Something which I realised the other day is that the iPod has achieved something very subtle, in marketing terms, and yet nobody has remarked on it (not that I’ve noticed). Until now.
Back in January 2004 the Guardian ran a story on the invasion of the iPoddies (which noted that it had been “the must-have Christmas present of 2003”). That was before the launch of the iPod mini; iPods then were still those big things, and very pricey, yet it was a sort of exclusive club. (The article’s well worth re-reading, actually. It’s an interesting piece of then-zeitgeist.)
At that time, seeing someone wear an iPod was still a slightly unusual thing. White earphones? iPod user! Ooh.
Whereas now you walk along the street and every few steps there’s another person wearing those white tendrils. In just 12 months – well, perhaps more, perhaps more like 18 months or two years – the iPod has gone from being something that only the cognoscenti knew about (though they lauded it to the skies), to something that even the postman has. (Yeah, spotted one today.)
Yet at the same time the iPod hasn’t lost its cool. You don’t look at the person walking along and think “they’ve got an iPod! Eugh!” in the way that, say, seeing a chav wearing a Burberry hat makes you pause before you pulled on your Burberry raincoat the next morning. If you’ve seen a chav with an iPod, did it make you want to give up your iPod? Bet it didn’t. (Chav readers can move along here..)
Partly that resistance to brand-debasement must be due to the brilliant silhouette adverts, which have a sort of aspirational quality – remember Phil Schiller’s comment at last year’s Apple Expo? – and partly too to the way that Apple has segmented (oops) the market, so that it now offers something iPoddy all the way up the price range; that’s driven the inclusivity thing, so that everyone can have one.
But why is it still cool? Why isn’t it debased? I think that the core – damn! – reason why the iPod has kept its image, even while everyone from George Bush upwards has one, is that it remains *your* iPod. It’s as cool as you are; it’s a sort of electronic pet that loves you, that says “what a fantastic choice of music!”, which rewards you by playing songs that you really like. They say – well, someone said, but who knows? – that “Every man is Napoleon to his dog”. Meaning that dogs look to you as the great conquering hero, even if you’re just some Pooter. Same for the iPod. Everyone’s iPod tells them they’re cool. Because we all know that our taste in music is the right one, don’t we?