Sunday, February 26, 2006

The iPod Generation

Hip and young, Apple’s iPod advertising follows a path originally set by Pepsi’s “Pepsi Generation” ad campaign. Originating in the 1960s, that campaign was one of the first to ignore a product’s attributes and instead highlight the lifestyle of the product’s consumers.

Along with inaugurating lifestyle advertising, the clever twist of “Pepsi Generation” was this: Young people responded because it talked to them, and older people responded because it touched an impulse toward being young again, if just for the trivial choice of which cola to drink.

Now fast-forward 40 years, to the recent past. Lifestyle advertising is commonplace, although less so in the tech-product marketplace. In 2003, iPod ads appear that show youthful silhouettes losing themselves in music. Millions of consumers respond, including George W. Bush and Queen Elizabeth, whose generations have yet to be represented in the iconic ads.

In 2004, the circle connects as Pepsi and Apple team-up on a promotion whereby consumers can win Apple iTunes downloads by purchasing Pepsi. Where Steve Jobs once taunted then-Pepsi CEO John Sculley about “selling sugar water,” Jobs apparently learned some lessons from Sculley’s business nevertheless.

[The photo of iPod advertising is from flickr user CharlieBrown]

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Synthetic Pets and the Power of Precedent

My colleague Scott Danish made an interesting point about the power of precedents in how people evaluate something new. We were talking about Pleo, a robotic toy introduced at DEMO 2006. Pleo is a cute dinosaur that’s supposed to be like a pet, capable of interacting with you and expressing emotions. It’s best seen rather than explained.

So why a dinosaur? Scott pointed out that, unlike a more familiar choice for a pet like a dog or cat, dinosaurs have more favorable precedents for consumer acceptance. First, we often think of dinosaurs as relatively slow-moving, stiff creatures. That’s a lot easier to represent robotically than, say, a dog, which Sony attempted with its now-canceled Aibo.

Perhaps more important, nobody has a real pet dinosaur. This lack of a tangible precedent gives people more room to project whatever they want onto little Pleo. And that matters because a key to any synthetic pet’s success so far—whether stuffed animal, tamagotchi, or robot—is the user’s imagination.

Bottom line: Put Pleo in an dog- or cat-like casing and its success as a toy gets more difficult. That’s the power of precedents.

[For a good write-up about Pleo in terms of Ugobe’s business strategy, see Rafe Needleman’s write-up.]

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Hefty OneZip: A Usability Puzzle

Hefty OneZip bags are plastic zip-lock-style freezer bags. When you take one out of the container, you’ll find it closed.

As the default state for a product, it’s hard to picture something more backward. If you are going to use the bag, you need to open it. Why not just provide the bag already open?

A few possible answers:

  • Manufacturing the bags already opened might cost more than manufacturing them closed.
  • Consumers might perceive a closed bag as more sanitary. However, the bags come flattened and wrapped within a sealed cardboard box, which would seem to minimize the contamination threat.
  • The product designers might not have considered the issue, randomly ending up with closed bags.

Whatever the reason, it’s not a big deal, just a small usability puzzle.

[Update, 8/1/2007: The third comment below, by “Anon,” provides what seems like a highly credible answer to this puzzle. In short: (1) manufacturing in the closed position enables a tighter seal, and (2) the FDA requires it for sanitary reasons.]

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Intelligent Cross-Sell

On February 7th, Howard Burrows and I had the pleasure of announcing CNET Channel’s Intelligent Cross-Sell (ICS) at the DEMO 2006 conference. (“Cross-selling” is the practice of offering complementary products to a primary item of interest, such as a travel mouse and carrying case in conjunction with a notebook computer. Most online retailers do some form of cross-selling, and all of them want to do it better.)

Along with transitioning the ExactChoice computer recommender to run within CNET, ICS has been my main focus since CNET acquired ExactChoice at the end of 2004. As part of that deal, Howard and I formed the core of something like a start-up within CNET Channel, a property of CNET that syndicates detailed product data to e-tailers, portals, and the like. As the Vice President of Analytic Products, my job is to define and implement new businesses based on the use of that data. ICS is the first result.

Here is the one-paragraph summary:

Intelligent Cross-Sell (ICS) helps retailers identify and cross-sell complementary products, such as the best accessories for a notebook computer. ICS works like a good salesperson thinks: Is this accessory compatible? Is it by a featured manufacturer? Is it popular? Is it profitable? Retailers can target cross-sells by these and many other factors. Based on the targeting, ICS selects, delivers, and measures the resulting cross-sells—allowing retailers to sell more by providing customers with better choices.

If you’re looking for a quick intro on why ICS exists and how it works, I recommend the six-minute video of our DEMO 2006 presentation.