A marketing genius has come out with a line of baby clothing modeled after Apple’s iPod MP3 player — genius because iPods now outsell stereos, and everyone from preteens to middle-aged soccer moms can be seen sporting iPods (or, occasionally, the less fashionable alternatives). Part of the reason for the iPod’s success, aside from size, weight, and portability, is its design, which mirrors the sleek, space-age, nearly seamless look of Apple computers like the iBook, PowerBook, and Mac Mini. In today’s market, the pricier Macintoshes sell as much for their looks as for the operating system or computing power. (You’ll probably still find most business-oriented programmers and IT buyers sticking to WinTel.)
The reaction to the iPod clothing shouldn’t surprise me — I should know popular taste and the branding frenzy by now — but it does. The universal comment seems to be that these clothes are the “cutest ever.” Yes, making your baby into a rolling advertisement for a digital music player is cuter than anything that has ever come before. If Enron had produced stylish, cutting-edge consumer goods, then we’d have said Enron sleepers are the “cutest ever.”
Tying this into The Reinvention of Work by Matthew Fox, I wonder if iPod baby garb isn’t part of the logical progression from the agricultural world to the industrial age to the electronic/computer one. Animals have always been very popular on children’s clothing and bedding — bunnies, ducks, lambs, geese, even cows. For boys, there was the universal appeal of transportation, machinery, and sports — engineer/train, construction, race car, and sports themes.
But the cutest ever is dressing your progeny to look like a high-end consumer electronic product. On the cuteness scale, iPod baby clothes rate a gag, if not a projectile vomit.
I suspect that what’s cute about the clothes and what makes them marketing genius is that they are designed to get attention and to associate you with something hot (or cool, depending on your generation). In a world of six+ billion people, we all crave attention. Like those three-wheeled sports joggers that most babies seem to find uncomfortable (check out their expressions), iPod clothes pander to self-conscious masses who want to “stand out” to “fit in.” (An advertising slogan.) We can’t stand not to be seen, and we want to blend in only in the socially prescribed way, through the support of appropriate consumer goods. Our affluence and our sophistication must not go unappreciated — or unobserved. What better way than to be identified with a pop market icon? “Look at our baby. It’s not enough for us if you say he’s cute or precious — of course he is — but you must note that he has come into the world right — unconsciously promoting a hot product that will be obsolete by the time he gets to kindergarten, perhaps even day-care.”
Of course, by then he will be a walking billboard for other products.
How cute is that?
Update, 10 January 2019: World population is 7.5 billion at the Population Clock.
Update, 11 November 2023: World population is more than 8 billion.