I have a problem: I don't know what to call Motorola's newest flagship phone. The problem is built into the previous sentence, but not fully encompassed by it; should I have referred to the phone as "the Moto X Pure Edition" or "the Moto X Style"? What does it mean to brand a thing one way in the US and another way internationally, though they are for most intents and purposes the same, minus some minor software and radio technicalities. If I refer to one, am I also referring to the other? Are they truly the same?
It's incumbent on companies to create brands in such a way that we can refer to them universally and easily. That's the point of a brand, to create an idea you can buy and sell. Motorola's new phone fails that basic test, because the name of the thing is different depending on which part of the planet you happen to be on. The two are distinct without a meaningful difference.
The two are the distinct without a meaningful difference
As a person who writes about these things, I want to be clear to my readers about what I'm referring to, and I can't do that. If I talk about a characteristic of the Moto X Pure Edition, I'm almost surely also talking about the same characteristic of the Moto X Style. Do I name them both? Just pick one and trust readers to know the other is the same / close enough to the same? Alternate names? On a pragmatic level, I just don't know what to do.
Why did Motorola make this so complicated? As with everything, it's our own damn fault. We've been asking for this kind of sales model ever since Google tried and then abandoned it way back with the original Nexus One. Lots of companies are doing it now, and I'm happy about that. Whatever semiotic and linguistic angst it causes reporters is less important than what gets telegraphed to consumers in the US. So here’s what we learn from the branding: Motorola believes US consumers care a lot about the idea of a "pure" Android experience, more so than "style." And maybe that's true!
Motorola's decision to apply multiple brands to the same thing mainly serves to illuminate an even deeper confusion. Knowing how to refer to a phone (or any branded, mass-produced object) has always been more complicated than it appears.
Let's take a simpler, more iconic example: what do we mean when we say "the iPhone"? There are, in fact, not just multiple models but millions of instantiations of each of those models. None of them is "the" iPhone. Your iPhone is "an" iPhone, not "the" iPhone. "The" iPhone is like a platonic ideal: it's a brand, not a thing. But usually when we use the word "the," it's meant to refer to one specific thing. "The" orange is that exact piece of fruit on your table, not the brand.
When you peek into the dark space between the two different Moto X phones, you see the yawning darkness that lies hidden beneath all words
Such is the power of a Brand: It refers not to a thing, but to the idea of a thing, because there is no thing there. It doesn't matter whether the Moto X Pure Edition and the Moto X Style are different brands for the same thing, because that thing is not a thing at all. When you peek into the dark space between the two different Moto X phones that are really the same phone, you see the yawning darkness that lies hidden beneath all words.
Motorola, your brand strategy has put me into an existential crisis from which there is no escape. All words refer to nothing; the zero is the foundation of all language. All meaning is empty at its core. And even though I believe in this essential meaninglessness, I must nonetheless participate in the charade of meaning, because to do otherwise is no way to live. It's like free will: you must act as if it exists even if you believe in predestination (ask a Calvinist!). Meaning is a beautiful and necessary and miraculous illusion, one you must take care not to shatter. You have to tiptoe around it, buttressing the illusion of existence with every utterance, because you cannot live any other way.
Which brings me back to Motorola — you couldn't just give us a simple brand and let me leave questions of meaning and identity out of it, could you? No, you went ahead and gave the same phone with two different names. Way to remind me I'm a nihilist, Brand Strategists.
Verge Video: Hands-on with Motorola's new flagship phone