The Hub Cool News

Sonic Emotion

sound-of-jazzA little-remembered television producer changed the course of jazz, reports Marc Myers in The Wall Street Journal (1/15/15). The producer was Robert Herridge, and the defining moment was The Sound of Jazz, "an hour-long live CBS special that aired on December 8, 1957." (video) It happened when Billie Holiday, incensed that she had spent $500 on a dress only to find herself on a bare-bones set, rebelled by walking over to Count Basie and talking to him "while he was soloing." Sensing a moment, Robert instructed cameramen to "get the faces."

In addition to being "a tireless champion of the performing arts," Robert’s background included producing TV dramas. His idea was to treat the musicians "like actors in a drama," and told cameramen "to ignore the voice of director Jack Smight in their headsets if they saw something special." In so doing, he "treated jazz as a theatrical performance on par with the staging of Shakespeare or Dostoyevsky." When Billie Holiday sang, "the cameras zoomed in … letting viewers see the pain on her face and the sly, loving glances she shot soloists."

Robert "wanted the musicians to play to their peers, not the audience," says Chiz Schultz, an associate producer. The result was a more memorable show because "viewers could see the reactions" of the musicians. "It seemed insane to the musicians but it worked for TV," says Chiz. Actually, insanity was arguably the order of the day. "About a half hour before going live," Thelonious Monk was missing. Chiz found him outside, on the street, his hands outstretched in the rain. "I need to feel what it’s like out here first," Monk said, before heading inside.

Dial-A-Song

dial-a-songThey Might Be Giants is once again distributing new music via a phone-answering machine, reports Tad Hendrickson in The Wall Street Journal (1/3/15). John Flansburgh and John Linnell "began recording songs for the band’s telephone answering machine" in 1983. They rotated a supply of 30-40 songs every day, kept in "a suitcase full of cassettes" in Flansburgh’s kitchen. This created the illusion they were writing new songs every day — a misperception they enjoyed and eventually parlayed into four million record sales.

The duo unplugged the machine in 2006, both because "the machines kept breaking and new technology offered other options." "When we first did it, there were tremendous shortcomings to the phone machine in terms of fidelity," says Flansburgh. "Actually, if we had any sustained notes in the song, the machine would reject it, mistaking it for the beep at the end of the message." But now Dial-A-Song is back (844-387-6862), along with dialasong.com and a YouTube channel. Quality downloads are also emailed for a $30/year subscription fee.

Back in the ’80s, the band promoted Dial-A-Song with ads in the Village Voice. This time around, they "set up a Dial-A-Song Network made up of 100 radio stations, which will broadcast the songs at a particular time each week. Mike Pesca’s podcast ‘The Gist‘ will also debut the songs Monday nights on Slate.com." The band will additionally perform "the last Sunday of each month" at the Music Hall in Brooklyn. Having at one point diverted into making children’s records, the duo today enjoys a following of now-grown, next-generation fans.

Penney Catalogs

jcpenney-catalogRon Johnson wasn’t the only JCPenney CEO who lost customers by misunderstanding them, reports Suzanne Kapner in The Wall Street Journal (1/20/15). Former and current JCPenney CEO Mike Ullman admits he made a mistake by pulling the retailer’s print catalog. That was in 2010, and at the time Mike thought "catalog shoppers would migrate online." He was wrong. "We lost a lot of customers," says Mike. It turned out that shoppers "still like browsing through the decidedly low-tech artifacts of page and ink."

This despite research via retail consultancy Kurt Salmon that says about "44 percent of consumers" would like to be mailed fewer catalogs. However, Salmon’s research also finds that "31 percent of shoppers have a catalog with them when they make a purchase." So, Penney will mail a "120-page book" featuring items from its "home department … to select customers in March." Home goods "have historically been among the top-selling items in Penney’s catalogs." "We are trying to get back those lapsed customers," says Mike.

Restoration Hardware is also embracing catalogs — mailing 13 of them, a total of 3,330 pages — to customers, which created some backlash. Bonobos, founded as an online menswear retailer, sees beauty in pages as well. "We found that the catalog allowed us to tell a fuller narrative about the brand and our products in a way that we were struggling to online," says Bonobos marketing chief Craig Elbert. He also says "catalog customers tend to spend more" and that catalog customers who shop in their bricks stores are their "best customers overall."

