Even Better than the Real Thing”?: Electronic Organs and the Paradox of Imitative Technology Products
Management & Human Resources
Speaker: Andrew J. Nelson
University of Oregon, USA
Bernard Ramanantsoa room
Synthetic rubber, engineered hardwood floors and artificial colors are among the many technology-enabled products that might be termed “imitations.” These products are not copies or forgeries. Instead, imitations claim to be “like” other products in a category and to offer a core valued attribute, but not to be a “real” version of a product. Imitation products therefore implicate both authenticity, which is concerned with the “real,” and categorization, which defines which items are of the same type. Because the literatures on authenticity and categorization focus on how entities can be perceived as authentic and recognized as belonging to a desired category, however, these same literatures give us little insight into how firms introduce and frame products that are, by definition, not real. In this paper, I explore this phenomenon through an investigation of the electronic musical organ, which was made in imitation of the pipe organ. In 1935, two different firms introduced the first electronic organs—the Everett Orgatron and the Hammond Organ. Drawing on 235 advertisements between 1935 and 1953, as well as extensive archival materials, I investigate how even as these instruments targeted the same musicians and were advertised in the same publications, their manufacturers framed them in very different ways: The Orgatron attempted to mimic the pipe organ as closely as possible, whereas the Hammond was a lesser imitation that attempted to enhance the pipe organ by offering (claimed) improvements. Ironically, the Orgatron’s superior imitation served to bind it to expectations attached to the pipe organ category, whereas Hammond’s impure imitation enabled it to explore new—and, ultimately, more fruitful—markets. My study holds implications for the literatures on technological imitation, entrepreneurship and market entry, and authenticity and categories.