PR Whiteboard

“See You on the Flip Side”

In our house, that phrase is the last thing the kids hear when Daddy is on duty for bed time. Our children associate “flip” with “lights out.” As of April 12, 2011, so did Cisco: announcing, to the surprise of many, that it was discontinuing its little-video-camera-that-could.

Just two months’ earlier, I had been sitting in a client meeting here at Matter hearing the term “Flip” tossed around like “Kleenex” — no longer just a brand name, but reborn as a verb. “We’ll just Flip the customer interviews and then we can get them online….” said the client. And all heads nodded — everybody knew he meant the video camera. Simple, cheap, efficient, the Flip made “grassroots” video campaigns e-a-s-y.

So, what happened?

Evidently, marketers and PR people weren’t Cisco’s key customer demographic for the Flip. Rather, the (sensible) goal was for the Flip to win the hearts and dollars of the general consumer. Or at least, that’s the presumption most people have. It’s hard to say for sure what the real goal was, since over the short years of its existence, the company didn’t invest in significant upgrades to the camera that might have helped it compete when iPhones and Androids appeared with video cameras as standard apps. And the general consumer got on the smart phone train with enthusiasm, leaving Flip looking like a one-trick pony.

Now, let me fully disclose what should already be apparent: I have no special insight into Cisco’s marketing goals for the Flip. But as a person with a fine appreciation for the use and evolution of words, it just seems impossible that the Flip couldn’t be successful when its brand name was being tossed around, with easy comprehension, as a verb.

Oh, wait. I’m having a flashback to 1992, and my first public relations job, and being asked (often, but I’m not complaining) to go and Xerox something (so we could fax it to the client…but that’s another technology evolution story). In fact, when you sit and think about it, there are plenty of examples of brands with incredible awareness, whose products couldn’t keep up.

It seems likely that the Flip’s introduction, rise and demise will become part of the study of consumer marketing courses in years to come. Did Cisco pull the plug too early? Or was the company business-brilliant, eliminating a soon-to-be-or-maybe-already-technologically-outstripped product that wasn’t central to its core mission? Or could Cisco have found a way to make the wildly popular product more central to its “human network”? And finally: if a company like Apple, with its elegantly aggressive consumer marketing and packaging had made the Flip, would it be the other i-gadget people like me carry around with their iPhone and iPad and iPod?

The fact is, there’s no way to know for sure — which is why these questions are interesting to those of us who enjoy the challenge of marketing. Unless Apple introduces the iPhlip (please, focus on the iPhone 5 first, Mr. Jobs).

In the meantime, good-night, little video gem — see you on the Flip side.