Brand Josh

Brand Josh


By Douglas Brown, Denver Post Staff Writer
12/13/2005 01:00:00 AM


As an online arbiter of cool, this young Boulder blogger is coveted by companies, consumers and anyone chasing The Next Big Thing

Josh Spear of Boulder draws 5,000 people a day to his blog, joshspear.com. One clothing designer quit his day job after Spear s praise revved up business. (Post / Cyrus McCrimmon)

The mandarin of cool entered the sleek Boulder bistro and rejected
the hostess’ offerings, nodding toward a small corner table owned by a
couple lingering over coffee.

He roosted at the bar, chatting,
hugging a waitress whose father, he whispered later, started several
famous magazines in New York City.

The couple would not budge. The mandarin wanted that table. He waited.

Only a reporter’s hunger persuaded him to relent and eat at the bar.

"Order the penne," he urged. "I always get it."

Picky, picky, Josh Spear.

 

He’s
the prince of particular, the satrap of selection, the chief of
choosing, this 21-year-old occasional University of Colorado
undergraduate with a unique passion for the things that please him.
When Spear likes something, he posts it on his popular blog, joshspear.com.

What happens next? The thing gets noticed.

About
5,000 people a day come to the blog for his daily take on cool, and
they’ll sometimes buy the fishbowl or vintage graffiti tie, or get
involved in that effort to save a soon-to-be-destroyed modern house.

The recipients of Spear buzz dig the attention, and the sales.

"Things
have been snowballing, and Josh has helped getting the word out," says
Denver artist Jason Thielke, who was able to leave his day job as a
clothing designer after Spear posted images of, and enthusiasms about,
Thielke’s drawings. Now, Thielke’s booked through 2006, with art
openings around the country and design work for individual clients.

Others
preen for Spear’s affections, sending him e-mail after e-mail at all
hours, all day: "Check out our new digital chopsticks, Josh!"; "Josh,
you’ve GOT to post these Norwegian T-shirts we found!"; "Hey, Josh.
What do you think of our new designer sneaker store in Seattle?"

In
the teeming jungle of the blogosphere, most participants range
somewhere

(CLICK TO ENLARGE)

between drops of dew and army ants – little noticed, soon to disappear.
Spear lounges high on a branch, waving his spotted tail: a leopard.

"I
did one of the hardest branding initiatives in the world – branding
yourself," he says after lunch, during an interview in the plain,
two-bedroom condo he shares with a roommate in downtown Boulder, where
the living room serves as his office. "And I’m still doing it."

"Cool-hunting"
and "trend-spotting" have been categories of corporate work for
decades. The suits want to know what those young people are doing and
thinking; they hire trend-spotting "experts"; the experts talk to the
kids on the street and draft lengthy reports; and the companies, armed
with the reports, try to appeal to their youthful market.

That
model is unraveling. So companies increasingly are turning to bloggers
like Spear for what they hope are glimpses inside the collective brain
of their most maddening demographic: Young Unimpressed Hip America.

"At
this point, the data shows that when people are asked, ‘Who do you
trust?’ what they say is, ‘People like me,"’ says Jennifer McClure, a
longtime public relations executive who now is executive director of
the Society for New Communications Research, a think tank focused on
new media and communications. "That means they are trusting people like
Josh much more than any formal advertising or marketing message getting
pushed to them. That’s the phenomenon he is enjoying right now."

Yes, Spear certainly is enjoying life.

His
blog attracted advertisers, enough to make the site profitable. Spear
says the site alone cannot support his lifestyle, although if he chose
to live like a church mouse, he could get by. He wouldn’t say how much
money the site hauls in.

The blog, however, did spawn Spear,
the business. Just before the lunch in Boulder, Spear stood outside and
talked with somebody inviting him to attend a big media conference in
Copenhagen, Denmark, where Spear once visited 15 shoe stores in search
of something especially cool, footwear-wise, to post on his blog. Spear
wasn’t sure about the conference; his schedule was tight.

A
German man contacted him this year, said he loved the blog, and wanted
Josh to become his partner in a new, elite shopping/blog business
called Charles & Marie (charlesandmarie.com). Spear accepted.

A
Dutch vodka company wanted to launch a new product – Bong Spirit Vodka,
with the liquor coming in a bottle that doubles as a bong – and they
hired Spear to serve as a creative force. He planned the launch party
in Miami, found the DJs and the T-shirt designers.

