So we use others as a helpful shortcut. A filter. If a book is on the best-seller list, we’re more likely to skim the description. If a song is already popular, we’re more likely to give it a listen. Following others saves us time and effort and (hopefully) leads us to something we’re more likely to enjoy.
Does that mean we’ll like all those books or songs ourselves? Not necessarily. But we’re more likely to check them out and give them a try. And given the thousands of competing options out there, this increased attention is enough to give those items a boost.
Knowing others liked something also encourages people to give it the benefit of the doubt. Appearing on the best-seller list provides an air of credibility.
But by using familiar form, TiVo mad people more comfortable adopting radical innovation, By hiding the technology in something that looked visually familiar, TiVo used similarity to make difference feel more palatable.
Many digital actions today visually evoke their analog ancestors. We click on the icon of a floppy disk to save documents and drag digital files to be thrown away in what looks like a waste bin. Visual similarity also shows up offline. High-end care often use fake wood grain on the dashboard and veggie burgers often have grill marks. All make the different seem more similar.
The opposite also holds. Design can be used to make incremental innovations feel more novel. When Apple introduced the iMac in 1998, it featured only minor technological improvements. But from a visual standpoint it was radically different. Rather than the same old black or grey box, the iMac was shaped like a gum drop and came in colors like tangerine or strawberry. The device was hugely successful, and design, rather than technology, created the needed sense of difference that encouraged people to purchase.
And that is what Abercrombie & Fitch was worried about when it saw “The Situation” wearing their clothes on Jersey Shore. Their press release stated:
We are deeply concerned that Mr. Sorrentino’s association with our brand could cause significant damage to our image. We understand that the show is for entertainment purposes, but believe this association is contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand, and may be distressing to many of our fans. We have therefore offered a substantial payment to Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino and the producers of MTVs The Jersey Shore to have the character wear an alternate brand. We have also extended this offer to other members of the cast, and are urgently awaiting a response.
Companies are usually overjoyed when celebrities wear their clothes. But Abercrombie was worried about what would happen if the wrong celebrities started wearing the brand.