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According to the philosopher William James “all of our life is nothing but a mass of habits,” as picked up by a recent New York Times piece by Jonah Lehrer.

It’s true. We give little thought to what we do, once done. It doesn’t mean we can’t reflect and think or feel about what we’ve done, it’s just that we easily continue to ‘do.’ And once we do anything enough, it’s tough to stop.

Lehrer points out that recent scientific inquiry is coming to the consensus that habits are really just an extreme form of learning. Like those of us who swim or play the piano a lot, once you have it down, you just go at it.

The same may be true for shopping and the brands we buy. Products that communicate and convey messaging in line with our habitual natures are likely successes. Lehrer points to a case from Charle’s Duhigg’s recent book “The Power of Habit” where the P&G brand Febreze didn’t become a hit until it incorporated habitual behavior into its product messaging.

Seems that consumers neither understood the product nor its benefits when it debuted. That’s until P&G  revamped the advertising campaign to bundle its use with perfoming the usual household chores of making the bed, cleaning the kitchen floor, and then spritizing Febreze into the air as part of the usual routine. Nothing new, but an integral part of habitual weekend cleaning. Bingo!

The lesson learned? Don’t make ‘too’ much out of your product or service.  We see a lot of that here at W5. Clients spending so much time on differientating themselves or making their product or service special and novel. The goal, we think, is rather to communicate that it’s a part of the norm, the ordinary, the mundane of every day; bundle the product into accepted habits and practices: find a slot in the routine of people’s life, highlight it in a nuanced manner, and you’re home free. You are swimming with the tide.

A great new book out entitled “Pantone, The 20th Century in Color” incorporates beautiful color plates with accompanying narrative by authors Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker that describe the last 100 years in the evolution of the color spectrum through the lens of the groundbreaking 1963 Pantone color system developed by Lawrence Hebert of Pantone.

The system codified the color spectrum, so that a certain shade of a color can be uniformly agreed upon and unknowingly revolutionized the world of graphic design. One can think back to any decade of the past century and certain colors and hues are easily associated with each time period. Serving as more than a mere color index, the book succeeds in describing the evolution of colors’ social imprint on culture, illustrated through advertisments, product design, fashion and general day-to-day life across generations.

Just close your eyes and visualize the 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s–it’s easy. That’s what’s so great about this book. From a historical perspective, filtered through the nuance of aesthetics, we have each period literally ‘colored in’ for us. Beautiful and simple.

The other night I quickly read Michael Pollan’s new book(let) Food Rules. It’s a quick, easy reminder that we as people should be eating things that look, feel, and act like food.  On paper, these rules make sense but today I read an article that really brought the idea of eating real food to life for me (check the great pictures out here).

The thing about Pollan’s rules are that they’re all so simple, they’re easy to overlook but incredibly powerful at the same time. I bring it up because I also read and hear a lot of concern over the consumer.  Will they begin to spend again? What will they buy?

Looking at the food pictures from Good Blog I realized, the answer is easy to overlook and powerful.  Brands should keep it simple. Consumers don’t necessarily need every variety and innovation known to man. They really want stuff  that works well for a reasonable price. So many products don’t live up to this idea while striving to be lower calorie or greener or new and improved.

If you haven’t checked it out, Food Rules is a great, short read (under an hour) and has some good lessons that could be applied to the world of advertising, branding, and product development in addition to eating.

There’s a great documentary film out that you should view. It’s titled “Objectified” (www.ObjectifiedFilm.com), by Gary Hustwit, that explores the man-made products that we use, and that surround us, in our environment.

What I like about the film is that it’s presented to us from the perspective of designers who develop products and their creative processes, the front-end of the product spectrum; not a worn a’la cultural anthropoligical or consumer behaviorist critique of the end-process of people and all their stuff, and how bad all that is. Nice work, very well done.

A lot of brands are still looking at social media and online communities as just another opportunity to broadcast their message. While many social media experts keep talking about the need to monitor how your brand is perceived online, they often don’t say what this means. My wife recently shared with me an extreme version of the conversation about a project being hijacked by consumers… The Laptop Steering Wheel Desk. The Laptop Steering Wheel Desk is available at Amazon.com a site known for its community of list builders, reviewers, and consumer involvement in building content.

There are over 300 reviews for this product and most of them mock it.  From pictures of 50 car pile ups to reviews such as:

I loved my Laptop Steering Wheel Desk so much I got one for my 90yr old mother. She is an avid crossword puzzle fan and now she can work on them while she is driving back and forth from bingo at the senior center. One cautionary note be careful of those jerks that stop at yellow lights, my poor mother rear ended one and the airbag drove the desk back into her stomach which ruptured her spleen, well after a short down time I’m glad to say she is back on the road and cranking out those NY Times crosswords once again. Thanks Laptop Steering Wheel Desk you have made my mothers life more complete.

While the product looks like it’s  right out of the Onion and may have a life this Christmas as a gag gift, it’s important to remember that conversations outside of a brand’s control are taking place all over the internet. Listening to consumers is becoming increasingly important as they do more and more of the talking themselves and tune out or warp a brand’s marketing messages.