The Death of Either/Or

Back in the day, when I was starting out as a young advertising geek at J. Walter Thompson (working with the Toronto and New York offices), we talked a lot about the emerging “and/and consumer”. This term referred to the new expectations consumers had of brands, that they receive a series of benefits without trade-offs and compromises. I want safety AND performance, such as the new Volvo innovations that delivered its classic promise of safety along with increased power and handling. I want incredible selection AND low prices, such as what the emerging monster called Wal-Mart was beginning to offer.

But embedded in this moniker of “and/and” was the perception of greed, that consumers (the term “consumer” itself connotes endless consumption, like some kind of Pac-man running amok in supermarket aisles) were demanding it all, without compromise. We were barely hiding our contempt and disapproval of the unreasonable expectations our customers were putting on us. How unfair of them!

Today, the attitude of both advertisers and agencies has changed because we as people have changed. It is now a given that the compromises and ‘binary oppositions’ of the past are exactly that: a thing of the past.

Lululemon has given legions of yoga enthusiasts comfort AND style. No longer should you look like a tree hugger just because you’re doing your downward dog. No longer should you need to pay through the nose just to look stylish, as Michelle Obama proved with her $17 H&M dress. Nor should owning an environmentally sustainable car require you to give up style and luxury, thanks to Mr. Musk.

These either/or propositions are dying left and right. Airbnb has proven that you can satisfy your wanderlust and feel at home, while saving a ton of money in many cases. Uber has allowed millions to feel a personalized driving service without having to be a millionaire. Our new client COLD-FX has proven that you can be naturally based AND clinically tested, putting them in both the Natural Health Products (NHP) and the cold & flu aisles at your local pharmacy.

In fact, brands that break new either/or barriers are essentially the brands that have truly captivated our imaginations – and wallets – today. What if I could travel for weeks without having to recharge my smartphone or laptop? What if I didn’t need any device at all to connect with the people and information I care about? What other “either/or” situations could be dismantled by the next innovation, business model, or brand experience?

– W.