AT LARGE: Think again

AT LARGE: Think again


It's an amazingly powerful word, is it not? Starting with the contemptuous unvoiced hiss of the lamino-dental fricative, wasting no time with the shortest of vowels to the back of the mouth with the velar nasal consonant turning your nose upwards, before, dramatically, you cut off the voicing to spit out a plosive from deep in your throat. Thus the word ends - not with a vowel, or some other consonant that could go on for a second or so - but with a "k" that cuts it off immediately. No further time will be spent saying it, it's time to do it. It's remarkably economical.

Thinking is something we all do constantly. Even when you don't think you're thinking, you're actually thinking that you're not thinking. You can't help but think. It's like breathing - if you're not thinking, you're probably dead.

Not surprisingly, "Think" has been and continues to be one of the most effective slogans in the history of marketing. IBM's legendary Thomas Watson Senior, way back in the 1940s, knew how potent a word it was. IBM's marketing of the time featured Watson, not smiling casually like the "funky" CEOs of today, but glaring from beneath his furrowed brow with the slogan "Think" glaring above him.

It's a frankly scary image. Like the company's later advertising slogan "no-one ever got fired for buying IBM", its threat is barely veiled.

Think big

Big Blue has done well out of "Think". The word's economy, solidity and integrity have come to symbolise the solidity and stability of the company, even when the company itself did not embody these values. IBM's counter-cultural nemesis, Apple, paid due homage in its most successful and grammatically innovative branding effort, "Think Different".

I mention Apple not coincidentally, as that company and IBM share the title for the world's best-branded laptop computers. ThinkPad and PowerBook are brands above and beyond their respective makers. No other laptop is as readily identifiable, regardless of market share. The makers of Tecras and Inspirons may disagree with me, but I can't recall who they are.

ThinkPad is a great brand because it builds on the considerable cachet of the word "Think", but also imbues it with the notions of mobility and freedom - you must think to live, and this product will allow you to do so unrestricted.

IBM should have branded all its personal computers this way to start off with. You could argue that IBM launched an industry by branding its personal computers "Personal Computers", but that brand has become so dilute as to cease being a brand. People used to call a PC by any manufacturer an "IBM PC", but now the phrase "Windows PC" has usurped the brand for another company, and there's diddly IBM can do about it.

IBM is fighting back, by extending the "Think" brand across its desktop computers and software divisions. Its NetVista desktops (which were originally marketed with the worst slogan ever: "Drool.") will now be called "ThinkCentre", while its monitors will be called "ThinkVision" and various software products will be marketed as "ThinkVantage".

Somehow, these do nothing for me. ThinkVision sounds like a movie gimmick from the 1950s (you know, like "Smell-o-Vision", only scarier). ThinkVantage is just an awful mulch of words, reminiscent of John Howard's "Incentivation" from the late 1980s.

ThinkCentre is OK. It sounds productive. It has the weight of "Think" with the "you can do it all from here" convenience of "Centre". But it also sounds clinical, and institutional, like a lab where odd psychological experiments are carried out. It strikes me as the very opposite of a ThinkPad (which, I suppose, it is).

I might not have felt this way had IBM always marketed a line of computers called ThinkCentre. A few years ago it might have seemed a logical extension of ThinkPad. Now, somehow, it seems less empowering, more chain-you-to-your-desk, than NetVista. Remembering, of course, it's exactly the same product - only the names have changed.

Of course, all of this is moot in the reality of the marketplace. The only question that matters is, will anyone get fired for buying one?

Matthew JC. Powell is a thoughtful sort. If pennies were legal tender, he'd give you one for your thoughts on

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