Sunday, December 20, 2009

Free Advertising

OK, so I'd be quick to sniff if someone else did this. But I'm about to make a shameless expression of *gulp* brand loyalty. Even worse, the brand in question is one of those massive organizations that employs an entire nation's worth of people, a company whose boardroom decisions actually affect global warming; it's exactly the kind of organization I'm becoming convinced is detrimental to human health and civilization (at least as concerns our food and medicine and such). But here we are.

The entity in question: Panasonic. I've thought for years that I may almost be in love with Panasonic. Now I've decided to hide my secret no more: we are going steady.
Like most people my age, I've owned a lot of electronic gadgetry over the last four decades--stuff from a zillion different companies. I remember portable cassette players from Toshiba and Sony, portable CD players from Panasonic and Sony, car stereos from Pioneer and JVC, TVs from Sharp and RCA, home stereo equipment from everybody. (My first home stereo worth mentioning was a collection of Technics components--middle-high-end Panasonic stuff--and most of my car stereos have been from Sony). And for whatever reason I'm wired to pay attention to how things work, to how well designed they seem to be, how thoughtfully their human / machine interface is executed, how well they succeed at their target tasks.

A decade or so ago it struck me that I had had an awful lot of Sony and Panasonic stuff. I'd had mostly good luck with the Sony stuff I had owned, and I had never had a Panasonic anything that wasn't stellar and functional and long-lasting. In recent years I've had a collection of Sanyo cell phones (a division of Panasonic) which have been absolutely brilliant. Now within the last year or so I've added a couple more Panasonic goodies to my stable: a plasma TV (which seems yet another exemplary product) and now, recently--the thing that pushed me right over the love-edge--a new vacuum cleaner.

Yeah. A freakin' vacuum cleaner.

Yes, yes, I know how stupid it is to wax rhapsodic over a vacuum cleaner, but really: this thing kicks ass! (the temptation is irresistible: it sucks ass!). It has so much suction that it lifts the carpet up off the pad underneath. And there's no hope of vacuuming any area rugs unless they're glued down--they're immediately sucked up and dragged around. There's a switch on the handle that turns the brush off and on, and with the brush on the thing is pretty much self-propelled; you have to pull forcibly against it or it will run off without you. I went to change the HEPA bag yesterday (after a month or so of use) and it was as though someone had taken a ram and packed it tight; I've never seen a vacuum cleaner bag with stuff so densely packed inside it. And even with the bag packed to the gills there was still amazing suction. (I talked to someone once who said her Dyson had such amazing suction that she actually looked forward to vacuuming so she could see all the shit she was getting out of her floor. I've never used a Dyson--though they're not greatly rated by Consumer Reports--but it's hard to believe it could possibly work better than this machine, and I'll challenge any Dyson owner to a longevity contest with my Panasonic.) Everything feels built to last, and experience tells me this is not an aberration; our primary vacuum for a decade has been a 20-year-old Panasonic upright that belonged to Susan's grandmother. It's noisy, but it still works great.

All this stuff plays such a role in modern life--TVs and audio equipment and cameras and kitchen appliances and household gadgets and on and on. Lots of people are engaged in thinking up and producing this stuff for us, and those who do it well stand the chance of building an impressive organization on the proceeds. Panasonic is a perfect case in point. Begun in 1918 as Matsushita Electric Company, they have branched out in numerous directions to become Japan's largest producer of electronics. But in everything they embody that wonderful Japanese commitment to unceasing improvement (found in Casio watches and Yamaha pianos and Honda Anythings). One is aware of a sense of dignity and honor in the company and its products; while making a profit is of course important for a company, it's not acceptable to do this at the expense of one's integrity or by compromising core principles. Not surprisingly, this turns out to be an excellent business ethos.

I shouldn't go too far here. I'm sure one can come up with questionable decisions and marginal products along the company's history. Maybe I'm just being bamboozled by a savvy marketing strategy. But insofar as this marketing strategy presumably seeks my ongoing and loyal support by way of cultivating invariable good experiences with the company's products, I have much less angst than, say, when an American car company makes big promises--and appears at a passing glance to deliver on them--only to find that a huge gulf can exist between appearance and reality. My experiences with Panasonic are maybe just the mirror image of this: the company doesn't make use of hysterical marketing, and the products turn out to be even better than one might have expected. In this, the land of spin and hype and marketing, this is delightful and unexpected.

The result of all this--with me, anyway--is exactly what any company would want: I now will go out of my way to find whether I can solve any particular problem or need with a Panasonic product. I specifically sought out another Panasonic vacuum cleaner, and this prejudice once again finds quick reinforcement.

(Now, please excuse me while I go and wander Panasonic's website for solutions to problems I didn't even know I had...)


Dzesika said...

I hear you. I hate the idea of brand loyalty in some ways, but in others - hey, here's this thing that I bought, and I really like it! And here's this other thing I bought made by the same person, and it's great too! You know ...
(etc etc etc)
That's real marketing. Not to be confused with the sort of stuff that people who do stuff like I do do all day ... or something like that ...

wunelle said...

Not to impugn your hallowed profession... But it makes me think that what's at work here is really no marketing at all! Of course the company advertises, but I'm not aware of any actual marketing campaign (beyond this simple slogan shown above). How many companies could survive that way? But if one plays one's hand such that one DOES survive like this, how much better is the clientele thus begat? Any? Infinitely?

I have a similar affection for Apple, though they are a much more stereotypical American company. Great products, but cleverly and extensively promoted. Alas, I digress...