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On Sale. Or Not.

99c_dreams99¢ Dreams has long been my favorite 99-cent store. It is the kind of realist thinking that allows people to feel good about themselves. Why reach for the stars when you can reach for an offbrand 59-watt light bulb?

But there is no such thing as a free lunch, even in 99¢ Dreamland.


Posted by Charles Star on 11/29/2006 | Permalink | Comments (6)

Brooklyn Shopkeepers Can't Make Up Their Minds

The_new_halal Indecisive_door On a recent walk along New York Avenue in Brooklyn, I saw two signs that point to some serious schizophrenia on the part of the store owners. The first appears on the entry door of a bodega -- and leads to a lot of Midvale-School hilarity -- but the second points to yet another reason why the terrorists hate us: the way America changes Muslims that move here.

I can't decide what would upset Osama more: that bacon is considered halal or that the deli sells bagels.

Posted by Charles Star on 11/28/2006 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Children are our future

The New York Times' Metropolitan Diary can be pretty cloying at times, but today they seem to have really outdone themselves, snobbery-wise:

Dear Diary:

On a Sunday afternoon recently, I was walking down Fifth Avenue right next to a man and his daughter, who was about 6. As we passed Cartier, the girl asked, “What is Cartier?”

He said. “It’s the American Girl Place for big girls” (American Girl Place is that upscale doll store), and I burst out laughing.

So he laughed and said, “Isn’t it?” and I said, “Oh, you are teaching her early.”

He smiled and I said, “Why not!”

I can think of a few reasons...

Posted by Damian on 11/28/2006 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Needlessly Electronic

ScattergoriesBy now you've I'm sure seen the news about the new "Here and Now" Monopoly, the one in which they replaced the wheelbarrow with McDonald's fries, the flat iron with a Starbuck's coffee, the car with a flying car. You may not have noticed, however, that the UK version of Here and Now also replaced the money with debit cards. I'm not going to get into what this may imply for the future our retail skills (although the American version did replace the real-world bank notes with bills on the magnitude of 200k and up). What I'm more interested in is that a previously people-powered game now requires batteries.

This summer, I went into the woods with some friends and a newly shrink-wrapped version of Scattergories. Imagine our gamerage when we opened the box to find the usual spring-wound timer replaced with an electronic one requiring batteries. And a screwdriver. Neither of which we had or were in proximity to having. What was wrong with the wind-up one? I'm assuming the battery-powered timer costs Hasbro a half-cent less to manufacture, and the rest of us that much more (for the batteries and the chemical waste). Middling, I know, but it all adds up.

Which brings me to the enMotion system of paper towel dispensers. They have quietly replaced every restaurant bathroom dispenser from here to everywhere in the past year or so. What was once hand-cranked now takes 4 D-cell batteries (and is apparently built not to dispense, the more frantically you wave your hands in front of it). Restaurateurs see it as a boon precisely because it is so hard to get the towels out. You can't yank out three yards, ball it up, and throw it on the floor.

What I want to know is: what's more of a waste? Chronic paper towel use or all the hundreds of thousands of batteries we're going to be tossing out? Anybody know how to figure that out?

Posted by Matt Ransford on 11/27/2006 | Permalink | Comments (15)

Lincoln Ads

Wade I'm under no illusion that car ads are made to sell cars and not to promote alternative transportation, but there're a couple recent Lincoln ads that have gone a step further. The first has Dwayne Wade pulling up to an urban basketball court in his Navigator, replacing the hoops, flooding the kids with balls, and tossing the keys to the coach. He then squeaks away in the shadow of a tractor trailer on a child-sized bike. The obvious point here is Wade is making such a tremendous sacrifice that he's got no option other than to ride a shitty little bike home. Put aside the ridiculous idea that Wade doesn't have the cash to call a cab (or that it's somehow more virtuous to suffer along with those you're helping) and you're left with the notion that people who ride bikes to get anywhere do so because they can't afford a car. Or a properly-fitting and well-oiled bike, for that matter.

The second is for the MKX (couldn't find a clip). Suburban guy kisses his wife and kid, heads off to work. On the drive, he phones in for his messages, makes business small talk. He then arrives... back home (!) and it turns out his wife is his secretary and his kid is his meeting manager. Or something. This guy loves to drive his car so much that he literally goes on a morning commute to nowhere.

The bike thing, fine. Good for a cheap laugh. I don't begrudge anybody for not using a bike for transportation because we've built our roads to be deathtraps. But the commuter one is pretty much everything that's wrong with our car culture. The idea that someone who has no need to add to the gridlock and pollution and waste of the morning drive would do so just because he can is exactly the mindset that has brought us as far as we are down the road of unsustainability.

Posted by Matt Ransford on 11/27/2006 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Marketing, crystallized

If you've ever lost a minute of sleep, concerned that commercial speech isn't given its due under the First Amendment, please take a second to consider this sentence from a weekend obituary for Dick Kress* former President of Norelco:

To counter a problem that Norelco's two rotary heads, intended to give greater comfort, took longer to shave, Mr. Kress changed the product name to "Speedshaver"

I'd wonder what the weather was like in Hell, Mr. Kress, but my skin is just so smooth!

* This article is for subscribers only - until now.

Richard Q. Kress (1927-2006)
'Norelco Man' Boldly Marketed Electric Shavers

A 'Gotcha!' Television Ad
Nicked Blade Competitors;
He Liked to See Red
November 25, 2006; Page A6

Costumed as the "Norelco Man," Dick Kress zipped along a cable suspended between two buildings and tangled with a professional fighter named Mark the Butcher. He also liked to don a Stetson hat with a band of the electric-shaver company's rotary heads.

