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April 04, 2004


Tom McMahon

Aldi has made a nice niche from consumers (including me) who are tired of meaningless choices. One type, one size of ketchup -- do you want it or not? 700 products vs the thousands of a regular supermarket.

Dane Carlson

Does this mean that conventional advertising and marketing is no longer working? No. People are buying these products. It just means that we don't care about.

New products are so prevalent that they've become commoditized. Its like how every dishwashing soap is advertised as being the best, but do I care when I reach for the brand on sale?

Being new isn't enough.


Anybody else notice the thread: Time is the new currency, and shelter from the assault--media, new media, paradigms, line extensions--is the new benchmark of comfort.

Wait. Hasn't time always been money? Aren't there always barbarians at the gate? Okay, make that same old currency, same old assault--just new variants, same old desire for comfort.

Maybe it's just the idea of "Shelter" that's changed. Yep, I'm going with that.

Tom Asacker

Hey John,

I’m of the same mind. I really am. I've read the Paradox of Choice and Easterbrook's book: The Progress Paradox - How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse and I'm in total agreement with yours and their premise that happiness is not found in stuff. In fact, too much stuff (and choice) can lead to unhappiness.

But we're talking about marketing and innovation. Yes, I am well aware of the overwhelming number of innovations that don't make it (for a plethora of reasons). In fact, I've introduced some duds myself. But I would suggest that the entrepreneurial spirit and innovation is all about taking risks and attempting to give people what they desire. Or in many cases, what they could never have imagined. It’s Darwinism.

John, if I let my Eastern proclivity completely influence my Western sense of being, I would give up my struggle to help businesses rediscover the sense of wonder and pure joy of being alive . . . that sense of innocence and idealism that they experienced as children. But to me, business is the best vehicle for improving the world. And I don’t know how a business can grow by limiting choice, if choice is what customers desire (other than through breakthrough innovation which are few).

For example, if you were Colgate-Palmolive’s advisor, would you suggest that they hold tight with their breakthrough innovation – Total – because “who truly needs more than that.” Or would you advise them to introduce a whitening toothpaste? And what about kid’s toothpaste? I never saw a kid’s toothpaste growing up. And what if Mom’s and kid’s start buying the new Crest Harry Potter dispenser instead of Colgate’s. Should Colgate advertise that it’s simply marketing b.s. and mothers should buy Colgate’s because they keep the choice simple? Or should they appeal to the kids?

The solution to the big problem is in the minds of the consumer. And unless and until they change, the biggest mistake a marketer can make is to try to change it. It’s simply a waste of time and money.

John Moore

Ooops, that middle para in italics should come at the end and it's me saying it, not the Prof!!

John Moore

Yes, And... is all this choice really adding to sales or just confusing us? I quoted this recently from the newsletter of ecustomerserviceworld

“Customers were ten times more likely to buy jams when only six varieties were on display as when there were twenty-four.”

Tom's arguing that we're ignoring the innovations we do buy; but he's not noticing all the ones not bought because they are just noise.

- Psychologist Barry Schwartz, illustrating his new research that shows too much choice is making people miserable, and that some feel so paralysed they go home empty-handed. Nothing to do with ghosts and machines, but important.

Tom Asacker

Interesting article Jennifer. But I believe the author is somewhat off-base.

He writes: "But the frenzy we're in now isn't working: In an all-out effort to make products more exciting, manufacturers and marketers have only made consumers more indifferent."

I would be willing to bet that if I made a list of ALL of the products the author has purchased over the past year (including CPG's), a very large percentage were introduced in the past few years. He's not indifferent. He simply can't remember their brand names.

And I'm not indifferent either. I enjoy Coke's new Diet Coke with Lime. And until last week (when I picked it up off the supermarket shelf) I had been wondering why cheddar cheese wasn't offered already sliced in the package. In fact, there remains many opportunties to add aesthetic value, variety and conveninece to the goods we buy.

John Moore

Jennifer: Fascinating article. I am suprised at the extent of the mismatch between all that frenzied innovation on the one hand, and the lack of awareness on the other.

I think people tend to reverence new ideas as if they are inherently good. The result is a tide of relatively trivial novelty and not a lot of deep innovation.

One strand that I notice a lot is that of brand extensions - which are quite often a sign of the decline of a brand. KitKat is the UK's top chocolate bar but it is in fairly serious decline. This decline has been accompanied by a string of new variants - orange flavour, chunky version, min-cube versions etc.

I think it's a bit like a partner in a failing relationship trying to change his or her personality - with new gimmicks, new clothes, whatever - in a doomed effort to reinject life into the affair.

My own view is that - at least for service brands - there needs to be less emphasis on trivial service/packaging improvements and greater emphasis on finding a cause and reason to work that is deeply motivating.

At the risk of sounding pretentious, at another level I think we live in a vastly overstimulated society. And like addicts, the tendency when faced with the adverse consequences we do more of what is already not working.

For example, isn't it deeply ironic that many of us drink coffee to relax? And we drink even more when we're feeling especially stressed or in need of love.

So when new ideas don't work, people think the answer is MORE new ideas.

Sorry, waxing philosophical on Monday morning!

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