What Are You Morphing Into?

Years ago, and I mean back when they still called it “the information superhighway,” I did an ad with David Fowler and Ken Markey for our client GTE. The headline: It turns your computer into a phone, your phone into a computer, and both of them into a television. Sort of.

Well, you can certainly drop the sort of, eh? In fact, it’s hard to tell anymore whether cell phones are computers you talk into or cameras you use to IM and play games on.

Of course, it’s not just in telecommunications where these mutants are running amok. The lines of distinction are blurring all over the place.

In the auto industry, crossover vehicles are now all the rage. Part SUV, part car, this category could very well be the savior of Ford. But correct me if I’m wrong: Weren’t SUVs a crossover to begin with? Part truck, part car? Sheesh, now we have hybrids of hybrids. Where will the madness stop?

Certainly not with beer. Alcoholic energy drinks? Now there’s an ugly platypus, even to other platypuses. And did you know dog food isn’t just dog food anymore? It’s medicine, too. Add a smidgen of chondroitin sulfates and voila, you have the pet health category.

There are zillions of examples. Probably better ones than I’ve included here. But that’s not the point. You already know all this, don’t you? The point is, it’s been happening at a molecular level.

Our molecules, to be more precise. Cue the mad scientist laughter: Mwahahahaha!

Think about it. We not only have hybrid expectations of almost every product or service we buy, but now of every person we meet. Soccer moms are now expected to be sexy. (You can thank the MILFs for that one.) Meanwhile, tough guys are getting their eyebrows waxed, and we want our kids to lob a 40-yard bomb to the corner of the end zone, but only after their piano recital.

We have, it seems, morphed into hybrid creatures ourselves.

The obvious chicken and egg question is: Which morphed first, the products or the people? In other words, have hybrid products actually created hybrid needs within us, or have we always had a hybrid nature that was dormant, only recently awakened and freed by seismic shifts in our culture?

The answer is: Yes.

Hey, I’m not smart enough to answer that one. My guess is it’s a bit of both. Based on target research, marketers are mutating products to gain share. But consumers seem to be embracing these works of voodoo and alchemy more than ever, especially since Web 2.0 has allowed them to engage in a little self-exploration.

So, do the times change the man? Or does the man change the times? Let some planner write the follow-up article. Sounds like a lot of research. What I do know, or think I know, is this: The hybridization phenomenon has created unique new herds of consumers for marketers like us to wrangle. And our first step is going to be backwards and up a hill, where we can look down over these strange creatures and understand them a little better. How they socialize, where they migrate, their grazing patterns. We are going to have to be sociologists, anthropologists and probably a few other gists if we want to thrive, maybe even survive.

We are going to have to stop hiding behind tired clich