Wednesday, October 5, 2016

meditation on Japanese vending machines

Wading through my shameful cesspool of an email situation the other day, a flash of something caught my eye.

Backstory: I ordered an ipad case from Herschel Supply Company a few years ago, and in addition to whatever it cost they plainly intend to make me pay for the rest of my life with their relentless marketing campaign, which rains emails down upon me at the rate of roughly one a day. I’ll never unsubscribe because, first of all, I will never have my life so together as to be that person. But also I’m truly fascinated by the huge amounts of money they seem to spend on bad arty videos of beautiful people walking around with mysterious expressions and okay-looking gym bags. Also, apparently, their stellar content on Japanese vending machines?

With that email that caught my eye, it came to my attention that one leg of Herschel’s marketing strategy is a twice yearly publication called The Journal, the concept of which appears to be ‘if Kinfolk were an airline magazine.’ Gotta say, I thoroughly enjoyed its recent feature on Japanese vending machines. I’m crazy about the illustrations.

Though I didn’t read any of the other articles (let’s not get carried away), I eyeballed the rest of the issue and the whole production didn’t look half bad.

As recently as 2013, when we still had quirky capitalized websites like Videogum and Television Without Pity, I would have told you we lived in a golden age of content. Since then every design blog I’ve ever read has slowly transformed into a native ad for Target, while everything else on the Internet seems to be some iteration of a Luke Cage thinkpiece you could not pay me to read. I’m not sure where I was on the day the #content died but I’d place it around the time Edith Zimmerman wrote an advertorial about visiting the Jameson distillery in Ireland.

(I mean, usual disclaimer: I’m always exaggerating. Additional disclaimer: the Hairpin is actually really good rn. Just in general it seems like something has been lost, here on the internet.)

The other side of all this is that some brands have moved towards creating original editorial themselves, whether it’s through a blog, a digital journal, or even a print magazine. And while brands creating content is never going to be ideal for obvious reasons, I do think that approach has more potential to succeed (for readers) than advertorials and the like, which are inherently sad. I’m too out of the loop to know if native advertising is something that people still feel hopeful about, but you can’t tell me that stuff will ever get better.

So: Japanese vending machines. The text isn’t anything crazy and that’s what I like about it. The Vice article would have been about those used panty machines; the Awl’s would have been on the one that sells rhinosaurus beetles. But Herschel Supply Co simply wishes to inform me that the first Japanese vending machines were born in 1888 and have since grown into an industry that rakes in about 70 billion USD a year. I like thinking about what might be sold in the machines on the rural country roads it mentions in the first paragraph. I like that the people of rural Japan are buying stuff from high-tech vending machines on the side of some dirt road while I live in Chicago and shop at brick and mortars like a goddamn animal. The writing is just evocative in its basicness.

It's not lost on me that is precisely the Herschel Supply Co. brand. But at a time where everything on the internet that’s not Target or Luke Cage has to be Atlas Obscura’d--aggressively interesting, so niche it becomes almost generic--I find the sensibility of this brand's content sort of refreshing. 

I don't know. It's unsettling.

You can check out “Vibrant Vendors” in The Journal here. Illustrations by Susan Gogal.

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