Gadgets have a certain fascination, don’t they? They promise technological enablement. They make us see further, hear better, sort more intelligently, think more adroitly, connect more, er, better. Gadgets extend the body and the mind. Where would we be without them? What would we be without them? Personally, they can have my laptop and cell phone when they pry them out of my cold, dead hands.
But gadgets have been mostly a male obsession. Indeed, there is not a male reader of this blog who has not been mocked by a women for being a little gadget crazy. Women sometimes refer to "boys and their toys" as if gadget glorification were a male mania. This holiday season, we will indeed find guys in the kitchen talking heatedly about wireless access, HD TV and Xbox360 refresh rates. Women, many of them, will just roll their eyes, as if to say, "Guys! What are you going to do?"
But times, they are a changing. The P&G success stories of the last few years have been gadgets.* Swiffer and swiffer extensions are little technological enablements. Some of this is due to the influence of IDEO there. Little machines is what they do. And some of it is due to the margins to be made on appliances and the refills they demand. But I believe there may have been a time when the female householder would look at something machine like, gadget-ish, and said, "No gadgets for Gidget, thank you just the same."
There are other hints of a shift in the way in which women see technology. The renovation of the kitchen has seen the introduction, around 15 years ago, of the industrial stove. Industrial stoves! These are large, out of scale, indelicate and capable of feeding several hundred people at a time. No body "plays house" with one of these monsters. This is industrial strength.
And what about the Suburbans now so much in evidence. In my parts (tiny town Connecticut), the car of choice used to be a white Volvo station wagon. It said, "I am practical but not inelegant." Suburbans are not much smaller than a mobile home. To drive one of these cars as a "station car" for toing and froing from the commuter line, well, unless your husband or one of your children, or you yourself, hold high political office, it’s really more car than you need.
It does look like there is a cultural development here. Once anti-tech and gadget mocking, women appear to be moving away from their traditonal position. And if the micro trends noted here actually reflect the same thing, we can track the macro trend accordingly. Fifteen years ago, the industrial stove, 10 years ago the Suburban, and just a few years ago the great Swiffer trend.
We might have seen this coming. We might have made a bundle. We could have started a Swiffer start-up and then sold to P&G for a heart warmingly large sum of money. But, oh, no, most of us were too busy standing in the kitchen talking about baud rates and internet access.
* (from BusinessWeek, ref. below) In the past year [P&G] has launched at least eight mechanical or electric gizmos. They include Febreze Scentstories, an electric air freshener machine that plays CD-like scent disks; Tide Buzz Ultrasonic Stain Remover; and Tide StainBrush, a battery-powered brush. It also introduced Swiffer Sweep + Vac, a device that combines a Swiffer electrostatic dust mop with a vacuum, and Mr. Clean AutoDry, a water-pressure-powered car-cleaning system that dries without streaking. Sales of all P&G’s gadget-related items grew 16% last year and now total about 8% of its $54 billion in annual sales. That’s up from 2% in 2000, estimates Lehman Brothers Inc. analyst Ann Gillin Lefever.
Berner, Robert and William Symonds. 2005. Consumer giant is leading the way in building brands with mechanical gizmos. BusinessWeek. February 7, 2005. here. (subscription required)