It’s not how many blades, it’s how you use them

As I write this, I have what tastes and feels like a slowly-dissolving lump of tar on my tongue. It's not tar though, it's a Nu-Breath lozenge, freshly extracted from the box I picked up on the way to work this morning at the Pharma Plus.

As I write this, I have what tastes and feels like a slowly-dissolving lump of tar on my tongue. It’s not tar though, it’s a Nu-Breath lozenge, freshly extracted from the box I picked up on the way to work this morning at the Pharma Plus.

I picked it up on impulse because of a striking red splash on the box: ‘Takes Alcohol Breath Away ®’ (yes, they actually registered the tag), and I thought, wow. Finally. A product specially designed for functioning alcoholics.

Other interesting features of this innovative product include the on-pack slogan ‘Bartender’s Favourite: Jewel for the Breath’ and, in bright red on the top of the box: ‘WARNING: This product is very strong, use one at a time until you are used to them.’

Now as it happens I’m not an alcoholic (important point that), but who could resist? I was carried away by the sheer innovation of the product. They saw a niche in the marketplace, and they filled it. No idea what their sales are like, but at $6.99 for a 1 oz. box, the margins must be enormous.

As you might have guessed, I’m a bit of a product innovation junkie. I eagerly anticipate the arrival of the Hedonics catalogue with my newspaper, and when it arrives, it doesn’t matter if World War III has broken out, the Globe’s on the floor and I’m seriously considering buying a talking watch.

The crazy stuff in the Hedonics pages can take your breath away: There’s the Bug Rack-It (‘features a unique sticky net that traps insects upon contact so they can’t do harm. And all without exploding insect parts floating through the air!’), the DocuDent accident documenting kit (complete with camera, tape measure, etc.), even a little fan designed to be clipped onto pet carriers when you take Fido for a vacation.

Their slogan is: Stuff you never knew you needed but now you can’t live without!!! which pretty much says it all about product innovation, three exclamation marks included.

Other neat examples in the field include that new Mr. Clean AutoDry Carwash system. It looks so Star Trek, and it’s a time saver too: You just spray it on, give ‘er a wipe, and it dries streak-free on its own. It looks so cool in the ads, I might finally buy a car so I can try it out.

The commercials for Febreze aren’t nearly as appealing, but I had to try that out too. Now I have to admit that I got a bit carried away and soaked the cushions (if a little works well, a lot must work better!), but I couldn’t smell anything but imitation Meadows & Rain for the next week. Eventually, I had to wash the cover just to get rid of the Febreze smell.

Even so, I think that all of the aforementioned products are going to do quite well. Meeting unmet (perhaps even unknown) consumer needs and wants is what product innovation is about.

That’s why I find it a shame when marketers get carried away and spend more time watching each other than the consumer. You know, your competitor launches diet cola with lemon, so you do it too – and who cares if it tastes like Windex.

The ongoing razor war, which is amusingly documented by Susan Bourette on page 2, is a particularly pure example of competition-fueled innovation. I mean, they’re up to four blades now, after all.

But war, almost by definition, can get out of hand. Big marketers are intensely competitive, and when the testosterone is flowing, they can do the dumbest things. A wiser approach might be to take a break from following your competitor’s every move, and look to your consumers to see what they want. Once you’ve figured that out, use your advertising arsenal tactically to make the most of it.

Meanwhile, I have to admit the Schick Quattro is selling very well (despite ads that practically apologize for the silliness of the product), but personally, the ‘closest, most comfortable shave’ I’ve ever gotten was at the local barber, and he just used one blade.

Which perhaps just goes to show: Sometimes it’s not how many blades you have – it’s how you use them.

Duncan Hood, editor, dhood@brunico.com