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Taco Bell is a popular American chain of Tex-Mex fast-food restaurants based in California. It was founded in 1962 by Glenn Bell, went public in 1970 with 325 restaurants, and now has an international presence of over 5,000 restaurants. What is intriguing about this company is the brand strategy change it has undergone in recent years, “positioning the brand for Millennials.” Taco Bell has been effective in reaching their target demographic through innovate methods, becoming a leading force in the fast-food industry.

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I needed to get some groceries, so I went to Trader Joe’s and decided to make a haul out of it.  Now, it’s important to note that TJ’s is not your typical supermarket or grocery store, especially the one by Union Square that always has a line to the door.  That being said, let me share a bit about my experience before I head into the goods.

As soon as I walked in, I saw the person holding the “Grand Finale” sign that marks that end of the check out. I found this interesting because it’s as if they’re marketing themselves as a show or performance; I liked that. It didn’t happen this visit, but a couple of other times I’ve come in before, the person at the end of the check-out line who notifies you which register to go to tends to make a jingle and rhyme for your register number which adds to the whole performance feel.  Another thing I noticed was that it was super crowded, which is good for business I guess but I wasn’t too fond of that (it puts pressure on me when I’m looking for something in the aisles). However, I think the main thing that stuck out as I was going through the store was pumpkin everything. They are most definitely taking this season seriously.

This is just a sample:

I like to go to Trader Joe’s because they tend to have things that you wouldn’t normally see somewhere else and a great example of that would be the Cookie & Cocoa Swirl Speculoos.

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For those of you who haven’t tried speculoos, it’s like a cookie peanut butter. I first had it at a Wafels & Dinges truck, but if you’re craving it in the middle of the night, this is a great alternative to have in your home. Put it on waffles, cookies, toast…pretty much anything. Eating it straight from the jar works, too. Anyway, this mix of speculoos and chocolate was listed as one of its new products; I like speculoos and I like chocolate, so why not?  See, this right here shows some of my high cultural capital because I was able to look at it, judge its value to me based on the fact that I like both flavors separately so I would probably like them together, and also the fact that I thought about it in terms of what I can do with it to enhance other foods rather than just consume it by itself.

Another purchase I made that exemplifies my cultural capital is the Romaine Salad.

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I bought some Lean Cuisine Salad Additions the other day, but haven’t had any actual lettuce to add to it. This will obviously work. But I also like the fact that it’s chopped and “Ready to use” as advertised on the bag. All I really have to do it just add it, no chopping or washing, or extra work involved. I think everyone can value this product for its convenience (Another point for cultural capital, yay!)

In addition to the salad, I also got Roasted Garlic & Herb Butter.

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So I picked this up mainly because it intrigued me due to the fact that it already had garlic and herbs mixed in (again, convenience). After I picked it up, I realized I could just boil some pasta and add this to make a simple meal (and that’s exactly what I did). As I’m writing this up, I also realized I could spread it on bread and put it in the oven to make some garlic bread, too. However, unlike the Speculoos, this isn’t something I would eat on its own.

This is another treasure from Trader Joe’s I found and I’m in love with: the Cinnamon Sugar Grinder.

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For anyone who loves cinnamon and sugar as much as I do, this is a must-have and it was only $1.99! I’m pretty sure cinnamon alone elsewhere is like $5 minimum and it’ll probably be one of those tiny one ounce containers. Here is something more than triple the size, with sugar, and the added bonus of a grinder (which I personally find fun to use). TJ’s recommends it on toast; I personally like to put it in my oatmeal.  Here you got a bit of my taste, I tend to lean towards sweet and am a big fan of cinnamon; but you also saw how I was able to make value judgments between price and content as well as taste. I not only value this product because it appeals to my taste, but also because it appeals to my wallet as opposed to a pricey one ounce container of McCormick’s cinnamon that might appeal to my taste, but not so much to my wallet (You should get this by now: cultural capital!).

I also got a pound of 80/20 Ground Beef.

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I love this stuff, so clearly I don’t live a vegetarian lifestyle. Make burgers, meatballs, just cook it up and add it to some pasta, nachos, or tacos, depending on what kind of food mood you’re in. American, Italian, Mexican? Take your pick. Also, $2.69 for a pound for 80/20 which is pretty good, I find to be pretty reasonable especially in the city. I mean, other places might have it for cheaper, but it probably looks ten times more gross than it should, and I can barely handle staring at this one. So here’s something you learned about my lifestyle based on the choices I made regarding this product: I’m not a vegetarian, you may classify me as a foodie, and I’m a price-conscious shopper.

