Earlier this month, San Jose Mercury-News columnist Chris O’Brien provided a great retrospective of Segway, Inc., which was recently acquired by a UK company after burning through more than $160 million. O’Brien reminded that the Segway was introduced to great fanfare in 2001 as the greatest advance in transportation since the automobile, but ultimately became a pop culture joke, a comic relief prop in movies such as “Paul Blart, Mall Cop.”
This got me thinking about two of the Segway’s other supporting roles — transporting the Wikipedia-editing, Klingon-speaking geek played by “Weird Al” Yankovic in his “White ‘& Nerdy” parody and as the signature ambulatory aid of incompetent playboy magician GOB (pictured) in the sorely missed TV series Arrested Development. In all of these examples, the Segway is the product associated with a buffoon. Often, companies pay to have their product placed in movies so they can be associated with heroes such as Jack Bauer or James Bond. But what if any recourse do companies have for having their products associated with dolts?
By the time Arrested Development debuted in 2003, the writing may have already been on the wall for Segway, at least as a consumer product. Unfortunately for the company, the enthusiasm for the transportation aid by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak likely helped to inspire “Weird Al” Yankovic to use the Segway in his video, which goes to show that unpaid endorsements by the “wrong people” can have adverse effect. And it was Segway’s own target market of security personnel that may have led to the product being so prominently featured in the Kevin James vehicle. Perhaps Segway even saw this as an opportunity to promote to business customers, but the cumulative effect was to knock the product down in a way that no gyroscope could right.