I'm a Malcolm Gladwell fanboy.
I love how he starts to tell a story and then approaches the same story from a totally different angle. What do mammographies and looking for biological weapons on satelite images have to do with each other for example.
His lastest book, What the Dog Saw is a collection of interesting articles he wrote for The New Yorker.
Most of the stories offer you a view into an unknown world. I picked two stories that I really liked, both marketing related: one about marketing research and the other about copywriting.
The Ketchup Conundrum
A story about why it isn't enough to make the best ketchup in order to beat Heinz.
Howard Moskowitz, a famous food-testing and market-researcher, knows why. One of his first clients, Pepsi, wanted to find out the right amount of sweetener for their new Diet Pepsi. Previous research showed that anything below eight percent of sweetener wasn't sweet enough and anything above twelve percent too sweet. Moskowitz went out and created cola samples of all the different values lying in between eight and twelve. After the test results came back, the data were inconclusive. Preferences did not lean towards one percentage of sweetener. He then realized that there was no perfect Diet Pepsi, there were perfect Diet Pepsis.
In 1986 Campbell's Soup Company wanted something new for their spaghetti sauce. Their product, Prego, was thicker with diced tomatoes and stuck better to the pasta than the sauce of their competitor, Ragú. But it wasn't selling.
Instead of modifying the sauce like in the Pepsi case, Moskowitz assumed people didn't know what kind of sauce they wanted until it was in front of them. He came up with 45 varieties of sauces. Each with different characteristics such as: spiciness, sweetness, saltiness, thickness, aroma, cost of ingredients, and so forth. These samples were tested by consumers and rated on a hundred-point scale. Results again seemed all over the place but a pattern emerged. Instead of one perfect sauce, consumers could be grouped in three big groups, each with their own favorite sauce: plain, spicy, or extra-chunky. Competitor Prego didn't have this last variety and it turned out to be very successful.
Today a lot of products are available in millions of varieties. This story shows in part how we got to this large number. People are different and want different things. It also illustrates the importance of knowing who your customer is. Instead of a one perfect product for everyone, going into that niche might be a good idea!
You can read the full story here.
A story about advertising and knowing what women really want.
Shirley Polykoff, copywriter in the 50s, thought women had the right to be blond. In her work for Miss Clairol, a hair dye product that you could use at home, she supported this opinion:
"Does she or doesn't she. Only her hairdresser knows for sure."
To get away from the prejudice that all fake blondes were chorus girls or hookers, their campaign recruited girl next door beauties instead of the stars of the time.
In the 70s, L'Oreal wanted to take on Clairol, which dominated the haircolor market. Their first idea was to focus on the superiority of their product. But at the last minute the campaign got cancelled. This put the adverting agency under pressure to come up with something in a short time. New ideas were all about women coloring their hair to please others, being an object. But one of the copywriters on the campaign didn't agree with this. Ilon Specht:
"I just thought, Fuck you. I sat down and did it, in five minutes. It was very personal. I can recite to you the whole commercial, because I was so angry when I wrote it.”
Specht sat stock still and lowered her voice:
“I use the most expensive hair color in the world. Preference, by L’Oréal. It’s not that I care about money. It’s that I care about my hair. It’s not just the color. I expect great color. What’s worth more to me is the way my hair feels. Smooth and silky but with body. It feels good against my neck. Actually, I don’t mind spending more for L’Oréal. Because I’m”
—and here Specht took her fist and struck her chest—
Specht took the emancipation further, it was about the woman itself.
You can read the full story here(pdf).
But there are plenty of other cool stories in the book, go check it out!
No time to read books? The archives on Malcolm Gladwell's personal site are also worth it!