Generating news, comment, opinion and sales bumff around technology has forever been predicated on the notion that anything featuring extra bells and whistles is a mark of progress.
But the “buy this new one cos it’s better” adage is unravelling. Having fed off the harvest of technology innovation for so long, it’s inevitable that we now start plunging down the slide of diminishing returns. More and more new technology will be for technology’s sake.
6th Gen vs. 4th Gen
I’ve happily used the same iPhone 4 for the last four years, and the intervening technological progress really isn’t worth it. My wife just ditched a stone-aged Blackberry and would have got an iPhone 4 too if anyone still sold them. So an iPhone 6S joined the family. My assessment thus far is: it’s basically the same phone as mine (cue screams of derision). Yeah. It is.
Apple’s communications machine always talks like the company is changing the world, but this is damned difficult when it doesn’t have much proof. You can see the effort it’s taking. The latest iPhone TV ad tries conspicuously hard to spell out the crucial differences in its latest generation, presumably because so few of them are self-evident. The idea that “everything has changed” is a bit of a stretch.
We’ve seen this before with toothbrushes; one of the most barren wastelands of innovation known to mankind. The poor wretches who market toothbrushes (let me remind you: plastic sticks with brushes on the end) must be lurching between states of terrifying panic and amphetamine-fuelled desperation. After all, these are the same class of marketers who list ‘Aqua’ as an ingredient in a pharmaceutical product, because ‘Water’ is too passé. They’ve found the only conceivable way to make up for toothbrushes’ inherent lack of innovation is to accentuate meaningless new mini-features to the level of near-parody. This nonsense is stunningly observed by Mitchell & Webb in this classic sketch from 2006.
Back to the real world, and the same complete and utter desperation is plain as day when you watch the latest Samsung phone ad about its three-sided display. There are two striking aspects about this advert:
- Unless you’re a phone geek, you have to watch the advert a few times to work out why the advert consists chiefly of a phone rotating very slowly while being shot from every angle (it’s to demonstrate that the display area actually goes down the sides a bit)
- It offers no practical applications for what the hell this capability is useful for
Is this the technological equivalent of ‘the science bit’ in cosmetics commercials? Or maybe it’s like the sultry, sexily lit glamour photo of luxury cars. Regardless, the phone-maker is so bereft of practical applications for their innovation; we’re invited to gaze longingly at it under the microscope. As if that’s enough. And it isn’t…
But what if those are the only innovation cards you’ve been dealt, marketing hack!? Will you instead be tempted to turn to the tried and trusted tactic of FUD…?
Prepare for Peak FUD: Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt
Increasing numbers of technology products are sold on the back of FUD, because it so gracefully obscures the meaningful reasons for buying. You’ve heard of Peak Oil. Well prepare for a steady escalation toward ‘Peak FUD’, where fickleness and negativity fill the vacuum created by gaps in innovation. But be careful with FUD-slinging, because:
- It can make the FUD-slinger look foolish when the negativity is baseless
- Communicating negativity on a prolonged basis can cast a shadow on your brand reputation
- It shows a lack of confidence; that your product is low on innovation
- People are rarely that stupid
Vauxhall has just introduced a new innovation, called OnStar, to its new cars. But I didn’t know any of that when I sat down to watch TV last night, and their new advert came on.
If you haven’t seen it before, play it up until 0:10.
The first thing that strikes you is that it’s been made in German, and dubbed into English. Bad start Vauxhall. Or should I call you… Opel, hmm?!
Audiences are already cynical when ads come onto their tellyboxes, but they reserve a special measure of contempt for dubbed ads. I for one prepare myself to scoff at whatever pretence they create.
But this isn’t the issue here. The issue is the message.
Straight away you’re compelled to associate with the guy and his car, not the spotty kid next door. The kid has come over to ask some questions and talk to you about the technological showstoppers that may be missing from your prized motor. By 0:10 I’m honestly, truthfully thinking the man is going to reply saying: “Aah shut up kid, I don’t care about any of that guff, I’m off for a spin” and then the ad will cut to him tearing up the autobahn, waving to his mates out the window as he passes through a few (German?) piazzas, before finishing up taking a lovely lady home with him and sticking two fingers up to the kid peering furtively though the curtains.
But no. Roll the clip on. It turns out that the kid is an agent of FUD. He’s cooler and smarter than you. Don’t you feel stupid that your car isn’t equipped with a load of technological gubbins (Vauxhall OnStar)?! OK so they offer the smallest scintilla of benefit; barely able to register any enhancement to your life, your driving experience or the pursuit of human advancement. But that’s not the issue. The issue is who you haven’t become. Look now (at 0:15) as a younger, hunkier, happier and more successful looking man emerges to get into his car; a car so apparently dripping with Vauxhall OnStar goodness that he’ll live a life that the other bloke wouldn’t dare to dream. Be like him or you – you loser – will be consigned a hapless Luddite who just drives his car places and phones people on his phone and lacks the imagination necessary to press buttons that bounce personal data off satellites. Surely, surely you want to be that better person?
This is a warning to the marketers in the B2B technology industry. If innovation slows down then practical applications and benefits are going to be evermore granular and harder to find, but never more important.
Don’t resort to FUD. FUD means you’ve run out of ideas.
FUD makes you the irritating know-it-all in a car commercial. Or worse – his toothbrush.