Sunday, January 15, 2017

image over practice

Apple's new bags when you buy something in an Apple Store are biodegradable. The old bags were thick plastic and threaded with a rope drawstring. The old bags conjured an image. The old bag image said, "I just bought something substantial that requires a sturdy bag that will keep the contents safe until they arrive safely at their new home." The thing about the old bags is that they were reusable. I have several of them around my house. My kids like to use them. Because they are plastic they can keep things reasonably safe from water. I've used those bags for various things--some to carry sack lunches, some as a hamper when traveling, some to carry books, some to wrap electronics inside my backpack when rain was likely. Apple's new bags are stiff, upright, paper sacks with a similar rope to the old bag, and they are biodegradable. The Apple people make sure to tell you that they are biodegradable. They're intended to be easily digestible by Mother Earth. The new bags conjure an image. The new bag says, "I just gave money to a company that cares about the environment." But, if you're not careful you'll miss the subtle message that comes from the shift in image. When you consider the old bag, the new bag says, "I just gave money to a company that cares about the environment more than their products."

I like the old bags. I'm not saying the new bags are a mistake. The new bags are only a mistake if snobby Apple customers don't prefer the new image. It's only a mistake if they like the image of "celebrating awesome products one bag at a time" to the image of "saving the planet one bag at a time".

I referred to Apple customers as snobby, but maybe that's unfair. Maybe the business strategy works best if they are shallow. I say this because I wonder how bio-economics would rate a very reusable bag against a single use biodegradable bag. In other words I wonder how many reuses it would take for a multipurpose bag to have a lower carbon footprint than a single-use biodegradable bag. It's the same thing as wondering whether the biodegradable soap, utensils, matches, and bags that I toss while camping are better for the environment than my backpack that I also take camping but reuse for 10 or 20 years. It's not obvious that the new bag loves Mother Earth more than the old bag. But, it is definitely obvious from an image perspective. And their message is not subtle.

And that's what's got me thinking about image over practice. I guess we all want to look good. In business it can translate to the bottom line. In personal life it can translate into friendships, conversations, and other intangible personal capital. But, looking good is different from being good.

I don't have any special praise or condemnation for anyone looking good or looking bad or being good or being bad today. If I had to rank my priorities it would be, from high to low: being good, looking good, looking bad, being bad. And now I'm going to go set that new Apple Store bag in the back yard to see how long it is before it totally biodegrades. Maybe I'll come back and update this post when it does.