The Hub Cool News

Chat Bots

kikAn old technology is enabling new conversations between brands and consumers, reports Christopher Mims in The Wall Street Journal (7/28/14). Back in "the mid-1960s, MIT professor Joseph Weizenbaum developed a computer program called ELIZA, which could engage in open-ended conversation with a real human being." Over the years, programmers have filled these "chat bots … with knowledge about the real world. They can also learn from their conversations," and can sound fairly intelligent.

The potential for brands is palpable. "If you could chat with a brand in the same way you chat with a friend, that’s powerful," says Ted Livingston, founder of Kik, a chat service. It is even more tantalizing given Ted’s assertion "that four in 10 US teens are active users of its service" and already "are having something like actual conversations with a half-dozen brands." For example, while touring Japan last fall, teen idol Paul McCartney used a Kik competitor called Line to "chat" with followers.

For perspective, Sir Paul has some 2 million Twitter followers, and 9.3 million Line followers. For the most part, the McCartney organization used the bot simply to send updates. Some brands remain skittish about the bots because they are still relatively primitive and if turned loose might say something wrong. However, some see chat bots as a possible customer-service tool, while others envision using them for new product launches, imbuing the brands with a distinctive voice and personality.

UsTwo

ustwoToph Brown is creating an app that gives travelers a virtual companion when they are traveling alone, reports Scott McCartney in The Wall Street Journal (7/14/14). The app was inspired by Toph’s conversations with "people on the streets of San Francisco what might most improve their travels." "People said they feel like cattle when they are away from home, they want to be connected," says Toph, of London-based UsTwo Studio Ltd. So, he came up with an app that lets travelers pick one person to track their journey, not unlike a FedEx package.

For example, the app will alert the designated follower — "a spouse, friend, colleague or administrative assistant" — as the traveler "passes beacons installed at airports." The follower is also notified when the traveler clears security and other key points. It’s also possible for the follower to "access menus of food for purchase on the flight and purchase a drink or sandwich as a gift." The app also prompts the traveler with gate information and "can pop up a boarding pass bar code" at the gate.

"The goal of our app is to string a light tether between two people when they travel," says Toph. The app is one of a handful resulting from a ‘hack-a-thon’ sponsored by American Airlines to develop new tools to improve the travel experience. Rick Elieson, vp of global partner marketing for American, says the app could be particularly useful for tracking unaccompanied minors or elderly flyers. American plans to continue to work with Toph to develop the app further.

Mr. Conductor!

thomas-tankMattel is using wooden toys and paper catalogs to create tighter bonds with its young customers, reports Gregory Schmidt in The New York Times (7/19/14). The toymaker is also using e-commerce and a few specialty retail stores, but the big idea is to capitalize on the powerful emotional connection between children and its Thomas & Friends line. "Kids that collect Thomas are more passionate about the story line and the characters," says Geoff Walker, evp of global brands at Fisher-Price, a unit of Mattel.

Lisa Nelson, mother of 4-year-old Benny Nelson, agrees. "It’s a very creative outlet," she says. "My son talks to himself the whole time while playing with them." The brand-experience strategy takes a page from that of American Girl, also a Mattel property, which has used "direct-to-consumer" sales to produce "an 11 percent rise in gross sales worldwide … in 2013, the company’s only core brand to show an increase last year." The catalog is particularly effective, says Morningstar analyst Jaime Katz.

"Kids see it, and they want it," she says. "You have the train; don’t you want the track? It’s a complementary business." The direct-sales model also works with parents, she adds: "It’s really the parents who are driving those sales home." That the toys are made of wood is another factor, as Benny’s mom explains: "I think it’s worth the money because they last." Other toymakers, including Lego and Playmobil, have adopted similar strategies, and Geoff Walker says it is "a growth model for Fisher-Price as a whole."

SuperFanArt

superfanartHasbro is using 3-D printing technology to "generate a bit of buzz" for its My Little Pony line, reports Elizabeth A. Harris in The New York Times (7/21/14). "What 3-D printing truly empowers is the creation of artwork that maybe wouldn’t make sense for mass production, but it makes sense for a unique item," says Hasbro chief marketing officer John Frascotti. Hasbro is pursuing the concept in partnership with Shapeways, a 3-D printing enterprise known for creating iPhone cases, coffee cups and other customized items, via a new site: SuperFanArt.

