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Jargon Watch: Clone

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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. In 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, some 30 years ago it was well-know that  Ferguson’s Videostar machines were re-badged JVC models or Grundig and Philips sharing 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.

2 replies on “Jargon Watch: Clone”

Indeed. It’s also interesting looking at the ethical issues around consumer electronics manufacturing. Most of the brands you cite use Foxcon in China as a manufacturing facility yet it was Apple that probably took the most flak for the human rights treatment of Foxcon workers. Main reason was probably that it is the ‘highest’ brand so is the best target, but it also did less to investigate/enforce better standards for workers than some of the other brands did. Same with ‘green’ electronics, Apple has lobbied against more stringent environmental standards being introduced in Europe. Nokia and the then Sony Ericsson (disclosure: client and I worked on this) lobbied for more stringent standards.

Stuart, thanks for dropping by: the ethics side of things is a more complex set of interconnected issues than the debate usually allows. Apple was selected mainly because it was an easy high-profile target. There is also a secondary issue in that many other less high-profile manufacturers don’t get the same level of scrutiny. In many respects market forces are dealing with the issue, China’s changing population is making it harder to get workers – this has affected pay and regulations in a positive way.

There is a wider question for western audiences in would they want the work brought back or pay more for better work conditions, unfortunately consumers ethics generally don’t extend to their wallets. Markets rather than regulation bring lasting change.

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