Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Lament for Strawberry Ice Cream

Image Source: Evernew Recipes.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi - thus passes the glory of the world. Worldly things are fleeting.  I was going to do this post on goods that are made to break (all of today's so-called 'consumer durables') so we'll buy more of them.  It's amazing that there is such hype around our environmentally-conscious recycling culture, yet we are completely surrounded by throwaway planned obsolescence. Fleeting fashions. Problems with backwards compatibility.  I remember Michael Franti's commentary on how technology inspired cognitive dissonance back in 1991. I keep pondering oxymoronic language that persists in this atmosphere, like 'disposable income,' 'approach avoidance,' 'arrested development,' and 'accelerated decrepitude.'  I don't wonder what Franti thinks now of the Internet, a drug more potent than the "methadone metronone": you can see the video for his song, Television, the Drug of the Nation, here.

However, rather than talk about planned obsolescence, I thought I would talk about planned eradication of some products that were perfectly good.  These products have been eliminated for no other reason other than they 'don't fit' with the mythologies relentlessly churned out by up-to-the-second marketing minds.  Another, related, phenomenon is Millennial rebranding. Examples:
  • I started thinking about planned eradication when DC Comics began hemming and hawing about whether it will or will not erase its Titans pop culture canon because the comics medium is going digital.  Gen X heroes 'don't fit' the visions demanded by new media, apparently.
  • Another giant 'rebranding for the Millennium' exercise took place at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, wherein the public broadcaster disposed of its classical music radio offerings and replaced them with alternative rock.  There was a national outcry against this in 2008, but the rebranding went ahead.
  • The Washington Post reported in late 2010 that Steven Spielberg is advising Nancy Pelosi on how to rebrand the Democratic party in the US to make the Democrats more appealing to Gen Y and Gen Z (Hat tip: Elite Trader): "Lawmakers say she is consulting marketing experts about building a stronger brand. The most prominent of her new whisperers is Steven Spielberg, the Hollywood director whose films have been works of branding genius."  Spielberg's rep denied this report.
  • There is an article here by Charlotte Werther about Britain's Millennial rebranding as 'Cool Britannia.'
Wiki on Millennial rebranding:
Rebranding has become something of a fad at the turn of the millennium, with some companies rebranding several times. The rebranding of Philip Morris to Altria was done to help the company shed its negative image. Other rebrandings, such as the British Post Office's attempt to rebrand itself as Consignia, have proved such a failure that millions more had to be spent going back to square one.

In a study of 165 cases of rebranding, Muzellec and Lambkin (2006) found that, whether a rebranding follows from corporate strategy (e.g., M&A) or constitutes the actual marketing strategy (change the corporate reputation), it aims at enhancing, regaining, transferring, and/or recreating the corporate brand equity.

According to Sinclair (1999:13), business the world over acknowledges the value of brands. “Brands, it seems, alongside ownership of copyright and trademarks, computer software and specialist know-how, are now at the heart of the intangible value investors place on companies.” As such, companies in the 21st century may find it necessary to relook their brand in terms of its relevancy to consumers and the changing marketplace. Successful rebranding projects can yield a brand better off than before.
Corporate Rebranding: Impact on Brand Equity (2006) © Laurent Muzellec and Mary Lambkin.

Rebranding often leads to the discontinuation of products, which has been going on for decades.  There are many sites devoted to discontinued products that consumers want to be able to buy again: see here, here, here, here and here. What strikes me is the helplessness of consumers in this instance - there is even a lobby group devoted to the problem. Marketers and managers have decided what consumers 'want,' even if that's not what consumers want. They ignore real demand and replace it with fake demand.

But what happens when planned eradication transcends specific products and even whole brands?  Never mind publishers, corporations, power brokers and governments. Here is a much more common product: Strawberry Ice Cream.  Try finding it in your local grocery store.  Yes, you can get yuppified flavours like Strawberry Cheesecake Low Fat Frozen Yogurt; or Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream; Strawberry Red Bean Vanilla Ice; Strawberry Rose Chocolate Ice Cream, or Strawberry Azuki Beans Ice Cream.  You can buy Black Cherry Ice Cream or Raspberry SorbetBut for some reason, regular strawberry ice cream 'doesn't fit' in the new Millennium.  I find this very strange. Of course, you can still get it somewhere in a decent gelateria. I'm talking about mass consumption.  There are hundreds of recipes online so that you can make it yourself, meaning that a high demand for it is still there. When did it disappear from stores? 

