Yesterday I finished reading Different: Escaping the Competitive Heard by Youngme Moon. http://www.amazon.com/Different-Escaping-Competitive-Youngme-Moon/dp/0307460851 The book was an intriguing read that made me consider views I never even thought of before. Rather than feeling like the book was lecturing me, it felt like I was learning from an open-minded person who understood that what we consume can be irrational and unpredictable. She acknowledged her own shortcomings and instead framed the book as a theory to be discussed with other people, rather than a definitive answer for marketing.
A section of the book that caught my attention was when she wrote about the ability of companies to take products that are ingrained in our minds as a specific product , and replace those categorizations with another “mental archetype”. In other words, companies are able to change our frame of reference of a product if they are intelligent and we, as consumers, want to change. A great example she presents is the case of the Sony Aibo. The Aibo, which was launched in 1999, was a robot designed for home use. The Aibo– at a cost of over $2,000– was an expensive, yet unreliable robot. Often, the robot would not listen to an owner’s commands and have software issues. Ms. Moon presents the case that even with the unreliability and annoyance that the Aibo caused, consumers were forgiving and still enjoyed having the robot in their homes.
The reason for this? What image comes to mind when you think of a robot? Most people think of a large intruding machine shaped like a human with no smile, and an icy non-human quality about it. A robot is a robot. You expect a robot to never falter, and be automatic in its actions. What Sony did to help hedge against the Aibos’ reliability issues was shape the robot as a pet dog. Instead of the Aibo owner thinking of the robot as an unreliable faulty robot , the perception was that the Aibo was like a real pet that didn’t always listen and would do whatever it pleased. Now the Aibo owner had a new mindset to treat the Aibo as if it were REALLY a pet and not a machine. If the Aibo didn’t follow instructions or work it would be considered cute rather than poor programming by Sony. The alternative categorization from robot to pet was taking place in people’s minds.
The Aibo was a breakaway brand. According to Moon in Different, “Companies that introduce breakaway brands recognize that when it comes to consumption, our classifications tend to be both superficial and arbitrary. But they also recognize that these classifications mediate our consumption experiences in profound ways. and so they deliberately intervene in our process of classification, offering us an alternative category rubric to replace our default one. These are companies that say: I know that you’re inclined to think of this as a slice of Swiss cheese , but what if you were to think of it as a Flying Carpet instead?”(Moon 135).
In part 2 I will explain how the Snuggie became a breakaway brand, and my theories on why consumers allowed it to become one.