A hostile climate for new products

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but she has not been pregnant with too many original ideas lately. Superficially, this is somewhat surprising. After all, economic conditions have been buoyant as never before, favouring a risk-taking entrepreneurial culture. And consumer society is close to obsessed with the quest for novelty – look at the massive Pokémon craze or the rash-like popularity of “clam-diggers”.

Real invention, however, is rare. Most new products amount to more – or less – inspired product extension. For every Renault MPV, there are a hundred tail-gated saloon car variants; for every P&G Pringles crisps, thousands of countline snacks with infinitesimal variations in format and flavour which bear the name of npd. That’s not to demean them: on the contrary some, like KitKat Chunky, have been highly successful in developing the master brand’s profitability. Their limitation is that they are a tactical device which lacks the momentum of originality to drive the brand owner forward in consumer perception.

So back to the original question: why isn’t there more emphasis upon originality if that’s where the corporate crock of gold lies? A comprehensive answer would be very difficult, but three factors surely contribute to the current state of affairs. The first is the nature of corporate culture, the second the unsatisfactory state of patent law and the third the unappetising balance of risk.

Inventions are often the product of individual minds – or are at least driven by individual inspiration. Nothing much has changed there, from Archimedes to Edison or, in our own time, Sinclair, Dyson and Bayliss. The problems of bringing products to market, finding the necessary capital and protecting successful npd from crafty competitors’ imitations are legendary. The Dyson vacuum cleaner saga is a good case in point.

But even where the germ of originality takes seed in a corporation, which might provide better escort to market, there are still formidable obstacles to overcome. Prime among them are corporate conformity and the tendency to research ideas to death before they reach the boardroom, let alone the market.

Another, subtler, complication is globalisation. It is increasingly difficult to “trial” a major new product in a local market before rolling it out internationally, for fear of giving the competition enough time to react to its specifications and positioning. A simultaneous global launch, on the other hand, is immensely costly – and immensely risky. Microsoft is attempting to do just that with the innovative Xbox computer games machine. Note the planned $500m marketing budget, most of which will have to be spent up front. Note also the belated decision to stagger the launch in Europe in order to forestall any possible components shortage of the kind which has plagued its main rival, Sony’s Playstation 2. The organisation of issues are immense.

Yet if the risks associated with innovation have increased, its necessity has not in any way diminished. It is often the best, sometimes the only, antidote to a tired and lacklustre market.

Latest from Marketing Week

NOT REGISTERED? IT'S FREE, QUICK AND EASY!

Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now

THE BEST CONTENT

Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.

THE BIGGEST ISSUES

From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.

PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3711 or email subscriptions@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here