It’s new, it’s old fashioned

One of the best songs ever written about marketing–and really how many are there?–is “Step Right Up,” by the gravelly voiced singer Tom Waits.

In about five minutes, Waits hits every sales cliche known to mankind, including the need for change, “Change your shorts, change your life, change into a nine-year-old Hindu boy, get rid of your wife….

But it’s a truism that a reliable way to get consumers interested in your product is to claim it’s new. If it’s new, there’s nothing wrong with it (so far). In our fast-paced age, there are the instances of the new pharmaceutical product that cures the common headache, and then a few months later, there are the lawsuit commercials asking, “Did you take Vioxx?”  And it’s also true consumers are becoming more cynical, because they’re thinking, “Hey, you’re not the first guy to sell me a new vacuum cleaner.”

But, by and large, new works. New is cool, not stodgy like that brand we’ve all grown tired of. New is innovative, promising to include all the latest technological advances, all the good stuff that the smart people thought of in the lab. New can be slapped on just about anything. Once, when the hapless San Diego Padres were bought by a new owner, they were simply rebranded “the New Padres,” Los Nuevos Padres, even though there wasn’t a single new feature about them.

Who likes new? Young people–after all, they’re new or relatively new. Dissatisfied people like new, they’re fed up with the way things are, and they’re ready to embrace something, anything, that’s different.

If your product is something that’s never been seen before–the first iPod, for example–you’ve no choice but to go for a “new” marketing campaign, because it’s a new product. You’re going to have to explain its merits from scratch, but then you can always say, “You’ve never seen anything like it.” That’s powerful stuff. You’re on your way to owning the future.

On the other hand, there may be problems with new. The marketing of the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf, the first two majorly marketed electric cars, illustrate this point. The ads are largely defensive, as the car marketers say “is this cool, or what, and…..” the rest of it answers possible objections like “you can plug it in at home.”

For as much as consumers claim to want change, they resist it. What they really want is reliable, tested, old-fashioned. They do not have time in their busy days to hassle with this novelty or that, they want to get from point A to point B. They do not want to learn how it works. They will avoid products that appear to have potential problems. And if they hear a report that the car catches on fire, they’re out of there. That’s why there’s a truism among the car buying public about never buying the first production year of a new model; let them get the kinks out and we’ll get back to you.

Some products just go better with old-fashioned. No one really wants new ice cream. We want slow-churned, creamy, flavorful ice cream like we remember when we were kids.

But, as it turns out, even ice cream can be made new again. Sometimes the new product is the return to the old. Just ask Ben and Jerry.

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