Sunday, April 26, 2009

Saying "No" to Innovation? Sometimes that Is the Right Answer

In a New Product Development discussion group at, Monika Wingate called our attention to the story, "Post Shredded Wheat Celebrates Non-Innovation." Ogilvy is emphasizing the original, unchanging nature of Shredded Wheat as a virtue that stands out in this era of constant change and questionable innovation:
A new campaign from Post Shredded Wheat promotes the product's lack of change as a virtue, turning the trend toward enhanced, "super ingredient" food and beverage products on its head.

Developed by Ogilvy, the campaign with the tagline "We Put the 'No' in Innovation" emphasizes that the cereal has been made with "one simple, honest ingredient" -- 100% natural whole grain wheat, since it was created 117 years ago.

"There's been a marked change in American values, with a greater desire for honesty, trustworthiness and security during a time of economic and societal uncertainly," Kelley Peters, director of integrated insights and strategy for Post Foods, tells Marketing Daily. "Post's marketing messages underscore that Shredded Wheat has always been a simple, honest brand, and one of the healthiest foods on the grocery shelf."

There is a lesson here. Innovation is not always the answer. Change is not always desirable. When things are working and needs are already being met properly, innovation can be harmful. When it comes to financial services, we've seen some recent innovations can be disastrous.

Sometimes what is hailed as innovation is a return to failed systems and products of the past. Innovation by doing away with Constitutional checks and balances, for example, can lead to the old failures of tyranny. Innovation in monetary policy can lead to the age-old failures of debased currency. Innovations in the arts sometimes bring hideous results. And some innovations in health care and other areas bring unexpected dangers that take time to explore and understand (though the delays arguably have become excessive and bring the risk of blocking life-saving innovations - the risks of delay need to be more carefully weighted, in my opinion).

Change comes at a price. There are risks to be weighed against touted benefits. When things work and work well, as Ogilvy wishes to remind us, why introduce change?

Personally, I like Shredded Wheat and am glad that it and a few other products have stayed relatively constant over the years. These are unusual exceptions.


Unknown said...

Jeff: I am so glad you mentioned this commericial. Makes me laugh everytime I see it. I would add, that Post likely didn't put the no in all innovation associated with Shredded Wheat, they likely innovated around and up to the periphery to improve the final product. Post may have innovated the heck out of the Shredded Wheat product over the years, but the goal was to ensure that the overall perception of the product was the same to the consumer. Coke does the same thing.

So, I don't think Post is anti-innovation at all. To the contrary, they are so innovative that they have developed a marketing campaign that touts it's lack of innovation. It is a very "meta" campaign.

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