Personalised car stickers
Family portraits on wheels
Windscreens are the new Facebook
IN THE Middle Ages, heraldry allowed knights to show off family histories in amazing detail, lugging shields or banners into battle that explained their ancestry, whether they had married an heiress and their status as a first or younger son. Eight centuries later American drivers are catching up, thanks to personalised “family stickers”: tiny stick-figure depictions of an entire household (most typically displayed in one corner of a minivan's rear-windscreen). Though the trend's origins are obscure, there is a consensus that it began in Mexico several years ago and at first involved generic outline figures, revealing ony the number of children in a family.
Now the stickers are well established north of the border. And, thanks to a combination of American individualism and advances in custom-manufacturing, they are morphing into ever-more-detailed family chronicles.
Chroma Graphics of Tennessee, a supplier to such firms as Walmart, recently designed its first kits to celebrate households headed by same-sex couples. The pick-and-mix kits—designed at the request of a large retail customer, but not yet on sale—include two father-figures, two mother-figures and an assortment of children and pets, says Brenda Sellers, the firm's president. The packaging is in rainbow colours, bearing intertwined pairs of two male and two female astrological symbols as a final clue.
In Idaho a sign-maker, Woodland Manufacturing, has pioneered hyper-personalised stickers. Visitors to its online www.familystickers.com retail arm, can combine thousands of different heads, bodies and accessories to depict, say, a bearded, balding x-ray technician, married to a bee-keeping mother (in hat with veil) whose kids enjoy ballet and baseball, and who own guinea pigs.
Most are bought by women, says the firm's marketing boss, Aaron Ellsworth. The number-one seller is dog stickers: “For a lot of people, their pet is their family,” says Mr Ellsworth. Candour is a trend, with customers asking for large Xs to place over divorced spouses, or tiny halos to place over a family member who has died. Some lovelorn folk leave gaps in family line-ups, labelled: “Position Open”. Coloured stickers are big just now, and also zombies.
Two powerful forces are at work, suggests Mr Ellsworth. The internet now allows consumers to order customised products directly from a factory. And in a fast-changing world, “all of us want to feel unique”. Those medieval knights would have understood.