Archetypes and oblivion
August 24, 2002
When I take another go at figuring out what I mean by “teaching” and “learning” I should try something of a philological approach - take valid sentences involving those words and construct / ferret out the meaning from there.
I wanted to deal with a compelling idea set forth by some futurist whose name I don’t remember. In fact, I am only going to steal his words, not necessarily his meaning.
He was saying that “deviant” (edgy / innovative / original) companies have four possible fates after their ideas are brough into the societal mainstream: Icon, Archetype, Cliche, and Oblivion. I wanted to make a brief list of which companies I thought fit where:
Icon: Coca-Cola, Nike, maybe McDonald’s, lots of great brands, I think, go here, companies that sell a commodity product but at the point when they were absorbed into the mainstream chose to cultivate a particular image and reputation and sell that. Coca-Cola for example - after it edged out other patent medicines, the Coca-Cola Co (or whichever) in the South didn’t grow by expanding into other porudct lines, they grew by re-packaging and aggresssively and expansively marketing the same product. The brand was key and its management - Coca-Cola still is best known for fizzy brown water, Nike for dubiously enhanced sneakers (and some apparel), McDonald’s for cheap burgers (they never expanded into gourmet coffees or sit-down service in a serious way). Apple?
Archetype: it just struck me that many of these companies I’m naming probably wouldn’t be considered subversive (although they may have been when it mattered). Archetypes seem to me to be Citigroup, archetypal financial conglomerate, Intel, achetypal mammoth intellectual-property company, definitely Wal-Mart archetypal discount retailer.
The “category killers”(?) that made big moves with new ways of doing business (particularly Citigroup and Walmart). Amazon - does it fit here or under Icon? What about Dell? I think maybe Dell is the archetype for a company like Amazon - the extension of the low-capital-intensiveness model. In this case Dell possibly becomes the quinessential “Internet company”?
All these companies have valuable brands. And McDonald’s is probably a category-killer. So there is a link between Icon and Archetype - but what is the emphasis?
Cliche - I think Starbucks. Big fodder for satire, etc. - a parody of a totalitarian corporation. Why did this happen? I thought maybe because they (a) didn’t stay on the radar and build a brand identity distinct enough so that you can tell it apart from every other coffeee knockoff (b) didn’t bring a new concept of say, service as far as it needed to be pushed - Starbucks may not have gone to extremes the way Citi and WalMart did (do I know what I’m talking about?) Barnes & Noble other cliche - guess who they teamed up with?
Oblivion - One-hit wonders. Maybe IBM almost fell into oblivion. Find great brand that was run into the ground.