There is a Facebook group devoted to the loss of strawberry ice cream.  Why can't you buy JUST strawberry ice cream?? The group founder: "I love all types of ice cream it's true, and ... I love strawberry ice cream the best. After many late night discussions over this creamy dessert I have come to the shocking conclusion that there is an ice cream conspiracy - for no matter how hard I search, I can never find simply strawberry ice cream." Group members suspect the Neopolitan ice cream makers. There's another Facebook group on the disappearance: Strawberry Ice Cream: The Great Conspiracy.

It's not like strawberry ice cream was a one hit wonder. It existed for a long time before it vanished from grocery store freezers in the recent past.  It made it into the top ten ice cream flavours, squeezed in behind the likes of Cookies 'n' Cream ice cream and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream.

Frivolous?  Yes.  But the larger point is valid.  What criteria do marketing consultants use to decide which products 'fit' the current moment and which ones do not? And why?  Perhaps in this case, a basic classic disappeared under too much choice, too much complexity, too much competing noise; marketing gimmicks fancied up the source product until there was no source product left.

Breathless ADDENDUM: I found some strawberry ice cream yesterday at a gas station convenience store.  But as far as I can tell, it's still no longer ubiquitous in grocery stores.  Please write me if you find otherwise - I'd love to be proven wrong!

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  1. "Marketers and managers have decided what consumers 'want,' even if that's not what consumers want. They ignore real demand and replace it with fake demand."

    Wow, this is so true! I thought it was just my own personal experience - as in, why is it everything I use and like and (even) come to depend upon suddenly vanish off the shelves never to be seen again?

    I haven't noticed that strawberry ice cream is gone, but, if so, well, that's sad and weird at the same time. It was my favorite as a child... I remember a special treat was going to this ice cream parlor - really, was it called that, an ice cream parlor? I think it was! - named Vonetti's... all retro green tiles, mirrors and wrought iron furniture. It's gone now, but for a child it was a magical place.

    Oddly enough I was watching some documentary on PBS about the prohibition era, and how ice cream parlors were created to replace bars... to give people somewhere to go to socialize. Which is kind of weird in itself as a social engineering ploy, if this was, indeed, the case. As in, "let them eat ice cream"!

    Thanks for another thoughtful and well-researched post!"

  2. Glad you liked the post Dia. There are really several concerns here, distribution problems, marketing issues, rebranding, planned obsolescence, subliminal messages (from my other post), and planned eradication of products. All point to the growing pains of globalization, where marketing and corporations grope blindly toward generating a universally appealing and paradoxically infinitely varied world culture.

  3. Great post.

    Many of us have the "strawberry ice cream problem," and frequently it's not just about a product that is no longer popular... or imagined to be popular. How many times have you seen a film that was very very expensive, but just not that memorable? Most summer movies nowadays will never ever be someone's "favorite movie." The problem has to do with the conundrum of marketing to the mainstream - as pointed out in The Tipping Point, even when remarkable coffee will be tart or black or some other memorable quality, POPULAR coffee will be bland and sweet.

    I think the answer is in Long Tail thinking, as a consumer - we as consumers are now expected to specialize, to search out products that match our aesthetics. Thanks to the internet, this is now not only possible but pretty convenient!

    As for the actual strawberry ice cream problem - think of it as an opportunity. Other people will want strawberry ice cream near you; you can sell it to them. In the San Francisco Bay Area, we don't have a lack of strawberry ice cream - you can get it at any ice cream shop, especially small independent shops like Fenton's or Preston's Candy & Ice Cream.

  4. Thanks for your comment, B. I'm sure ordering ice cream over the internet is still something that eludes us; and I'm convinced the only solution to my problem in this regard will be to move. But yes the new location will have strawberry ice cream - and be missing something else, again for strange, artificial reasons.