Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The usefulness of niche.

Somewhere along the way, some book I was reading mentioned the 19th Century Austrian composer Anton Bruckner and a particular symphony he composed, his 9th, I think. So, I downloaded the thing and was smitten. There's not much that appeals to me more than 'Sturm und Drang' (storm and stress) and Bruckner's music seemed to capture that in spades. Since that original downloading, I've downloaded more Bruckner and have found most everything he's composed to my liking.

Last night, I, uncharacteristically did not go back to work after jury duty was dismissed. It's the end of the year and I've got everything pretty much under control prior to my upcoming vacation. What's more, the case we began hearing, another bout of devastation wreaked by drugs and American drug laws, was more than a little depressing. So, I decided to stop at the last place in my neighborhood that sells recorded music to see if they had any Bruckner. I was hoping against hope that they'd have some spectacular post-holiday 50%-off bonanza I could avail myself of.

Except they had no Bruckner.

What's happened in our world is we've become bell-curved. Every industry aims to satisfy no one or nothing more than the mass of the mass. Anything that's not wildly popular disappears from view. (Yes, I can find Bruckner on iTunes, but I'm making a point here, or trying to.)

What we are experiencing is a massification of everything. Everything we can buy has to appeal to literally hundreds of millions of people lest it cut against the grain of some MBA's "go to market strategy."

What we're left with is a great bland middle muddle of nothingness. You can buy things that manufacturers (or, more accurately, marketers) want to sell you, but you can't buy exactly what you want unless it coincides with what is most wanted.

Think I'm wrong? Try to find an iPod case that protects the screen and doesn't have a belt clip. Try to find a garbage pail with a lift lid that attaches to a cabinet door. Try to find an oven-range combination with an upper oven and a lower one. Try to find Bruckner in a chain store.

My guess is that my idiosyncratic wants are shared, in toto, by millions. But because they're not shared by dozens or hundreds of millions, my wants are not met.

The same sort of group think, of course, pummels our industry as well. We see commercial after commercial that appeals, I suppose, to some purported mass. If I see one more Hyundai commercial with 20-something skinny-jeaned hipsters singing Christmas carols I think I'll shoot my TV like that guy from Wisconsin did.

I guess my point is simple, or at least I think it is. Useful, important, moneyed groups of people are being ignored by marketers and advertisers.

One last example. Saab.

Saab used to make a quirky car that had great appeal to about 35,000-50,000 Americans a year. I'm sure there's a great deal of money to be made in selling that many cars if that's how many you want to sell. But someone, somewhere (probably Detroit) said, "we can sand down the rough edges of Saabs and they'll appeal to many more people. Look, BMW sells 300,000 cars a year. With GM showrooms and marketing muscle, we can dramatically improve Saab's sales.'

Except they destroyed the brand. By making what made it special generic. By trying to make it appeal to everyone, it lost all the appeal it ever had.

1 comment:

michael said...

Coltrane videos from German tv and Anton Bruckner..George, you're my kind of cognoscenti

All the best in 2011

M