We now get to the actual food part. Say hello to Blueberry Waffles!

Photo Oct 08, 4 36 34 PMLove blueberries and love waffles, so blueberry waffles are an extreme yes for me. AND I GOT THE LAST BOX. SUCCESS. Seems like I’m not the only one who has a sore spot for the waffles with the blueberries. So this is different from the other purchases so far because the others serve mainly as additions to meals or snacks. You don’t add a waffle to speculoos, you had speculoos to the waffle.  Also, because of that, some of the other things require me to actually go through the process of making something and cooking. I could have gotten waffle/pancake mix and go through the process of actually mixing and cooking for this every time, but instead I chose the easy way and decided to just get frozen waffles that you just pop in the toaster. Less time-consuming.

And of course, you can’t have waffles (or pancakes for that matter) without Syrup:

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Let me admit something. This is the first time I bought a syrup that was not Aunt Jemima and I was very hesitant to do so because my experience with other syrups has been less than satisfying, actually downright horrifying. But I figured I would try it out for $1.99, and so far everything else “Trader Joe’s” brand seems to be great, people are buying it, so it can’t be too bad. Here, you see I was willing to substitute a brand syrup I’ve grown comfortable with for one I’m unfamiliar with not only because of price but because the brand also seems to be of quality.  This is branding at work.

Okay, so I felt guilty not getting anything of the pumpkin kind because there was just so much all over: Pumpkin bars, Pumpkin waffle/pancake mix, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread mix, pumpkin cream cheese, pumpkin pop tarts, just pumpkin everything. I, however, am not a big fan of pumpkin, although I do love pumpkin pie, so when I saw this I had to get it:

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They’re so cute! And I love the alliteration: “Petite Pumpkin Pies, Perfectly Produced” It’s fun and cute, which is perfect because the little pies seem fun and cute. A+ for TJ’s marketing. I would say this goes along with their branding because they’re appealing to people’s fun and like for cute, I mean that’s the main reason I got these. Aside from the fact that I just felt like if I didn’t leave out of there with something pumpkin, I would have probably made them feel like failures with as much pumpkin things they had advertised throughout the store. Branding is about generating meaning, and this box specifically associates itself with fun, cute, and the fall season because everybody knows pumpkin seems to be the flavor of the season (Pumpkin Spice Lattes, anyone?). It’s almost as if you’re joining or participating in a community celebrating the season if you get something pumpkin-flavored.

And finally, I got a frozen bag of Ricotta & Spinach-Filled Ravioli for the days I’m too lazy to cook.

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Doesn’t that look delicious? Also, it was $3.99 and I figure it’s probably cheaper to buy a frozen bag than to get all the ingredients. But then again, buying the ingredients might make more so maybe it comes out even. Either way, I think the fact that I spoke about buying ingredients to make a meal earlier and then get a frozen, already-made meal, can be used to show omnivorousness. In the traditional sense, omnivores are those who take part in both sides of the consumption spectrum. You know, you have highbrow: going to the opera; and you have low-brow: going to the movies. Omnivores may go to the opera one week, and go to the movies the next; or better yet: watch an opera at the movies. Here you have me, who won’t mind working on a gourmet meal in the kitchen or eating out at a five-star restaurant, but also won’t mind just getting a frozen entree and heating it up.

So that’s my Trader Joe’s Food Haul and all for less than $25. Pretty decent.

