Thomas Z. Ramsøy

The Risk of Novelty in Marketing

In the ever-evolving landscape of consumer behavior, the allure of novelty stands as a double-edged sword. While novelty holds the promise of exciting new discoveries, it also triggers a subtle undercurrent of negative emotions within us. As I have written about earlier, instant consumer responses within a couple of seconds — attention, emotion, cognition — are key to wins and losses, and novelty is no exception.

Yet, amidst the pursuit of groundbreaking ideas, there are cautionary tales of well-intentioned launches that fell victim to consumer skepticism. These stories serve as reminders that novelty alone does not guarantee success.

Let us explore some notable examples where companies introduced novel products, only to face an uphill battle against consumer skepticism and ultimately fall short of their aspirations.

  1. Google Glass:

One such example is Google Glass, the highly anticipated wearable augmented reality device introduced by Google in 2013. With its futuristic design and promising features, Google Glass aimed to redefine how we interacted with technology. However, consumer skepticism quickly emerged, fueled by concerns over privacy invasion, social acceptance, and the practicality of the device. Despite the initial excitement, Google Glass was discontinued in 2015, a testament to the power of consumer skepticism in derailing even the most promising innovations.

  1. Microsoft Kin:

In 2010, Microsoft attempted to capture the attention of young social media enthusiasts with the launch of the Kin, a line of smartphones designed to seamlessly integrate with their digital lives. However, consumer skepticism thwarted its success. High pricing, limited app availability, and a lack of standout features contributed to a sense of skepticism among consumers who found more appealing alternatives in the market. The Kin was swiftly discontinued, serving as a reminder that consumer skepticism can undermine even well-established companies’ forays into novel product categories.

  1. Amazon Fire Phone:

Another example of a novel product that failed to gain traction due to consumer skepticism is the Amazon Fire Phone. Amazon, known for its successful line of e-readers and tablets, ventured into the smartphone market in 2014 with high hopes. However, the Fire Phone struggled to resonate with consumers. Its steep price, restricted app ecosystem, and a user interface that left users perplexed raised doubts about its value and usability. Ultimately, consumer skepticism led to poor sales and the discontinuation of the Fire Phone within a year.

  1. Coca-Cola BlāK:

In 2006, Coca-Cola introduced BlāK, a carbonated beverage that combined the flavors of cola with coffee. Aimed at capitalizing on the emerging energy drink trend, the product faced skepticism from consumers. Its unusual taste and confusion surrounding its positioning as both a soft drink and a coffee-flavored beverage resulted in consumer skepticism and lackluster sales. Coca-Cola BlāK was eventually discontinued in 2008, underscoring the importance of aligning consumer expectations with the novel product’s value proposition.

  1. Bic for Her:

In an example that highlights the perils of gendered marketing, Bic launched “Bic for Her,” a line of pens specifically marketed towards women. The product faced widespread ridicule and backlash, with consumers questioning the need for pens exclusively designed for women. The overt gendered marketing and assumptions about women’s writing needs created consumer skepticism and negative reviews. Bic for Her serves as a cautionary tale of how failing to address consumer skepticism and market a novel product appropriately can result in significant backlash and failure.

These examples underscore the challenges that companies face when introducing novel products. While innovation and novelty are crucial drivers of success, they must be accompanied by a deep understanding of consumer expectations, effective communication, and addressing potential skepticism. In the following sections, we will delve into the reasons behind consumer skepticism, its impact on product launches, and explore strategies to navigate this delicate landscape successfully.

With a particular focus on the amygdala and avoidance behaviors, we aim to unravel the implications for marketers, companies, and their endeavors to introduce novel products, information, and positioning strategies.

The Amygdala’s Response to Novelty

Deep within the recesses of our brains lies the amygdala, a structure intricately linked to our emotional experiences. Traditionally associated with negative emotions, the amygdala plays a pivotal role in our responses to novelty.

Research has consistently shown that encountering something new triggers heightened activity within this emotional epicenter. It is as if the amygdala instinctively puts us on guard, priming us for potential threats associated with the unknown.

Negative Emotions and Avoidance Behaviors

The amygdala’s response to novelty is intimately intertwined with negative emotions, leading to avoidance behaviors in many instances. Our instinctual inclination to avoid the unfamiliar manifests in various ways, such as looking away, resisting clicks, or actively avoiding engagement.

These withdrawal tendencies are reflective of our brain’s evolutionary mechanisms aimed at self-preservation. In the realm of consumer behavior, this avoidance response poses a significant challenge for marketers seeking to introduce novel names, brands, products, or information.

