But they never received the "thing" itself that everything went with. There was a camera for a computer, but no computer. There was an alarm clock that had a slot for an iPod so you could wake to your own music, but no iPod. There were clothes for a doll but no doll; headphones but nothing to plug them into; and American Express gift cards from Grandma but no idea of what to buy.
There is an entire world out there dedicated to things that further define another thing. It's less about the iPod these days than all the defining gadgets you can stick it in. It is what it wears. A neoprene armband makes it sporty. A surround-sound docking station makes it a stereo. And, a little device for the car turns it into a radio.
The same is true for automobiles. It's less about the car than the 230 extras that add comfort and convenience to the driving experience. Skip over the choice of a V6 or V8 engine and focus on the more lifestyle-defining umbrella holder, chilled glove compartment and under-seat storage options.
Brands are under phenomenal business pressure for innovation. Consumers are used to operating at a life-speed that expects more, better and faster. Brands extensions seem almost frantic, coming at a breakneck pace, and consumer ADD fuels this frenzy. When Apple files legal papers with the FCC regarding the development of an iPod phone and the headlines on the new programs the next day lead with a story about the "next big idea from iPod," it makes you wonder if we, as consumers hungry for the latest and greatest, are just a bit too desperate. This quest for brand and product extension often happens at the expense of quality and functionality. When my ultra-thin Nano iPod that was in the back pocket of my jeans snapped in half when I sat down, my 13-year-old son looked at me with all the earnestness of a teen and said, "Pop, everyone knows they break when you sit on them. You should get a coat with an iPod pocket so it won't happen again. Burton has a cool one." So now I need a coat by Burton to safely listen to my iPod from Apple. It's enough to make any cynical consumer a conspiracy theorist.
The sheer breadth and number of extras are what seem to define the value of something. It is a world of "wannabes." A phone that wants to be a camera. A music player that wants to be an alarm clock. A car that wants to be your mother.
And for me, personally, a fat guy who wants to be a thin man.
Since I have lost 240 pounds, I am finally, after 20 years, free to walk into a store and shop for a men's small instead of a 6XL. I like to wear suits and ties everyday. Sometimes a vest. And nice shoes. Always. Maybe I am making up for the years when all I wore were khaki sweats with an untucked white shirt and Air Force One sneakers.
Now, I am about 150 pounds. And the question I am asked first by people who haven't seen my thin self is, "Where are your khakis and white shirts?" Or, sometimes, I will get a crack like, "Hey ... you're tucking in your shirt these days."
But inevitably, the conversation will begin to focus on my personality. How is my energy level? Do I still run around and act crazy? Am I happy with myself? They are questions you ask a fat person. Why wouldn't someone who just lost 240 pounds have more energy than less? Why wouldn't I still run around a room? I am lighter, thinner and more agile than ever. I can jump up on a table now rather than stand behind it.
It all came together for me watching my children open their gifts. My stomach was my most defining accessory. Fat was, somehow, seen as a meaningful add-on. I realized that many people seemed to define me by my weight. When I would read an article about my company, I was always referred to as the "big man." The dual meaning was apparent. What will I be called now? The "little man in branding?" Let's hope not.
In this age of the thing that defines the thing, I want to be redefined by my lack of "extras." I want to stretch my boundaries by reeling them in. It might be risky to buck the creative and lifestyle tide of more is more, but I want to be the stripped-down, basic model that gets the job done.
In 2006, I want to be defined by how much weight I bring to the table in a whole new way.