The 2-Minute Thought: The New Products You Remember -- and Don’t

Since 2002, marketing agency Schneider Associates has been publishing a survey of the most memorable new products launched every year.  In conjunction with Sentient Decision Science, the firm asks over a thousand consumers to identify the product launches they remember from the past year and then ranks new products accordingly. 

Keep in mind that the survey leans heavily toward packaged foods, technology, cars, toys, personal and beauty products, and household items -- because those are the categories that go for national distribution with big marketing dollars. 

In the most recent survey, for 2016, the 10 most memorable products were:

1) iPhone 7
2) KFC Nashville Hot Chicken
3) Pizza Hut Grilled Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza
4) Amazon Echo Dot
5) Pizza Hut Bacon Stuffed Crust Pizza
6) Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cup
7) Samsung Gear VR
8) Deep Fried Frozen Twinkies
9) A TIE between Doritos Mix and Taco Bell Crunchy Cheesy Core Burrito
10) A TIE between Tesla Model X and Cheez-It Sandwich Crackers (and what a tie that is!)

I may have been living under a rock, but I didn’t even know that Deep Fried Frozen Twinkies existed -- and I definitely do not remember Taco Bell’s Crunchy Cheesy Core Burrito. 

Apparently, however, I am not alone.  Of the consumers surveyed in 2016, 66% couldn’t remember a single new product launch.  In fact, it’s not unusual for half or more of survey takers to not recall any new products in any given year. 

That’s a reflection of how crowded our marketplaces already are.  According to a 2011 Harvard Business School article, families buy the same 150 products for 85% of their needs over and over, so getting them to look at anything new is a challenge.  And of the products that have made it onto the list in past years, dozens already have disappeared.

What’s interesting is how much technology and food (mostly junk food) have come to dominate these lists in recent years.  In fact, you have to go back to the early 2000s to remember the era when life was not all about the devices we carry and wear. 

In 2002, there were no big technology launches.  The Mini Cooper was a big item that year.  And amazingly, there were two clothing items on the list – the Hanes Tagless T-Shirt and Dockers Go Khaki with Stain Defender!  To see another clothing item again (kind of) you have to go all the way to 2009 when the beloved Snuggie made it onto the list (If you don’t know what a Snuggie is, look it up . . . yes, quirky items can become a marketing success too).

It wasn’t until 2003 that we see a mention of Apple – it was the iTunes store coming in at #23.  And just to remind you of the times, Intel Centrino came in at #30.  But the really big product of 2003 was the new $20 bill.  Remember that?  Almost everyone did.

Since then, Apple has had a product near the top of the list almost every year – a testament to its amazing category-creating abilities over the past decade.  There is the iPod Mini (survey year 2004), the iPod Nano (2005), the iPhone (2007), the iPod Touch and MacBook Air (2008), the iPad (2010), the iPhone 5C and iPad Mini (2013), the iPhone 6 Plus (2014), and the Apple Watch (2015) -- before we get to the iPhone 7 in the 2016 survey. 

Perhaps the emergence of Glad “Press’n Seal” (2004) wasn’t a defining moment in your life – nor perhaps was the year KFC finally introduced its healthier Grilled Chicken (#1 in 2009).  But you probably will recall how big it was for Microsoft’s Xbox 350 (2005), Wii Fit (2008), Rock Band (also 2008), Microsoft Surface (2013), and Star Wars everything (2015). 

Other insights that come from looking at the latest and greatest from the past?  By 2011, the survey authors noted that brand names were starting to lose ground while “Made Locally” was starting to resonate.  And perhaps even more poignant?   2011 also was the year they started seeing signs of fatigue on high-fructose corn syrup and trans fats.

Please Note: The 2-Minute Thought will be on break and will return October 26.


The 2-Minute Thought Investors: Keep the Negative in Perspective

People naturally pay more attention to negative thoughts and feelings than to positive ones.  It’s the way our brains work, and social scientists call it negativity bias.  It’s all about how bad thoughts and experiences weigh more heavily on us than good ones do. 

There’s a good reason we’ve evolved a negativity bias: It has helped us survive.  When we hear a rustling in the woods, it’s wiser to think the worst – that’s it a tiger or bear – until we know otherwise.  Usually, it will be nothing, but once in a while, thinking the worst will save our lives.

We’re not often chased by lions, tigers, or bears anymore, but our negativity bias has stayed with us all these millennia.  It’s why negative advertising works.  The negative traits we hear about are much easier to remember than the positive ones.  It’s why marketers know that they just need to mention a few negatives about a competitor’s product to get people to switch.  We are ever wary of what could go wrong.

In a recent paper, Zakary Tormala and Aaron Snyder of the Stanford Graduate School of Business found that when we’re trying to make a rational decision and list the “pros” and “cons” around an issue, the cons carry more weight with us – even if the positives and negatives seem equally relevant and compelling.  For example, pointing out a few negatives about a really great job candidate make us much more uncertain about our opinions than the opposite would – pointing out the really good traits of a weaker job candidate. 

That has a lot of implications for how we market products and how we persuade people to make a decision in our favor.  And the implication for investment? Perhaps it’s that it’s important to keep the negatives in perspective.  

Investors think about negatives all the time.  They train themselves to consider all the things that can go wrong because they must.  Doing so is an essential part of being a good investor.  But at the same time, investors also must think carefully about the glaring flaws that others see so readily -- and consider whether they really are so glaring.

It often is easier to see what’s wrong with something than what’s right.  It can be easier to tear apart another person’s investment thesis than to come up with a positive one on your own.  And it very often is easier to run for the hills when bad news hits than it is to stay the course when you should.

No investment is perfect.  If it were, then its price would be too rich to make for a good opportunity.  And if something comes at a bargain price, it almost always is cheap for a reason.  Value investors know that cheap stocks get cheap because they have flaws that have been identified and widely recognized.  The challenge is to understand the flaws you can live with while getting the bigger things right.