Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

If ever there was a time of year made for free love, it’s the holiday season. Apparently the same thought recently occurred to Manila cafe chain Delifrance, because this year it has launched a citywide Secret Santa campaign through which Filipinos can send each other special holiday treats–for free. Two delectable Delifrance treats have been available for the giving this season: Almond Star Cookies, which were available from Nov. 10 through 23, and now Chocolate Chip Almond Biscotti, which will run through Dec. 7. To send treats, Filipinos need only enter friends’ names and email addresses. Each friend is then sent an email with a special coupon that’s redeemable at participating Delifrance cafes throughout metro Manila. There is no limit on the number of friends each user can treat in this way. Free love is always a fairly sure way to win consumer goodwill, but when you give it away without limits during the holidays–and in tough economic times? Hard to imagine that could be outdone by anyone other than Kris Kringle himself! How could your brand create some free holiday cheer…? Contact: Delifrance at 642-0021 Spotted by: Bong via Matthew Cua Customization isn’t just for grown-ups: Build-A-Bear Workshops and Ridemakerz show that that kids are keen on this trend, too. Capitalizing on this, Muppets and FAO Schwartz have teamed up to build the Muppet Whatnot Workshop. For those not familiar with Muppet vocabulary, a Whatnot is a generic extra used in Muppet productions. And the workshop gives customers the chance to design their very own classic hand-rod puppet to their own specification, taking their pick of body style and colour, eyes, nose, hair and outfit. As of late October 2008, customers can drop in at FAO Schwartz’s New York store and design their Muppet of choice using a design kit. Staff assistance is on offer, along with video tutorials delivered by famous muppet characters, displayed on screens around the workshop. Customers watch their Whatnot being constructed, which takes about 20 minutes, before taking it home along with the design kit as a souvenir. Designing and ordering can also be done through FAO’s website. Pricing is USD 110 from the FAO store or USD 90 if designed and ordered online. For USD 130 there’s also the option of the Whatnot gift service, a mail order system that ships a design kit to the recipient and covers manufacturing costs. Gift customers currently have to collect their design from the New York store, although from February 2009 they can submit orders online. The Muppet Whatnot Workshop is a great example of one way that manufacturers can revive interest in age-old products and brands. The engaging user experience that comes from involvement in design still has huge potential for a range of businesses and industries. Spotted by: Miriam Brafman As college students now have their own PA and concierge service, along with expectant parents and the rest of us, it’s no surprise to see another niche being targeted: mothers. Launched by UK based Consider It Done, Mummy PA offers an extra pair of hands for desperate moms, as well as the occasional dad. Offering help with tasks such as buying Christmas presents, ordering flowers or organizing travel plans, Mummy PA works remotely to stay out of clients’ hair and give them as much free time as possible. Working mothers are on the team, equipping staff with insight into clients’ needs and challenges. Two pricing plans are on offer: the ‘Lifeline Subscription’, providing eight hours of service per month for GBP 295 and extra hours available for GBP 35 each. The second is the ‘Now and Again’ package, offering eight hours of service for GBP 325, which can be used as and when the customer needs it. Both plans incur a one off joining fee of GBP 125. With more and more parents unwilling or unable to give up their careers to look after their children, Mummy PA has tapped into an exciting niche. It’s currently only available in the UK, so where will the concept spring up next? And which family-focussed brands might turn it into a brand butlers initiative? Spotted by: Tamara Shand Lucky Voice on Soho’s Poland Street in London is already well-known for its private karaoke party rooms, which have proved so popular that the venue has expanded to include three additional locations. Now the chain has expanded even further–right into consumers’ living rooms–with a branded karaoke party-planning website and equipment. Lucky Voice Home, which just launched into beta earlier this month, offers more than 6,300 songs that can be streamed into consumers’ living rooms for club-quality karaoke fun. Users can create their own, personal playlists by searching Lucky Voice’s catalogue or by browsing the lists of their friends. They can also organize private karaoke parties using the site, with features for jointly planning the playlist, sending out invitations and even sharing photos afterwards. For those in need of karaoke equipment, Lucky Voice also offers a Party Box including mic mixer with echo effect and space for two mics, a fluorescent pink microphone and the cables needed to connect it all up via a computer headphone jack and amplified speakers. For a limited time, access to the Lucky Voice Home catalogue is free, but ultimately there will be a monthly charge for access to the complete list; more than 1,000 songs, however, will always be free, the company says. The Party Box, priced at GBP 35, includes a month’s subscription to the full Lucky Voice catalogue. If there’s anything better than an evening of