The SuperFanArt idea starts "with five artists whose work will be available for order online and printed in a colorful plastic polymer that Shapeways executives describe as feeling similar to sandstone." Hasbro will first approve all designs to ensure they are appropriate, however "the artists largely have free reign" on both designs and pricing. Over time, "Hasbro hopes to expand the partnership to include more artists, more of its brands and other materials," and expects that the initiative will "extend the reach of its trademarks" while maintaining control over them.

"Instead of trying to prohibit it, they’re enabling it, and I think that’s awesome," says Shapeways chief executive Peter Weijmarshausen. Walmart, meanwhile, "has begun experimenting with a 3-D printer’s potential for producing excitement among shoppers" at Sam’s Club stores, using them to create action figures with shopper faces on them. Home Depot is selling 3-D printers, too. However, Forrester’s Sucharita Mulpuru thinks 3-D printers are more about "novelty and excitement" than business models, while acknowledging that they "will transform our lives in the future."

Enchanted Objects

bullfrogDavid Rose thinks household objects should "mimic the qualities found in magical tools of fantasy and folklore," reports Penelope Green in The New York Times (7/17/14). He means things like "the swords of Arthur and Frodo, say, or the talking mirror in ‘Snow White’." The goal, he says, is to fulfill "human drives with emotional engagement and elan." His concept is to embed, for instance, "his keys, his musical instruments, his wallets and his pens … with special powers."

David refers to such devices as "enchanted objects." For example, "an umbrella that tells you when it’s going to rain, a trash can that orders food, a table that displays your Facebook photos." In his own home, he has "talking pill bottles, a teleporting cabinet (open a door and it connects by Skype to his parents in Wisconsin)." An instructor at MIT’s Media Lab, David envisions the home as a kind of "app store." This is now possible, he notes, because the "computer has atomized … and its functions can be distributed."

The limiting factor, some say, is the inherent connection to the Internet, the data it collects, and the companies that might have access to it. Among the critics is Sherry Turkle, also of MIT and author of Alone Together, who decries what she calls a "regime of memory." "We didn’t get to vote on this regime, there’s no law and there’s no going back … The new regime comes with an extravagant language of gifts and miracles … Well, that’s the way people in fairytales talk. But if you remember your fairy tales, there is always a cost."

Dyson’s Motorhead

dc-59Dyson is improving vacuum cleaners the old-fashioned way: through "mechanical innovation," reports Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times (7/17/14). The problem with vacuum cleaners is that they are too big and bulky, and encumbered by unruly extension cords. The challenge is fundamentally mechanical, because the thing that gives vacuums their power is the motor, and obviously the bigger the motor, the heavier the machine. It’s not a problem that can be solved with algorithms or microprocessors.

This is why Dyson "has been researching motors for 15 years" and invested "$300 million in a factory in Singapore where robots pump out millions of motors a year." Its latest creation, the V6, "is about the size of a fist, and is built from specialized plastics that maintain their shape while operating at high speeds … it uses a set of electromagnets that pulse on and off to coax an axle to spin … The V6 spins at more than 110,000 revolutions per minute, making it one of the fastest commercial motors ever made."

The V6 "is about 50 percent more powerful than the previous version" and powers Dyson’s DC59 Motorhead, which "is tiny, weighs under five pounds and has a slender, hot pink and purple body that resembles a sci-fi laser gun from an alien civilization obsessed with cleaning." The downside is it has a battery life of just 24 minutes and costs more than $500. The upside is that it’s handy. The cordless vacuum category grew by "over 57 percent in the last two years, and Dyson’s machines accounted for 45 percent of that growth."

Game Escapes

d-dA generation of writers found their muse playing Dungeons & Dragons in their youth, reports Ethan Gilsdorf in The New York Times (7/14/14). Junot Diaz teaches writing at MIT and says his first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, was inspired by his "gaming years." It won a Pulitzer Prize. While his books are not of the fantasy genre, he says the "fantastic narratives" of D&D taught him "a lot of important essentials about storytelling, about giving the reader enough room to play."

It is indeed D&D’s "improvisational and responsive nature" that makes it "different from novels and other narratives … Plotlines are decided as a group," and, explains English professor Jennifer Grouling, "you have to convince other players that your version of the story is interesting and valid." Dungeons & Dragons is played "around a table, not a video screen. Together, they use low-tech tools like hand-drawn maps and miniature figurines to tell stories of brave and cunning protagonists."

The storyline is framed by a Dungeon Master, who "must create a believable world with a back story, adventures the players might encounter and plot twists … If the Dungeon Master creates ‘a boring world with an uninteresting plot’," then players are apt to take the story "in a completely different direction." Unlike a novel, which is "a finished thing … the plot is always fluid; anything can happen." Other writers who cite D&D as an influence include Cory Doctorow, Stephen Colbert and Robin Williams.

