October 27, 2007

thoughts on de-commodification


Some random thoughts on "De-Commodification", in no particular order:

1. Last year I did the above t-shirt design for an advertising buddy of mine in Chicago. He's no longer at DDB, but what the heck.

2. Being in the $10 wine business, "De-commodification" is a subject dear to my heart. One thing the world is not short of is... vast lakes of unsold wine.

3. When I hit a certain age, I also learned the hard way that the the world was not short of thirty-something journeyman advertising creatives, either. Nothing like feeling a commodity oneself, to pique one's interest in de-commodification. Heh.

4. You know the phenomenon when a company gets too big and too rich, and the next thing you know, the middle-manager politics take over? Starts sucking the life blood out of the company? The start of inevitable and permanent decline? Know what I mean? The more time I spend on this side of the pond, the more I think this company allegory applies to these United States, as well.

5. Last week I was on the phone to an old friend of mine, a guy in his late forties, who was born and bred in Michigan, and is living there now. He was telling me about his uncle, who, about four decades ago, got his highschool sweetheart pregnant. So instead of going off to college, he found himself with a new wife, a child on the way, and an assembly-line job at General Motors. But even though this situation clipped his wings considerably, he still ended up having a nice life in the end, with a home, a big yard, two cars, a steady paycheck, weekends fishing or hunting deer, and vacations in Hawaii every year or so. "The days where a blue collar guy like my uncle could have a nice life without doing much," my friend said, "those days are gone. Gone forever."

And in the back of my mind, I'm thinking the same is starting to happen to white collar guys more and more, as well. But it's not quite out in the open yet. Society's not quite ready to have that conversation.

6. The best way to offset one's own commodification is to build one's own personal "global microbrand", irrespective one own employer. "Brand You", as the great Tom Peters called it way back in 1997. A good blog works about as well as anything. And no, you don't have to be an A-Lister. Just look at what people like James Governor or Thomas Mahon are doing.

7. I wish I could think of a better term than "De-Commodification". It's an unwieldy word.

Posted by hugh macleod at October 27, 2007 11:10 PM | TrackBack

#5 Made me stop. I live in Michigan, right in the automotive heart, and see what your friend stated everyday. I have friends with blue collar jobs and white collar jobs, all being greatly affected in many different ways.

Your statement regarding society not being ready to discuss the effect on the white collar workers -- so true. Ignorance is bliss and most people, especially Americans, like it that way.

Posted by: Jeremy at October 28, 2007 1:46 AM

#5 really got to me too. Being a twenty something creative, I sometimes yearn for stability, but I'm coming to realize it may never happen. Everyone's gotta be quicker on their feet and ready to move where the money is, which doesn't promote having a healthy family life at all.

Posted by: jeremy at October 28, 2007 3:13 AM

#5 was the first time I saw someone openly bring up this subject. Starting new in the production/wholesale business, I am slowly realizing that people don't want to buy something because it's pretty! As money is harder to get by, they want functional and durable commodities. But there are lot of people out there who believe that they can last, without ever creating a 'global microbrand', or a way for the customer to relate to the brand itself. Many have been destroyed by that ignorance and until they start realizing the importance of establishing a aesthetic connection with their customers, more will follow.

Posted by: tarun bhatia at October 28, 2007 4:51 AM

Dramatise your differentiating idea (Jack Trout).

Differentiate or die (Jack Trout)

If you don't have a differentiating idea you'd better be cheap (Jack Trout)

Don't follow the curve, jump the curve (Guy Kawasaki)

All about De-Commodification.

As ever so much in life is about emotional attachment, whether it be to friends, family or product/logo.

Door bell ....

Posted by: Mike Peter Reed at October 28, 2007 10:19 AM

Dr. Joyce Brothers made a comment in an article of hers many years ago where she said you should take advantage of and nurture your unique combination of skills when developing and marketing yourself. For instance, if you are an avid outdoors sports enthusiast and majored in management which you enjoyed, combine the two and become a manager for a sporting goods company. You will have more depth in your skill set than others and become a more valuable commodity.

Many other authors about personal skill development point out that you should follow your 'Burning Desire' as that will set you apart from others in their quest for marketability.

This all made sense to me 30 years ago when I was just out of college, had not gone to Graduate School yet, and wanted to set myself apart from the crowd by being a 'Unique Me' that employers or customers just had to have.

I followed Dr. Brothers advice more than any other and developed a skill set that is hard to find, got really good at it because I was pursuing my 'Burning Desire' (I turned my favorite hobby into my focus), put myself in a big city market, and have no trouble supporting myself and family in a stable environment where I can control where I live, my personal satisfaction, and earn top dollar.

Both my next door neighbors did the same thing with their careers and skill set as did the woman across the street. It seems like a healthy but vague path when you are young. Later in life you find yourself surrounded by like minded people who 'Branded' themselves with their unique combination of talents and skills that make them stand out in their field and provide them not only with a stable income but a vocation that provides them with satisfaction in their daily lives. There is nothing like loving your work because you are doing what you enjoy and what you are uniquely good at.

I think De-Commodification describes this very well.

