If cufflinks didn’t exist and you invented them, would they succeed?
I’ve got one shirt in my closet with french cuffs, and as I looked at it, hanging there quite lonely, I got to thinking about cufflinks.
Cufflinks are arguably a nice way for men to wear jewelry, and they were no doubt functional back in the day. But it’s difficult to argue much of a utlitarian use today.
Yet they persist.
They persist because stamping them out completely is essentially impossible. They are an anachronism, part of a system that may never go away. Cufflinks.com The internet’s formalwear superstore can sell plenty of reversible nautical cufflinks (“What! you got me cufflinks that weren’t reversible!?”) because the shirtmakers support them by selling shirts with holes. If there were no holes, there would be no cufflinks. As long as there are holes, there will be a demand for them.
So if you’re trying to invent a product or service that requires the rest of the industry to put a hole out there for you to fill, good luck.
And if you can figure out a way to profit from an existing “hole”, you’ve got yourself a huge advantage.
Audible.com, for example, needed the world to make an MP3 player in order for them to succeed. What a crazy gamble! Fortunately, just in time, it happened. But now that the MP3 player is here, I bet some smart folks are going to figure out something else to put on an audio player… what about city walking tours, with local ads?
Customers amplifying their word of mouth like this just a few years ago. Part of the lesson here is how relatively trivial the user’s beef is. The battery on his iPod only lasts an hour after 500+ days of use. That’s not acceptable, of course, but look at the leverage he has now:
My earliest cite is from September, 2002, but I don’t have the resources to find the original coiner of the phrase.
What I want to know is:
Why “poodle”? Why not “puppy” or “labrador”? Or, forget about dogs, what about any other range of vaguely insulting animal types?
How is it that this has spread and stuck?
Without question, poodle is a funny word. It has a funny vowel/dipthong connection and it’s fun to say. It is also somewhat dandy-esque, with the image of the beautifully coiffed french poodle hanging out there in the background.
Is this the sort of thing we can do on purpose? “Frequent Flyer Miles”, for example, have that marvelous F alliteration at the front. Does that explain why the phrase has stuck, while countless competitors offering things like Points have faded away?
Political discourse, of course, is filled with name calling, and sometimes the names spread. Tricky Dick had a nickname, but Gerald Ford didn’t. Dan Quayle got stuck with “potatoe”, but other vice presidents, certainly as dumb, got off easy. How come?
I know I’m asking a lot of unanswerable questions, and maybe it’s just because I couldn’t resist doing a blog entry entitled “Bush’s Poodle”. I think there’s something here though.
In order to maximize the currency of your chosen ideavirus, it helps if your slanderous positioning (or profitable meme) has a few characteristics:
1. self-explanatory–both the teller and the listener have a high chance of not feeling stupid.
2. verbally fun to pass on–the teller enjoys saying it even if the listener doesn’t enjoy hearing it.
3. a safe target–Vice presidents, felonious presidents and heads of foreign nations are pretty fair game. Remember Boutros Boutros Ghali?
4. TV (and now web) friendly–Dan Quayle, for example, was an easy mark because of images like this one. The Blair thing, while not image based, is the sort of phrase that just sounds great on the radio (I heard it three times yesterday).
As we think about spreading our own ideas, I think we can profit from seeing how they work in the world of politics. Whether you’re raising money for your non-profit (“Will you sponsor me for a walkathon”) or launching a new brand, picking the right phrase and image can accelerate the spread of your idea.
Today is the 140th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. I’ll admit that until I heard it today on the radio, the only part I knew was the famous beginning.
It’s short, and I reprint it below. It’s worth reading, I think, because it is so relevant today. We’re in the midst of another civil war, one that is being fought on dozens of fronts–political, commercial and social. At its essence is the idea of respect.
For Lincoln to stand in front of 15,000 people (no microphone) and be so humble and simple was an act of courage. To do it without demonizing the other side, without bending to special interest groups and without invoking whatever higher authority he could imagine to explain why he was right and everyone else was wrong–that’s what statesmen are for.
The next time your business, your boss or your politicians want to treat another individual as somehow LESS, I think it’s your job to call them on it. If all men are truly created equal, we ought to start treating them that way.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this
continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the
proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in
a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so
conceived and so dedicated can long endure.
We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of
that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their
lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and
proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot
dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.
The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated
it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will
little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never
forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be
dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here
have thus far so nobly advanced.
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–
that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which
they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly
resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this
nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that
government of the people, by the people, for the people shall
not perish from the earth.
It’s hard to catalog how many things this site does right (not to mention the Moopheus cow imagery, but that’s personal).
You don’t have to agree with the message (though I do) to be in awe of how well executed the strategy and tactics of the campaign are.
What’s happening here? I think that as advertising stops being about cash for media and starts being about ideas worth spreading, we’re going to see more vivid and effective work from organizations with a point of view.
November 17, 2003
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