Bike Paths

starley-safetyMuch of what’s considered innovative in bicycle design today was invented more than 100 years ago, reports Michael Shermer in The Wall Street Journal (7/7/14). The evidence of this "is in abundant supply in Tony Hadland and Hans-Erhard Lessing’s encyclopedic history, Bicycle Design." It "features more than 300 illustrations culled from many sources, most intriguingly from patent records." For example, the "clipless pedal," adopted in the 1980s as "new and revolutionary" was patented in 1895.

The "shock-absorber and suspension systems featured on modern mountain bikes" were patented in 1869, and the disc brakes on today’s mountain bikes "were patented a century ago." The recumbent bike, which seems like a relatively new thing, dates back to the 1890s. Perhaps most notably, the fundamental design of the bikes used in today’s Tour de France "can be seen in Starley and Sutton’s 1885 Rover Safety bike; in the 1892 Sunbeam Special Light Road Racer; and finally in Raleigh’s 1939 Carleton Flyer."

Among other things, these bicycles "feature the diamond-shaped frame: a top tube between the seat and handlebars; a head tube holding the handlebars and the fork for the front wheel; a down tube between the head tube and the bottom bracket for the pedals and drive train; and a seat tube between the seat and bottom bracket." The equal-sized wheels, cog-and-chain, brakes and steering haven’t changed, either. The lesson is that "just because something was patented doesn’t mean that it was adopted," just that "a problem and a solution were understood" at the time.

Pens & Balls

writersNeuroscientists are finding surprising similarities in the brain activity of writers and athletes, reports Carl Zimmer in The New York Times (6/28/14). The scientists, "led by Martin Lotze of the University of Greifswald in Germany," are using "scanners to track the brain activity of both experienced and novice writers." Dr. Lotze started by having 28 novice writers "copy some text" to provide a baseline, and then gave them a few lines from a story to finish on their own — giving them time to brainstorm a bit first, and then write.

He and his team found that the vision-processing part of the brain lit up during brainstorming, perhaps because they were "seeing the scenes they wanted to write." This changed when the trials turned to more experienced writers, whose "brains appeared to work differently even before they set pen to paper." Their brains activated "regions involving speech," rather than vision. One theory is "that the novices are watching their stories like a film inside their heads, while the writers are narrating it with an inner voice."

Also unlike the novices, the brains of the experienced writers lit up "a region called the caudate nucleus," which "plays an essential role in the skill that comes with practice, including activities like … playing basketball," or a musical instrument. However, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker is skeptical that the experiments provide a clear picture of creativity, pointing out, among other things, that the "very nature of creativity can make it different from one person to the next." "Creativity is a perversely difficult thing to study," he says.

Cups

cups-appGilad Rotem says his collective of indie coffee shops is NYC’s "third-biggest coffee chain," reports Hiroko Tabuchi in The New York Times (6/30/14). It’s a remarkable claim, particularly given that his collective is powered by a coffee-subscription app called Cups that’s only been around since April — but it may be true even though it boasts just 50 shops. "We want to bring local coffee shops the economies of scale of big chains, but also have them keep their atmosphere and vibe," says Gilad.

Cups is just one of many examples of apps and other technologies designed to give small businesses a fighting chance against major retailers or digital disruptors like Uber Taxi and Lyft. Dashride, for example, aims to empower local taxi dispatchers with "a mobile app that will soon let customers book, track, pay for and rate rides." It will also provide smartphones to drivers to help them "organize and manage rides, navigate streets and chat with clients," while giving dispatchers an "online portal" to track drivers and clients "on a real-time map."

Meanwhile, a tech startup called Edelweiss is providing "a networking site for independent booksellers and publishers to connect online" and compete against Amazon, "seen increasingly as an industry bully." Shakr helps small businesses create YouTube-ready online ads. Such tools "tap into strong, distinctive businesses with longstanding ties to local communities, qualities that cannot easily be recreated online." "We’re disrupting the disrupters," says Dashride founder Nadav Ullman, age 24.

Teabox

teaboxKaushal Dugar has plans to give the tea business "a Silicon Valley makeover," reports Saritha Rai in The New York Times (6/27/14). His venture, Teabox, backed by venture capitalist firm Accel Partners, "is introducing a subscription model offering personalized tea selections, replicating similar successes of online sites selling wine, razor blades, cosmetics and organic products." The goal is "to hook a new generation of customers in countries such as Russia and the United States."

