Spreadable Media Goes Retro: Pass It Along!

We continue this week with the process of rolling out the essays commissioned to accompany Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture,   the book I wrote with Sam Ford and Joshua Green and which is being released to the world at the end of January, 2013. You can start to get a sense of the shape of the book’s argument by reading these essays, week by week, as they get unleashed upon the world. This week, for example, we are sharing essays which are designed to accompany the book’s second chapter — Reappraising the Residual — which explores competing regimes of value, competing processes of appraisal, and especially the ways that old media content might regain value from the ways it moves within and across social networks online.

For those who would like a bit more of a road map of Spreadable Media, below is the breakdown of the chapters:

Introduction: Why Media Spreads                                                                                                               

Chapter One: Where Web 2.0 Went Wrong

Chapter Two: Reappraising the Residual

Chapter Three: The Value of Media Engagement

Chapter Four: What Constitutes Meaningful Participation?

Chapter Five: Designing for Spreadability

Chapter Six: Courting Supporters for Independent Media

Chapter Seven: Thinking Transnationally

Conclusion

 

To learn more about the book, check out our main website. You can go there to read the whole essays (or follow the links below).

We strongly encourage you to spread these essays through your own social networks, repost them on your blogs — all we ask is that you acknowledge the authors and the fact that they are associated with our book.   Thanks to all of you who have recirculate previous essays we’ve released.

RETROBRANDS AND RETROMARKETING

Today’s big brands are all rooted in the past. Tide, Coca-Cola, BMW, and even Apple are all connected to bygone decades. When these brands extend and use their existing brand name to introduce a new product or service, the past meanings and images that it invokes become an important element to be managed, understood, wielded, and shaped by managers. This short essay discusses and analyzes a form of brand extension strategy that has gained prominence, in which tired or even abandoned brands have been reanimated and successfully relaunched. Management will deliberately reach into the past and consciously seek to gain new value from old brands and the meaningful relationships they convey. Stephen Brown (2001) terms this a “retro revolution” in which the revival of old brands and their images have become an increasingly attractive option for marketing managers. Over the past decade, I have been involved either independently or with coauthors in a growing body of research that looks at how the past is consumed, valued, revalued, and managed, beginning with a study of the values and images of the Wal-Mart retail chain (Arnold, Kozinets, and Handelman 2001). Stephen Brown, John Sherry, and I define retrobranding as “the revival or relaunch of a product or service brand from a prior historical period, which is usually but not always updated to contemporary standards of performance, functioning, or taste,” seeing retro goods as “brand-new, old-fashioned offerings” (2003b, 20). Old brands retain value simply by being old: the value of nostalgia, the so-called retro appeal. There is also value in the communal or cultural relationships that the brand has built over its lifetime. Finally, there are values on an individual level that relate to the former two other values.

In a set of studies cutting across three different retro, “cult brand” products—the Volkswagen Beetle, Star Wars, and Quisp breakfast cereal—Brown, Sherry, and I have sought to explain the underlying principles of retrobranding and the way consumers responded to it (2003a, 2003b). The VW Beetle was a popular car associated with the 1960s era and hippies and also immortalized in Disney’s Herbie films, a series of four films originating with 1968’s hit The Love Bug (the series itself later updated and retrobranded into Herbie: Fully Loaded, a 2005 motion picture starring Lindsay Lohan). Star Wars is one of the most successful media franchises of all time. And Quisp cereal is an American breakfast cereal released in the 1960s using cartoon advertising created by Jay Ward, the creator of cult animation hit Rocky and Bullwinkle, and employing some of the same voice talents.

In each case, the entertainment connections of the brand have helped spur a type of residual and actual “brand fandom” that led to the possibility of a revival. In the case of the VW Beetle, this was the 1998 launch of the VW New Beetle. For Star Wars, it was the much-maligned 1999 prequel The Phantom Menace. For Quisp cereal, it was the quiet and limited redistribution of the cereal into select markets in the 1980s, after it had languished without support since the late 1970s. As well, Quisp’s fan-spurred and eBay-supported emergence in the mid-1990s marked it as the first so-called Internet cereal.

