Tag Archives: meaning making

Handmade marketing

It’s turning out to be a long march.  Some 50 years ago, marketers made mass meanings…for mass markets…with mass media.  Nowadays, people are crafting brand meanings very much more particularly, making micro meanings…for micro markets…with micro media.  

At the extreme, this would mean making entirely custom meanings for very individual individuals with ever finer instruments of meaning manufacturer.  But we are some way off. And we may never reach that station.  

Still we get glimpses time to time of a world of absolute particularity.  Rob Walker and colleagues at Significant Objects give us objects to which meanings have been added in acts of handmade marketing.  It’s pretty astounding.  And of course, we know that some consumers are customizing like crazy.  

And look at this.  It’s a passage from a review of The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance. By Edmund de Waal. (Chatto & Windus in the UK, and as The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in the US.  Not till August.)

But Mr de Waal, a noted British potter and ceramicist, is intently concerned with “how objects get handled, used and handed on”. For him the netsuke, so small and captivating, were not enough as a mere signpost to a family history. He wanted “to know what the relationship has been between this wooden object that I am rolling between my fingers—hard and tricky and Japanese—and where it has been… I want to walk into each room where this object has lived, to feel the volume of the space, to know what pictures were on the walls, how the light fell from the windows.”

And, wonder of wonders, this is exactly what he achieves. We learn not only how the light fell from the windows, but how it reflected from the carpets and brocades that vied for attention with the netsuke nestled on green velvet in their black lacquer vitrine, and how it grew greyer when wartime privations in Vienna limited the cleaning of the glass. We learn about Viktor’s nervous tic of wiping his hand across his face as if rearranging it, and the way Emmy would spend 40 minutes having her curls pinned one by one to the brim of her hat for a day at the races, and at what times marching bands paraded past their windows and what epaulettes they wore, and how Charles carried his cane and arranged his paintings, and the mix of awe and sensuality that he must have felt as he picked up a netsuke and turned it over in his hands. From a hard and vast archival mass of journals, memoirs, newspaper clippings and art-history books, Mr de Waal has fashioned, stroke by minuscule stroke, a book as fresh with detail as if it had been written from life, and as full of beauty and whimsy as a netsuke from the hands of a master carver. Buy two copies of his book; keep one and give the other to your closest bookish friend.

Fantastic.  This is a kind of retroactive meaning making.  It take it it’s mostly surmise.  But what surmise!  By constructing the life of the object, and it’s life in the lives of people and other objects, he gives us a feeling for the nuance with which objects take on and give off their meanings.  Not to mention inspiration for those who wished to make marketing by hand. 


Anonymous.  2010.  Review of the Hare With Amber Eyes.  The Economist.  May 22.  here.

Significant Objects here.