chuffed about all that. Madly making notes and congratulating myself later over a martini for observing this evolutionary moment, this brand ascendant. You can imagine how sulky I was, then, on learning that they’d packed up and left like gypsies in the night shortly after Christmas, leaving nothing but a ‘for rent’ sign in the window. I’d stumbled on a new trend, alright. It’s called a “pop-up store”, and they’re all the buzz-making rage in Manhattan right now. Nike had just done one, too, in fact. It was open for four days.

Wascally wabbits.

But I still kind of want that backpack.


stuart said...

One honest to goodness SoHo "thing" I saw at New Year's was a rice pudding store. Called Rice to Riches. Place was jammed to the gills at whatever the hell but waaaay too late o'clock, featuring a gazillion flavours of rice pudding. Which they will gladly ship direct to your home for the low low price of US$49.


BrandCowboy said...

Mmmm... rice pudding...

I wonder if this is what consumption is coming to. Practically all our needs being met, we're working our way up Maslow's infernal hierarchy and what do we find at the very top? Mass customized rice pudding.

Or is it a fully integrated, end-to-end rice pudding solution...

Thought provoking as always. Happy New Year, Stuigi!