Best Wishes,

Posted by: Dave Armstrong at October 28, 2007 11:24 AM

Hugh MacLeod = Joyce Brothers 2.0

I didn't see that one coming ;O)

Posted by: John at October 28, 2007 5:36 PM

I think your prognostications are pretty much bang-on .. and yes, society is pretty much not ready to have that white-collar middle management "work is gonna change a lot" conversation.

Posted by: Jon Husband at October 28, 2007 11:40 PM


Posted by: wtf at October 29, 2007 12:24 AM

De-commoditization as it is a transformation rather than a modification; still blechingly unwieldy.

Thanks for the point to Thomas Mahon, beautiful blog.

Posted by: Paul at October 29, 2007 4:36 AM

Point #5 is sitting like a gremlin on everyone's shoulder in my office, we are all blue or white collar and receive working families tax credits...

Posted by: KT at October 29, 2007 10:43 AM

Ouch! How about "uncommodity?" We all nod and smile hoping its not true. Nice lawn, Fred...great bean dip, Alice. Meanwhile the price of everything rises and our salaries don't. We're afraid to stick out and get hammered down yet if we don't stick out we're replaced. Sweet.

Posted by: John Stavely at October 29, 2007 3:29 PM

Great Post.
The early stages of de-commodification
can be darn lonely though.
And a giant leap of faith.

Like right now,
some of my romance writing buddies
think I'm crazy to be "specializing"
in business based romances.
But I think it'd be challenging to write a me-too novel and do well.
(plus, lets face it, business IS sexy)

Posted by: Kimber Chin at October 29, 2007 5:56 PM


You nailed it with your global microbrand post in October 2005, but the idea is so powerful that it bears repeating every year or so.

Commodity or global microbrand?
One is a complete abdication of responsibility.
The other means taking responsibiity for one's life.

Being a commodity is inevitably dehumanizing, no matter how much they pay you.

Creating your own microbrand brings out the very best in you.

Nobody who has done it says it is easy, but we wouldn't have it any other way.

Keep up the good work.

Posted by: David St Lawrence at October 30, 2007 12:40 AM

Instead of de-commodification how about improvement. Or progress. Or unique perspective. Or daring. Or boldness--or diversity--or VALUE. How about unique and meaningful contributions to a group, a firm, an industry, or a society at large?

Yes, some time ago the world decided it was just about done with the technological revolution. Information is out there, and it's digital. The whole world is out there, and everyone wants to eat your lunch. You asked for it and you got it.

You're welcome.

Comfort is for the pampered, not the prosperous. And I, for one, am excited at the prospect of having to fight--to use my wits at every turn--to thrive. Anyone who isn't, as you note, will soon be obsolete.

But seriously, best of luck out there. It's time to split some noses.

Posted by: Peter James at October 30, 2007 12:59 AM

I like the notion of going 'thru' a de-commodification (like a rebirthing) to get to the global microbrand self(perhaps a necessary process to rid yourself of the stench of commodification!)

From your #3 it appears that you are painfully aware as well as going through a period of transformation, reflection, ultimately becoming/discovering, and 'being' your own microbrand!
Ohhh, another stage of growth
Sweetness, you'll be alright! (At least you 'peeped' the future)

Adrienne Zurub
(overachiever,Aries,author,moody,speaker,oldest of 9 kids,striving,i>u,comedian,cardiacbitch,longing,i=u,awesome,creative,iconoclast,living da dream,selfish,pOet,grrl,disturbed,writer,seeker,author,grown-azzed WOMAN!)

Posted by: Adrienne Zurub at October 30, 2007 4:10 AM

I suggested rarefication as a better focus of the idea.


Posted by: John Dodds at October 30, 2007 11:43 AM

Great post! #6 is something that I have recently started to think a lot about.

When I first thought of myself as a "brand" about 3 months ago I did a quick Google search of myself and realized that if anyone was looking to learn about me they were most likely to find:

1. Myspace/Facebook profiles full of party pictures and random fun with my friends.

2. A random blog I started, with topics primarily covering Vanilla Ice, Chuck Norris and my explorations of american culture.

Delving in to my "online profile" promted me to make some changes... I changed the theme of my blog - I still write funny/random things, but I try to mix it with posts about marketing and some of the projects that I work on.

We're all kind of like $10 wine.... The question is what is your point of difference that makes someone choose you? A witty label? A cool bottle design? Great wine inside? Strong reviews in magazines? Cool bottle design? Having the right background?

....maybe marketing people and $10 wine isn't that different.....

Posted by: Krista at October 30, 2007 2:25 PM

#5 - I think it's more like Machines replaced the Blue-Collar Workers, and now Software is replacing the White-Collar Workers.

In the past, you had to go to a lawyer to get your Will done. Now, you can buy a software program for $14.95 that does 90% of the work for you. Sure, you go to the lawyer to complete the Will. But instead of having the lawyer work on it for 8 hours, the lawyer only works on it for 2 hours.

Dan Pink (www.danpink.com) has some interesting ideas on this type of thinking.

All the best,
R.A. Swigert

Posted by: R.A. Swigert at November 1, 2007 2:39 PM