He preferred the motivational stunts at sales meetings because he claimed to be a shy public speaker. But there was nothing timid about Mr. Kress's marketing, which gave Norelco command of the electric-shaver market by boldly confronting blade shaving.

He thrived in an era of dueling prime-time television ads and legal battles starting in the 1970s, when advertisers first were allowed to name the competition. Norelco steadily built its market share to about 60% from about 20% during Mr. Kress's 18 years as president of Norelco, then a division of North American Philips Corp., which eventually became wholly owned by Philips Electronics NV, based in the Netherlands. His "innate genius ... manifested itself in taking chances," former Norelco Vice President John Gray says of Mr. Kress, who died Oct. 14 at age 78.

Dick Kress in one of the barber chairs he kept in his office.

When he strayed from shaving, though, Mr. Kress faltered. He led Norelco into what he called "other rooms of the house" with a slew of electric devices ranging from coffee makers, toaster ovens and can openers to home-security systems and portable vacuum cleaners. He abruptly retired in 1986 after what former colleagues describe as disagreements with his counterparts at parent company Philips. Philips eventually disposed of almost all of his product extensions, which fell short of the success of Norelco's electric razors.

When Mr. Kress joined North American Philips Corp. as advertising director in 1963, Norelco was an established brand best known for holiday ads showing Santa dashing through the snow on an electric razor, renaming the company "Noelco" with the tagline, "Even our name says Merry Christmas."

Gillette's aggressive marketing of its disposable razors had eroded gains made by electric shavers in the 1950s. Mr. Kress first focused on gaining share against other electric shavers, including Remington, Sunbeam and Schick. To counter a problem that Norelco's two rotary heads, intended to give greater comfort, took longer to shave, Mr. Kress changed the product name to "Speedshaver" -- "at least leaving the impression that it shaved fast," Mr. Gray says. Philips engineers later added a third shaving head for greater speed.

Mr. Kress prevailed against Remington in court battles, winning fights over the exclusive use of the "Tripleheader" term, fending off antitrust allegations to sell shavers under the Schick name after it purchased the company's electric-razor assets, and asserting its boast that the Norelco shaver was selected for use by the 1983 Challenger astronauts.

In 1974, dissatisfied with incremental gains against other electric-shaver makers, Mr. Kress declared war on razor blades, still the dominant way of shaving. One memorable TV ad depicted a man slathered in shaving cream, suddenly grimacing from a razor nick. The word "Gotcha!" filled the screen. The ad "changed the market for Norelco," says Royal Bruce Montgomery, who worked on Norelco campaigns at McCaffrey & McCall, then the company's ad agency.

Mr. Kress diversified into coffee makers with equal zeal, challenging then-leader Mr. Coffee and its ad spokesman, baseball great Joe DiMaggio. Norelco signed comedian Danny Thomas, who had been a spokesman for Maxwell House coffee. "Danny and Dick were kindred spirits," Mr. Montgomery says. "They both smoked enormous cigars. When Danny was on the set shooting a commercial for us, Dick was there too."

Former colleagues say Mr. Kress was guided by simple rules. Among them: "Only hire those people you would invite to your home to play poker," recalls Pat Dinley, who worked with Mr. Kress and was Norelco's president from 1991 to 2002. Product packaging could be any color "as long as it's red." At football games, Mr. Kress would remind companions how easy it was to spot red shirts in the crowd.

By his 1986 retirement, Mr. Kress said that during his tenure as president Norelco had sold more than 55 million electric razors. In 1993, Mr. Kress briefly became president of an old competitor, Remington Rand, a division of Remington Products Co.

In addition to the selloff of his diversifications after he left Norelco, Mr. Kress witnessed the gradual decline of the electric-shaving segment and Norelco's share. The segment's $666 million in annual sales are about 2% lower than seven years ago and dwarfed by the $1.8 billion razor-blade market, while Remington has about a 39% electric-shaver share versus Norelco's 33%, according to Euromonitor, a market researcher.

But Mr. Kress remained loyal. In his bathroom, according to longtime companion Kathy Wagner, a Norelco electric shaver still sits on a gold-plated dish.

Posted by Charles Star on 11/27/2006 | Permalink | Comments (0)

And while I'm being all incensed at TV commercials...

Enterprise Rent-a-Car apparently has no plans to ever stop running their class-reunion TV spot. You've seen it—the guy is eager to impress the Class of 1994, so he pulls up in a rented Cadillac. Because, sure, you don't want to look like a failure at the all-important TWELVE-year reunion.

Posted by Jack Silbert on 11/22/2006 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Achoo-cadabra, Part Deux

I warned America, but no one took action. So the cold-and-flu medication industry's dalliance with the dark forces continues. Now TheraFlu claims to bring ghosts back to life.

Posted by Jack Silbert on 11/20/2006 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hitler Youth Is Served

Nazi_douche_1 Cheers to the caption savant at the Park Slope Courier, who stumbled into the perfect tag for this photo of teenage douchebag Walter Petryk.

Posted by Charles Star on 11/17/2006 | Permalink | Comments (5)

BuzzFeed: Buzz with a Brain

Yesterday, Contagious Media founder and HuffPo macher Jonah Peretti launched BuzzFeed, his latest foray into the world of viral communications. Among its categories is a neat section on de-gentrification (a word that has just sent a chill up my future net worth).

BuzzFeed combines a web-searching function to identify stories that are beginning to catch fire with editorial mediation, so it isn't just another list of videos of dudes getting kicked in the balls. (NB: Such videos are, of course, hilarious. But if I want to see one, I'll just search YouTube.)

For more on Jonah Peretti's take on viral media, check out his Stay Free! interview in Issue 25.

Posted by Charles Star on 11/16/2006 | Permalink | Comments (1)