If a brand has to shout that it’s “new and improved”, it’s probably not all that new or improved. “New and improved” is the easiest and lamest of marketing claims. Marketers use it to create new spin on an old brand, but it’s often not much more than label-deep. It’s the least interesting marketing lever to pull.
I was struck by this quote from HBS Professor Youngme Moon’s classic book on marketing, “Different“:
“In the 1960s and ’70s, the words “new and improved” really meant something to people; today, those same words don’t mean much at all … In category after category, it has become apparent that competitive differentiation is a myth. Or to put it more precisely, in category after category, companies have gotten so collectively locked into a particular cadence of competition that they appear to have lost sight of their mandate—which is to create meaningful grooves of separation from one another. Consequently, the harder they compete, the less differentiated they become.”
If coupons are what marketers do when they run out of meaningful marketing ideas, “new and improved” claims are what marketers do when they run out of meaningful product ideas.
Consumers know this. They know how to tune out the cacophony of me-too marketing claims. It’s easier than ever to ignore undifferentiated marketing.
One of the more bizarre trends I’ve noticed is to use “new and improved” packaging to cover up an inferior product offering. ABC News recently showcased a range of brands that distracted shoppers with “new and improved” labels from shrinking product sizes. It includes this quote: “Whenever a manufacturer says ‘new and improved’… maybe they’ve taken out some ounces.”
The most egregious example I remember of dubious “new and improved” claims was in the US yogurt category a few years ago. One of the brands downsized their product from 8 ounces to 6 ounces, but kept the same price and packaging size the same so that there was now 2 ounces of air below the lid. The “new and improved” benefit? The package now promised “room for your favorite mix-ins”. It was framed as an “improvement” to exchange yogurt for air.
More than ever, I think there’s an opportunity for marketers to think beyond new and improved. We should challenge ourselves to deliver something that is genuinely meaningfully unique.
(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed cartoon print. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)