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I want to elaborate a bit more on their branding and their brand community. As can be seen by the previous picture, they’re big on recycling. They even have a raffle for those who reuse their bags. So this not only encourages recycling, but appeals to those big on helping the environment. It also helps them because when people reuse their bags, they use less of their resources. It’s win for everyone pretty much.  Also, if you noticed, everything I purchased was Trader Joe’s brand, which is not usually the case when you shop at a normal supermarket.  When you go to a normal supermarket, you may be inclined to get their brand products because it’s cheaper, but you tend to stay loyal to the name brands you know because of quality. Trader Joe’s kind of eliminates that completely by not offering name brand products. In fact, the only brands I recognized were a few beer boxes and the Ricola cough drops. While some would find this a bit disconcerting, as I did the first time I entered TJ’s, once people see how crowded the lines are and the fact that people are actually shopping there settles nerves. Also, the employees are extremely helpful and fun, and customer service is key to good branding I think.  Obviously, the prices are a big thing as well, especially in the city where everything tends to be over-priced.  I like Trader Joe’s because it’s not just cheap, but cheap and great quality and I’m pretty sure that appeals to most who shop there.  Also, something else I found interesting was that some items they only sell organic. For example, the canned pumpkin. They only had Organic Canned Pumpkin (apparently “Dogs love it, too!”) so that appeals to people who are health conscious and tend to buy only organic products because they’re able to get organic groceries for a reasonable price.  Overall, I see Trader Joe’s as a melting pot of a bunch of different grocery-shopper consumers. You have appeal for the price-conscious consumer, appeal for the health-conscious consumer, appeal for the environment-conscious consumer, pet-loving consumer; it pretty much appeals to the masses as well as niche groups, so kudos to Trader Joe’s for their branding efforts.

 

Field Trip to Best Buy

Hope all of you guys had fun on your field trips! If you click on the photo, it should take you to the rest of the pictures from our Best Buy trip.

The haul video I decided to use is almost a year old, but I chose it because of its Black Friday theme.  Black Friday is the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season and is basically a day dedicated to great deals for shoppers; I can’t think of a better example of our consumer culture in play.

 

Betheny explains that she and her parents left to the mall around 1 a.m and finished shopping around 5:30 a.m, and from the footage we see at the beginning of the video, the mall was pretty packed.  The fact that people are willing to trek through crowds and chaos in hopes of getting discount prices shows just how heavily involved our society is with consumption.  Black Friday creates another kind of hardcore “imagined community” of consumers all over the country who are ready to line up at midnight in front of stores and wait for hours just to shop.

The stores Betheny visited consisted of: Sephora, Foreign Exchange, American Eagle, Victoria Secret, Abercrombie, Forever 21, and Bath & Body Works. However, the store visits I’d like to focus on are Sephora, Foreign Exchange, Victoria Secret, Abercrombie, and Forever 21. When discussing her purchases at these stores, she makes sure to focus on the deals she got. For example, in Sephora she talks about a skin care set she got for $10 that is usually $25, a $10 bronzer that usually costs her around $20 or $30, and two magnetic design nail polishes she got for $10 total but usually cost $20 each. She saved about $70 in just Sephora alone. She also made sure to point out that she bought these items as Christmas gifts for other people, so aside from getting meanings due to their great prices, these objects are also getting meaning attached to them through gift rituals.

During her discussion of Foreign Exchange, she talks about how they were also throwing a great buy one get one free sale for the entire store, but she also gives us insight to her taste.  She loves the color of her new suede shoes with the studs on the toe and think they are the “perfect fall and winter shoes,” and she loves the “slouchy” sweater and “how it flows seems really pretty to [her].” We also get to see some her culture capital in this segment as she discusses how she would probably match the lace jeans with a “comfy sweater” and the skulls and cross tank top with a cardigan or jacket, and how she discusses the “cold-shoulder” (as she likes to call it) sweater and blouse she bought. Instead of seeing just a pair of jeans or just a tanktop, she saw an outfit, and the fact that she used the term “cold-shoulder” to describe the tops she bought I feel adds to her culture capital just because had it been me, I would’ve just called it “a sweater with the shoulders cut out.”

In Victoria Secret, she also finds good deals, but they also gave her a free tote bag with a body kit inside after spending $60, and she notes how it’s good quality and that usually things stores hand out for free usually aren’t, which reinforces the idea that prices can give identity or meaning to an object.

I feel that her visit to Abercrombie is important because she makes that statement, “I never really go there because it’s so expensive,” but because everything was 50% off, she was able to purchase a sweater and a pair of pajama shorts for $60 instead of the $120 it would have originally cost her for just those two items.  This made me think about conspicuous consumption and how lifestyle choices such as where we shop can reflect on who we are.  Typically with conspicuous consumption, people will more than likely be required to spend more money than they are used to, trying to obtain that level of acceptance.  However, big sales such as those that happen on Black Friday give people access to that same opportunity without having to spend as much.  In turn, the way their lifestyle is reflected may change. For example, if a person like Betheny, who never usually shops at Abercrombie, buys an outfit on one of their sale days and wears it out another day, people will see she is wearing clothes from Abercrombie and think she probably shops there regularly; they don’t know that it was a big Black Friday special and that’s probably the only reason she went in.

