What first started out as an unintentional nickname, Johnny Cupcakes grew into a successful, multi-million dollar company. The dedicated customers, carefully chosen advertising, and unique interior design concept of the stores greatly contribute to the branding process, resulting in an extremely successful business. “Johnny Earle founded the Johnny Cupcakes clothing line in 2001. The line includes t-shirts, shorts, sweaters, jewelry, undergarments, and pins. After starting the business as a ‘complete joke’ he began to see a passionate following and decided to keep his merchandise out of chain stores and sell it exclusively through his own shops. This was a smartest decision, which led to the success of his company.” (Earle, 1) The feeling of exclusiveness Johnny created, paired with the bold iconic symbols, launched his business through word of mouth. Throughout the years, he has opened four stores found in his hometown of Hull, Massachusetts, Boston, Los Angeles, and London. Each of these stores incorporates the unique design concept chosen to encompass his idea of a ‘t-shirt bakery’ (Earle, 1). The conceptual idea of a ‘t-shirt bakery’ (Earle, 1) relates directly to the interior design of the space and greatly contributes to the advertising as well. With the rise in popularity of the cupcake baking industry, many people are attracted to the name and image of the brand.
This marketing concept draws on the symbolic value of a cupcake and what it means to people. Everyone wants a cupcake and in turn, everyone wants a t-shirt from Johnny Cupcakes. “The integral theories are used to analyze this space to describe a group of models used to understand the complexity of the human-environment relationship.” (Kopec, 3) When walking by Johnny Cupcakes on Newbury St. Boston, Massachusetts it is hard to know exactly what is sold inside. Many patrons are familiar with the brand, but some find themselves confused that there aren’t cupcakes being made or even sold. This inquiry acts as an instigator and triggers patrons to come inside. Patrons may have a negative or positive reaction to the ‘cupcake’ iconic symbolism, either way they are talking about the company. The positive and negative exposures have contributed to the popularity of the brand today. “These reactions to the space are situations that cause satisfaction or produce unpleasantness, also known as the goal objects and noxients.
In negative cases, this psychology interacts with the personality of the concept, causing the brand to then be seen as the antagonist.” (Kopec, 3) When entering the space you are greeted with a general reception desk equipped with a cashier and at least one associate. In the floor plan shown to the left, you can see there is a fairly open floor plan with display cases around the perimeter. This is giving any visitor the most room to shop and look through the merchandize. In addition to the cashier/reception and the display cases, “the interior features antique refrigerators, baking racks, a 1930’s dough mixer, a cast-iron wood-burning oven from the 1890s, and even hidden vanillascented air fresheners.” These unique details that are added to the space produce the realistic idea of a bakery and show how Earle is devoted to creating a one-of-a-kind brand global environment to share with his fans. Small touches, like the hidden vanilla-scented air fresheners, produce odor pollution in each of the stores but result in a positive feeling for the customers as they are browsing. The visual and sensual elements created in the space contribute to the comfortable bakery atmosphere.
As you browse around the store you start to develop a sense of how and why the merchandize is displayed. “These supports and constraints are the environmental aspects that facilitate or restrict behaviors.” (Kopec, 3) The merchandize items are usually displayed on baking trays and inside glass pastry cases. This display process interprets the well thought out theme Earle wanted to produce but it also shows the exclusiveness and quality of the brand resulting in a facilitating behavior in hopes to sell the product. In a department store, a t-shirt is hung on a cheap plastic hanger in multiples. When the t-shirts are displayed in the cases at Johnny Cupcakes, they are carefully folded individually, displaying the infamous iconic logo creating a sense of value and prize. The lighting in each of the display cases is customized to display the product in the best way possible. Although the display cases provide optimum conditions for their products, I feel that this is an example of an archetype. “This collection of displays produces a certain themed aesthetic and a clear message is derived, becoming it’s own category.” (Kopec, 3)
This also sets limits to someone in the store who is trying to shop, possibly restricting the behavior. When you walk through a department store, it is less stressful knowing you can walk aimlessly through the store looking through racks of clothing without the pressures of being put on the spot. The obvious and limiting display case causes someone to feel less comfortable when shopping. While you are trying to search through the t-shirts opening the large glass doors is very unfamiliar for people who are trying to buy clothes. They may find this action uncomfortable and cause them to disregard the process all together. The store size is fairly small but visitors are guided through the space with a sign showing all of the sizing information for the products they sell. “This acts as a director, a feature that tells the customer information regarding the space or even the products in the space.” (Kopec, 3) Shown in the picture to the left, this sign is clearly marked and large enough for everyone to read no matter where they are in the store. It acts as a constant reference used by all patrons. Along with the unique sign details, the packaging used to bring home their product is also bakery themed.
