by Art Chantry (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I’m always in awe of strange little niches in the product marketing world. every so often you’ll be in a junk store or in a grocery store or in a hardware store and you’ll find some sort of interesting item or packaging. then, as you look further, you find there are many competitors with similarly interesting packaging. then you begin to realize that this little niche has been breeding amazing stuff for a looooong time and nobody seems to really notice (well, outside of aficianados).
like, take as an example, typewriter ribbons. back in them days of yore, when you used to actually send and document and create on TYPEWRITERS, you need to load them with paper and ‘typewriter ribbons’ (ink-soaked fabric ‘ribbons’ that spooled into the machine and fed through as you typed, creating an ink source.) and typewriter ribbons were one of those strange little industries that allowed just about anybody in and become competitive. since all ribbons were virtually the same, the only way one could compete is through cool packaging.
the result is a huge number of small businesses producing these marvelous little round metal canisters completely covered with amazing graphic design. you see them all over in antique stores and malls. really cool looking stuff. and collected by weirdoes just like baseball cards – they want to have the whole set.
other areas i’ve found of similar american marketing ingenuity (and hucksterism) is motor oil, condoms, nylon stockings, and fruit jars. i think if you look far and deep enough you could find literally thousands of products that competed on the level of cool package design, even though the products were virtually identical inside. it’s the american way, you know.
which brings me to this little image today. there really was something about the office products industry that attracted this approach to marketing and design. i guess it’s because a pencil is a pencil and a paper clip is a paper clip. once you’ve got that down, how do you get people to pay attention to your eraser or staple over anybody else’s staple or eraser?
carbon paper is such a classic example. it was used to type up extra copies. you floated the carbon paper between the sheet of paper you are actually typing on and an extra sheet (or two or three) behind the top sheet. i mean, it’s all the same – messy carbon coating on one side, product ID on the other. all of the competition all use the same stuff and sell it in the same uniform flat boxes – either 8 1/2 x 11, 0r 8 1/2 x 14. what do you do?
well, you make cool packaging. way cool packaging. you exploit current events, you appeal to the fashion victim on the buyer. i’ve often considered starting a collection of the coolest carbon paper boxes i find. but, what’s the point? more piles of stuff cluttering up my studio?
in this case in point, it’s about space – outer space. sputnik. satels. the wonder of the great beyond. to sell carbon paper. beautiful, eh?
AC:well, what do you do with YOUR stuff? i throw some of it away. some of it i give to people (sometimes anonymously). sometimes i sell stuff. sometimes i lose stuff. sometimes stuff runs off an marries other stuff and produces young baby stuff.
stuff comes and stuff goes. there have been at least four times in my life where i’ve lost almost all my stuff (and lived in an empty apartment). but, it’s sort of amazing how stuff starts to float back toward you. maybe i’m a stuff magnate…
in truth, i used to work as a garbage man. big surprise, huh?…
…’ve thought it over and i guess what i do is keep stuff in file boxes and on book shelves. i have about 10 boxes full of scraps of paper and clip and assorted crap that most of these things i’m posting have come from. it took over 35 years to fill up those boxes of magic crap. i love them.
by book shelves are full of books and samples and records and all sorts of crap i’ve also spent 35 years collecting. it just looks like stuff on shelves and stuff in boxes. i often take stuff and put it in 3-ring binders. they fit on a bookshelf just like any other book of stuff.
and yes, i periodically get rid of stuff. a few years ago i sold my entire record collection (i pulled out maybe 100 records to keep and listen to.) the rest – thousands of records – a lifetime of collecting and refining and culling, went to a dealer. got some good money for it, too.
so, i do with my stuff about what most people with stuff does with it – keep it around in case i need it.