May 04

We live in a world of product. No getting around it really – from the minute we put on the TV, check a website, open a magazine or look at a newspaper, a dazzling variety of products wait to catch our eye and tempt us to part with cash. An integral part of this process is ongoing development: the products change as time goes on, becoming more and more advanced and adapting to their environment. Just like life, they evolve – one sell at a time (boom boom!).

However, just like evolution, sometimes there are dead ends. Products that have a unique selling point, but sacrifice it and end up changing into the very opposite thing they were created to be. It’s weird, but it happens.

Actionmasters are one such example. The Transformers toyline was, I think it’s safe to say, one of the biggest sellers of the 1980s and continues to do good business for Hasbro today. The gimmick was a simple one – robot becomes car/gun/plane/pretty much anything you like, and can change back again. The gimmick went through several variations as the line evolved to keep children interested, until they came up with Actionmasters. Transformers toys that, believe it or not, make a big point of not transforming at all. And so that product finds itself on the outside looking in – it has come full circle.

Wash & Go is another one. It appeared in the late 1980s as an all-in-one shampoo and conditioner. The solution, they said, to the problem of taking two bottles into the shower (which never struck me as a problem at all, but far be it from me to undercut their selling point). And so it went on, and new versions came out until…you guessed it…they made a version of Wash & Go that was only shampoo, no conditioner. A product set up on the premise of taking only one bottle into the shower ends up evolving to a stage where you need that second bottle again.

Star Trek even fell victim to this process – the first two seasons of Enterprise dropped the Star Trek title entirely. The show went down the prequel route to get back to its visual, dramatic and thematic roots after the wildly unpopular Voyager, and in so doing dropped the title that it was trying to promote. Star Trek evolved to the point where it wasn’t selling itself as Star Trek anymore. The circle, as the man in the black mask said, is complete.

I’m no businessman, but it interests me that even in this modern world, with its fast pace and breakneck speed, we can still manage to run in circles sometimes. We just seem to do it faster nowadays.

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