For many years a bottle of ketchup was exactly what you would expect; A bottle of ketchup. But that well known carrier of condiments had a problem, the design made it difficult to dispense the product it held. People developed several strategies for getting the ketchup out of the bottle. Some would hold the bottle horizontally and tap the neck gently on their hand; others would hold it upside down and shake the dickens out of it. Nothing worked well and most got frustrated and stuck a knife blade down the neck of the bottle to free the tomato nectar.
Fast forward a few years and the squeeze bottle seemed like the remedy. Alas, we still had to tip and shake before the squeeze bottle would produce any results. Then a few years ago, in a stroke of pure genius, someone designed a bottle to stand upside-down, with the cap at the bottom. With gravity as our constant friend, the ketchup bottle is now always at the ready to dispense its sweet, tomatoey goodness. Just flip the cap and squeeze.
With that in mind, I was pleased to see my favorite mustard—Grey Poupon—now available in an upside down squeeze bottle. My consumerist instincts told me that this would be the greatest product advancement since Listerine Breath Strips in Citrus Flavor!
But what I discovered was shocking. This was no stroke of genius. This was the packing equivalent to the Edsel. As Elvis Costello wrote “It was a fine idea at that time, now it’s a brilliant mistake.” You see, there is a big difference in the viscosity of ketchup and Grey Poupon. When you put Grey Poupon in a squeeze bottle—upside down, downside up, regardless of its orientation—it sticks to the sides of the bottle. Once the contents are half gone, no matter how much you shake and squeeze, it just makes farting noises as it burps out infinitesimal specks of mustard.
And so it is with advertising and marketing. When a cool new tool becomes available every advertiser, big and small, thinks it’s right for them. Then agencies across the world get calls asking for a Facebook/viral video/mobile app/Myspace thingy. The client doesn’t know why or how it will help their business, but if it works for ketchup, it must be right for ball bearings or donuts or snow tires.
That’s were we, the advertising professionals need to man up and just tell our clients that Grey Poupon is not Heinz Ketchup and rather than try to be what you’re not, you should be proud that you’re the best darn mustard out there, and the best way to deliver your product is in a small glass jar, just the way you’ve been doing it since 1777. Maybe the reason you’ve been selling mustard for more than 230 years is because Monsieur Poupon got it right way back then.
What do you think? Are there products you think were screwed up by being “new and improved?”