"Steampunkosity"    [ 13 ]   
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July 2010

 Caribou Coffee (new)

 Caribou Coffee (old)

The best coffee chain in the U.S. ··( Caribou Coffee )·· just changed their corporate logo from the image pictured at left to the image at right. I gotta tell ya, when I first saw this thing I didn't have a clue what it was. I did not know they were in the middle of re-imagining their logo. And without the benefit of the original image to compare it to at the moment, this looked to me like two chubby hamburger lips with bicycle handles yanked to either side [??] and some kind of print-error smudged above it which, oh well, they would use for now because they just paid for 850,000 printed napkins and cardboard cup holders. I thought it might be something upside down, so I turned my napkin around, but that didn't help at all. Only after sipping halfway through my coffee did it dawn on me that this thing, i think, was a modren interpretation of a caribou! Even then, it took a while for the curvy printer smudge to register as a head and rack of antlers. (It's got a body like one of those new VW bugs)

According to their press releases (in a couple different articles), this revamped image extends their brand in a more 'universal' sense, leaving behind the "Northern lodge" look and feel to embrace a 'fresh' and more 'fluid' variation using the same elements. According to their design goals, the new logo features a coffee bean as the caribou's body (cute), its antlers forming a "C" (for Caribou Coffee!) and it's leaping to the right, or "into the future" as the article puts it . ..  No, I am not kidding. This is what they themselves say about their new logo. And their hip new motto is:

"Life is short. Stay awake for it."

Okay, well their motto is palatable enough (bwah ha ha!) . . but blast it all, I liked their "Northern Exposure" sensibilities (that used to be) unique to their branding and product. The LAST thing the world needs is yet another homogenized brand identity acquiescing to a presumed Starbucks competition. Caribou Coffee is (or was? they're also bragging about their 'new formulas') a better product than Starbucks — compare for yourself if you don't believe me — and one of their charms has always been, for me at least, the 'caribou-y-ness' of their stores and branding. I heartily agree with their motto: life *is* short, and I do intend to stay awake for it.. with maybe a cheaper Circle-K coffee in hand now that my beloved seldom-acquired Caribou Coffee has assumed the marketing warmth of a metro bus sign. Might as well hit the corner gas'n'sip for my morning brew, for all the 'local flavor' panache Caribou Coffee now offers.

Why do companies do this? Why are they so afraid to simply stand up, stand firm, and proclaim proudly that THIS is who they are, with a full understanding that it is this very uniqueness likely responsible for their customer's loyalties? I understand about the need to develop a diversified product base, but scrubbing the very thing that makes them unique to begin with..?   What are they – daft?  I just don't get it . . . which is probably why I've never been invited to join a marketing team. — I just can't wait for Disney to change their branding imprint around the globe to some Go! Go! Anime!! style . . .

Carl's Junior. Now there's a place where I will never eat by my own free will. I would rather skip a meal than eat at Carl's Junior. Why? Because of their marketing. Despite the fact that the very few of their burgers (or whatever) I've had to force down made no favorable impression, their marketing campaign that first turned me away featured beautiful people spilling burger juice and sauces all over themselves, in slow motion no less, all while bedazzling onlookers .. boasting this tagline: "If it's not all over the place, it doesn't belong in your face!"

You have _ GOT _ to be kidding.

Somebody actually got paid for thinking that up? Their marketing team sat around drumming up ideas, and someone said, "Hey, I know! Let's advertise our customers as lecherous, sloppy-eating pack animals who actually prefer their burgers to drip and dollop all down their business suits during their lunch break!" Hey, yeah! Great idea Doyle..! Here's a bonus! — — I'm sorry, aside from not caring much for their honest efforts to make some kind of food for sale, it was their marketing that, instead of driving me TO their stores, actually repelled me and my business. For those of you all hankered up to get sweaty with a Carl's Jr burger, ready to send me links highlighting the raging success of their so-called "drippy burger" campaign, don't waste your email. I guess there are those in the world who are inexplicably drawn to that kind of advertising. The cool thing is, it takes all kinds of people to make the world go around. Some folks are just fine, apparently, wearing their food as much as eating it - God bless `em .. . Someone's gotta keep the napkin / paper towel / wet-wipe industries in business . . . And don't even get me started on those cartoony bears running around in the woods, crapping with obvious glee in the shade of some unsuspecting tree, in some misguided attempt to show me just how great their toilet paper is.  Just think about that for a minute.. . (Could you imagine being the guy tasked with having to draw all the animations for these TV spots!)  - Delightful, no?  — Anybody else feel this way..?  or is it just me?

