Loving a product for all the heart’s reasons

I realized that I buy into the philosophy of a product, and the company that made it, more than any measurable aspect of the product itself. Those that reach high, have the right intentions, get a free pass now and then for falling short in some areas. I know many of you are with me on this. This is why we got excited over webOS and the Palm Pre. This is why some are falling again — unfazed by webOS’s tragic journey into obscurity — for Windows Phone 7, a well-reviewed OS that has gotten close to no traction with real consumers.

It’s a form of compensation bias, driven by emotion. It’s why Instagram succeeded at launch despite low resolution 600×600 photos, why the LC-A sells and sells despite shoddy construction, why Prince and Tom Cruise’s wacky religious leanings don’t impact their bank accounts.

I’m more susceptible to advertising than most. The best ones put tears in my eyes because I want to believe that companies give a damn about doing the right thing, about making great stuff they’re proud of. What is an ad if not a plea to be loved?

Have you seen the way some Japanese companies talk about their premium cameras? Look at the “Developer’s Interview” Panasonic assembled when the LX3 launched. It overflows with passion (okay, it’s modest and restrained) for the camera, and respect for its user. Whatever compromises they had to make along the way, whatever you believe or can’t believe about the hyperbolic words of a marketing document, it’s hard to deny that a product that has proven as excellent and reliable as my LX3 has to me was conceived by a team with the highest intentions. Ricoh’s “Inside Story” for the GR Digital is no different.

While it’s true that most people never even see the inside of their digital camera, you can rest assured that the LX3 is filled with only the very highest-quality parts from the lens to the CCD, the LSI and all the peripheral circuits. It’s just possible that this was the first time that a camera development project went this far to specialize in raising image quality. Still, one of the things that I strongly felt was that this excellent level of image quality in a compact digital still camera was achieved by the synergetic effect of Panasonic’s comprehensive expertise. I’m confident that anybody — professional or amateur — who uses the LX3 will easily be convinced of its remarkable image quality.
Tomoaki Tsutsumi, Staff Engineer, Panasonic LX3 

It may seem wholly natural to some readers that a product should be made by people who care about it, who aim high and want to beat the competition. It’s insane to imagine the opposite, but experience has taught me that it happens a whole lot. It happens so often that I get excited and open my wallet whenever something that was clearly born of a different process comes along.

Another example of the GR legend is seen at the operation of the shutter button. “We wanted the user to feel the fun to take pictures using the camera,” says Mr. Yokoyama. For that, the touch of the shutter button is quite important. “Some say they like light touch but the others say they prefer heavier touch”. Therefore, we have studied the various factors to decide the release touch, including the spring force and the shutter stroke, etc. We have collected the advice from the professional photographers and the users, also have checked the shutter release touch of the various cameras available, to define the best,” he says. By the way, the shutter release touch can be fine tuned at the service facility to meet the various users’ feeling of the touch of the shutter release.

“Of course, not only the feeling but durability is required at the same time, and we have tested and designed the operating buttons to work for more than some hundreds of thousand times”.
Ricoh GR Digital Inside Story

Someone agonized over the feeling of the shutter button, sought the advice of professional photographers, surveyed the shutter buttons on competing cameras, and then designed the best shutter button they could. Bowing to individual taste, they equipped every Ricoh service center with the means to accommodate a walk-in customer who wanted his button more or less resistant. That someone took care of this tells me that I should buy Ricoh cameras until I notice a change in management.

But ad men are good at selling crap, at creating the semblance of substance. Wanting to understand how this happens is one of the reasons I got into the business. The problematic nature of basing perceptions of an untested product on what its maker says is not new to me, and a simple B.S. filter usually does the trick, except when it doesn’t.

This was acutely clear to me today when I watched Social 0.0, a short film series that forms a new Japan-only campaign for a Motorola phone called the Photon.

These are powerful films on the surface, employing a cast of some very influential Japanese personalities: artists, filmmakers, musicians, scholars. Even Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, a Harajuku fashion icon who defies easy description. Questions about wealth (abundance), creativity in a digital society, freedom of self-expression, capitalism, transhumanism, and government arise followed by the Motorola logo.

All my buttons were pushed. Somewhere inside, I wanted to go out and get a Motorola phone. Thankfully, I knew I didn’t really want a Motorola phone. But seeing how effective these ads could be, how inspiring Motorola might be if it tried, made me wonder how many obstacles stand between it continuing down its mediocre path, and having a well-articulated philosophy running throughout the organization that would enable it to create a product line with singular purpose. One created from within, as Apple’s Think Different manifesto was, that could differentiate in more productive ways than a patent portfolio. These ads are a plea to be loved, but they don’t come from a company that seems to even want it. That’s the disconnect that needs correcting.

It also seems dishonest that the voice of Motorola in Japan is so far removed from that of its global brand, which is bland and a little overshadowed by Verizon’s work on DROID.

Anyway, I’m starting a new site dedicated to products worth loving. It’s in a sort of beta now, and will be up soon.

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