READ MORE

THE VALUE OF RETROGAMES

Existing in dialectical tension with contemporary games which trumpet their photorealistic graphics, sprawling storyworlds, and intricate, extended, networked play, retrogames preserve and celebrate a prior era of gaming often referred to as a “golden age” of arcade standards (such as Asteroids, Tempest, and Donkey Kong) from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Increasingly, the category also covers the decade that followed the industry crash of 1983, when the locus of gaming shifted to home consoles such as the Nintendo and Super Nintendo Entertainment Systems (NES and SNES), the Sega Genesis and Dreamcast, and home microcomputers such as the Commodore 64 and Amiga, as well as the first generation of PCs and Macintoshes. Compared with games for contemporary consoles such as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 that occupy gigabytes of memory, resurrections of 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit video and computer games look like the mathematically downscaled primitives they are: their blocky resolutions, limited color palettes, and blip-bleep-bloop sound reproduction are matched by equally simple and repetitive gameplay. However, retrogames are not hopelessly antiquated museum pieces lacking the good sense to stay buried in gaming history. Their continued presence complicates easy (and industry-friendly) conceptions of technological and aesthetic progress, in which the newest equals the best equals the most expensive.

Older games thrive alongside their more sophisticated descendants, gaining popularity and influence with each passing year. Retrogames continue to be played in both authorized and unauthorized forms. Their minuscule memory footprint, easily grasped rules, and convenient fit within the interstices of daily routine make them ideal content for mobile devices. For instance, the App stores for iTunes and Google Android phones devote sections to retrogames. The Xbox Live Arcade markets “updated retro classics” alongside its “newest hits,” while the Wii Virtual Console sells downloads from “the greatest video game archive in history”—actually licenses owned by Nintendo. These monetized properties coexist uneasily with the thriving emulator scene, where every conceivable old game has its software simulacrum and renegade read-only memories (ROMs)—files containing data images copied from memory chips, computer firmware, or the circuit boards of arcade machines—circulate beyond the bounds of copyright. For both legal and illegal purposes, the Internet functions as both archive and distribution network, supporting the sharing, spreading, and mutation of content

READ MORE

 

A GLOBAL HISTORY OF SECONDHAND CLOTHING

Clothing, almost by definition, is a medium of transmission within a spreadable media ecology. It is both the means and the site for the storage and spread of information. Clothes are made to be carried by the human body (as in the French porter and the Haitian Creole pote). Textile skins were, from their origins, portable artifacts and temporary prostheses, shaped by the demands of a mobile body and inscribed with markers of that body’s history. The demands on clothing have always been high—armor (protection against shame, enemies, and the elements) and aesthetics, comfort and durability. Clothing is portable, proximate to the human body, and eminently changeable. Clothes remain artifacts in continual flux. They convey messages to the world, and they also provide the raw material for subversion of precisely these messages.

Before the industrial era, vestments were few and far between. Their production took a great amount of human and material resources. Into their tailored forms much was literally and culturally invested. In the Western tradition, throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance, clothing—once shaped to a given body—might be worn for years, sometimes carried for a lifetime. The clothing wore its owner as much as the owner wore the clothing, bearing comparable markers of a personal narrative. Through the movements of a body in time, its clothes would acquire increasingly personal and human characteristics—worn knees and elbows, a stretched waist. Stains, patches, tears, and color changes accompanied a life journey, or at least several decades thereof.

Sometimes an article’s function was portable. This was especially true when even the simplest clothing was scarce: its production costly, time consuming, and labor intensive. A coat might be cut down into a vest, or a dress into a scarf. As a garment’s function evolved, so too might the identity of its wearer. A dress might be handed from mother to daughter through a gift economy. In such instances, it carried with it signs and markers of generational passing. A master might give his worn-out shirt to his servant, for whom it could serve as either bodily cover or portable currency. In the Renaissance, it was common for servants to sell their masters’ old clothing to peasants in neighboring villages. Itinerant rag and old clothes dealing grew into a veritable calling within a commodity-based economy. This was a profession of portability. The dealer became an intermediary between wearers, marking a transitional phase in an article’s mobile life history.