My dad and I were having a conversation about business the other day. We were discussing how companies of late are often putting more money into marketing sub-par products, than producing genuinely good ones.
I used to think the baby-boomer expression, “They don’t make things like they used to” was just a misguided product of good memories—after all, everything that comes out of your generation is the best, right? But there is definitely something to be said for build quality in the manufacturing of yesteryear.
Even up until the mid 1990s, build quality in select vehicle manufacturers was at its absolute best—before stiff competition among other factors forced the majority of auto makers to cheapen vehicles in order to turn a profit. One such example of a best-in-class vehicle was the Mercedes-Benz E-Class with the W124 chassis. Rock-solid, safe and reliable; some automotive enthusiasts have dared to call it the “Best Mercedes-Benz Ever” and even, “The Best Car of the Past Thirty Years”. I’m sure that’s a hotly debatable topic, but from the research I’ve done on the vehicle, and considering that ultimately what defines a good car is stellar performance in every testable category, I don’t think those claims are entirely misguided.
At one point in the conversation, my dad said, “I always say, ‘I wish they could make all products like Barbasol.’” In case you’re unaware, Barbasol is a shaving cream that’s been around since the dinosaurs—well, almost: 1919. Since then they’ve gained a reputation for having a quality product. One thing my father noted about Barbasol is that it’s, in my words, the Maxwell House of the shaving world: good to the last drop. The can doesn’t clog up and cheat you out of 25% of the remaining cream. It goes until it just can’t go anymore. An average-sized can lasts about four months when used every day, according to my dad.
Now, while I do use a Remington hair trimmer, I’m not the shaving type so I doubt I’ll be purchasing Barbasol anytime soon. But the point is: Barbasol coasts on its quality, not its gargantuan marketing campaign.
Marketing works. That’s why people do it. The more people you can reach and the more corporate seeds you can plant in people’s minds in a short period of time, the more likely you are to make a sale. The higher quality the marketing, the higher return on your investment—just like brand identity. But marketing products that fail easily, or even are engineered to fail, is just bunk and purely disreputable. Market your product: fine. But don’t market a piece of junk that’s predestined for the garbage can.
This all leads me to something many brand identity designers may not consider. With your designs that are intended to bring in profits to the company you’re designing for: have you considered whether you’re representing a reputable company?
I know it’s difficult to tell in many instances, and there are always mixed reviews on products. (Just browse through Amazon’s user reviews of a Black and Decker toaster once and you’ll probably see everything from, “It burned my house to the ground” to, “I loved it so much I bought three as Christmas gifts for the grandkids!”) And I’m not advocating buying the product you’re branding every time you start a project (although, that wouldn’t be a bad idea). I’m merely pointing out that as designers, our goal is to represent these companies in a positive way, and point as many people as possible to them. If we wouldn’t stand behind a bad product as consumers, it doesn’t make sense to painstakingly brand and inevitably promote a bad product! A good graphic designer makes it clear to the company s/he is working with that s/he is there to help promote and bring recognition to the company. But the good design becomes cheapened when it’s attached to a company that can’t match it in quality.
Let’s allow the bad products and services to fossilize and promote the truly good, useful ones. Because let’s be honest: the products that are built to last, and the services that are genuinely helpful, are the ones that deserve to keep going.