How the iPhone Got Tail Fins—Part 2 of 2
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keep competitive. GM would shut down all their manufacturing plants for a few months and literally rip out the tooling, jigs, and dies in every plant and replace them with the equipment needed to make the next year’s model.
GM had figured out how to take a product which solved a problem – cheap transportation – and transform it into a need. It was marketing magic that wasn’t to be equaled until the next century.
By the mid-1950s every other car company was struggling to keep up.
Starting in the 1920s and continuing for the next half century, automobile advertising hit its stride. Ads emphasized brand identification and appealed to consumers’ hunger for prestige and status. Advertising agencies created catchy slogans and jingles, and celebrities endorsed their favorite brands. General Motors turned market segmentation and the annual model year changeovers into national events. As the press speculated about new features, the company’s added to the mystique by guarding the new designs with military secrecy. Consumers counted the days until the new models were “unveiled” at their dealers.
For fifty years, until the Japanese imports of the 1970s, Americans talked about the brand and model year of your car – was it a ’58 Chevy, ’65 Mustang, or ’58 Eldorado? Each had its particular cachet, status and admirers. People had heated arguments about who made the best brand.
The car had become part of your personal identity while it became a symbol of 20th-century America.
After Sloan took over General Motors its share of U.S cars sold skyrocketed from 12 per cent in 1920, until it passed Ford in 1930, and when Sloan retired as GM’s CEO in 1956 half the cars sold in the U.S. were made by GM. It would keep that 50 percent share for another 10 years. (Today GM’s share of cars total sold in the U.S. has declined to 19 percent.)
How the iPhone Got Tail Fins
Over the last five years Apple has adopted the GM playbook from the 1920s – take a product, which originally solved a problem – cheap communication – and turn it into a need.
In doing so Apple did to Nokia and RIM what General Motors did to Ford. In both cases, innovation in marketing completely negated these firms’ strengths in reducing costs. The iPhone transformed the cell phone from a device for cheap communication into a touchstone about the user’s image. Just like cars in the 20th century, the iPhone connected with its customers emotionally and viscerally as it became a symbol of who you are.
The desire to line up to buy the newest iPhone when your old one works just fine was just one more part of Steve Jobs’ genius – it’s how the iPhone got tail fins.
It’s one more reason why Steve Jobs will be remembered as the 21st-century version of Alfred P. Sloan.