Later this
month, one of the largest advertising agencies in the world, Leo
Burnett Worldwide, is flying Spear to its Chicago headquarters to
address brand managers.

"They just want me to inspire and fuel
their office with what I do, and my thoughts on what they do and how
they could do it better," he says.

"He’s up there in the top echelon," says Piers Fawkes, one of the principal bloggers behind psfk.com,
which is similar to Spear’s site. "Everyone is surprised he’s 21 years
old. He’s got a lot of attitude and enthusiasm, and a lot of fire in
his belly. He’s definitely carving himself a niche, and he’s very
aggressive about it."

"He has great taste," says Josh Rubin, the man behind coolhunting.com.
Before launching his own site, Spear used to write for Rubin, who posts
his catalog of cool from New York. "He finds really good stuff. That
for me was the reason that I wanted him working with me at that time."

How
does a harvester of cool find stuff? A lot of it comes to Spear through
e-mails from others, pointing him toward this or that website. He does
his own traipsing through cyberspace too, looking for things.

Cool should reveal itself almost organically, he says. It should just happen. Anybody who spends too much time and
energy hunting is missing the point – they’re obsessed with the quest
itself, and not with the cool.

One cool-hunter bragged on his site that he had spent eight hours looking for the perfect somethingorother.

"It’s
like, dude, that’s not what this is!" exclaims Spear, sitting before
his 23-inch cinema-display screen, which is connected to a Macintosh
Powerbook laptop.

"I’ve been thinking maybe I should get away from the whole word ‘cool,"’ he says. "Cool is cool until it’s cool."

That’s cool.

Spear’s
bio: raised by entrepreneurial bohemian parents near New York City;
becomes a ranked, top rock-climber in high school, and attends three
high schools in three years, including a school in Colorado Springs;
toils to become a professional rock-climber, and travels the world
climbing, but sours on the lifestyle; starts a company that uses music
for commercial branding; moves to New York, lives on a couch in
Greenwich Village and works in digital media; decides to move to
Boulder, go to college and start some sort of company.

He’s
about 5 feet 7 inches tall, with dark messy-mussy hair. He has about 20
pairs of sneakers, "not nearly as many as I should," he says. He
started the blog last year from the back row of an introduction to
journalism class at the University of Colorado.

"I sold
advertisements (for his blog) from there," he says. While in the
classroom, "I was wondering, ‘How can I take this teaching assistant
seriously?"’

The teaching assistant, he says, focused much of
the class on the mechanics of newspaper offices: how you must learn a
set of skills in college, win internships to newspapers, start out
after college at a small paper, cover a range of beats like crime and
local government, and eventually, if you’re lucky and talented, write
about something that captivates you, like cars or professional
football.

Instead of husbanding such distant wishes, Spear says
aspiring journalists should just "go do it" – start a blog and commence
writing.

At the invitation of another teaching assistant, he recently addressed his current journalism class.

"I
wanted to try and sort of stir some kind of life into the class," he
says. "The last thing I said is, ‘If I can leave you with one piece of
advice, don’t wait to graduate to get involved with media. There’s no
reason."’

Spear says two rules guide his blog: He has to like
the things he posts, and in most cases he has to touch the things he’s
championing.

So mail for Spear isn’t stacks of catalogs and
bills. It’s watches and T-shirts, shoes and gadgets and dinnerware. He
keeps a lot of it. He gives away stuff, too. He is happy to return
items delivered to him, but the companies rarely want it sent back,
whether he plugs it or not, he says.

So far, he says, he never has trumpeted an item because of advertiser pressure.

As
the business grows, he envisions something other than his own highly
particular self working alone in a dull condo, his roommate in the
kitchen making a grilled cheese sandwich and filling his "office" with
the smell of burnt cheddar.

Not very cool.

Instead,
he sees his future as "a room with a lot of beanbag chairs, a bunch of
flat-screen TVs, some plants and a room full of people figuring out
tough problems."

Right now, he says, "I’m running out of my own time."

Staff writer Douglas Brown can be reached at 303-820-1395 or djbrown@denverpost.com.


The gospel of cool

Cool,
to Josh Spear, is self-evident and should require little effort.
Readers obsessed with the hunt miss the point, he says: "I’ve been
thinking maybe I should get away from the whole word ‘cool."’
Nonetheless, here are some items that fit Spear’s definition.

 

 

 

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