Magzter Magazines

magzterWhat Netflix and Spotify did for movies and music, Magzter hopes to do for magazines, reports Joshua Brustein in Bloomberg Businessweek (1/19/15). So far, "the idea of paying a flat fee for unlimited access" to magazines "hasn’t caught on," however Next Issue Media has been attempting such a model since 2011, but to date has attracted only "hundreds of thousands" of subscribers willing to pay "$15 a month for access to about 140 magazines." Netflix, by comparison, has "50 million" subscribers and Spotify "12.5 million."

Magzter, meanwhile, is trying a different approach. Magzter’s plan is just $10 a month, and it "thinks it can gain traction where Next Issue hasn’t by offering a larger selection of more obscure titles and by selling subscriptions internationally." About 5,000 publishers are using Magzter to sell standalone issues, and 2,000 are participating in its "all-access subscription service." "It’s the last great white space in streaming media," says Magzter CEO Girish Ramdas. "Everyone else has made the jump."

The opportunity might seem ripe, especially since "drawing readers to single-title magazine apps that mimic the print experience" hasn’t caught on — "app subscribers make up less than 4 percent of overall magazine circulation." However, "it’s not clear that anyone but the most voracious readers will save money … If a Netflix for magazines ever does catch on, it would preserve one consistent aspect of the magazine industry: relying on readers to subscribe to far more material than they have time to read."

Technically True

sharon-loveOnly people can connect technologies with daily life. A Hub White Paper by Sharon Love of TPN. Because technology now defines how we communicate, engage and manage our lives, the word ‘innovation’ today usually evokes some form of digital technology, device or cyber-related evolution. Changes in technology present themselves daily. It is the primary driver of our connected experiences with family, friends and even brands. It is exciting to watch where the cutting edge of digital innovation is leading us, as brands explore emerging technology to serve their audiences better.

At the most recent Plug and Play — a retail conference where technological possibility meets creative ideas meets financial backing — upstarts who may be the next leverage point for marketers looking to connect with their targets were out in force. Partnerships are now forming at the intersection of brand and retail, the ‘Internet of Things,’ digital media and mobile. The result is innovation that takes virtual concepts and makes them physical, that transports cyber-chefs into your shopping and cooking experiences, for example, presenting augmented reality that challenges actual reality. For the vast majority of people, these advancements mean new and exciting experiences that marketers assume they also want and need. Read The Rest of The White Paper.

The Moral Arc

moral-arcInformation and science are the main drivers of our morals, argues Michael Shermer, author of The Moral Arc, reviewed by Sally Satel in the Wall Street Journal (1/20/15). Actually, a certain "moral instinct seems to be present at birth: Even infants possess innate intuitions about fairness and reciprocity." However, Michael credits "scientific rationalism," or "systematic observation and hypothesis testing" with advancing morality, as it enabled people to see "inconsistencies between abusive practices and the values they purported to hold."

As "rational inquiry" advanced, "more facts became known," and people came to realize that certain bad things "are not immoral as much as they are mistaken." For example, blaming a poor harvest on witches declined once people developed "a scientific understanding of agriculture, climate, disease, and other vectors," according to Michael. "Similarly, campaigns … against dolphin slaughter and elephant poaching received a boost from research showing that dolphins and elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror," humanizing them.

As "more and more people began traveling to new lands … the circle of empathy widened beyond the tribe to strangers and foreigners. Improvements in hygiene and medical technology … may also have had a moralizing effect. After all, dirty and diseased people elicit disgust, a pathway to dehumanization." Although an atheist, Michael also credits religion’s "role in individual well-being." At the same time, he thinks "scientists should have a voice in determining values and morals," and the push "toward truth, justice and freedom."

The Avatar Factor

avatarThe avatars we create in virtual reality can change our behavior in real life, reports Robert Lee Hotz in The Wall Street Journal (1/20/15). "Your brain will start to incorporate your avatar into your sense of self," says Jennifer Ouelette, author of Me, Myself and Why. She adds that "the more strongly you bond with that avatar, the more it will impact your behavior in the real world." Jennifer’s own avatar, on Second Life, "is a thinner and slinkier version of herself that she named Jen-Luc Piquant."

Stanford University researchers report that people who "add extra inches to their self-image by making their avatars taller than they really are … can become more confident and aggressive in real-world negotiations. And when people make their avatars more attractive online, they tend to share personal information with strangers more readily." "Your avatar implicitly cues you on how to behave," says Jeremy Bailenson of Stanford. "There is good reason to believe that our avatars change how we interact with others," he says.