"The business is ripe for disruption, both in terms of price and quality," says Prashanth Prakash of Accel India. The Teabox idea, much like that of the wine industry, is "to demystify tea and present it in a more accessible manner, along with how-to brewing directions so that buyers can explore varieties, regions and flavors," says Kaushal, who also plans to upgrade the quality of the teas by streamlining its purchasing and production practices, which he says haven’t changed in 200 years.

Because of such practices, "it can take up to six months for the tea to reach a consumer overseas," during which the tea deteriorates. Teabox addresses this by setting up operations "in sourcing centers in Darjeeling and Assam … Data analytics also help. When they log into the website, buyers are served personalized recommendations according to one of Teabox’s 53 tea profiles." So far, Teabox "has shipped 10 million cups’ worth of tea to customers in 65 countries" and projects $1 million in revenues over the next year.

Inbox

spamEmail is "the cockroach of the Internet" because it refuses to die, reports David Carr in The New York Times (6/30/14). Email newsletters, in particular, are showing resilience in the face of "social media, mobile apps and dynamic websites that practically stalk the reader." The reason is that "readers have grown tired of the endless stream of information on the Internet, and having something finite and recognizable show up in your inbox can impose order on all that chaos."

"An email newsletter," David writes, "generally shows up in your inbox because you asked for it and includes links to content you have deemed relevant. In other words, it’s important content you want in list form, which seems like a suddenly modern approach." He adds: "With an email, there is a presumption of connection, of something personal, that makes it a good platform for publishers." Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic comments: "I have an intimate and intense relationship with people who get my newsletter every day."

Yes, it’s true that younger folks "love to text, send instant messages and use Snapchat more than they like using email," and as Gideon Lichfield of Quartz says, "Email is dismissed as something old people use." However, as Kate Kiefer Lee, author of Nicely Said, says: "People get more excited about the newer technologies, but the nice thing about email is that it doesn’t go away. It sits in your inbox and you have to do something with it." Even if it is burrowed in your cockroach folder.

Outbox

snailA plan to digitize snail mail seemed brilliant until the US Postal Service heard about it, reports Bari Weiss in The Wall Street Journal (6/26/14). Evan Baehr and Will Davis had a plan "to simplify — or eliminate — mailboxes across the country." Outbox, as they branded their $4.99-a-month service, "would collect your mail and scan it," unsubscribe you "from unwanted catalogs and shred junk mail," and forward wedding invitations or holiday cards to your physical address. Bills could be categorized and filed via an app.

Evan and Will managed to test the concept in collaboration with a pair of post offices in Austin, Texas. Letter carriers would "set aside their subscribers’ mail in a designated box in the post office," and then Outbox would scan and deliver it digitally. Among other things, this enabled them, as Will put it, to "test what we call the holy grail of advertising, which is intent, brand affinity, understanding what people like." It promised to give marketers data and insights into what consumers wanted, or not, by way of direct mail.

The duo also thought this would be a great thing for the US Postal Service. "In this new model we could save them money, increase customer engagement, and be better for the environment," says Evan. However, according to Evan, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe didn’t see it that way, essentially saying that consumers weren’t his customers: "My customers are several hundred volume mailers, and my product is guaranteed delivery of their mail onto the kitchen tables of Americans." Overnight, Outbox was out of business.

Big Blue Skies

john-kennedy-ibmIt was headline news, in 1956, when Arthur L. Samuel of IBM programmed a computer to play checkers. What made this feat so remarkable was that the computer actually learned from its experience. This was a first, and a blinding flash of the future of artificial intelligence. And, yes, this particular revolution was televised! Six years later, IBM’s computer went on to defeat checkers master Robert Nealy, sending a chill down the spine of human beings everywhere. More than a half-century later, we are still trying to come to terms with the implications of a machine’s capacity to outperform people — and IBM continues to lead the way into a world where technology and humanity not only coexist, but also prosper together. The tension created when machines begin to ‘think’ is particularly pronounced within the universe we all know and love as marketing.

The rise of big data, accelerated by the flood of information produced by social networks, sparks considerable controversy. Some embrace big data for its potential to shed new light on the relationship between brands and their customers, while others dismiss it as just another buzzword, perhaps finding solace in criticizing what they don’t yet understand. Today’s version of Arthur Samuel’s computer is IBM’s Watson, which you may remember as the machine that won a game of Jeopardy! a few years ago. More recently, Watson demonstrated the ability not only to process data within a vernacular context, but also reason to the point where it can effectively make arguments for and against any given point-of-view (see sidebar).

