For years, I refused to purchase an iPod for a certain someone in my life (hint: she gave birth to me). I tried your $29.99 deals you find on sites like Computer Geeks. I tried one of the older generation iRiver players. In essence, anything but an iPod. Of course, she eventually went out and bought one on her own.
The other devices all worked well and good (for the most part). But the thing that really bugged me was that my mom called every one of them "iPods." I found it slightly annoying and amusing all at once. I wrote it off as part of the first-generation immigrant experience. My family came to the United States in 1975.
My family comes from a (third) world where brand names of innovations became the generic words that represented those products. For example, growing up I remember "corn flakes" being synonymous with breakfast cereal. "Frigidaire" is a refrigerator. "Kleenex" is the word for facial tissue. And the list goes on.
While companies invest to build and differentiate their brands in modernized societies, barraging you with logos, slogans, colors and typography, their impact on less industrialized cultures is far more drastic. This happens a few reasons:
- Mass marketing hasn’t really taken hold in certain societies. So when someone kicks off a brand campaign, it’s not a stick of dynamite, it’s an atomic bomb.
- The product or service never existed before. If the first refrigerator in your village has a big metallic "FRIGIDAIRE" plastered across it, and this thing keeps your food cold, then a refrigerator is a frigidaire (lower-case ‘f’).
- A product or service is so obviously useful and aesthetically appealing that people embrace it, brand and all. To do this, such a product must transcend cultural boundaries and connect in a very basic way with people. People have to get excited about it. If they don’t have it, they have to want it. They have to identify with it.
Fast forward to yesterday evening. I’m walking to pick up my car from the lot here in New York City, and I’m greeted with this:
So much for stereotyping my mom as a naive Third World immigrant.
If read literally, that sign still holds the parking lot responsible for my lost Archos 605 or Creative Zen player. Of course, by "iPod’s" (note the attention to the lower-case "i" and upper-case "P") they mean any digital media player.
If you reread that third bullet above, you begin to appreciate how powerful design can be. People speak of better ROI, competitive advantage and improved brand perception, but the design equivalent of a grand slam is far more profound. If something immediately evinces its utility and appeal and provides satisfaction and pleasure to those that come upon it, it will be rewarded with it’s own classification and place in our lexicon. Over time, it embeds itself in our culture and collective identity.
If there were ever an argument about the merits of design, this would be the trump card. When a grand slam is hit in marketing, it makes noise, creates buzz and eventually fizzles out. But when it happens in design, it transcends the commercial sphere and becomes part of life. Your competitors? They get reduced to oddities and anomalies. So the next time you’re pitching that "design phase" that everyone rolls their eyes at, talk about the grand slam.
Now if you’ll excuse me, a box of corn flakes (lower-case ‘c’, lower-case ‘f’) awaits…