karaoke in a private bar, it just may be an evening of karaoke with comparable quality–and even the same brand–in one’s own home. What insperiences can your brand deliver….? Spotted by: Marko Balabanovic For many urban dwellers, deciding what to have for dinner means deciding which restaurant to visit–a task that’s not easy when you live in a place like New York City, with countless eateries to choose from. Eatbite/NYC is a new site that lets users browse through photos of individual dishes at local restaurants to let their craving of the moment dictate where they eat. Eatbite currently features a collection of more than 200 photos of mouth-watering dishes that are served up at restaurants throughout New York City. Users can browse those photos sequentially for inspiration, or they can search by location, price range, landmark (near Columbia University, for example) or food type (Chinese, sushi or pizza, etc.). When they click on a photo of a dish that attracts their attention, the site tells them where to get it along with the price range to expect. Photos are tagged by key descriptors, and users can add comments to photos of any dish. They can also upload photos of their own and link them with restaurants from Eatbite’s list. In offering an alternative way to search information that is already widely available, ad-supported Eatbite is in many ways much like Dishola, which we covered earlier this year, but with less of a focus on reviews and more of a focus on photo-based inspiration. It also shares something in common with SeeYourHotel, which offers a slightly different twist on hotel search by focusing narrowly on location. Either way, Eatbite gives people a new way to search and restaurants another way to be discovered. Similar opportunities? On a general level, invite the crowds to contribute content of some kind, focus on a specific search criterion, and keep your costs low by using services like Amazon’s S3 for flexible hosting and Google’s AdSense for easy ad income. Now that’s a recipe worth sharing! πŸ˜‰ Spotted by: Mina Zakhary Unreliable electricity and spotty internet access are a fact of life in many parts of the developing world–and part of the reason the digital divide still persists today. A new, solar-powered innovation from Florida-based GNUveau Networks, however, is bringing computers and the internet to places that have no connectivity, no phone service and no electricity. Functioning as a sort of “ISP in a box,” SolarNetOne is a terminal network system that uses photovoltaic solar electrical systems and a variety of open source technologies to make internet access a reality in the remotest areas. Included in the system are a small-footprint server and five terminals (expandable to as many as 48) that come loaded with web browsing, email, office, multimedia, software development and web development capabilities, with more than 15,000 other applications–including VoIP–to choose from as well. SolarNetOne’s terminals operate as thin clients–meaning that the majority of the workload is handled by the server–and the system’s Ethernet hub provides both network connection and electrical power to the terminals and their LCD monitors over a single wire. A power subsystem including an array of photovoltaic solar panels, an advanced charge controller and ample battery storage, meanwhile, provides for all of the electrical needs associated with 24/7 server operation and 8 hours per day of terminal access. Wifi coverage spans a 2-mile radius, with no fuel costs, no polluting emissions and a long lifespan of up to 20 years with proper maintenance. The entire system, in fact, operates on about the same amount of power as a 100-watt light bulb, GNUveau says. The technology has already been installed at Katsina State University in Nigeria, and a video explanation is available here. Helping to bridge the digital divide is undeniably a worthy effort, particularly when it’s done in an ecologically responsible way. The SolarNetOne project is open to collaborators; one to sponsor, assist with, or otherwise get involved in? (Related: Open source software for low bandwidth consumersSolar-powered cellphone kiosks for Ugandan women.) Spotted by: Kevin Rombe It’s a well-known fact that dogs can be conversation starters that help break the ice with people their owners meet. Taking the notion a step further, a new collar tag from Boston-based SNIF Labs lets pet owners forge new connections with fellow dog-walkers, both online and off. Available in a range of colours and patterns, the SNIF Tag is a small RFID device that attaches to a dog’s collar and records his or her daily movements and social encounters. On the social side, each SNIF Tag emits a unique signal that is sensed by the SNIF Tags worn by other dogs. When Fido meets such tag-bearing playmates during a jaunt to the park, his collar stores that information and later uploads it automatically into the accompanying base station, which stays plugged into the owner’s PC at home. The dog’s owner can then log in to view the profiles of the owners of those other dogs and decide if they want to connect online as well. In addition to monitoring social interactions, the SNIF Tag also uses an accelerometer and motion-analysis software to record a pet’s activity. Owners can monitor the dog’s movements in real time while he’s home but they’re at work, for example; alternatively, when Fido is out with the walker, information on his activities will be automatically uploaded when he returns. Activity levels can be reviewed by the hour, day or month, and owners can compare them