Do You Suffer from Fisher-Price Syndrome?

Sure it's fun to mock that guy poking at his wrist computer.


by Peter Coish

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After almost two months of anticipation, my Apple Watch finally arrived last week.

I’m a gadget-freak and Apple Fanboy, so for me this was a big moment. I took to social media to let my friends know and to show off my latest dip into Apple’s Kool-Aid barrel.

To my surprise some friends did not share my enthusiasm for the device —  in fact, my post was mostly met with derision and links to stories claiming the Apple Watch was DOA. Some claimed it was a gadget in search of a purpose, that it was redundant if you had an iPhone, that wearing one made me a douchebag, that it was merely…a toy.

None of them, however, had actually experienced the Apple Watch on their own.

But that didn’t stop them from dismissing it, umm, out-of-hand. And that’s when I realized I was in the middle of yet another outbreak of Fisher-Price Syndrome. FPS is a condition which leads those resistant to new technologies to dismiss them as “toys.” There have been many outbreaks over the past 30 years:

  • In 1981 when the first IBM PC entered the business world, it was dismissed as a toy. If you were serious about business, you used a mini-mainframe. (Remember the System 36?)
  • In 1984 when the first Mac was launched, it was dismissed as a toy. That playful graphical interface just was too…childlike. If you were serious about business, you used an IBM PC.
  • When the first Blackberry was released in the late ’90s, it was dismissed by some as a glorified pager.
  • In mid-2000s when Facebook and other social networks emerged, they were dismissed as frivolous time-wasters, and some businesses even forbade access to them at the workplace (and some, incredibly, still do).
  • In 2007 when the first iPhone was launched, it was dismissed as a toy.  If you were serious about business, you used a Blackberry. (I remember one Millennial — a digital native! — who told me that the iPhone was for “hippies”.)

Yet, the PC, the Mac, the Blackberry, Facebook and the iPhone all proved to be disruptive technologies that revolutionized the way we communicate and market. And many of those who dismissed them as toys have long since adopted these technologies and, no doubt, now see them as indispensable.

Yet here we are in 2015, and once again there are many eager to declare the Apple Watch nothing more than a toy.

What are the causes of Fisher-Price Syndrome and why is it so hard to shake?  First, we’ve long known that consumers adopt new technology at different rates. In fact, the seminal work on technology adoption and marketing, Diffusion of Innovations, was written over 50 years ago and gave marketers such familiar terms as “Early Adopters” and “Late Majority.”  Second, new technologies often undershoot user expectations, but in the cases above, the technology quickly caught up and eventually surpassed them. (In 2007, for example, most of us could not imagine a world with smartphone apps; today, we can’t imagine a world without them.)  And third, there’s a tendency in all of us to resist the newest and latest as we age — with maturity comes a whole lot of responsibilities that compete for our time, and staying on top of the newest and latest is just so much work. It’s the same reason why many of us suffer a musical “taste freeze” in our mid-thirties.

I’m not saying we marketers should blithely cheerlead every new technology. I’m not advocating that we rush our clients onto the newest bleeding edge social network. (That would be irresponsible.)  But I am saying that we must be aware of Fisher-Price Syndrome and its negative effects, and force ourselves to evaluate the “next big thing” with sceptical but open minds.

To routinely do otherwise risks isolation and irrelevance in our relentlessly youthful industry. And in our racket, irrelevance can be career-ending.