The avatars also can reflect who we are in real life. "It might seem like an avatar has a life of its own, but it still has a lot of the person who created it," says Katrina Fong of York University in Toronto. Katrina’s research found that, based on avatars, people "could discern accurately who was extroverted, who was agreeable, and who was neurotic, even if the character looked nothing like its creator … An avatar wearing brown or gray shoes, for example, signaled that its creator likely was neurotic," while avatars in shorts were perceived to be extroverted.

Changing Channels

jim-fielding-165Jim Fielding of AwesomenessTV on building a new brand experience for teens and tweens. (This is the first in a series highlighting presentations at the second annual HUB Brand-Experience Symposium, held Oct. 7-8, 2014 in New York City.) I’m here to take you on a quick trip to the future and tell you that the digital revolution is here — and I’m living it every day. My lofty title for this talk is "Building the Next Teen and Young Millennial Brands for the Digital Generation." We’re going to talk about harnessing the incredible energy of what we call "the creators" of YouTube, and Generation Connected, Generation Z.

If any of you have a teenager in your life — male or female — and you have a TV in their room, it’s probably dusty, and they’re probably storing books and clothes on top of it because they are consuming media through hand-held devices, laptops and the Internet. AwesomenessTV (ATV) started two-and-a-half years ago as a short-form digital content creator. We were funded initially through Google Ventures. In just two-and-a-half years, we’ve morphed into a next-generation digital-media company, now owned by DreamWorks. Read the Rest of Jim’s Talk.

MiniLuxe Salon

miniluxeA group of investors hopes to do for nail salons what Starbucks did for coffee shops, reports Sarah Max in The New York Times (1/15/15). John Hamel and his partners at Cue Ball were seeking "a highly fragmented industry" where there was an opportunity to "use a combination of smart design, systems and company culture to create a following." John had to look no further than "the strip malls near his home north of Boston" where he found oodles of nail salons. The supply suggested demand, and a closer look revealed a big opening.

At most nail salons, it’s all "fluorescent lighting, smelly acrylics and questionable hygiene." Scheduling appointments is another weak spot. "Borrowing practices from the medical and dental industries, MiniLuxe uses single-use tools … ultrasonic debris removers and hospital-grade autoclave sterilizers." It also introduced "its own line of toxin-free polish." To reduce wait-times, it hired "a data scientist to predict which factors drove demand" and "24/7 online booking." A soon-to-be introduced app will "buzz users’ phones" when "it’s their turn. "

Most important, MiniLuxe provides employees with "health insurance, paid time off, profit sharing and a company 401K." "You can’t create affinity for consumers if you do not create affinity for employees," says Mats Lederhausen, another Cue Ball partner. To pick locations, John looked for clusters of nail salons near Starbucks shops. Like Starbucks, MiniLuxe also devised "its own language, their own product lines," says Joseph Michelli, a customer experience consultant. Now with eight Boston locations, MiniLuxe plans to expand nationally.

Meow Parlour Patisserie

meow-parlourCats and cookies are the attractions at the Meow Parlour Patisserie, reports William Grimes in The New York Times (1/16/15). Cat cafes are already popular in Japan, but this is a first for New York City. Open since mid-December 2014, the Meow Parlour Patisserie is for "people who can’t get too much of cat." Cristina Ha, a co-founder, developed a cat affinity a "couple of years ago" after taking in a stray, and then another and another and another. She and her husband have a patisserie, Macaron Parlour, and the two ideas soon became one.

Cristina couldn’t let cats into the patisserie because of health laws, so she and her assistant chef, Emilie Legrand, found a storefront around the corner where they could both house cats and serve cat-themed cookies imported from the patisserie. Visits are by reservation only, and the cafe "is almost fully booked until mid-March." Appointments are made online, at meowparlor.com, "at a rate of $4 a half-hour, or $30 for the maximum stay of five hours … All cats are available for adoption from Kitty Kind, a rescue and adoption agency."

"I like to let people know that we care about the cats, that we’re not just here to make money off them," says Drew Kimmis, who works as a docent at the cafe. "We want them to get adopted and find a good home." Patrons offer various reasons (beyond loving cats) for their visits. Madeline Weinstein, an actress, was there ahead of an audition to help temper jitters. Ryan Green’s visit was a Christmas present and Michelle Betz saw the open format as a refreshing change from the caged kitties at Petco, where interaction is not as easy.

