Blowing Up Old Habits
Businesses are constantly seeking new products, services and business models to create widespread market appeal. But one of the mistakes innovators often make is underestimating the challenge of getting consumers to change their behavior and beliefs in order to realize the benefits of a promising new product.
Numerous tomes have been written on overcoming this challenge, perhaps most notably by VC Geoffrey Moore, who shares his wisdom on how to move beyond early adopters to reach the mass market in his 1991 classic, Crossing the Chasm. Spoiler alert: Moore notes that most new technology ventures fail to get across the abyss!
So how do companies that launch businesses requiring the marketplace to radically rethink their preconceived notions of product attributes get consumers to change their beliefs and behavior? For starters, successful products of this type — either high or low tech — must inherently have a killer value proposition — e.g. the original Apple McIntosh or Timex watch.
But the fact remains that lots of products with breakthrough potential fail to gain market acceptance.
One of the key lessons learned from a number of products that have crossed the chasm to widespread market appeal is the use of jarring advertising campaigns with explosive imagery to literally blow up consumers’ comfort with old habits and category norms.
Here are some of the best examples:
1. The Apple McIntosh Launch, 1984
In this iconic commercial, considered by many to be the best TV spot of all time, a renegade female warrior hurls a sledgehammer that explosively shatters an IMAX-size screen image of an Orwellian dictator, thinly disguised as the leader of the Microsoft evil empire. A picture is worth a thousand words, so if you haven’t seen this ad recently, check it out.
Adding to its mystique, this ad was broadcast only once, during the 1984 Super Bowl. YouTube views since measure in the millions.
Adding to its mystique, this ad was broadcast only once, during the 1984
Super Bowl. YouTube views since measure in the millions.
2. The Timex Watch Launch, 1951
In 1951, Timex introduced the world’s first low priced, highly reliable/rugged wristwatch. Prior to Timex’ launch, wristwatches came in only two “flavors”. Most common were high-priced timepieces utilizing precious jewels in the mechanical movements and casing. Watches of this type were sold exclusively through jewelry stores at prices in excess of $300. These luxury products defined the wristwatch category for many generations, and were often considered family heirlooms.
On the other end of the spectrum, watchmakers’ attempts to create lower priced alternatives with cheaper materials generally yielded poor quality, unreliable substitutes, largely shunned by consumers.
Timex developed a way to produce low-cost mechanical movements that used hard alloy metals in place of jewels. These new alloy bearings not only lowered the cost of goods, they made automated production easier, further lowering costs. The net result was an extremely accurate and rugged wristwatch sold by drugstores and mass market outlets at prices as low as $6.95!
The problem facing Timex was how overcome consumers’ preconceived notion that cheap watches connoted shoddy quality.
How did they do it? Once again by blowing up prevailing consumer views with a successful ad campaign under the banner “Takes A Lickin’ And Keeps On Tickin’ “. In each of these ads, a Timex watch was exposed to a draconian torture test (some on live television!) to demonstrate the accuracy and ruggedness of the product.
Take a look at this vintage clip for example, where a Timex is strapped to the tip of an arrow and shot by a bowman through a pane of glass (the shattering glass motif, redux), into a wall before dropping into a fish tank filled with water.
Needless to say, Timex watches always survived the lickin’ and kept on tickin’! By literallyshattering the prevailing consumer image of cheap watches , Timex emerged as the market leader, selling one out of every three watches in the US by the end of the 1950’s.
3. SodaStream Banned Super Bowl Ad, 2013
Fast forward to Super Bowl 47 in 2013. One of the game’s ad sponsors — SodaStream — made quite a splash literally and figuratively by having its ads banned by CBS. What was considered a banish-able offense by the game’s broadcaster? See for yourself.
SodaStream’s use of exploding glass — in this case bottles of Coke and Pepsi (themselves perennial heavy advertisers of the Super Bowl) — underscores Sodastream’s marketing challenge. Generations of consumers have been brought up consuming soft drinks from bottles whose signature design are an American icon. To communicate the benefits of a radically different approach to soft drink home consumption, SodaStream used — you guessed it — the exploding glass motif to blow up consumers’ prior behavior and beliefs.
Within a week of the Super Bowl, Sodastream’s banned ad had been seen by almost 5 million viewers on YouTube. And the company’s sales have been recently growing by ~50% per year, so obviously SodaStream’s message is getting through to the marketplace.
4. IKEA Unböring Ads, 2003
In 2003, IKEA unveiled its “Unböring” campaign aimed at shattering consumers’ preconceived unflattering notions about home furnishings. The prevailing consumer view was that furniture is boring and shopping is unpleasant — to be avoided at all costs. One market study at the time suggested that Americans tended to change spouses more often than dining room tables!
IKEA’s “Unböring” ads jarringly attacked its dreary category image, in one case calling customers attached to their current unstylish furnishings as “crazy”, and in another, having a woman commenting on her bored-to-death furniture and life with the epithet: “That Sucks!”
This latter ad uses more of an implosion than explosion to make the point, but the intent is the same as the other cases noted above: to shatter consumers’ preconceived category norms. Check out the IKEA’s Unböring” ad here.
The Bottom Line
The lesson learned is that to shake consumers out of old habits and/or preconceived unflattering category norms, companies need to be as innovative in their marketing approach as they are in new product design. No matter how compelling its advantages, if your new product requires consumers to radically rethink their behavior and marketplace beliefs , you will probably need to find ways to jar consumers out of their current mindsets.
You may want to look no further than the shattering glass motif to launch your next breakthrough product.
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After 40 years in management consulting and venture capital, I joined the faculty of Columbia Business School, teaching courses in business strategy and corporate entrepreneurship
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