Similar to this, is her visit to Forever 21, where she talks about a pair of $29 boots she got that reminded her of boots she saw at Steve Madden but never got because they cost $150.  She points out the difference in style, but decides for $29 she could care less.  She makes the same point about the following pair of boots, saying how they look like they would be from an expensive store, but they were just $29 as well.

Overall, I think the key things to get from this haul video is that price most definitely gives identity or meaning to an object, and not just in the sense where “Oh, it’s more expensive, so therefore it must be better quality,” but also in the sense where people can be like, “Woah, that’s such a great deal! I have to get it!” Also, how big sales like those on Black Friday and cause a misrepresentation of our lifestyle and economic status just because people don’t know the context in which the items were obtained. If they walk into your home and see you have a 60″ plasma tv, the thought that you got it on sale may cross their mind, or maybe they just might think that the lifestyle you have supports that kind of purchase, not knowing that you got the tv for half-price.

In Chapter 4, Celia Lury states that according to Lazzarato, “immaterial labour produces the informational and cultural content of commodities,” which is “informed by social relations and brings (new) social relations into being.” Lury goes on to say that the line between producer and consumer is not as solid as it once was, stating that because “commodities deeply affect the consumers who use them and the consumers themselves transform the commodity in use,” then “the consumer has a continuous productive role.” (104)

The first thing that came to mind while reading this was television.  I think it’s safe to think of television as a commodity, or at least having commodity-potential.  We help to commodify television through our ‘immaterial labour’ consisting of avid watching, DVRing, and discussing of television programs.  By consuming programs like Game of Thrones and Girls, and then raving about them, we create demand for HBO. People will be more inclined to purchase the premium subscription because of the talk circulating around the programs, and with more people purchasing subscriptions just to watch Game of Thrones or Girls, gives more reason to keep producing the show.  The fact that HBO even considered to offer HBO GO without a cable subscription shows the potential of consumers to transform this ‘commodity.

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As I was browsing the AT&T store last week, I noticed the Samsung Galaxy Camera. My first question was, “What makes this camera so special?” My second question was more in shock, “$500 with a monthly plan?!”

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So here’s the basic technical breakdown:

  • 16MP (I’m not too familiar with cameras except for the one on my phone, but I think that’s supposed to be pretty good.)
  • Android Software/4G (Like many smartphones, so you’ll have the convenience of editing and uploading anywhere, anytime, to any platform)
  • Voice Control (Silent Siri? A+)

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It’s basically an Android smartphone with a better camera (Galaxy Note 3 is only 3MP away).  While I’m sure the fact that people tend to use their phones more for its camera function than actual phone calls is what caused the creation of this device, I can’t really imagine people choosing this over one of the many smartphone options, or at least seeing the logic behind getting it. If you have a smartphone, the only aspect that may appeal is the 16MP, which I don’t think makes up for the price. If you are that person who has a cell phone (smart or not), and decides to get this camera, you’re paying the $500 plus the additional data coverage in your plan, instead of just paying for a phone upgrade, and now you have to carry around two devices.  If you’re a hardcore intense photographer, I would take a guess that you’d lean more towards getting a DSLR rather than this camera, as your focus is more on photography than sharing.  That’s not to say I don’t think people will buy it; there will always be people, which brings me to the Garcia Canclini quote we discussed in class that this whole situation reminds me of:

“to consume is to participate in an arena of competing claims of what society produces and the ways of using it.”

This camera is a product of society, and I’m going to say that this camera was probably meant as some sort of weak competition for another product of society: the Nokia Lumia 1020. For those not familiar, the Nokia Lumia is a cell phone that boasts its 41MP camera. 41! That’s more than two and a half times than that of the Galaxy Camera, and it’s still a cellphone with all those fancy apps for editing and sharing.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Samsung. I think the S4 Active is brilliant (it’s waterproof!) and don’t understand how the iPhone 5c which consists of less features (and is not waterproof), can be sold for the same price (with a two-year contract). However, I think Nokia succeeded in making the better product based on society’s habits.