Dirty Chocolate

tazo-chocolateChocolate is returning to its roots in a grittier, earthier, spicier style, reports Alina Dizik in The Wall Street Journal (1/14/15). It’s a style often called "stone-ground" or "Mexican," even though true Mexican chocolate is a beverage, not a bar. It is "generally made with less sugar than sweet, creamy European-style chocolate," and as such may be an acquired taste, especially among those used to Hershey’s-style chocolate. But its "dairy-free, low-fat" composition and "a consistency a bit like crunchy dirt" has its fans.

About "80 craft chocolate companies" currently make stone-ground chocolate, and that’s "up from just a handful a decade ago." As a niche, it appeals to entrepreneurs because it is relatively easy to make and "doesn’t rely on pricy refining equipment." In fact, Nat Bletter, co-founder of Madre Chocolate, made his first batch in his kitchen using a coffee-bean grinder and food processor. Madre has since introduced a "bean-to-bar chocolate-making kit for $24.80, which consumers can use to make chocolate with standard kitchen equipment."

Authentic Mexican chocolate should be stone-ground, however, and sipped, not eaten. Accordingly, Madre sells Chocolate de Mesa, a "drinking bar," meant to be "melted with hot water, not milk." Nat says the drink is richer than that made with powdered cocoa. ChocoVivo, a cafe and factory in Los Angeles, offers a "flight" of "11 single-origin chocolates, similar to the series of small cups presented at wine and beer tastings." Other makers include Taza Chocolate, as well as Olive & Sinclair and Peppalo, makers of a cold-smoked chocolate.

Second Bananas

baby-bananasA smaller, baby, banana may be gaining popularity in America, reports Barry Newman in The Wall Street Journal (1/12/15). The overwhelming majority of the "33 billion bananas shipped to the US in a year" are of the foot-long Cavendish variety, which weigh about seven ounces. The main alternative is the "baby" banana, which actually is full-grown, but is "a third the size of a Cavendish, sweeter and creamier." This makes it just the right size for slicing into a bowl of cereal or ice cream, without any leftovers.

Typically, the baby banana is found "at bodegas or at fruit stands and at some supermarkets in warmer climes," and are purchased by "Americans with roots in the tropics." It’s curious that "every garden-variety supermarket stocks" a variety of apples and oranges, for instance, but only one type of banana. Mario Marabello, produce manager of Key Food in Brooklyn, is an exception. The babies are priced at $1.49 a pound, versus 79 cents for Cavendish, but Mario finds they sell quickly, not unlike baby carrots, baby kale and baby spinach.

In part, this is a trick of merchandising, as Mario wraps the babies in plastic so they stand out from the bigger bananas. "Put these babies inside the plastic," he says. "They sell themselves." Cavendish became the banana of choice some 50 years ago, after Panama disease killed a variety known as the Gros Michel. A Dole spokesperson insists that the "Cavendish is the only banana consumers are comfortable with." But shopper Martha Folkes thinks otherwise, picking up the babies because "they’re the tiniest, cutest things."

Narrative Therapy

cltlThe stories we tell ourselves and others are "an inextricable part of our DNA," reports Elizabeth Svoboda in Aeon (1/12/15). Indeed, our ability to tell stories is "a uniquely human trait that has been with us nearly as long as we’ve been able to speak … Across time and across cultures, stories have proved their worth not just as works of art or entertaining ideas, but as agents of personal change." The Old Testament conveys "values and priorities" through stories, for example, and Homer’s stories teach "a way of life."

Scientists today use "functional MRI scanning" to understand how "powerful narratives" affect our brains, and even "translate into behavioral change." Princeton psychologist Uri Hasson found that the brains of story listeners "lit up in the area of the insula — a region that governs empathy and moral sensibilities" in tandem with that of the story teller. "Listeners and speakers also showed parallel activation of the temporoparietal junction, which helps us imagine other people’s thoughts and emotions."

Neuroscientist Mary Immordino-Yang found that "emotion-driven responses to stories" begin "in the brain stem, which governs basic physical functions … So when we read about a character facing a heart-wrenching situation, it’s perfectly normal for our own hearts to pound." A program for convicts, meanwhile, uses stories to change their perspectives (link) and perhaps the stories they tell themselves. One student reported being inspired by "the beleaguered fisherman" in The Old Man and the Sea, to "stay a sober course."

True Grit

true-gritPerseverance may be more important to success than intelligence, writes Anna North in The New York Times (1/11/15). "We probably need to start rethinking our emphasis on intelligence," says Arthur E. Poropat, an Australian psychology professor. "This isn’t to say that we should throw intelligence out, but we need to pull back on thinking that this is the only game in town." Arthur published a 2014 paper saying that "conscientiousness" and "openness" correlate "more highly … with student performance than intelligence."

