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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Do a Google Maps search for "coffee" in my zip code, and the first six responses are Starbucks. I greeted this discovery with the indignation any self-respecting coffee snob would (not to mention any upright citizen). Then, on my way to work, I stopped in at one for convenience sake. Then, needing a place to do some work, I spent an afternoon at one. Then, I went completely out of my way to get a tall Pike Place Roast .

Then I got a Starbucks card.

"For someone as self-righteous about marketing as you," said my wife, "that's ridiculous."

She's absolutely right. Only, in my defense, let me attest that I am a fully aware consumer here. I am completely in control of my relationship to Starbucks, so even though this card (which I can load up with currency online) allows the company to track every transaction I make at their stores, I feel no shame. Because I'm getting free refills on drip coffee. And I can use wireless for free. And I can get a free tall beverage when I buy a pound of whole bean coffee.

Only, the free drip refill is a coffeeshop ought, free WiFi is widespread, and I don't buy Starbucks bulk coffee (What? It was roasted over a month ago in another state).

Here's the real draw of the card, which I totally didn't see coming: it makes me a company insider. As this New York Times piece explains, it's a loyalty marketing program, so it seeks to keep its repeat customers from going elsewhere. And why would I go somewhere else for my up-with-baby-all-night-my-God-I-need-some-caffeine fix? Somewhere else doesn't allow my to flash my sexy card and be done with it.

Oh, and my buddy is a Starbucks shareholder, so I'm totally helping him out.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 11:16 PM | link | 1 comments |

Who's Space Is It?

The other day there were these two kids hanging out in front of the church where I work. I was returning after a run down the street for coffee, and they were sitting on a planter on the patio outside the sanctuary: two boys, middle-school aged, with skateboards.

It's hardly uncommon. There's a middle school just down the street, and our wide parking lot and shady patio make for choice real estate for kids looking to hang out after school.

As I prepared to walk past them, I rehearsed in my head how I should approach them. We can't have skateboarders around for liability concerns, so one imperative was to chase them off with a chummy kind of tone. But they weren't actually riding their boards, so maybe, I thought, I should strike up a conversation with them. Find out their names. Invite them to our youth programs. Yes, reach out to them.

"What's up guys?" was my laissez-fair hook.

"Nothin'," they answered, looking toward the ground.

I was just steeling myself to make my youth minister pitch when one of them looked up and asked, as if it were a matter of pressing concern, "How are you?"

It kind of caught me off guard. All I could come up with in response was a perfectly adult, "I'm fine. How are you?"

They both smiled and replied that they were good, and I continued on inside. It's the kind of interaction that might take place between two adult strangers on any public street.

And that's what got me thinking.

Why wouldn't I greet these kids the same way I would greet someone in public? Why should there be some imperative to engage them in a conversation that will produce an invitation to church programs?

The difference between the conversation I envisioned and the conversation I got that afternoon is the difference between a conception of the church as private property used for programs that benefit the invited and a conception of the church as public property where nobody has to justify their presence.

It felt right and good to greet these kids like strangers and then to leave them alone, not challenging their right to be there by making them sit through a forced introduction aimed to grease a program pitch. It felt correct and maybe even holy to share the church space with them for that short time as if the space belonged to all of us, equally.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 4:05 PM | link | 0 comments |

An Old Item That Got Missed

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Some people in our church became possessed, some months ago, by the very good idea that people might donate all or a portion of their forthcoming economic stimulus rebates to charity. Many conversations ensued. Our church has come up with its own strategy to encourage its members to do that. In addition, the local Interfaith Council ran a little op ed in the local paper, penned by yours truly.

Since it was published on the day la bambina was born, I missed it. Here's the link if you're interested.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:45 PM | link | 0 comments |

The Gruen Transfer

Friday, June 06, 2008

For about a year now I've been receiving a daily Yahoo group mailing called "Media Squatters." It's a bunch of media nerds like Douglass Rushkoff discussing marketing, politics, and consumer culture. Most days I don't have time to really follow the conversation, but today someone shared something really great.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has a new show called The Gruen Transfer (the show takes its name from the phenomenon that happens when you walk into a shopping mall, aptly named for the architect of the first shopping mall, Victor Gruen).

It's a panel show that lightheartedly dissects how advertising works and, as the show's catchline says, "how it works on you." Each episode features a snarky little host joined by four advertising "experts" who offer their witty suspicions about the motives and methods behind major advertising campaigns. It's a bit glib and self-satisfied, yet it also stops short of sanctimony. For example, one of the running gags of the show is called "Sell It," where executives from well-known advertising agencies try to out-do one another in crafting a commercial for the unthinkable. In the first episode, the unsellable product was Japanese whale meat. The execs participate eagerly, openly acknowledge that theirs is a craft that can hock garbage and gold with equal vigor.

Give it a look. You can subscribe to new episodes using iTunes. Below is a clip from the first episode (Note the content warning at the beginning).

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 10:31 PM | link | 1 comments |