by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango LLC
I recently attended the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, and it’s true, you can’t spell “excess” without CES. After traversing an area the size of Rhode Island brimming with gadgetry, blissed-out geeks, and scantily clad spokesmodels uttering words they didn’t understand, I have but two regrets…
- I didn’t brush up on my Chinese, the native tongue of half the conventioneers. (I wondered if our friends from the People’s Republic of Capitalism view Vegas with revulsion or envy.)
- I didn’t wear more comfy shoes. (My feet still feel like the back side of a slow rodeo clown.)
As for the electronics, Panasonic’s 150-inch TV was definitely drool-worthy, and I dug the projector the size of a deck of cards. But what snagged my attention was this upstart electronics brand that’s purely marketing on steroids.
Surrounded by companies with soul-numbing names like Tech-Em, Tech-Power, Tech-Top, Tech-Vision, Techko, Techman, Technocel, Technosonic, Techwell, Techwin and Tekocell (all present at CES), one start-up stood out like Paris Hilton in a nunnery. And all it took was the name “Skullcandy” and the edgiest logo within miles. (Most of the other logos at CES ranged from clichéd to pathetic.) If you didn’t notice that, the blaring industrial music by a live DJ did the trick.
Skullcandy makes headphones and other lifestyle products. Correction: Skullcandy doesn’t make jack. Skullcandy is a bunch of designers and marketing guys partying in an office in Park City, Utah, designed like a skateboard park with a swimming pool. Skullcandy founder and CEO Rick Alden proudly acknowledges that he sources his products from Chinese manufacturers, and that he hired his first one at CES 2002. He did develop the idea of a headset that simultaneously plugs into your cellphone and your MP3 player, and his friend came up with the name. Everything else is derived from the good underpaid engineers of the Middle Kingdom. Alden didn’t even have to pay for his product prototype, he boasts.
And, hence, I kneel before thee, Master Alden, for thou art a true marketeer.
With his new brand, Alden targets skatepunks and other denizens of the extreme set. His website features extreme-sports junkies in mid-flight and bands with names like “Swollen Members.” And his edgy brand has attracted fans ranging from Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh to my fellow USC Trojan Reggie Bush.
It’s working. While the Chinese engineers who created Skullcandy’s products still inhabit tiny booths on the convention’s periphery, Skullcandy scored attention in the center ring. Its products can be found in retailers as disparate as Amazon, Best Buy and Emporio Armani. And it’s become a cult brand among musicians and other trendsetters.
The lesson here? If you’d like to be a hotshot in consumer electronics, ditch the engineering classes and call up your designer buddies and a Chinese contractor. It’s America 2.0 folks, and that means looks are everything. As a marketer, I should be celebrating this fact, but I’m kicking myself for not launching my own electronics brand. (Atomic Tangotech?) Of course, there’s always CES 2020…
Update 7/20/2011: Demonstrating the longtail power of blogposts, reporter Jeff Horwich of American Public Media’s “Marketplace” radio show found this article today and interviewed me about Skullcandy’s IPO. So I got my 15 seconds in the spotlight (if radio has spotlights).