The Difference Between an Innovation and a Gimmick

21st November 2016

George Sakoulas

This story on Medium

If the noughties were characterized by an abrupt end to the excess of the 90’s then the 2010’s have been characterized by drastic changes to the sociopolitical landscape. We have become accustomed to remaining agile and adaptable, arguably in a bid to feel more secure about the future. We adapt to change and create new ideas, not all of which are good ideas and some are really bad ideas.

Innovation is the result e of new ideas aimed at creating or improving a means of satisfying a need of society. Innovation is therefore always new, however “Innovation for the sake of newness” is not innovation at all; it’s gimmick. Fast moving consumer good (FMCG) gimmicks are used to embellish, usually already successful products, with differentiated but unnecessary features. This creates a ‘newness’ but no real innovation. Indeed the ‘newest’ is not always what is best for the public and consumers either.

Coors ‘cold activated cans’ have a special ink that turns the label blue when the can is below 40 degrees F. Did Coors feel consumers needed the beer can to tell them when the beer is “cold enough” instead of their hands, mouth or simply through confidence in their home appliances? Or were the new cans developed to sell more beer? The new cans offer no change in the experience of drinking their beer, but make the can more attractive with a unique novelty feature: it can change color! In other words, this is a marketing campaign or gimmick, not a true innovation in the manufacturing, storing or consuming of beer.

Like Coors, Budweiser made their can’s ‘cooler’ to boost sales as well. Similarly, the new cans of Budweiser offered little else but an image change compared to other beer industry innovations such as the manufacturing processes, logistics and the nutritional values of the beer itself.

Innovation in FMCG’s can and does create real life value. Real innovation adds value to the lives of its user directly and the most valuable innovations create a far-reaching ripple effect throughout society like smartphones, the internet and cloud computing. Compressed cans contain the same amount of deodorant as regular sized cans in smaller cans. This is an example of genuine innovation and not “new for the sake of newness”; The new cans reduce the products visibility on grocery store aisles compared to large old cans of competitors but use 25% less aluminium and cost less to transport and stock. Simultaneously lowering the carbon footprint of the product.

The purpose of innovation and gimmicks are completely different. From the basic requirements provided by the public sector to survive through to consumer products that enable us to thrive, throughout society innovation is a driving force for progress. Gimmicks are novelty’s aimed at attracting attention in the hopes of swaying opinion and boost a conversion (sales, votes, website hits) which is why they exist in both private sector marketing as well as politics.

The budget for research and development is the barometer for a companies willingness to innovate.

In the private sector innovation stemming from a company's marketing department is most likely a gimmick, innovations that come out of a Research and Development department are more likely to be innovations. Pure innovations and pure gimmicks exist on either side of the spectrum and between them is a wide range of new products and services that are innovative and launched with the help of a gimmick to attract attention. Indeed some of the best and most successful innovations begin as a collaboration between R&D and marketing; market research identifies consumer needs while R&D invents ways of satisfying them and finance ultimately approves them and enables them to come into reality.

Innovation, therefore, can not thrive in siloed environments and is most successful when its created through open collaboration across individuals, departments, companies, industries and economies.

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