I wrote a bit about my experience speaking with a consumer electronics salesperson on a post I wrote for PR Week. It was this conversation where I heard the phrase clone used.
When I heard clone, I thought of Dolly the sheep, or the lumberjack ‘castro clone’ subculture in the gay community that borrowed from 1960s rockabilly and drove the Levi’s 501s as fashion movement. It also had a clear influence on grunge fashion of the early 1990s
However n this context it meant a piece of consumer electronics badged with the brand name of, and sold by a famous Japanese brand that has been made in China by an ODM (original device manufacturer), and where many of the critical components were not sourced from within the industrial group of the Japanese brand. It was a negative term implying that the product was in many respects counterfeit or unauthentic.
The concept in itself isn’t a new idea. During the golden age of Japanese hi-fi you saw similar ODM relationships. The most egregious example is from some 30 years ago it was well-know that Ferguson’s Videostar machines were re-badged JVC models. Show a picture of a JVC HR-3300 to your average British person of a certain age and they might tell it was a Ferguson Videostar or a Baird. Grundig and Philips shared a similar relationship back in the 1980s.
What is interesting is the corrosive effect that the clone accusation must have on a brand, particularly when it comes from a figure like the sales person I spoke to who would be considered by the consumer to be a domain expert. I gnaws away at reputations based on quality and design over decades and explains how globalisation and digital convergence has destroyed giants like Panasonic, Sony, Pioneer and Sharp.
This contrasts sharply with the perception of Apple, which uses a similar ODM-based supply chain yet has managed to grow from strength-to-strength. More gadget related content can be found here.