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Control Enthusiast

May 7, 2021 | Trends

Former Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs was a notorious control freak. To this day, Apple keeps a tight lid on its product plans, reflecting Jobs’ imprimatur. The phenomenon is spreading among technology users. It’s all due to the vastly distributed power consumers now wield thanks to smartphones and other digital technologies.

The Unwired Ubertrend is fueling a growing control freak syndrome. Addicted to impressive, one-button experiences that offer instant gratification, all summoned free from wires, consumers are increasingly demanding greater control over their own interactions. The upshot: an increasingly more difficult-to-please customer:

  • Control enthusiast – National Car Rental has made control central to their advertising message. National’s TV ads feature former Seinfeld actor, Patrick Warburton, who, in his inimitable style, plays a demanding car rental customer. In one television commercial, Warburton proclaims, “control is so, what’s the word…sexy.” In another, he concludes, “control suits me.” Since “control freak” elicits so many negative emotions, the ad agency has Warburton saying he prefers the term “control enthusiast”:

  • Marketers join the fray – The concept of control is finding more adherents. PNC Bank ran an ad that spells it out onscreen, although the voice-over dances around the issue, preferring to say that “everyone likes a bit of order in their life.” Breville PolyScience offers an induction cooking system called “The Control Freak.” Beachbody markets a “9-Week Control Freak” program of in-home workouts and meal-prep planning.
  • Consumer sentiment – The headline says it all: “PG&E customers like controlling thermostats with iPhones.” In 2014, Lowe’s put a finer point on it, reporting that 70% of Americans (PDF) want to control something in their home from their mobile device without getting out of bed. Honeywell reported in 2014 that 27% of study respondents take matters into their own hands by secretly controlling thermostat settings, a figure that seems low.
  • Package tracking – The broad appeal of control enthusiasm is best explained by a popular web feature, package tracking. On any given day, UPS handles 374 million tracking requests, while FedEx handles 400 million more. That’s nearly 800 million control-enthusiast commands issued each day.
  • Luggage tracking – Realtime tracking is one of technology’s most hypnotic capabilities, driving adoption in other sectors. In the early 2000s, Air Canada offered one of the first online tracing systems for lost luggage. In 2011, Delta became the first airline to add baggage tracking to its Fly Delta mobile app. In 2016, the airline upped the ante with an RFID-based luggage tracking system that used maps to pinpoint a bag’s exact location.

Self checkout registersSelf-check-out cash registers are a manifestation of consumer control. At first they were unpopular, now people line up to use them.Armed with their intelligent, instant-gratification devices, consumers wield growing clout, which only serves to feed the control enthusiast in all of us.

Michael Tchong’s Ubertrends book
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