Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Pop-Tart is a Pop-Tart, Or Is It

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

If we want to know the meaning of a term, we should not ask what it stands for: we should instead examine how it is actually used.” – from Wittgenstein’s Poker (2001) by David Edmonds and John Eidinow, referring to philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s metaphor of language as a tool.

The existential question of the day is this: at what point, after altering a product’s fundamental characteristics should that product no longer be considered what it originally was? Is a car a car if it doesn’t have wheels? Is ice cream ice cream is it doesn’t have fat? Should Taco Bell be allowed to call its “beef tacos” beef tacos if the meat is only 35% beef?

I was eating some Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts® the other day. Frosted Strawberry Pop-Tarts to be exact. Although perhaps not the healthiest breakfast (or snack time) choice in the world, I must admit I think they’re pretty tasty. My favorite parts are the sugary fruity-like substance in the center and the frosting. Go figure. I’m a sucker for an occasional shot of sweet goodness.

As I was biting into the first of two Pop-Tarts I thought to myself that they didn’t seem like the fruity goodness I once remembered. A simple visual inspection made me realize the reason was obvious. These Pop-Tarts seem to have more crust, less fruit and frosting. I’m not a big fan of the crust. I usually break it off and discard.

I cannot say for certain whether Kellogg’s has changed its production process. I’m not privy to their product formulation meetings. Perhaps it’s just me. Perhaps it just appears to me that the Pop-Tart has less fruity volume and frosting. And even if they have changed the relative balance of fruitiness and frosting to crust, I have no idea why they did it. Could be customer feedback, or cost considerations, or something else. If based on customer feedback in order to increase satisfaction and revenue, good move. Maybe I’m simply in the minority. Maybe more of Kellogg’s customers like the crust than I. If it’s simply a cost-cutting measure to bolster the short-term bottom line though, from an innovation perspective (and as a consumer of Pop-Tarts) I’m less enthused.

Altering a product’s fundamental characteristics through cost-cutting measures raises the existential question of the day. In the case of Pop-Tarts, at what point, after taking away more of its fruitiness and frosting, should a Pop-Tart no longer be considered a Pop-Tart?

As an innovator, you need to make sure you’re mindful of the core characteristics around which you’re innovations derive. You wouldn’t want to mess anything up. If you want to know the meaning of your brand, don’t simply ask what it stands for. Instead examine how your brand gets used and referred to by customers. Do your customers still think your brand is what it is?

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