Tumi and the case of the talking suitcase

Yesterday, I puzzled a few readers.

Let me be more clear (and less alarming). The best way to do this is to talk by example.

Let’s begin with the Tumi bag I bought in Seattle last week.

What I want is a stream of messages from this piece of luggage. It can come in the tweet stream on my iPhone. Or it can print out in the handle of the bag itself. We are assuming the bag is equipped with wireless capability and GPS.

I like the idea of learning on the taxi to the airport that my Tumi bag is, in truth, a little afraid of flying. I like the idea of learning that when in Seattle last week it really liked that carpet in the elevator (pictured here). My Tumi could have an entire, entirely poetic, vocabulary for hotel surfaces. I like the idea that it is noticing things I don’t.

I love the idea of the hearing my bag murmur (by way of twitter) that the man at the check-in desk wasn’t really very polite. Or, more dramatically, that he has only 5 days to live. (The idea of a piece of luggage claiming mystical knowledge of the future is especially charming. Perhaps that’s just me.) I like the idea of luggage that’s a little bad tempered, put upon, inclined to grumble, quick to take offense.

I am not asking for a full time writer standing by. There are only so many hotels in Seattle. When GPS signals that I am staying at the Sorrento, I would be easy enough to determine where the bag is and what it is "seeing." When I am in any moving vehicle on the road, chances are it’s a cab. In other words, it wouldn’t be very hard to feed locational cues into a machine based grammar which could then generate messages so situationally sensitive they have the hum of veracity.

The larger issue is straight forward. We already charge inanimate objects with meanings. We do this routinely through the branding process. The question is are there other kinds of meanings that could be brought into play. They would be more companionable message, more customized and customizable, and, more to the marketing point, they would make Tumi a brand with whom I have a deeper bond. There is no brand loyalty like this loyalty.

How about this as an anthropological indicator. I don’t name my luggage at the moment. (In fact, I don’t think I name anything that’s inanimate.) But if my Tumi luggage were expressive in this way, I pretty certain I would give it a name. Maybe this is what we should be shooting for. Naming. If and when the consumer names the product, that’s when we know something remarkable has been accomplished in the way of meaning manufacture. We have so animated the product that consumers no long see goods as inanimate.

Less alarming. No?

Note: This post was lost in the Network Solutions debacle of 2009.  It was reposted Feb. 2, 2010.