Arthur also writes that "personality has been demonstrated to change over time to a far greater extent than intelligence." This has led to a move toward teaching "perseverance and passion for long-term goals." Mandy Benedix of Rogers Middle School in Pearland, Texas, is among the teachers. "You look at anybody who has had long-term sustainable success, and every one of them exhibited at some point this grit, this tenacity to keep going," she says, adding that the course has encouraged more students to take advanced placement courses.

Not everyone is convinced of the merits of this, though. Jeffrey Aaron Snyder of Carleton College says that "character-based education is untethered from any conception of morality." He believes that character traits must be taught within "the context of civic education, the public good, social responsibility," and points to the community gardens planted during World War I as a way to achieve this. The idea, he says, is to integrate character education "into a task that has genuine purpose and that makes the students think beyond themselves."

Nano Management

tesla-logoTesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk gets to what’s right by focusing on what’s wrong, reports Mike Ramsey in The Wall Street Journal (1/12/15). "I have OCD on product-related issues," Elon says. "When I see a car or a rocket or spacecraft, I only see what’s wrong. I never see what’s right. It’s not a recipe for happiness." He may not have been referring to his own happiness as much as that of certain "high-level managers" at Tesla, who "quit or were fired" because of Elon’s "insistence on doing things his way."

So intent is Elon Musk on what he calls "nano-management" that he "set up an office in the middle of the factory floor" during the Tesla S launch in 2012. "If you are fighting a battle, it’s way better if you are at the front lines," he says. "A general behind the lines is going to lose." Just three weeks ahead of the delivery of the first car, Elon "demanded that the sedans have larger rear tires because he felt they looked better." This was unrealistic for a number of reasons, but Elon insisted, and the "design change went through without a hitch."

This style doesn’t play well with everyone, but that’s fine with Elon. "He used to say that he only wanted ‘special forces’ working for him," says Ricardo Reyes, Tesla’s media relations head. "No normal people." Supporters say this "relentless perfectionism has steered Tesla to where it is today." His "unwavering determination" helps explain why "investors have flocked to Tesla and shrug off the fact that the auto maker has never made an annual profit." "You take Elon out of the company and the market cap would go down 80%," an analyst says.

Confirmation Bias

dimes"Think critically about whether you’re only intermittently thinking critically," advises Robert M. Sapolsky in The Wall Street Journal (1/3/15). Robert offers this guidance based on a close encounter with a magician whose "slight of hand" was his "ability to psychologically manipulate his audience into doing and thinking what he wanted: con man as performance artist." His trick is simple: asking a volunteer to guess which hand had a dime in it. He starts by asking the volunteer to hide the dime in one hand.

The magician then explains "that if you’re attuned to subtleties in people’s behavior, you can guess correctly beyond the level of mere chance." After repeatedly failing to guess correctly, he praises the volunteer as "hard to read." Then he takes a turn hiding the dime and asking the volunteer to guess the hand. After the volunteer guesses correctly multiple times, he praises the volunteer’s ability, suggests it’s because he or she played rock/paper/scissors as a child, and then asks a series of questions about the volunteer’s method.

This convinces the volunteer that he or she is gifted … until the big reveal that the magician actually had dimes in both hands. Had the volunteer failed to guess correctly, he or she might have demanded to see whether either hand held a dime. But because success is so intoxicating, critical thinking went out the window. "It’s what psychologists call ‘confirmation bias': believing or remembering information that supports your opinion more than information that does the opposite … being less skeptical about outcomes that we like."

Relentless!

roundtable-64-165Innovation is a process and failure its constant companion. A roundtable discussion featuring Sally Grimes of Tyson Foods, Ed Hoffman of NASA, Nadia Shouraboura of Hointer, Graham Milner of WD-40 and Frank Maher of The Integer Group.

Sally Grimes: We have a team at Tyson that unites the key growth enablers across the entire enterprise. From an organizational standpoint, this group touches every aspect of the enterprise. By having this central growth group, we reach out and connect with all the different functions in the organization. We are intentional about innovation by creating a structure for unstructured time. For example, we created monthly ‘Snow Days,’ when our teams come together to share insights and ideas. The name stands for Sharing New Opportunities to Win, but it also refers to those days when school was snowed out here in Chicago and kids had a fun day free to do new and different things.

