I had a revelation the other day. Probably I’m being really slow, but I thought it was a distinction that was pretty important and frequently muddled so I’ll share if only to just record my own thoughts…and blog about something that isn’t Soulja Boy.

There are two different reasons for customizing your stuff! And they are actually pretty fundamentally different!

First, you have the bedroom model, which is the more dominant one. You customize your dorm room and everything in it because you are expressing yourself and surrounding yourself with things you like makes you happier. Simple. This reason is all over the marketing for personal goods with annoying phrases like “EXPRESS yourself!” “Be UNIQUE!” etc.

But there’s actually a second, much less terrifyingly imperialistic reason to want to customize yourself. It’s the toothbrush model. You get your own color so that you can find it in the crowd. And because this is a fundamentally different (more practical? less bratty?) desire, I find it pretty weird that a lot of marketing for products that are trying to do this end up appealing to self-expression instead.

For example: customized credit cards. Here in Cambridge, like 80% of the people I dine out with have the same Bank of America debit card, and finding yours in the pile after paying the bill is pretty annoying. But in the ads, it’s always “show what cause YOU support” or “get your favorite picture on your card,” approaches that totally don’t address the pragmatic reason why one might want a different colored card. Same for cellphones. These days, so many people I know have a Razr, so when I dropped mine at a party last month, it was only because of the ridiculous dragon etching on it that it was instantly recognized as mine and returned.

Or am I just justifying self-centered consumer silliness? You decide.