Restaurants in Japan have always understood the value of dressing their windows attractively in order to entice prospective customers inside. Indeed, an entire industry has emerged based entirely on the manufacture of restaurant food models. They are effective because they are so mouthwateringly appealing – at least in appearance, when viewed through a glass window.


[Photo courtesy of Kenton]

These displays target passers-by and from a marketing perspective it is highly effective. So why don’t we see the same technique being used in other industries?

The restaurant business is different from many other industries in several notable instances:

  • Restaurants cater for spontaneous, walk-in trade.
  • Descriptions of menu items aren’t always easy to understand.
  • Food is perishable, and real food would look unappealing after only a few hours.

Marketing of products in other industries also usually involves other factors:

  • The forming of relationships between the prospective customer and the product.
  • An aspirational element, stretching the customer to consider something which would probably otherwise be beyond reach.

The automotive industry is a good example. The aspirational messages in TV and print advertising, the clinical environment of many showrooms in which every vehicle is open, inviting prospective customers to get in and feel what it’s like. This is intended to be the start of a long relationship, and is all part of the sales and marketing process.

Apple Stores with beautifully presented computers, phones, music players and tablets do much the same thing. They beckon passers-by to pop in and start the relationship, first by browsing the web, checking email, listening to some music; then by a comparison of models and eventually a purchase.

Jewellery shops selling rings, necklaces, watches and other expensive items – they do much the same. They display beautiful products and allow prospective customers to try them on; to feel the quality; and most importantly, to feel the effect of wearing the item. “Does it suit me? Is it me? Do I like it? Can I live without it?

It’s hard to imagine any of the above examples using plastic models, or “dummies”. The aspiration, the relationship – somehow it just doesn’t work. It can only work with the real thing.

I recently followed the launch of the Lumia 925, Nokia’s latest flagship smartphone. I was particularly interested in this particular model because my current phone is badly broken and the Lumia 925 is exactly the sort of thing I’m looking at as a replacement. I’d read the specs, seen the pictures and signed up to be notified when the first ones would be in the shops. I was already in love with this phone – all the stars were correctly aligned, and everything pointed to this being my next phone.

As I passed a mobile phone shop, I popped in “just in case” the new phones had arrived. “Actually they haven’t, no, but you’re in luck – look what we’ve got“, said the assistant, pulling out a plastic dummy phone. Until that moment I had been as excited as a child in a sweetshop, but at that exact moment the bubble burst. Holding a piece of plastic which looked like a Lumia 925 isn’t the same as holding a Lumia 925. It was like holding a toy. It wasn’t remotely aspirational, and there was certainly no prospect of any form of relationship. Oh dear. Time for a rethink.

A few days later the situation hadn’t changed but as I passed another store, the manager beckoned me in. He had just taken delivery of their very first Lumia 925 and he invited me to open it. I was no longer in a “toy shop”, I was back where I wanted to be. At that moment it all changed again. Aspiration – yes; Relationship – yes. I was in love again.

I explained my story to the manager and he had some sympathy with the other store. Phone shops are often targeted by thieves who run off with many high-value phones. It can be disruptive to the store, and potentially dangerous for the storekeepers, so dummies are frequently used. A recognisable problem, but one which many other stores have solved.

Surely it would be cheaper for BMW to put dummy cars in the showrooms and simply let customers view “The Ultimate Driving Machines” through glass. Imagine visiting a Vertu boutique and finding the new Vertu Ti represented by a realistic-looking dummy. The slogan “Nothing will ever feel the same” includes the word “feel” for good reason.VertuTi

There is a place for dummy phones, just like there is a place for dummy food – behind glass.

Dummies don’t have the same characteristics as the real thing, and as this is a critical part of the entire process, they shouldn’t be handled – they aren’t representative. They aren’t qualified to represent their real counterparts, and as such shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near any prospective customers. Look – yes; Touch – no.

I have spent many years in the mobile phone business myself, and I well understand the challenges this presents. But I have spent longer as a consumer and I don’t believe it makes sense to be told “oh, you’re planning to spend £500 on a new phone? It looks rather like this toy one – have a feel of it. What do you think?

What do you think? Please comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s