Sony’s Big Gulp
Okay. First, here is the video. It describes the Sony W-series Walkman, with W standing for water. It is a waterproof MP3 player/headphone, which isn’t a bad idea. Alert S&V readers will recall that I once dunked my Sony phone in water. And I once ruined a really good pair of earbuds while cycling over Independence Pass outside Aspen. Clearly, waterproofness is one of the last remaining justifications for the existence of a standalone MP3 player. Even if you’re not training for an Olympic swim team, into every life a little rain must occasionally fall.
But this video, and the marketing concept it advertises, are both weird. Are they serious? Is Sony actually putting earbuds in water bottles and selling them in vending machines in gyms and swimming pools in New Zealand? Would immersion really encourage someone to buy an MP3 player? I don’t think anyone would want to actually drink the water that’s had electronics soaking in it. And what happens when a really sweaty and thirsty guy, panting after his monster workout, jams his money into the machine, takes a big swig, and chokes on earbuds? I, for one, can think of better ways to meet my maker.
Speaking of difficult transitions, this marketing scheme might interestingly illuminate the bigger and troubled picture at Sony. Selling earbuds marinated in water, in gym vending machines, IMO, is the sign that a company has lost its confidence in the integrity of its products. I think of Sony as a very classy company; this doesn’t seem classy. It makes Sony look like it’s trying too hard.
It’s no secret that once almighty Sony is struggling to regain its footing in today’s consumer electronics market that is increasingly driven by rivals such as Apple and Samsung. Even though sales of the PS4 are kicking booty, other news isn’t so good. The company recently announced that after a 17-year run, it is quitting the PC business, selling Vaio to Japan Industrial Partners, an investment fund. Sony will also spin off its red-ink TV division as a wholly owned subsidiary that will more tightly focus on high-end models. In part, that’s so its losses ($7.8 billion over the last decade) won’t continue to directly tarnish the company’s bottom line. But that raises the question of whether the TV spin off is the first step in getting out of the TV business altogether. Could it be possible? A Sony Corporation that doesn’t make televisions?
Company officials deny that’s the plan. But stranger things have happened. Like selling MP3 players submerged in water bottles.