Restoration Hardware’s Mail-Order Extravagance

Amy Merrick, writing in The New Yorker, explores why Restoration Hardware mailed a 17-pound catalog: 

Why do we still have catalogues? Web and mobile browsers have improved dramatically in the past decade. It’s hard to argue that catalogues, like books, are objects worth preserving for their aesthetic value; they will be obsolete within months. Yet Americans received nearly twelve billion catalogs last year.
Marketers say that people who browse catalogues buy more than those who shop only online. The U.S. Postal Service works hard to promote catalogues, which have become an increasingly important segment of U.S.P.S. business as people mail fewer first-class letters. The online retailer Bonobos, which began shipping catalogues last year, told the Wall Street Journal that twenty per cent of its new Web customers placed orders after receiving their first mailings, and spent more than other new shoppers.
Those incremental sales are accompanied by enormous waste. Industry surveys from groups like the Direct Marketing Association estimate that catalogues get average response rates of four to five per cent. In the case of Restoration Hardware, that means that for every sixty thousand pages mailed, approximately three thousand pay off.

In Modern Marketing, a Big Dose of Data in the Creative Juices

Claire Cain Miller, NY Times Bits Blog:

Computers are once again transforming the business of marketing, infusing the art with science. This time, though, the change is being driven by cloud computing and the processing of huge amounts of data about what customers do and what they desire.
Unlike the computer on “Mad Men,” which took up an entire room, the computers processing the data are not even in marketers’ offices but in far-off data centers. But just as in the fictional company depicted on “Mad Men,” the new technology is causing tensions among the quants, or quantitative data analysts, the artists and the information technologists.
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For consumers, the result is personalized marketing.
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Ideally, consumers do not notice the computing and data-crunching in the background and instead just see more relevant messages from brands, said Ian Schafer, chief executive and founder of Deep Focus, a digital agency. But when marketing is too personalized, it can feel creepy.

The CIA's first tweet

By now you probably know the CIA joined twitter recently. You've probably seen their first tweet, but just in case, here it is:

I'm using the situation to steer you in a different direction. Recenly Radiolab spent an episode exploring the origins of the phrase "neither confirm nor deny." It is a must-listen episode about the ubiquitous CIA phrase, so ubiquitous it became their first tweet. 

Intimate Computing: Making Wearable Tech More Wearable

Amy Merrick writing for The New Yorker’s Currency blog:

In the twentieth century, designers took two distinct approaches to imagining the future of fashion. The first approach tended toward metallic, geometric, quasi-robotic styles: think Pierre Cardin’s space suits of the nineteen-sixties, inspired by the first moon landing. The first generation of high-tech wearables look a lot like what those designers predicted. But the designers of the past had another vision, too, and this one could be a big, untapped market: making clothes better serve their original purpose of keeping people warm, dry, and protected. One designer, in 1939, envisioned that decades in the future women would wear an electric belt that would adapt the body to unpredictable weather changes. It’s an attractive idea for anyone who has sweltered on the subway, then spent the rest of the day shivering in an air-conditioned office. Along those lines, a group of M.I.T. graduates have designed a ninety-five-dollar dress shirt that borrows from NASA’s space suits—not the bulky styles themselves, but the technology in their materials—to store heat away from the wearer when it’s too hot outside, then return it when temperatures cool. It isn’t hard to imagine Apple using its technological prowess to weave computers right into clothes, especially if it draws on the fashion sense of Ahrendts and Paul Deneve, the former chief executive of Yves Saint Laurent, whom Apple hired last summer to focus on special projects.