with those of the other SNIF Tag-wearing dogs in the neighbourhood. The SNIF Tag Starter Kit is priced at USD 299, which includes one year of web services; thereafter, premium features on the SNIF Tag website are USD 89 per year. Where is the line that separates the online and offline worlds? Answer: It’s disappearing. More on that in trendwatching.com’s OFF=ON briefing. Go fetch–and be inspired! πŸ˜‰ (Related: Connecting online & off with RFID for the massesDating cards fuse physical & virtual connectionsT-shirts that talk code.) Spotted by: Computerworld.com via Roberta Steinberg Consumers have already shown that they’re interested in designing their own dresses, T-shirts and duvets–to name just a few–so it’s not surprising to see the trend spread from finished goods to the raw materials that underlie them. Last month we featured Finnish Bon Bon Kakku and its contest-based crowdsourcing approach to fabric design, and recently one of our spotters alerted us to another design-your-own fabric opportunity in the United States. North Carolina-based Spoonflower lets users design and print their own fabrics for just USD 18 per yard with no minimum order; custom swatches cost USD 5. After a closed beta launch in May, the Spoonflower community now boasts more than 10,000 crafters around the world who upload their own designs and use fabric to make quilts, clothes, pillows, dolls, blankets, handbags, framed textile art and more. When Spoonflower comes out of beta, it plans to allow fabric designers to sell their fabrics on the site, it says. In the meantime, users are selling their creations on Etsy, as well as participating in Spoonflower’s Fabric-of-the-Week contest, the winners of which are chosen through community voting. Winning fabrics are offered for sale for exactly one week through Spoonflower’s own Etsy shop, and their designers are rewarded with five yards of free fabric. It’s not yet clear how Spoonflower’s marketplace feature will work, but allowing users to earn cash for their creations is critical, as we noted in our story about Bon Bon Kakku. If there’s anything Generation C(ontent) consumers love more than the ability to design it themselves, it’s the ability to be compensated for their output. Long live Generation C(ash)! πŸ˜‰ Spotted by: Emma Crameri Earlier this year we wrote about idiomag, the personalized digital magazine about music, and soon travellers at London’s Heathrow Airport will be able to create something similar–but in hardcover format–for use in-flight. Starting early next month, global banking giant HSBC is offering passengers at Heathrow’s Terminal 1 a chance to select magazine articles on topics they’re interested in and have them bound into a hardback form they can take on their flight, according to Marketing Week. Through a kiosk located beyond security at Terminal 1, travellers will be greeted with an HSBC-branded hardback magazine cover. They’ll then browse the diverse selection of loose-leaf articles arranged on backlit shelving, UTalkMarketing.com reported. Available articles will be sourced from coverage around the globe focusing on four general topic areas: home and abroad, commerce and politics, health and sport, and media and culture. Consumers will also be able to choose from among five writers, including celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, tennis legend BjΓΆrn Borg and Harrod’s trend forecaster on the future of shopping. Once they’ve made their selections, travelers will simply take their articles to HSBC’s binding bar to be neatly bound inside the hard cover. The two-week pilot effort, which is part of a campaign to promote the HSBC Premier Card, was developed by Cunning with JC Decaux Airport, Kinetic’s Aviator division and MindShare. By providing a bespoke, branded experience to Heathrow travellers from around the globe, the custom magazine project will underscore the upscale targeting of HSBC’s Premier Card, as well as highlighting the company’s global presence. If extended beyond the pilot phase, such an initiative could also be offered as a perk to Premier customers. Either way, it’s just one more piece of evidence that the world is becoming thoroughly personalized–let consumers have it their way, or they’ll have it somewhere else! πŸ˜‰ (Related: Personalized travel books blend search and curation.) Update: Photos of the Heathrow kiosk can be viewed here. Spotted by: Marketing Week via Peter Stevens We’ve written about billboards that whisper and billboards that even talk back, but not until recently had we heard of billboards that give out free love. Sure enough, though, the outdoor outfitters at Austrian Northland Professional recently kicked off a campaign through which billboards give away free merchandise. Beginning early this month, Northland has been affixing samples of its caps, gloves and scarves on roughly 50 billboards throughout the city of Graz. About 20 items are attached to each eye-catching billboard–for a total of about 1,000 in all–and the effort is repeated every other day. A video on the company’s site shows consumers going to considerable lengths to get the items down. The EUR 35,000 campaign will run through the end of November, Northland says. Besides free love, of course, Northland’s concept also gives the lucky passers-by who snag a free accessory the chance to try it out and tell everyone they know how it came to be theirs. Free love is always a winner all around, but when you add some tryvertising and status stories to the mix? That’s a combination few consumers will be able to resist. πŸ˜‰ Spotted by: Florian Mayrhofer