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28 April 2006

What is diffusion?


It seems that a lot of our blog traffic here at DIFFUSION is actually trying to find out what the term 'diffusion' is all about. When we started and named the company in 2002, we were interested in how ideas and consequently brands were created and spread, hence the name, DIFFUSION.

But here’s a ready reckoner of terms. We’d be interested in hearing about others.

1. According to the Oxford English Dictionary there are five meanings for this noun (incidentally, the word has not changed from its Latin generation). The first three all relate to the idea of “outpouring”, “spreading abroad” and “dissemination”. The fourth meaning refers to prolixity (something we at times are unfortunately prone to) and the fifth is a scientific term which formed part of our initial inspiration. This is the idea that light when reflected is scattered via diffusion and atoms, molecules and ions are randomly moved from one site to another through the process of diffusion.

2. The French word “bricolage” is closely related to how we envision the idea of diffusion. The random assembly, construction or creation of things and ideas, also occurs through an act of diffusion. This term is now being used by a diverse range of professions from filmmakers to researchers in the humanities.

2. In marketing terms, we bow to those knowing folks at the wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_adopter), diffusion is the process by which a new idea or new product is accepted by the market. The rate of diffusion is the speed at which the new idea spreads from one consumer to the next. Adoption is similar to diffusion except that it deals with the psychological processes an individual goes through, rather than an aggregate market process.

3. The American Marketing Association defines it in advertising terms (why are we not surprised?) They describe it as a model representing the contagion or spread of something through a population (we hoped we were contagious). Diffusion models in marketing are often applied to the adoption of a new product, or the exposure of potential customers to some information about a product (hence, the advertising message).

4. Diffusion in fashion seems to work the same way as marketing models…originally fashion design, as we know it, was centered on Paris and the salons of designers like Chanel, where clothes were created for local clients, but the styles were diffused to many other countries. This highly centralized system changed with the onset of mass production and then mass media and has now been replaced by a system in which fashion designers in several countries create designs for small publics in global markets, but their organizations make their profits from luxury products other than clothing eg. LVMH, Gucci, Armani, Hermes. Trends can now be determined by fashion forecasters, fashion editors, department store buyers and even bloggers. Manufacturers and retailers are increasingly consumer driven and market trends originate in many types of social groups, including subcultures. Consequently, fashion now emanates from many sources and diffuses in various ways.

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