Fast Company

Shopdropping at Wal-Mart: A Retail Experiment

Ever since Marcel Duchamp appropriated mass market objects and pronounced them "readymades" and Andy Warhol elevated the Campbell’s soup can and Brillo Box to art, artists and designers have been blurring the lines between fine art and commerce. In recent years, a new form has advanced art’s adaptation into the world of commoditized goods. Known as “shopdropping," this technique is the opposite of shoplifting, in which a variety of redesigned products, packages, and objects are clandestinely left in mainstream retail outlets alongside their original counterparts.

I decided to try my hand at this clandestine endeavor and created three “products” in the classic structure of the Quaker Oats cylinder. Titled Hope, Love, and True, and labeled “FREE,” I placed them within a Quaker Oats endcap in a Wal-Mart Supercenter and witnessed the long journey the packs took from shelf to “purchase.” Even in today’s economy, this effort makes the concept of shopping until you drop a bit more palatable.

shopdrop1

Can you tell the difference? One product is good for your heart, the other is made from your heart.

shopdrop2

Unbeatable prices: Quaker Oats cost $3.12, but Hope and Love are free.

shopdrop3

Hope and True move down the conveyor belt in the checkout line.

shopdrop4

Wal-Mart employee Darlene graciously poses with Hope.

shopdrop5

Going home from Wal-Mart with Hope. [And yes, that really is Debbie's car, with the license plate DSGNMTRS. -Ed.]

Read Debbie Millman's blog Look Both Ways
Browse blogs by more Expert Designers

Debbie Millman has worked in the design business for over 25 years. She is president of the design division at Sterling Brands, where over the past 15 years she has worked on the redesign of global brands for Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Campbell’s, Colgate, Hershey and Hasbro. Prior to Sterling, she was a senior vice president at Interbrand and a marketing director at Frankfurt Balkind. Debbie is president of the AIGA, the professional association for design. She is a contributing editor at Print Magazine and the Chair of the Masters in Branding at the School of Visual Arts. In 2005, she began hosting the first weekly radio talk show about design on the Internet, Design Matters with Debbie Millman, which is now featured on Design Observer. She is the author of two books, How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer (Allworth Press, 2007), and The Essential Principles of Graphic Design (Rotovision, 2008). Her third book, Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design, was published by How Books in 2009.

Add New Comment

13 Comments

  • Jeff Didomenico

    This is a terrific trend in mass marketing one buyer at a time. As Apple as established the " I " and My Space the "My" I hope this continues.
    My 8 year old had a brilliant idea for the juice box, where do I send him to share this ? No NDA's, profit sharing etc, just feedging his spirit !

  • Mike Lauber

    Loved the whimsy, Debbie. Clerk Darlene seems less whimsicentric though. Thanks for the creative sharing.

  • Mike Lauber

    Loved the whimsy, Debbie. Clerk Darlene seems less whimsicentric though. Thanks for the creative sharing.

  • Clyde Smith

    This is a fun project, despite some of the oddball comments, some of which accidentally got reposted multiple times and need to be edited.

    That said, such activities go back at least to the 80s when I met artist/activists that were doing much harder edged interventions with products that they replaced in stores.

    One guy whose presentation I saw would also do things like go into department stores in a nice suit and start ordering retail clerks to move things around. He claimed to have rearranged things pretty dramatically more than once and the key was dressing well, not introducing yourself and immediately giving orders in that bossy, I'm better than you tone so familiar to so many.

    I bet product replacement was going on before that but it's certainly not something that just emerged in the last few years though it may be new to lots of folks.

  • I'm the Cold Wiz

    Ha! That was the most entertaining thing I have read all day (and I read it all three times because you didn't know when to stop hitting your 'return' key!). Well, ye are protesting very highly...so either you're a shill for the website or the blogger...or you simply feel that others' opinions don't matter (that's a great way to go through life!). You've clearly missed the point...and your disdain for someone else's freedom to have an opinion is laughable. Your words were bigger than mine, so you win! Congratulations!----I'm the Cold Wiz

  • Mike Lauber

    Loved the whimsy, Debbie. Clerk Darlene seems less whimsicentric though. Thanks for the creative sharing.

  • Edwin Rivera

    Cold Wiz, you seem to have taken a hot whizz in your Depends because you have succumbed absolutely to dementia. Or perhaps you stumbled out of the corner bar, embittered because your work was not respected once again, and as there is "many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip" you chose to caterwaul without thinking? Or are you a bigarexic so howling with rage and fury that the only bull's-eye in sight was, well, a blog entry on this site? The amount of large caps in your post makes it hard to settle upon just one of those, because they all home in on your hyperbolic lunacy. Nice to know that you don't have the courage of your convictions-- not enough to use your real name anyway (your sign-off grants you the ridiculous aura of a wanna-be superhero). You're just another cyber-mutineer who hides behind lily-livered words. So yawp away, you little chickadee. This was supposed to have been a lighthearted entry, judging by what I've read. But as you have a heavy heart spiked with venomous anger, I hope that you can find more time in the future to vent and sublimate, on another site that is--; that way, that poor old heavy heart of yours won't burst.

  • Edwin Rivera

    Cold Wiz, you seem to have taken a hot whizz in your Depends because you have succumbed absolutely to dementia. Or perhaps you stumbled out of the corner bar, embittered because your work was not respected once again, and as there is "many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip" you chose to caterwaul without thinking? Or are you a bigarexic so howling with rage and fury that the only bull's-eye in sight was, well, a blog entry on this site? The amount of large caps in your post makes it hard to settle upon just one of those, because they all home in on your hyperbolic lunacy. Nice to know that you don't have the courage of your convictions-- not enough to use your real name anyway (your sign-off grants you the ridiculous aura of a wanna-be superhero). You're just another cyber-mutineer who hides behind lily-livered words. So yawp away, you little chickadee. This was supposed to have been a lighthearted entry, judging by what I've read. But as you have a heavy heart spiked with venomous anger, I hope that you can find more time in the future to vent and sublimate, on another site that is--; that way, that poor old heavy heart of yours won't burst.

  • K. Spark

    I loved this. Charming and optimistic. And the look on Darlene's face is priceless. Fun new blog.

  • Steve Portigal

    I love seeing this as a bit of artistic expression rather than an express critique of consumerism. There's no trickery here (like a Wacky Package-esque word change), no aggression, just a bit of wonder amongst the prosaic. Wow!

  • Maguila Santos

    I am new to FastCompany's site so please forgive me if I sound too repetitive. If I am not mistaken, one of the Duchamp's point was to 'deconstruct' hierarchies (high art vs. low art, and other binaries along the way). Are you suggesting that anything on shelf is a marketable product? or because it's free will have a certain appeal? Although I found 'shopdropping' to be an interesting exercise (I had to follow the link to Ryan Watkins-Hughes), I really don't see the point doing it when you are the one who take the product back with you. It had been interesting if the documentation had happened in "surveillance" mode, registering another consumer grabbing it off the shelf. Darlene didn't look friendly... nice license plate, though!

  • I'm the Cold Wiz

    Yes! I totally believe that THIS design was picked up and taken out of the store by a passerby who just HAPPENED to have that license plate! Excellent! I wish that more products looked like they were tampered with by a mental patient and that people would walk off with them because of their incredible appeal! Now THAT'S the future of design! Was this supposed to be an April 1st blog entry? Warhol just turned over in his grave and flipped his white wig. -----I'm the Cold Wiz