Exploring the Boundaries Of The Traditional Concept

Quick Read: The idea of Traditional Concept and its reliance on metrics like Purchase Intent for validating product ideas is being challenged. More so in the realm of Retro Innovations.  

The Traditional Concept and its classic three part construct – Insight | Benefit | Reason To Believe – to represent a product idea for consumer research has been coming under scrutiny. In fact, there are even obituaries being written about it citing reasons like:

  • It is too rigid, rational and over – engineered as a construct to represent a product idea
  • Puts far more emphasis on our deliberative ‘System 2’ thinking
  • Fails to take into account how consumers tend to make decisions (unconsciously, quickly, swayed far more by emotional impact and immediate impressions)
  • Relies heavily on metrics like purchase intent for validation

Academic arguments apart, one thing that a Traditional Concept cannot possibly help with is screening product ideas that fall into the realm of Retro Innovations – new products that are designed around connecting us with the past and invoking our nostalgia.

Two recent product examples where a traditional concept could have had a tough time cracking the consumer code:

The ‘Miller Light’ Retro Design And Its Placebo Effect

Miller Lite is known as the first mainstream light beer in the US. But over the years, the U.S. sales of the beer had been declining, trailing Bud Light, Coors Light, and Budweiser. Revenue dropped 7 percent in just 2013 (source). So in January 2014, as part of a product placement tie in with the film Anchorman 2, Miller released a limited edition version  of its original 1975 white can.

bottle(The Retro Designed Miller Lite Can)

Surprisingly for Miller Lite, this retro designed packaging proved to be a success (it sold 32 million cans more than that during YTD 2013) that by September 2014 it decided to switch back to this packaging full-time, including on bottles and tap handles.

And reportedly, taken by surprise, when Miller marketers conducted some post launch evaluation, they learnt that the Millennials had liked it because it seemed iconic and old while their parents had liked it because it reminded them of what they used to drink. Strangely, customers even started telling the company its “new” beer tasted better even though they were still drinking the same old beer(!)

Obviously, a Traditional Concept and conventional testing for metrics like Purchase Intent, could not have driven the brand along this unexpected ‘retro’ direction.

Leica M Edition 60 – The Digital Camera Without An LCD Screen

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the legendary Leica rangefinder system, the company recently announced the Leica M Edition 60. The unique thing about this camera is that it does something bold – it ditches the back LCD screen and all onboard menus. One cannot even review their photos. It leaves photographers with physical controls of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. And it forces them to look through just one thing – the viewfinder.

Is this a good idea? Will consumers like it? Does it even make design sense? The debate is on.

But one thing is certain:  this reductionism as a celebration of photographic art – as Leica calls it – could not have been conceived of through the lens of the Traditional Concept and testing for Purchase Intent.

Is the Leica M Edition 60 too high end to be a realistic example here?

Well, then let’s get a bit ‘low end’ – Music CDs and online music.

Let’s think of product ideas in terms of Traditional Concepts and test for their Purchase Intent to sell online music to the Japanese vs the good old CDs. 

And good luck to us doing that!

JAPAN-MUSIC-01-master675(AKB48, a popular Japanese group, has sold CDs containing tickets to its performances, encouraging fans to buy multiple copies. Source)

(Featured Image: The New Leica M Edition 60)

Gyotaku And The Trailer

What is common between Gyotaku and Movie Trailers?

Gyotaku Trailer

1. Both are traditionally forms of ‘advertisements’ of another art form

2. And both have evolved into specialized art forms unto themselves

Let’s start with Gyotaku

Gyotaku is the traditional Japanese art of fish printing dating back to the mid 1800s. Before you read any further, you might want to begin with this fabulous TEDEd video to get a quick introduction on this fascinating art form.

As you can see, the purpose of the early Gyotaku print was to serve as an advertisement and proof of the fisherman’s skills as reflected by the quality of his catch.  The emphasis was thereby to capture just the basic proof of the size and species of the fisherman’s “trophy fish” and to record this permanently.

Now Gyotaku has become so popular around the world that it has dedicated competitions, hobby clubs, instruction classes, museums, books, textile prints etc;  and has currently evolved to the point where the actual activity of fishing is almost besides the point.  The craft has now become a unique representational art of Japanese Culture that honors realism and story telling.

The insight for me here is that,

A good piece of Gyotaku art captures a moment in the ocean and not just a piece of dead fish.

Gyotaku2

In other words each piece of Gyotaku tells a story where:

1. The narrative often comes from what you don’t see – the negative space: A good Gyotaku composition is known to make use of the negative space within the frame and brings to life the concepts like idea, flow and freedom of movement that come with the ocean.

2. Our minds are lead into the frame and then set free : A good Gyotaku ‘hand holds’ our mind by gently leading us into the exquisite form and finish of the fish. But a great Gyotaku takes it a step further by then carefully setting our imagination ‘free’ as it allows ample space for the mind to take the fish on its journey.

Moving on to Movie Trailers

Just like Gyotaku, the movie trailer has come a long way from being a plain advertisement (of a full length movie) to becoming a genre unto itself. Today it is a thriving industry that is almost as popular as that of the movies they’re teasing, with legions of fans following, dissecting, analyzing, reviewing and rating them on a regular basis even as they are feted out at forums like The Key Art Awards and The Golden Trailer Awards (the Oscars of movie trailers).

From being just a linear montage of title cards, voice-over, a few key scenes followed by a cast run-through, movie trailers today are part art, part marketing wizardry and part awesome creativity. Result: They can tease, titillate, shock, seduce, awe, thrill or even hypnotise us via subliminal messages, imagery, and music and lull us into the cinema for the actual full length fare.

The latest edition of the WIRED magazine has an insightful feature on the Art Of The Movie Trailer. Two insights that emerge from the construct of great trailers:

1.The narrative of the trailers doesn’t necessarily come from what you see, it comes from what you hear (the negative space of trailers = music): Trailers are all about rhythm, pacing, and feeling. That’s why music plays a vital role as a key narrative device and can more often than not make or break a trailer. Mark Woollen, the man behind the trailer for The Social Network shares a secret of how he came up with its music for an evocative narrative ..

I’d had “Creep” on my iTunes for five or six years kind of kicking around before the Social Network trailer…And then when this project came along, I started to consider that song. There are a couple of qualities to it that I thought could do a lot for the trailer. It was a fantastic piece of music—the build, the message, the flavor.

And the rest as they say is history – with the trailer going on to win both The Key Art Awards and The Golden Trailer Awards for 2011 for its outstanding achievement in advertising movies. See this trailer here:

2. Our minds are lead into the plot and then condemned to a free fall: A good trailer gently leads our minds and imaginations into the centre of the plot or the tension that is eventually created in the act 2 and then sets it on a free fall. E.g., Alfred Hitchcock’s trailer for Psycho (though being a tad bit long at ~ 6 mins) very gently teases us bit by bit till almost the end before throwing us off the cliff! See the iconic trailer here: (don’t miss the last 2.5 mins at least)

The trailer for Alien is another master piece that stands out for a similar reason.

So there you have it – Gyotaku and Movie Trailers:  two art forms that have begun to become bigger than the art forms that these are based upon, two powerful examples where creativity thrives despite the underlying constraints ; or probably examples where creativity thrives due to its underlying constraints.