Ah, but sometimes companies DO get marketing right! Taco Bell really had it going on back in the day. And though I'm an infrequent visitor to Jack in the Box these days, they scored gold when they personified Jack. Whomever thought THAT up definitely deserved a raise!  :-)  That's fun, good marketing, to-the-point, hip, and funny all at once. - And for all you webophiles out there, remember those online ads for Outpost.com, with their awesome gerbil cannon? "Hello. We want you to remember our name, Outpost-dot-com.. that's why we've decided to fire gerbils out of this cannon through the 'o' in Outpost...  Fire. . .  – so close –  again . . "  Great stuff!  I could go on all day about this topic touching on dozens of companies . . . but I haven't even touched on today's real topic:


For the un-initiated, a great overview on this topic can be found here, which states in part:

Steampunk is a speculative retro-style fiction set in periods where steam power is king... It is the genre created to be the antithesis of Cyber Punk: Optimism and hope in a post-apocalyptic world replace the jaded pessimism brought by omnipresent computer technology.

Steampunk is a genre of imaginative fiction found in books, movies, comics, and lately even adornment, which operates "primarily on the Rule of Cool." It is an ideal, reflecting what Victorian-era science and style may have spawned if certain tenets of reality were more 'flexible', or better yet, completely non-applicable in the world of hard science. For instance, a steampunk flying machine would consist of copious amounts of metal-work and tubing (copper and brass in particular), maybe some wooden braces, extraneous gearwork for chugging-motion coolness, decorative glass work of some kind (like ornamented windows in wrought iron finish) and some manner of pressurized steam-powered locomotive source. With propellers.. lots and lots of them, probably. . . This description teeters on the brink of Clockpunk, which is a variation of the same idea, only involving even more ridiculous amounts of gears and usually some kind of mainspring power source. ..or Dieselpunk, which is all of the above, only larger, and of course powered by black-smoke-belching diesel engines.. or something as sinister and greenly-offensive as that.

Oh, there's more . .  CyberPunk, PostCyberPunk, Japanese-Cyberpunk, AtomPunk, BioPunk, NanoPunk, Mythpunk, Elfpunk, Nowpunk, Raygun Gothic, and the Weird West.  I know!  It can get just ridiculous! .. so back to Steampunk...

You may recall the original game "Myst" from some 20 years ago  —  total steampunk.  Howl's Moving Castle?  That too.  But this is just the tip of the iceberg.  In recent years, artists have Steampunked a number of more modern artifacts and ideas, bringing their visions into the real world through props and models. Here is just a small sample:

Steampunk PC

Steampunk Cell Phone
 cell phone


Like its twisted fantasy cousin, RenFest, Steampunk fans create costumes, meet at conferences, and build all manner of bizarro gadgets! Some are 'for serious' but most just play on the theme for kicks. Check these out:


Steampunk Bluetooth
Steampunk Segway: "Legway"

Steampunk Chopper


Disney is as much to blame for this as anyone else.


Have you seen "Tomorrowland" since their 1998 facelift?


. . . strike you as just a little bit steampunkerific?


Not that this is a bad thing!

Personally, I dig this "retro-futurism" aesthetic
(as do 40,000 daily visitors to Disneyland)




 Viktor Frankl


Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), an Austrian psychiatrist imprisoned for four years in Nazi death camps (including Auschwitz), wrote one of the ultimate tomes on existence entitled "Man’s Search for Meaning". In its pages, he concluded that "Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the Right Answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual."

This is why I like steampunk.

You see, steampunkers live in a realm which bisects our own, a zone where they are unafraid to just throw their visions Right Out There for everyone to see, for good or ill, for fun or (allegedly) for some kind of scientific value... or at least personal expression .. . The point is, while Mr. Frankl cut to the core of the meaning of human existence after surviving such unfathomable horrors, our own life and times are fraught not with the real-life terrors of WWII and the threat of genocide, but rather with dystopian overindulgence fueled by a rampant sense of self-entitlement. The legitimate expression of one's hope – a person's 'beliefs' in a way – are revealed by what s/he produces across the span of years making up one's life. A strong, healthy, vibrant family . . a successful business empire . .. a new orphans/AIDS mission station in Kenya . .. We craft and wear upon our bodies and upon our lives, in whatever guise or chosen profession, that which really makes us tick over time. How we meet and fulfill the "problems and tasks set before us" truly defines us.

