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Five minutes of innovation: the most remarkable collaborations, brand extensions, special editions and licensed products from the last month.

MEETING MILLENNIALS

In the Snapchat universe, ideas go from origination to obsolescence in under 10 seconds. In many ways Snapchat is an allegory for the real world: where new ideas are embraced, discarded or ignored with ruthless efficiency and the vast majority of new products fail.

Millennials are notorious for being the toughest crowd of all to please. Short attention spans and infinite choices make it difficult for brands to create connections, but brands can create opportunity from the fact that millennials are less set in their ways. Product, distribution, promotion, price...to the millennial mind, how things ought to be is a much more fluid concept.

Last month saw several examples of brands breaking conventions not just to defend their ideas, but to give them definition for a younger audience.

At the top of the list were the owners of Snapchat itself. After surprising the market in September by announcing their first foray into hardware, November saw the U.S. launch of Spectacles with an innovative strategy designed to avoid the fate of comparable brand extensions like Google Glass and Facebook Phone.

By making its new camera glasses available exclusively through special pop-up vending machines at random locations, Snap Inc. succeeded in creating buzz and rolling coverage. More importantly, the brand's 'Snapbots' also guaranteed engagement with Snapchat's most motivated and capable users.

Queues at the Spectacles Snapbot
River Island's melancholic mannequins
The Snapbot activation encapsulates the spirit, design and functionality of Spectacles perfectly. If Snap Inc are indeed serious about being known as a camera company, their Spectacles project is a stunning first step and a glimpse of a future where hand-held cameras become as old-fashioned as the Walkman.

Other millennial-facing ideas from last month included River Island's much talked-about Emo mannequins, and the announcement that Fitbit activity trackers would become integrated with the NBA's hugely popular 2K17 game. Following in the footsteps of Pokémon Go, this latest marriage of wearable tech and video game offers players in-game rewards for physical activity in the real world.

(My prediction: expect to see more cats and dogs wearing Fitbits).

COLLABORATING FOR CAUSES

Last month's newsletter looked at some of the design rituals brands indulge in to align products with festive seasons. Another aspect of holiday shopping is giving, and it was interesting to see last month's special edition products created in the name of cause marketing.

Highlights from November included the latest instalment of Nike's long-running Doernbecher Freestyle programme, as well as the Eastpak Artist Studio, now in its seventh year. Nike's programme engages with a local children's hospital while Eastpak raises funds to combat AIDS.

For the southern summer, the Australian accessories brand, Oroton, is pledging to donate all profits from its bag charm sales to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. In contrast, the launch by TOMS of a collection of straps for Apple Watch seemed inauthentic, both for its choice of partner and cause (solar light).

INDIGENOUS FLAVOURS

Native American detailing has long been a staple ingredient of American classics and boho-chic style. More recently though, indigenous flavours have become increasingly common across the fashion spectrum.

From streetwear to outdoor style, moccasin silhouettes and woven patterns are becoming commonplace, particularly in men's accessories. Releases last month included special editions from Nixon, New Era and the NikeID customisation platform. Even the aforementioned TOMS collaboration with Apple made prominent use of rootsy desert styling.

Taka Hayashi x Nixon
Pendleton x NikeID
The style's popularity is consistent with the growing preference for 'back-to-basics' styling over modern, minimalist design. But whether it signals a global trend is less interesting to contemplate than the ability of collaborations to provide a frame for exotic ideas, even when they conflict with the over-arching tone of the brand.

Capsule collections made in collaboration with ingredient providers like Pendleton, designers like Taka Hayashi or artists like Scott Campbell offer a brands an efficient, value-added way of following fashions without changing course.

BRANDBOOKS 

Apple's latest cool product is strictly analogue. 'Designed by Apple in California' is a retrospective of the Cupertino brand's design legacy as well as a reminder of its high margins: the limited edition book is available in two sizes for $199 and $299.

Other brands celebrating their own heritage in print last month included the luxury labels, Patek Philippe and Loewe.

Meanwhile, design publishers Rizzoli released affectionate tributes to brands of a younger vintage: Carhartt WIP and the French inventor of the book clutch, Olympia Le-Tan.
The fact that Apple settled on paper rather than virtual reality as its medium of choice is reassuring. Especially in today's ephemeral digital world, nothing has quite the same gravitas as a well-made book, and few products* are more cost-effective at adding value to B2B and B2C relationships.

See you in 2017!

*Take a look at a book I developed a couple of years ago for Volvo :-)
 
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