The Paradox of Novelty and Risk

The paradox of novelty lies in its inherent risk. While companies and marketers strive to capture attention and stand out in crowded markets, the introduction of something new inherently triggers negative emotions.

Consumers are naturally drawn to the familiar, as it provides a sense of security and predictability. Novelty disrupts these comfort zones, evoking uncertainty and triggering subtle resistance.

Navigating the Seas of Novelty

So, how can marketers and companies navigate this treacherous sea of negative emotions associated with novelty? The key lies in striking a delicate balance, and leveraging familiarity while introducing elements of novelty.

By building on existing foundations and subtly infusing innovation, marketers can tap into consumers’ comfort zones while enticing them to explore new horizons.

  1. Contextual Familiarity: By anchoring novel products or information within familiar contexts, marketers can create a sense of continuity. Presenting a new product as an extension of an existing brand or emphasizing shared attributes with well-established offerings can help alleviate negative emotions associated with novelty.
  2. Gradual Exposure: Incremental exposure to novelty can reduce aversion and enhance acceptance. By gradually introducing consumers to new concepts, companies can minimize the perceived risk and allow individuals to acclimate to the unfamiliar gradually.
  3. Emotional Bridging: Establishing emotional connections is crucial in navigating the world of novelty. By evoking positive emotions tied to well-known experiences, companies can create an emotional bridge between the familiar and the novel. Storytelling, nostalgia, and relatability can serve as powerful tools in this regard.
  4. Social Proof: Leveraging the power of social influence and social proof can mitigate the negative emotions associated with novelty. Highlighting positive experiences, testimonials, and endorsements from trusted sources can provide consumers with a sense of reassurance and reduce perceived risk.

Quo vadis?

Consumer emotions regarding novelty encompass a complex interplay between the brain’s response to the unfamiliar and our intrinsic aversion to risk. While novelty sparks negative emotions, it also holds the potential for growth and innovation.

By understanding the amygdala’s (and other brain regions’) role in triggering avoidance behaviors and recognizing the delicate balance between familiarity and novelty, marketers and companies can navigate these emotional waters more effectively.

Rather than shying away from novelty, it is essential for marketers and companies to embrace it strategically. By implementing the following approaches, they can overcome the negative emotional response and leverage the power of novelty to their advantage:

  1. Frame novelty as an opportunity: Instead of presenting novelty as something completely foreign, frame it as an opportunity for growth and improvement. Highlight the potential benefits and emphasize how the new product, information, or positioning can enhance consumers’ lives.
  2. Highlight differentiation within familiarity: Consumers seek a sense of uniqueness and individuality. Marketers can emphasize how the novel offering or brand stands out within a familiar landscape. By positioning novelty as a distinct and desirable alternative, marketers can appeal to consumers’ need for differentiation.
  3. Embrace gradual innovation: Rather than revolutionary leaps, consider a more incremental approach to innovation. Gradually introducing new features or updates to existing products can help consumers acclimate to the novelty while minimizing the perceived risk. This approach allows for a smoother transition from the familiar to the new.
  4. Foster trust and transparency: Negative emotions associated with novelty often arise from a lack of trust. Building trust through transparency and open communication is vital. Provide clear information about the novelty, its benefits, and potential drawbacks. This transparency fosters credibility and helps alleviate consumer concerns.
  5. Leverage social influence: Harness the power of social influence to mitigate the negative emotions tied to novelty. Positive reviews, testimonials, and endorsements from influential individuals or existing customers can provide social proof and alleviate consumer doubts. Seeing others embrace and endorse the novelty creates a sense of reassurance.
  6. Test, test, test: Embracing the latest advancements in neuroscience and psychology, companies can employ methods such as EEG, eye-tracking, and online implicit tests to predict consumers’ emotional responses to novelty. By measuring or predicting subconscious reactions, attention patterns, and hidden biases, companies can refine their strategies, adjust positioning, and optimize marketing messages to navigate consumer skepticism effectively and increase the chances of successful product launches.

In conclusion, while novelty triggers negative emotions and avoidance behaviors, it also represents an opportunity for growth, innovation, and differentiation. Marketers and companies must carefully navigate the emotional landscape by leveraging familiarity, gradually introducing novelty, fostering trust, and utilizing social influence.

By understanding the intricate dance between novelty and negative emotions, they can successfully introduce novel products, information, and positioning strategies that resonate with consumers and drive long-term success.