There are some souls rooted firmly in Fantasy, which (when you break through the surface) reflects in reality the real world's local and global societal challenges, and perhaps offers some inspiration to help us get through such trials – or better yet, to elevate us all out of it . . . just like the best sci-fi from years gone by. I believe that in a visceral sense, steampunkers understand this, hearkening back to an era when some Seriously New Ideas were shaking the very foundations of the world. It was a brassy age, recaptured 100+ years later in the whimsical ambitions of these fringe artists who use the amazing and almost incomprehensibly sci-fi Global Internet to connect with others through their bending of copper tubes and wires.

Years after Viktor Frankl's WWII experiences, a student summed up his world-view as follows:

"The meaning of life is to help others find the meaning of theirs."

During my years in management, in particular, this self-same drive informed my decisions, often to wonderful gains. Elevating my staff to realize their personal and professional ambitions which, in turn, served to also elevate me. What better way to Truly Bless someone than to help them achieve a higher, better potential for themselves that, by extension, makes the world a better place? That's just wonderful! Like good marketing taking root in dark, fertile (coffee-colored) soil! Not unlike the greatest commands taught by Jesus Christ brought into tangible fullness in this world. Viktor Frankl empowered people with this knowledge through his psychological method called 'Logotherapy'. However, *anyone* can make such a stand and just help a punk out... not unlike the concept presented in the movie "Pay It Forward". And yes, steampunkers do this through their expressive art, their earnest zeal to celebrate and enrich, underscored by the 'rawness' of their designs and materials.

Finally, this little dissertation would not be complete without an example of how my own life recently received a bit of a 'steampunk' challenge, though this occurred in a more figurative sense. While surfing through sources linked to Ignite Phoenix, I had the good fortune of stumbling upon a blog written by Sara Dobie in which she describes, among other diverse topics, her move to the Valley of the Sun with her boyfriend Jake earlier this year from Charleston, South Carolina. My Phoenix-bashing ways contrast sharply with her ardor for the valley... She seems irrepressibly giddy to call herself a "Phoenician". While I fling the sweat from my brow under this oppressive, smoggy summer heat, she revels in it like swooning through an old style movie set:


Driving from Phoenix to Vegas is like racing through a video game, fearing for your life at every turn. For most of the drive, you can’t get cell phone reception, because you’re in the desert. I mean Desert, with a capital “D.” Since moving to the Valley of the Sun, I haven’t felt like a desert dweller, because PHX has so much green. The drive to Vegas has no green … except for a couple green cars, maybe. I even ran over tumbleweed. I DID! I half expected Clint Eastwood to pull up beside me on a galloping horse, just long enough to tip his hat and vanish into the sunset.

The other day, I bought one of those Frommer’s travel guides about Arizona. I’ve been trucking along through the 474 pages, writing little notes about things to do and places to see. The more notes I write, the more I realize—Arizona is FULL of crazy, exciting things to do . . . For me, Arizona is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen on earth. I love the dry heat. I love the red sand. I love the FOOD.


The woman sees green in Phoenix! But even the courageous Sara Dobie still needs to "get out of the Phoenix heat" as mentioned in her current 'I HEART FLAGSTAFF' entry (June 30, 2010), so my perspective about alla this must not be too completely off-base. Yet I have been challenged, or rather 'steampunked' to view this sweltering city in new and refreshing ways. There are so many "crazy, exciting things to do" besides melt here, I am learning, viewing the valley through the novel perspective of a Charlestonian noob. And this is a good thing, a challenging of one's perspectives, one's horizons and very paradigms.

The spirit of Steampunk pervades even something so innocuous as a blog post about a national coffee brand. I think I may even have to check out "The True Meaning of Smekday" (Adam Rex) with my daughters because they, too, may gain some value these days by exploring an original artistic message through the reworked form of something so traditional - almost archaic - as a 'book' .. . So break out some vacuum tubes and let's turn the page . . .


book: "The True Meaning of Smekday"



 Caribou Coffee


12  (2010)
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