The to-go container, often found at your local bakery, is a perfect way to finalize the experience you’ve shared with this funloving company. The unique idea will continue to attract attention resulting in peaked interests of all. “The theories of environmental perception are used to explain the relationship from various perspectives to better comprehend how individuals perceive their environments.” (Kopec, 3) Using Berlyne’s Collative Properties, Johnny Cupcakes can be analyzed to see how guests respond to aesthetics based on their collative stimulus properties—novelty, complexity, incontinuity, and surprise. Johnny Cupcakes actively produces new designs and after they are produced for a few months they are never made again.
They often produce limited edition shirts to support local or even their favorite sports teams. For example, in the picture on the next page, Johnny Cupcakes created this t-shirt when the Boston Bruins won the Stanley cup this past spring. This limited edition offer causes each individual design to adapt a limited edition quality, resulting in exclusive shirts that begin to act as keepsakes. This constant innovative and new market of producing has really set Johnny Cupcakes apart from companies who mass-produce their products. Every time you are in the store you will see a new design that was produced always. This causes the patron to return in hopes of a new design, resulting in a novelty stimulus. “This action is perceived in a positive way and continues to keep people interested waiting to see the next design.” (Kopec, 3)
The iconic symbols represented on the t-shirts explore all different social media themes and groups. The cupcake and cross-bone logo is their trademark but many of their t-shirts show popular iconic symbols replaced with a cupcake. “This incongruity shows a design feature that is out of place or out of context.” (Kopec, 3) The confusion can be perceived in a negative way for those who do not understand the innocent humor of the owner and fans. Although, this could result in controversy in the end, it is seen as an image people choose to support with harmless fun images. In a positive light, Johnny Cupcakes supports many popular social media themes like the ‘Make Love Not War’ antiwar slogan and Walt Disney World. When you are in the store many of the replaced iconic t-shirts are on display and many people love to come into this store just to see what design they will come up with. The space becomes a type of museum used to display the humorous ideas created. Using familiar social media, customers can relate to the type of graphic material shown on each shirt. This in turn introduces Gibson’s affordance, taking an ecological approach to perception.
“When in an environment an individual organizes features into recognizable patterns based on the arrangements of cues that provide immediate perceptual information. After establishing the patterns we are familiar with, an individual begins to respond to an ecologically structured environment by examining environments or t-shirts that are useful or meaningful to us.” (Kopec, 3) This is the process of selection in the store. As the customer browses through the store, they are directed by these characteristics for the exact shirt that they will purchase. The store is designed intentionally with an open floor plan to provide the best perimeters for the optimum shopping experience. Traveling around the space you will find many different cases of t-shirts shown in the picture on page three. “This provides complexity, referring to the variety of display cases in the environment.” (Kopec, 3)
You begin to wonder if there is a difference in the display cases, perhaps sorting the t-shirts by gender, price, or even size. As you continue from case to case, attempting to choose your favorite ‘baked good’, there are many surprise elements used to reveal the unexpected. For example, after entering the space you are greeted with a 1930’s dough mixer and a cast-iron wood-burning oven from the 1890s. These small details are added to contribute a surprise element and relating to the theme of the bakery. Johnny Cupcakes has developed this fun-loving idea and transformed it into a wellestablished business with very devoted followers and fans. The passionate owner, Johnny Earle, has been very successful in interpreting his ideas into his limited edition tee shirts and will continue to succeed over the years.
1. Buchanan, Leigh E. “How to Start a T-shirt Company, Starting a Business Article – Inc. Article | Inc.com.” Small Business Ideas and Resources for Entrepreneurs. Mansueto Ventures LLC, 1 July 2009. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. . 2. Earle, Johnny. “Why Are People so into This Cupcake Thing?” Johnny Cupcakes. Johnny Cupcakes. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. . 3. Kopec, David Alan. Environmental Psychology for Design. New York: Fairchild, 2006. Print.