It’s not as alarming as it might sound, and IBM’s John Kennedy is here to comfort the uncomfortable on issues of big data, cognitive computing and artificial intelligence. For all the apparent complexity of a landscape awash in data, his message is simple: The essentials of building powerful brands remain the same. However, the future belongs to those who use available data to bring unprecedented insight and understanding into customers’ daily lives and the many ways in which they experience brands. As John expresses it: "Marketing now is not so much in service of selling — which helps the marketer — but more in service of what the customer wants to do." Anything less, and guardians of the brand experience may well find themselves losing at checkers while their competitors are winning at chess. Read The Interview with John Kennedy.

GoPro Experience

goproGoPro is successful not because of its camera, but rather the experience of using it, reports Issie Lapowsky in Wired (6/26/14). GoPro, as you’ve likely heard, is a small, high-definition, wearable video camera that people have used "to record their every sky-diving, drone-flying, shark-riding adventure." It raised $427 million in its IPO — unusual for a camera-maker because smartphones are not only cameras but also a GPS, video game console, stereo … "and, oh yeah, a telephone."

However, as Ben Arnold of NPD Group notes: "They don’t just sell a video camera, they sell the memory of the wave or the ski trip down the slope … I think we are entering the age where lifestyle in technology is becoming very important." The power is in devices that "say something about the people who wear them … when you see someone with one of those GoPro Hero 3 cameras strapped to her chest, it’s a signal to the world that she is about to do something awesome."

The result is that in "2013 alone, GoPro users have uploaded 2.8-years worth of video featuring GoPro in the title. In the first quarter of 2014, people watched over 50 million hours of videos with GoPro somewhere in the title, filename, tag or description … And so despite the fact that GoPro only sells cameras … it became better known as an adventure sports brand than as a camera manufacturer." Among other things, GoPro now plans "to launch a GoPro Channel on Xbox Live" and "turn itself into a media company."

Yogurt Culture

savory-yogurt-smYogurt’s days as "a sugar-delivery mechanism" may be on the way out, reports Nancy Matsumoto in The Wall Street Journal (6/19/14). Indeed, the "sugar-laden fruit flavors" with which yogurt has long been associated, are giving way to savory condiments like "mint, olives, cilantro and spicy harissa oil." At the Chobani Cafe, in SoHo, NYC, "mini-iPad-toting servers take orders for unlikely lunches , such as plain yogurt topped with hummus, olive oil, a spice mix and lemon zest."

This is a big change from when the cafe "opened in June 2012," when "its menu consisted mostly of sweet options. Since then, it has evolved to being close to 65% savory," according to Chobani CMO Peter McGuinness. "Besides yogurt in a bowl topped with cucumber, olive oil, fresh mint and sea salt, other popular dishes feature smoked salmon and dill or watermelon and feta." The Chobani phenomenon has also spawned a boom in yogurt culture in New York’s Finger Lakes Region, where Chobani got its start.

The region "has even been dubbed ‘The Silicon Valley of Yogurt.’" The number of yogurt factories in New York State has grown from 14 to 29 over the past nine years, prompting state legislators to pass a bill "to make yogurt the official state snack." Other players include Siggi’s, founded by Siggi Hilmarsson, whose early flavors included "orange-ginger with an austere 9 grams of sugar in a 150-gram serving." Blue Hill Yogurt offers "beet, carrot and tomato" flavors pioneered at the brand’s restaurants.

The Breakfast Project

cinnamon-crunch-smGrownups are finding Froot Loops and Lucky Charms make a dandy dessert, reports Sarah Nassauer in The Wall Street Journal (6/19/14). For Jon Press, the indulgence-of-choice is Cinnamon Toast Crunch, because, he says, it "doesn’t feel quite as horrible" as say cookies or cakes. This bit of insight is welcome news for cereal-makers, who are challenged by declining consumption of cereals for breakfast. They are now promoting what they call "off-breakfast" eating.

As a breakfast food, cereal takes too long to eat, and it can’t be eaten in the car. It’s also lacking in protein, which "more people see … as healthy and filling," according to Noel Geoffroy of Kellogg’s, whose cereal sales are currently ticking downward. Sweetened cereals are, however, the bright spot, precisely because "adults are eating them outside of breakfast," says Jenny Zechmeister of General Mills, whose cereal sales actually are up by two percent this year, versus a two-percent decline last year.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch is also proving popular among "20- and 30-somethings while playing videogames at night." Unsweetened cereals, meanwhile, are being promoted as an ingredient, says Cheerios marketing manager Doug Martin. "Throw a handful into a smoothie for extra fiber," he says. Perhaps ironically, General Mills hopes to increase cereal consumption by persuading consumers "to carve out more time for breakfast at home," via The Family Breakfast Project, which promotes the virtues of family breakfasts.

