Tuesday 26 May 2009

(Brand) Paradise Lost

Permit me to recount a personal tale of brand lost, brand gained, unexpected consequences and the interweaving of products in our daily lives. The story starts with a present, the gift of a well-known brand of MP3 player from my family on the occasion of a birthday milestone that I would rather forget. The problem (for me) from the beginning were the earphones that came with the unit, those ear buds that always seem to slip out of my ears and provide only adequate sound reproduction.

OK, I said to myself, the MP3 manufacturer doesn't really specialize in earphones, so let me trade them in for an up-scale set made by someone who specializes in earphones. So I trundled to a local outlet of a leading U.S. retailer of consumer electronics. Surely I must be able to rely on the service brand goodwill of this chain to rely on its ability to stock earphones of good quality and reasonable price. I found the section displaying earphones, and I took a fancy to a set bearing a leading international brand for consumer electronic products. Surely I must be able to rely on this double dose of strong service mark and strong trademark to safely purchase a quality set of earphones. And so I did.

The earphones were fine, obviously the reliance of strong service mark and strong trademark had proven itself. Still, there was one odd feature: the ear-phone cord was in fact divided into two parts. I guess the idea is that if you want to put the MP3 device in a shirt pocket or to purchase an add-on that enables on to carry it on your shoulder, you can simply detach the two parts to the cord and use only one of them. But I liked to use the entire length of the double cord, so I could put the MP3 device in my jogging pants front pocket as I listened to podcasts while gamboling through the back-ways of my neighborhood. That worked fine, until one day I separated the cord into two so I could listen to the podcasts in the train. The problem was that I then left the detached cord on the train. How was I to solve the problem?

Ideally, I would have liked to have been able to buy a replacement cord under the brand of the ear phones, after all, it was the ear phone manufacturer that had sold the unusual double cord with the ear phones themselves. That did not work however; it seems that the manufacture did not sell a replacement for the long-gone detached cord. "A flaw in product design or product execution," I said to myself, the goodwill armour of this world-known brand having been pierced.

I then visited a series of speciality stores, big and small, to look for a replacement cord of appropriate length and configuration, but to no ultimate avail. At least in my part of town, all that the stores carried was a standard 3-foot cord, each bearing an unknown mark, and none short enough to meet my needs. Equally disappointing, the well-known chain on which I had relied had apparently not considered what happens to a customer that wanted to buy a replacement cord. More goodwill armour pierced.

Now I really face a series of unpalatable solutions. I can simply put the MP3 device in the front pocket of my jogging shirt. The only problem is that only one of my shirts has a front pocket, and that means that I have to stock up on new shirts, each replete with a pocket. To do so however will mean expending more than the cost of the earphones themselves. I could also buy the arm accessory from the MP3 manufacturer, but I reminded myself that they are are not really in the accessory business, and besides, this arrangement is simply uncomfortable. I could also buy a new set of ear phones, properly branded (but certainly not the brand of my current ear phones).

Thinking about this tale from the trademark point of view, what is the scorecard? The MP3 manufacturer gets a passing mark, the device is excellent but the ear-phone add-on was the ultimate reason for trading up to another brand, for whom ear phones are closer to their core business. The retail chain gets a barely passing mark, selling a product for which replacement parts appear to not have been considered. The ear phone manufacturer gets a failing grade, the reasonable quality of its sound outweighed by the frustration and bother of its inaccessible replacement part. The only winner, and a potential one at that, is the manufacturer of the new set of earphones, if and when I chose to buy them.

Brands are delicate creatures--lest we forget. All it took was one misplaced cord to remind me of this fact.
Brand paradise -- over yonder

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