‘When the world zigs, zag’
The phrase was created by agency BBH and used in a campaign for Levi’s to promote their new black jeans. It was accompanied by an iconic image of a black sheep in the middle of a pack of white sheep. (The black sheep was also facing the opposite way to the others.)
The term has since become synonymous with the idea of rebellion, standing out from the crowd and going the opposite way to the mainstream.
It’s also often misunderstood, with many people believing that differentiation is magical fairy dust that guarantees success – and the more different you are, the better. This is could not be further from the truth. And both Uriah Smith and Elon Musk knew it.
The problem is that people are nervous of change. Sure, there are always neophiles (folk who love anything new) but the masses prefer the familiar. Differentiation can get attention, but without care it can also be a source of fear-based friction that dissuades people from fully engaging with a new idea.
Uriah Smith’s Horsey Horseless sounds and looks ridiculous to us now, but his observation was spot on. Without a horse, these clever new horseless carriages could be seen as off-puttingly strange and frighteningly different.
Similarly, it’s hard to believe that Elon Musk’s Tesla (a newcomer to a car market dominated by huge, long-established global players) would have gained acceptance of their new ‘engineless’ electric cars if they had not kept the bit of the car where the engine normally goes.
A more radical bonnet-less design would have ‘over zagged’ things and met with consumer resistance. (The much maligned Sinclair C5 – an electric vehicle that was simply way too different – shows what could have happened.)