Previously, I’ve talked about the copy-and-paste model that has taken over social media innovation. What I didn’t recognize is that it runs much deeper than just social media.
I recently came across an article, “Why Everything Looks the Same” by Ryan Duffy, which covers the phenomenon of Blanding.
Blanding is the copy-paste model of consumer product development and brand marketing that follows repetitive patterns in the name of modernity but at the expense of authenticity and originality.
Over the past decade, blanding has invaded all industries and made our experiences across the web and in real life uniform. Even competing products, like automobiles, are becoming increasingly hard to differentiate because we’ve lost the brand individuality in our products and services.
Some of the other industries Duffy points to that have been taken over by blanding include Fashion, Cars, and Websites.
Luxury brands have replaced their unique logos with nearly identical semi-bold, sans-serif, all-caps wordmarks:
At some point in the last decade, you’ve probably thought about how all cars look alike these days. Here’s proof that they’ve lost their character:
Website design has become a factory-like product because everyone uses the same plug-and-play software and design studios to create their websites. Here are the landing pages of four subscription media products:
Duffy goes even further to explain how there is generational blanding among direct-to-consumer brands – changing to meet the desires of the next most valuable generation:
If you really look for it, you’ll find blanding everywhere.
Travel experiences, something you’d expect to be entirely unique, are in the grips of blanding. Dubai has emerged as one of the premier must-visit destinations, but having just traveled there, I realized how uniform everyone’s experience of that trip is. I found it extremely difficult to discover anything to do that I hadn’t already seen dozens of influencers on Instagram do. Snowboarding the sand dunes, camel rides, and visiting the Burj Khalifa were the M.O. Normally, I’m able to find off-the-beaten-path activities, but they seemed non-existent. So at what point does travel lose its explorative factor and become another off-the-shelf product?
I’ve even noticed blanding in entertainment. TikTok propagates the copy-paste model of social content where you feel required to hop on the same trends as everyone else to get algorithmic favor. Then there’s the streamer iShowSpeed, who is the fastest-growing streamer of all time. It was his unique quirks and style of streaming that made him so successful and addicting to watch. Now, there’s an entire class of creators copying his personality.
I hadn’t really considered how deep blanding went until just recently. But it’s truly an attack on individuality. And I fear it will have untold consequences on innovation and our ability to accept new ideas, in general.
Be Bold When Others Are Bland
Obviously, it’s easier to be bland. And Ryan Duffy makes multiple great points on the benefits of blanding:
- Cost reduction – It’s less expensive to build using existing tools.
- Speed – For startups, time is the most precious resource. It’s faster to follow established patterns than to create entirely new ones.
- Risk mitigation – There’s safety in pursuing ideas already validated by the market.
- Consumer expectation – Radical innovation often comes with a steep learning curve. It’s easier to satisfy customers by giving them something familiar.
Regardless, in a world where everything looks the same, there’s a true opportunity to be different.
MSCHF is a great case study of being bold when others are bland. MSCHF is an art collective known for its viral, anti-commercialism products. They break all conventions of what we expect from commercial goods, all in the name of commenting on the bland nature of consumerism. They take it to the extreme, but it shows the efficacy of this tactic nonetheless.
Duffy talks about Liquid Death and Cybertruck as two examples of anti-bland products. Liquid Death being the first to put water in a can and use branding that has nothing to do with ice-cold mountains, glaciers, or springs – resulting in meteoric growth and achieving a $700m valuation in less than five years. Cybertruck being bold enough to create an automobile form factor that no one else has even come close to creating – resulting in over 1 million pre-orders to date.
We shouldn’t overlook Samsung either, with their line of foldable and flippable smartphones. In a market that has viewed innovation in a straight line toward less bezel and fewer buttons, Samsung has created a stark contrast to what innovation looks like for our pocket computers.
While it may seem convenient, safe, and acceptable to do things similar to everyone else, it’s refreshing to see that others aren’t being so boring and finding success in the process. And for the sake of innovation, I hope this rubs off on others.