The fashion of team passion
He thought he’d follow trends and changes, critique the fashion. He figured it’d be interesting.
And he was right. It’s fascinating. He also writes about product and brand design, mostly for business magazines, pens a travel column for Money magazine and writes about food and music.
On his Web site, Inconspicuous Consumption, Lukas examines the details of product design that most of us ignore. The site currently features a consideration of Heinz EZ Squirt Blastin’ Green Ketchup. “One thing you might not realize, because it doesn’t appear to have gotten much attention,” he writes, “is that the new ketchup’s official color, as listed on the package, is not green it’s Blastin’ Green.” His musings were collected in a book, “Inconspicuous Consumption: An Obsessive Look at the Stuff We Take for Granted, From the Everyday to the Obscure,” in 1997.
Where did you get the idea for the column?
I’ve written a lot in the nonsports realm about brands and brand histories and product design. In fact, in a lot of ways, it’s the most passionate kind you can find. If you’re loyal to a particular brand of cereal or adhesive tape, you have a loyalty to the brand image and maybe the logo, but you also believe that the product has a certain level of quality. If the quality went downhill, you’d say, “OK, well, I had an affection for this brand but they’ve blown it.”
With teams, the quality changes all the time players retire, players change teams, they get traded, whatever so the quality of the brand, the content of the brand, is always changing, but we stay loyal to it anyway. We are totally loyal to that logo, that design, and that uniform, regardless of who’s wearing it. It appeals to the detail oriented nature that I have. I do a lot of detail oriented writing, and applying that to sports meant coming up with the concept for a uniform column. I could have done it for a design magazine and treated it as a design column that just happens to be about sports, but I felt really strongly that I wanted it to be taken seriously as a legitimate sports beat, legitimate sports journalism.
A lot of people were surprised that I could sustain it, that I could do a monthly column about uniform design. Frankly, I could do a weekly if they’d give me the space. And it happens that next football season the Redskins are using a new helmet that isn’t going to have the Indian on the helmet. So there’s a trend right there: Finally, after all the people saying you shouldn’t use Native American symbolism and blah, blah, blah, it’s interesting that these are both happening in the same year. There’s no shortage of developments to write about.
Who are you picturing in your head when you’re writing? Who’s your reader?
## ## Just another sports geek like myself. But, more to the point, I guess I’m writing for somebody who sees these things without really noticing them, which I guess is somebody not like myself. A lot of my work, not just in sports but in the other areas I write about, is about the inconspicuous details that people see without actually noticing they’re seeing. The idea is to make a light bulb go on over people’s heads, for them to say, “Oh, yeah. I sort of noticed that but I didn’t really think about it.”I bring up uniforms a lot, just talking to friends or whatever, and it’s one of those things that everybody has an opinion on. When the home team changes its uniforms, everybody either loves it or hates it.
Sure, that’s your brand. I’m a big Mets fan, and in the last few years, as the Mets have gone away from blue and gone more toward black, they’re not just messing with merchandising. I feel like I’ve had a fairly intimate relationship with the Mets’ brand and the Mets’ identity system, for most of my life. And when they change, when they tinker with the brand, it feels like they’re tinkering with part of me.
It speaks to that intense brand loyalty that sports affiliations comprise. The content is really irrelevant. I’ve been a Mets fan when they won the World Series, I’ve been a Mets fan when they’ve been a last place team, and my passion hasn’t wavered one little bit. I prefer it when they win the World Series, obviously, but they’re still my team no matter how crappy they are. No matter how low the quality of the brand goes, it’s still my brand, and when they mess with it, I don’t like it.
There’s also a cynical side to it. I’m going to grit my teeth and stick with it, but they can go trolling for the more casual fan with the “hipper” color scheme. So yeah, it’s a little cynical, but that’s just the reality of how brands are marketed these days.
I do sort of wonder, though, about teams that change more often. You look at a team like the Texas Rangers, who have changed a lot over the years their logo, their colors. The Brewers also. I don’t understand how you build up a heritage or a sense of history when you change so frequently.