Are Mad Men Making Open Innovation Jump the Shark?

jumping_the_sharkOkay, okay, we all know that “jumped the shark” jumped over itself several years ago, but there has not yet arrived an adequate replacement for the tired phrase.  But the question remains, has Open Innovation (OI) reached the level of maturity (or maybe “saturation point”) where it starts to become obscured by attempts to apply it outside of it’s original boundaries?

Case in point, I submit the following article: “How Ad Agencies Can Make the Shift to Open Innovation,” which appeared on Bloomberg’s website on March 20.  Jumping on the opportunity to piggyback on the mainstream promotional saturation for the upcoming season premiere of the A&E hit TV show, Mad Men, which I am, in turn, doing myself by writing this post, the article examines the crowdsourced Superbowl ad for Doritos as an example of OI in advertising.

While it’s clear that the Internet and social media have forever changed the way companies interact with markets, there really is nothing that revolutionary about what Doritos did.  Of course, the same can be said for all of Open Innovation, as many like to point out that all it does is put a new spin on the strategic partnerships and alliances that have been part of the business world forever.  Having customers create and vote on marketing campaigns is an age old technique, it’s just that Facebook and Twitter now provide greater reach and efficiency than print ads and broadcast commercials.  The methods remain pretty much the same, it’s the tools that change.

The many public successes of Open Innovation will likely keep it as an active term for product development techniques that involve one or more parts of the value chain as an integral player.  After all, the attractiveness of OI is what drives it being borrowed to describe other similar activities such as in the ad world.



The Sublime Subliminal

Marketing is like the judicial system, a necessary evil of civilization.  Proponents of marketing would consider it an essential method for successful capitalism and the distribution of goods and services.  Opponents would call it an exercise in boldface deception and greed.  Like almost all things in the universe, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

To muddy up the mix further comes new research published in a new book by Professor Diana Derval, “The Right Sensory Mix,” which claims that an individual’s product preferences are determined prenatally by hormones and something she has named the “Hormonal Quotient® (HQ)”.  Derval’s research has resulted in a methodology to help companies make decisions in R&D and product development to make goods and services more appealing to customers.  Gee, how convenient!

In a recent article published on MMDnewswire, “Product preferences are determined in the womb,” Derval explains how hormonal profiling can accurately predict product preferences on numerous sensory levels: taste, touch, smell, sight/color, etc.  They also can provide geographic specific profiling, for example, she notes that the majority of Chinese citizens are nearsighted, which means the color blue tends to elicit a relaxation response, whereas  more farsighted populations such as Australia would relax better around the color red.  I am not sure what to do about the fact that red is the most culturally significant color to the Chinese and whether or not the hormones driving a blue preference can be overridden by such additional factors.

While I am sure there is probably sufficient clinical data to back up these claims, it seems wise to remain cautiously skeptical.  While there is great appeal in having binary decision systems for product design choices, they can also be taken too far and too literal.  There have been many attempts in history to harness the power of the subliminal human mind to drive sales, such as those trying to tap into the “reptilian” brain of humans and hiding words and images in advertisements.

While I am certain that Dr. Derval’s methods can be successfully employed in certain instances, I suspect that it is far from a universal solution to improve sales.  As much as hormones may drive our behavior, I believe there are other “human element” factors influencing our choices that can derail this new science.  Relying on subliminal hormonal markers is too simple to apply to the total complexity of human behavior and consumer choice.  Just my opinion.

A Rose By Any Other Name Should Be Capitalized

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work in an industry that never has a problem with demand? What would happen to your state of mind, currently shocked into submission by your on-paper worth, if you only had to be concerned with making customers happy and finding more of them, rather than wondering where all the customers went and if they’ll come back? These are remarkably different business problems. Some people thought they lived in the happy “more orders than I can handle” place just a few years ago*, but we all know how that story panned out, we just don’t know yet what kind of ending we’ll get.

Part of the problem is that America’s marketing engine doesn’t slow down in a poor economy – it accelerates. You get more spam, not less, as people work with smaller marketing budgets. Companies are afraid to not market, clinging to hope that the next campaign will benefit from the eventual recovery, regardless of poor returns from other recent efforts. Those lucky companies big enough in the wallet to weather downturns pump up their advertising, taking advantage of lowered rates for primetime placements. People try things they wouldn’t ordinarily, like telemarketing or door-to-door cold calling, simply because they’ve either exhausted or lost faith in their normal channels. Of course, the person who loses is the consumer, already barraged and overmarketed to with messages that are confusing enough on their own, yet reduce to noise when lumped with all the other too-similar voices. Continue reading