Ed Hoffman: Freedom and resources always drive innovation. This is true whether it’s a project team, organization or a society. Freedom is really key. If people are afraid, they are not going to innovate. There is too much of a risk. So, you need to have an environment where people can share, talk to each other and argue, and where there is intellectual freedom in a safe environment. In terms of resources, it doesn’t have to be money. Where you have people looking to be creative and innovate, sometimes it may be office space they need. Sometimes it’s a tool or a technology. Sometimes it’s that they just need support to test an idea to see whether it produces enough growth. Read The Rest of the Roundtable.

Bundle of Ploy

cableThe unbundling of cable services might "lead to slightly higher prices for fewer channels," reports Neil Irwin in The New York Times (1/7/15). "It is possible for a market to become more economically efficient while becoming less pleasant for consumers," Neil writes, and cites the airline industry as an example. Time was, an airline ticket was a "bundle of goods … a seat with enough room to sit comfortably; a meal, a glass of wine or a cocktail; the right to check your bag; the right to trade in your ticket … if your plans changed."

Today, airlines have unbundled each of the above and attached prices — selling legroom, food, beverages, baggage check, ticket changes. Customers have more control and pay only for what they want, which is cheaper if they’re willing to endure the attendant discomfort or inconvenience. The result is "a grinding process in which a customer feels constantly assailed by upcharges and decisions that may not be stressful in isolation but make the experience unpleasant."

The unbundling of cable could similarly be better for "those who watch only a very small number of channels, none of them high-fee sports channels, with great regularity … But for many more people, the result will probably be little or no reduction in total fees, combined with the annoyance of making constant decisions about what channels you really want and which you don’t … You may not know how much you want" some of these channels "until after somebody makes you make the decision to pay."

Ecommerce Surprises

jackboxThe benefits of ecommerce aren’t always what we expect them to be, reports The Economist (1/10/15). The assumption is that ecommerce lowers prices and increases selection, which can be true. However, it all depends on what’s for sale. For example, Glenn Ellison and Sara Ellison of MIT "collected prices on 335 titles and found that on average, the typical title sold for $17.80 online, 50 percent more than in stores." (paper) The reason is that, online, buyers "are better matched to the books they want." It’s all about supply and demand.

This is acutely true for rare books, which might languish on a bookstore shelf since the odds of a relevant customer happening upon it are smaller than they would be if the book were available online. Joel Waldfogel of the University of Minnesota meanwhile finds that "demand for cultural products is much harder to predict than for conventional products such as shoes or soda." This is partly because publishers have little idea what will be a hit, and consequently limit selection, inevitably omitting some potential best-sellers.

Given today’s low barriers to entry for recording artists, for example, the consuming public gets "three times as many" choices, which "has produced 15 times as much benefit for consumers than tripling the selection of a more predictable product." Then there’s search behavior, which is assumed to be about finding the lowest possible price. A study of 500,000 eBay shoppers (paper) found that their searches actually were the digital equivalent of "window shopping" and something they "actually enjoy" doing.

Bikini House

bikini-berlinUrban malls are thriving as Berlin shoppers shift from "consumption of needs" to "consumption of experiences," reports Chase Gummer in The Wall Street Journal (1/7/15). Among the attractions is a luxury 550,000 square-foot mall known as the Bikini House, "because it originally featured a mezzanine floor that resembled a midriff." Built in the 1950s, it recently re-opened "after a massive renovation," having "fallen into decay by the late 1990s." It features "a sleek new look and views of a monkey pen from the zoo next door."

Then there’s the Mall of Berlin, at one-million square feet, which "stands on the site of the old Wertheim department store, whose Jewish owner was forced to sell under the Nazis in the 1930s, and is only a stone’s throw from the bunker where Hitler made his last stand during World War II." Also in the mix is Alexa, "a 600,000 square-foot monument to shopping that opened in 2007." It is noteworthy because it is built in "the city center," versus "the edge of town" where most new malls previously were constructed.

While critics have praised Bikini House for its "high-end concept … its commercial success remains unclear," likely because "its high-end brand mix lacks a major chain like Zara … to draw in everyday shoppers … Alexa, which features a pink exterior and a jagged, gold-plated crown above the entrance" is derided by some as "probably among the city’s ugliest buildings," (image) meanwhile "seems to have won over shoppers." It ranks among "the top-10 most frequented malls in Germany." Markus Penell, an Alexa architect, says "despite all of the sneering about the pink exterior, Alexa has transformed the area economically."