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.