April 25, 2008

Why do some products only become popular when attached to a new movement?
Around 6 or 8 years ago compact florescent light bulbs were introduced on the American market. The ad campaign for these bulbs billed them as long lasting bulbs. These light bulbs were something that you could buy and not have to replace for about 5 years. Since our house has 10 foot ceilings and a light fixture expertly placed above the 2nd stair form the top, my Dad went out and bought some compact fluorescents so that he would have to bring the later up and try to lean it against the wall while on the top and 2nd stairs and hope he didn’t fall every year.
Recently, compact florescent light bulbs have been on the market billed as energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Their popularity has flourished. Hybrid cars have experienced the same type of thing though theirs is swinging between cost efficient and environmentally friendly. The hybrid car came on the market as the environmentally friendly way to drive. They were first only popular with certain groups of people, as parodied on South Park, but have since become exceedingly popular due to the rise in fuel costs. What I want to know is why do some perfectly cost effective products only become popular when social sentiment changes?
The compact florescent bulb is a perfect product. It saves energy, and it rarely needs to be replaced, so it is not a time consuming product to have. I have one in a lamp and it has been there for years and works just the same as it always did. As far as cost saving, I don’t really care. But I love that I never have to think about my light bulb. As for fuel efficient cars, I really don’t understand how anyone could not want one. I’m not going to rally against big cars, but everyone is always looking for little ways to save money and that is a huge one.
Hybrid cars came out in groups. The Toyota prius was most popular with yuppie types and as gas prices and Al Gore’s influence rose, they became more popular with the general public. What is interesting is that not all hybrid and fuel efficient cars took off in quite the same way. Lexus had a hybrid that came out several years ago and has recently been remarketed because of rising fuel costs. This particular hybrid was not popular for its cost effectiveness. It has only become popular because of the craze to save the environment and money at the same time.
Why is happening? The reason, I think, is that people often do not want their outside image to reflect something other than popular sentiment. I light bulb that lasts 5 years is great, but unless you are like my Dad and bought a house where the light fixtures were not well thought out, why spend the money. But when energy costs go up and it becomes popular to save the environment again, you feel like you have to be seen with compact fluorescents. The same thing happens to cars. When gas is cheap, nobody cares about the cost to fill up. But as public perception of global climate changed again, and gas prices went quickly skyward, everybody wants a more fuel efficient car. And they complain about damage to the environment by emissions and drilling for oil, however, if asked most people would not vote for or use public transportation. We only car about the environment as long as it is convenient. But at least now I can get a car that doesn’t require so much time wasted at the gas pump. I guess really, it isn’t about cost at all, just convenience.

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