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“New” is the New Old

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I spent three highly unproductive hours last Friday arguing with lawyers, pseudo-lawyers, and regulatory experts for the right to say “new."

Not everyone gets to say it and, if left to themselves, most people probably would. “New” is, after all, the Holy Grail of marketing copy. With just this one word, consumer hearts and minds are turned on and, before long, your shelves will be out of stock and your customers begging for more of your wonder-making product or service.

Or so they say.

Putting in the Newness
It’s the newness in new that draws in consumers. Here’s why.

Newness helps give consumers a reason to believe our claims. In the hand sanitizer market, for example, established brands like Safeguard and Dettol already make hard-to-believe claims like “99.9% germ-free skin.” With competition intensifying as swine flu drives strong category growth, if Dettol were to try and overtake Safeguard by making a “100% germ-free skin” claim, wouldn’t it be more believable if the product advertised was new, improved, or upgraded?

Besides making consumers believe you can do what you say you’ll do, newness also busts a key consumer barrier. Many consumers think products are subject to diminishing returns (i.e., reduced product efficacy over time). Consumers believe this is caused by the evolution of the human body, making it immune to the effects of a consumer product the more it is used.

While we don’t know whether these theories are scientifically valid, what we do know is that consumers act on their perception of reality rather than on reality itself. Since new products are perceived to be significantly different from older ones, consumers think the evolution process is reset and a new diminishing returns curve comes into effect. This helps brands keep current users who may have otherwise shifted to another brand for fear of reaching the inflection point.

NewConsumers love newness because newness has itself become a consumer benefit. “New” means a new product, which means significantly improved, which means better than before and perhaps even better than the competition, and so on. Newness is, in other words, a loaded term with several benefits implied by its use.

So the next time you tell a consumer your product is new, she’s not just thinking “different from before” but also “better than before.”

Divorcing “New” from Newness
While establishing newness in all campaigns is key, you don’t have to use the word “new” every time. Even if you could, there are good reasons why you shouldn’t.

First of all, newness can be communicated in many ways. New packaging, for example, implies a new product formula. By reinventing the look and feel of our advertising, we also improve consumer perception of product newness. More often than not, these non- verbal forms of communicating “new” more powerfully communicate our newness message than yet another product violator or TV announcer ad.

Secondly, “new” is fast becoming a point of parity. As more and more brands use (or I should say overuse) the word in their packaging and advertising, the more the consumer will find the word less distinctive, less meaningful, and less believable. If all brands in the market are better than before, then, relatively speaking, nothing has really changed within the competitive set.

Finally, as consumers become more sophisticated and discerning, just saying “new” will no longer be enough. When we say “new,” consumers will respond by asking, “new, how?"

“New” Ain’t All That
While newness continues to have a magical effect on consumers, we’re finding that the word “new” was never really that powerful in the first place.

So, if you have a truly revolutionary new product, then you have to do it justice by spelling out exactly how revolutionary it is. Otherwise, if you feel compelled to say “new” for the sake of driving your brand image on newness alone, you may be better off by not saying “new” at all. This will prove to be not only good copy strategy but also yield communication messages that our legal and regulatory teams will be more than happy to approve.

Who knows? As we begin using the word “new” more selectively, we may just get three hours of our Friday mornings back. Now that’s something new to look forward to.

print ed: 10/09


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