As Sean pointed out yesterday, it’s that time of year again — the time where we start to see tools packaged and targeted at the gift-buying crowd. We ran across the above “set” in a big box the other day, and it strikes us as a great example of the genre. Let’s take a look at it specifically, but more importantly, let’s look at how this particular package exposes some of the tactics you’re likely to see in the marketing deluge that we call “the holiday season” — and what you can do to get the most bang for your gift bucks.
We like to categorize multi-tools by the “primary” tool, or the tool which the overall multi-tool most resembles. The most common categories we see are “pliers” multi-tools (i.e. the Leatherman and related models) and “knife” multi-tools (i.e. the Buck X-Tract, the ubiquitous Swiss Army knife, and related models), though every now and then you’ll see other more radical takes, like Husky’s 5-in-1 drywall tool, which despite its ugly-ass appearance still gets use in our shop and homes on a regular basis. (We want to hate it, but we just can’t. It works. Dammit.)
Two of the three tools are clearly “pliers” multi-tools in the Leatherman genre. Both feature cut side sections, which make them look sort of like the awesome Skeletool. Keep in mind, though, that they lack the Skeletool’s advanced design features, such as the combination-curved handles, which (when closed) take on a remarkably knife-like form for cutting with the deployed knife, yet flip inside out to take on a totally different curved shape that feels quite pliers-like. Though we don’t see individual tool weights for the Snap-On-branded product listed anywhere, we’re pretty certain that the Snap-On’s handle cuts don’t offer a weight benefit; the bolt-through construction of the handle hinges would easily offset such weight savings. So why are the handles cut?
Answer: They’re designed to evoke the image of existing desirable tools. This is one of the common properties you can expect to find in holiday gimmick packages.
Next, when considering multi-tools, we take a look at the specific combination of selected tools. This often tells us a lot about the tools’ intended audience. For example, a tool that includes a wire-stripper, a crimper, a wire-cutter, a pair of needle-nosed pliers, and a file would, say, seem pretty handy for someone doing small electrical work. A bottle opener, pocket knife, can opener, and serrated saw might work better for a farm hand. Both of the two pliers-type multi-tools in the Snap-On set contain almost identical tool selections: screwdrivers, saws, knives, bottle openers, pliers. They’re both general-use tools — too general, in our opinion, for most serious users — and more importantly, they’re both virtually identical. Why include two?
We had to think about this one a bit, but a little persuasion theory showed us the light, specifically the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM). Essentially, the ELM predicts that we process persuasive arguments in one of two ways, via central processing (where we think about the argument a lot) or peripheral processing (where we make quick judgements based on surface qualities like appearance). Depending on a number of factors like how personally involved we are in the message and how much we know about the subject already, we choose one or the other. When we know a lot about the subject or feel personally involved, we process centrally. When we don’t, we process peripherally.
As you might guess, the gift-buying audience often fits into the latter category — like a non-tool person buying for their tool-fiend friend or a heavy tool user buying something quickly for someone else. We noticed that most of the design decisions in holiday gimmick tools seem to target the peripheral processing crowd, or people who aren’t going to look very closely at the product’s details. So why include two virtually identical tools in the same set packaged for individual giving? Because to the peripheral processor: two is better than one. Grasping this concept also exposes a lot of other decisions on the part of this product’s maker/seller:
- The brand carries authority, despite the fact that most Toolmongers already know that Snap-On licenses its name for token consumer products like this one for sale through consumer channels. You’ll find Ferrari-branded pillows, so why not Snap-On nail files?
- Accessories make sense. We all automatically think about “kitting out” whatever gear we buy. So it makes sense that you’d need a knife and flashlight with your multi-tool, right? Maybe not. A multi-tool is itself an accessory. Do you accessorize your accessories? (Maybe you do.)
You get the idea. As gifts go, this probably isn’t the worst out there. These multi-tools, while not up to the quality of individually-sold tools, are probably better than toys. And flashlights always make sense. (Even the red color works; black flashlights disappear into the darkness when you drop them or store them in dark bags.)
Still, we recommend the following if you’re considering this — or any — gimmick gift this season:
1. Ask your intended recipient what they want.
It might sound crazy, but knowing what the person wants will give you a much better chance of getting them something that they’ll appreciate — and maybe even use. If the gift is a surprise, ask people around them what they use, or alternatively ask/consider what they do most.
2. Consider spending your money on one quality item instead of many lower-quality items.
This multi-tool package will set you back $45. Put in a little shopping effort and you can find base-model Leatherman tools for the same price. Add in $20 more and you can buy pretty much any reasonable item from the Leatherman or other popular lines. One good tool is worth five so-so tools.
3. Brand matters, but personal connection matters more.
So everyone’s heard of Snap-On. Maybe they’ve never heard of SOG. But if you happen to find something from the SOG line that really fits their needs, and you tell them a little story about SOG as well as how you picked it out to meet their need to (insert what they do here), they’re likely to make a connection between the item, your reasoning, and the shared experience with you — and this can make a gift live on for a long time. Even after the tool itself might no longer prove useful, they’ll still keep it because it reminds them of interacting with you.
4. Specialize for them.
Thought counts with gifts. Put some thought into it. If you’re buying a multi-tool, more isn’t necessarily better. If they work with electronics, buy them an electronics-oriented multi-tool. If they’re an outdoors type, get them something that’ll help with that. If they’re an office worker, get them something small enough to fit in the top desk drawer. Think about it, and tell them about your decision process. As Toolmongers know more than most, talking about tools is fun.
Bottom line: It’s time to put your guard up. Be wary and be careful this holiday season. But also be creative. While I’d never spend $45 on this set for myself — nor would I give it to any Toolmonger I know — I might well pick one of these up, crack it open, and put each individual part in a separate person’s holiday stocking. Hey, $5 for a multi-tool with the Snap-On name on it isn’t too bad. I don’t know about your family, but mine considers the stocking a place for fun, gimmicky stuff. And apples.