However, I think it’s safe to say that sales probably don’t reflect that.  Because Samsung (Android) and Apple (iOS) seem to dominate this app-driven society, the fact that the Nokia is a Windows phone means no Instagram, which for most, defeats the purpose of the 41MP camera (What’s the point of having that great camera, if you can’t share with everybody?)

In class we discussed how meanings of consumption and consumption practices are not fixed, so price can give identity or meaning, consumption influences credibility, and the meanings given by consumption can both unite and divide us.  While price can give identity to the consumer and therefore to the product itself, I think it’s safe to say with how big branding is in today’s society that the reverse can be said as well.  People who have Macs, iPods, iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs, anything Apple-based, form a large community. They are loyal to the Apple brand, and Apple knows that which is why they can afford to charge so much and still expect to get loads of business. This then influences credibility because when you’re out in public and see people on their phones, the chances of you seeing an iPhone in their hands is very high. The more people you see have it, the more reason you have to think it’s a great phone. Nokia/Windows may not have a large consumer community in phones as Apple does, which means not as many people have the Lumia, which causes people to think it may not be such a great phone, even if that may not at all be the case. Branding can also have the power to make/break these ‘imagined’ communities.  For example, the Samsung v. Apple war. You have the original community of smartphone users, but they become split when you bring in big brands like Samsung and Apple, you have Samsung smartphone users on one side and Apple fanboys/fangirls on the other.  That being said, branding play an extremely key role in the way we consume as a society.

I spent several days trying to find an item that was ‘very meaningful’ to me, only to come up blank. I don’t have any family heirlooms and I’m not one to get attached to objects. If something like your laptop breaks, you can get another. It might suck and be expensive, but the point is it’s replaceable. However, I recently broke my phone and my main concern was not the phone itself, but the stuff on the phone like my messages and pictures, and that’s when I realized I was thinking about it all wrong. I was thinking of the object itself, rather than what it represents. After that, picking an object was a piece of cake: my Super Nintendo.

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I chose my Super Nintendo for two main reasons: the amount of time I’ve had it and its durability. My mom can’t remember exactly when she got it, but the first game we have is Madden ’93 so I’m going to guess late ‘92 or sometime in ‘93. Either way, it’s something that has been with me my entire life. I remember the first game I played on it was Ms.PacMan with my mom (I have yet to beat her at it). When I became old enough to understand the concept of the games well enough to actually be somewhat good at them, I progressed to games like Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong Country, and Contra, where my mom would recruit me as a partner in two-player mode. The Super Nintendo represents a time in my childhood where I was treated with more trust by people I admire and look up to. My mom trusted me enough to partner up with me in games and not think I’d sabotage the whole thing, and my older cousins trusted me enough to leave me alone to set up and play their own systems and not think I would break it somehow. Also, I dropped my system from the top of my dresser last year as I was unloading my stuff in the dorm, and it resulted in a large crack on the top. To say I had a panic attack is an understatement. Although I highly doubted it would still work, I tested it to make sure. Guess what…it still functioned/s perfectly fine. As opposed to my iPhone, which dropped from less than a foot off the ground, and is now in dire need of replacement. There’s nothing like old school technology; completely Steph-Proof.

I brought the Super Nintendo with me to college because I knew my sister would kill me if I took the Xbox and the Nintendo was mainly used by me (my sister wouldn’t even know what to do with it). So far the reactions I’ve had from people who’ve seen it have consisted of surprise and awe (Woah, you still have one of those? So cool!). My most recent roommate has been the only one to react confused and ask me why in the world I brought such an old system with me instead of a newer system that has new games coming out. That being said, I definitely think it’s possible that people form an impression of me based on the fact I own this discontinued game system.  The first probably being that either I like videos games and have for a while or I don’t like video games that much to upgrade my system, and the second being that I’m an old-school type of person. Would these be accurate? Yeah, kind of. Yes, I like video games and I grew up with them, however I’m not going to flip out over not having an Xbox to play the latest Call of Duty (although I enjoy those as well). I will also proudly admit that I am an old-school junkie (I currently have a VCR next to the Nintendo on my dresser), but I also like to keep up-to-date with new technology.

But really, can you see an Xbox or PS3 still functioning with a large crack in it? No way; everything’s made way too delicate now.