The Tastemakers

cupcakesThe "charms of any new food" and "how long we’re likely to stay captivated" is the focus of The Tastemakers, by David Sax. As reviewed by Corby Kummer in The New York Times (6/22/14), the book is "a romp through the world of chefs, farmers, bloggers, market researchers and advertisers who drive us to want, need, crave and murderously desire something like a Cronut. After, that is, we’ve had our fill of cupcakes, which apparently we never will."

Speaking of which, the still-current cupcake phenomenon, as David tracks it, started with its appearance as a "bit player in a scene in ‘Secs in the City’" (clip) before starring "in blogs and cookbooks," and then the "object of bakery wars and fixture of national chains." The "rise and rise" of the cupcake contrasts with the "rise and fall" of fondue, which, David documents, ascended on the strength of the secsual revolution and fell because, "confronted with a bowl of fruit" and melted chocolate, diet-conscious consumers tend to avoid the chocolate.

David also singles out certain individuals as central to various food trends: Sang Yoon is credited with "the gourmet hamburger and gastro pub. Frieda Caplan, the popularizer of kiwi, is also seen as making the country safe for hundreds of millions of dollars in annual sales of brown (versus white) mushrooms. Faith Popcorn, the trend forecaster … is implicitly given credit for telling Coca-Cola in 1981 to get into bottled water." He also establishes a link between fondue and "the beginnings of what Faith Popcorn would later label ‘cocooning’."

The Innovators

ultra-thinAs it turns out, sliced cheese may be the biggest thing since sliced bread, reports Stephanie Strom in The New York Times (6/23/14). “You say to yourself, sliced cheese — really?” remarks Taddy Hall, senior vice president of Nielsen’s Breakthrough Innovation Project. The lesson, he says, “is that it isn’t always obvious what innovation is.” In this case, the insight was “that cheese was becoming a bigger part of sandwiches because consumers were working to reduce their consumption of meat.”

At the same time, they didn’t want “the fat, calories and salt in cheese — but were reluctant to trade for reduced fat versions.” So, Sargento figured out how to create a thinner slice of cheese, which isn’t as simple as it sounds. “Being able to consistently slice cheese at that thin of a thickness and have it shingle into a package is hard,” says Sargento’s Rod Hogan. First introduced in 2012, Sargento’s Ultra Thin “doubled its sales in its second year” and is a rare example of a successful new product.

Indeed: “Of the 3,500 new consumer goods introduced in 2012, just 14 managed to generate at least $50 million in sales in their first year and sustain that momentum into their second.” Out of some 17,000 new products launched since 2008, just “62 of them have had that kind of success,” says Rob Wengel of Nielsen, which tracks and then “hands out awards” to winning innovations. Other recent successes include belVita breakfast biscuits and Bud Light Lime-A-Rita, “a potent malt cocktail concocted to be poured over ice.”

Lego Fusion

lego-fusion-smLego’s newest offering bridges “virtual and physical play spaces,” reports Wilson Rothman in The Wall Street Journal (6/21/14). Called Lego Fusion, the “idea is simple: Build something using the special platform and bricks … then launch a free app on your Android or iOS device. Take a picture of your creation, then watch as it gets sucked into one of four virtual worlds on your smartphone or tablet.” The target audience is “7- to 12-year olds (and let’s face it, their gleefully Lego-obsessed parents.)”

Among the games is Town Master, which lets users “build houses and other structures” and Battle Towers, where you repair “your damaged citadels in the real world, using Lego bricks, of course.” Then there’s Create & Race, where rather than “building a car and then taking a picture of it, you design it in the app, then get step-by-step instructions on how to construct it with bricks.” Different color bricks serve different purposes; for example, a red brick “might make your car go faster, while a blue one could give it a turbo boost.”

By logging in with a Lego ID, you can race against friends, or, in Town Master, “visit other people’s towns and share yours with others.” The limitation is that users must “build on special platform pieces (which help the app’s image recognition to work), and the app only imports what is essentially a two-dimensional facade of your structure.” However, kids “will no doubt start dreaming up castles, cars and bungalows that even the game’s developers could never have seen coming.”