In a supernatural film released in 2009 called “The Box”, main character of the film played by actress Cameron Diaz was stuck with a major dilemma. In the film she received a mysterious box which had a button. Every-time she presses the button, she will receive lots of material riches but as a severe consequence, someone unknown and unrelated to her will die. Hence, the dilemma.
In marketing we are handed down a box which is not unlike the box that I have just described in the film. What is this box? Well no one really knows. What every marketer does know is thinking something outside and beyond this box usually sounds good. It is considered innovative and unconventional. It’s the challenge that keeps marketers awake at night – how to think something and do something out of the box.
But herein lies the biggest contradiction of them all. Because no matter how much we regard ourselves as out of the box thinker; we actually implement the solution that is never out of the box. To us out of the box is the fantasy of a seductive mistress, whom we often think about but pretty much always ditch in reality.
Let’s look at a few examples. It has long been considered that differentiation is the key to brand survival. But increasingly all products within a category are looking more or less the same and they are doing more or less good business. The success of these increasingly similar looking line extensions are re-enforcing the fact that in an increasingly insecure world, people don’t want to stand out. They want to fit in. That’s why everything and everyone is looking the same, not different. This is definitely not out of the box. We thought facebook and social media revolution will kill TVC which is so predictable. We thought advertising is dead, along with 30 second TVC. But has advertising spending in TVC gone down? Not by any means. This again is not out of the box. We were told uninhibited line extension dilutes a brand. We were told to think out of the box to launch new brands with new opportunities, not just extend a popular brand name into everything like Donald Trump. But Donald Trump makes a lot of money and if thinking inside the box makes people rich as Donald Trump, then everyone would love to think act like Donald Trump. Innovation and new ideas make us look good. But in practice, it’s the sequels and line extensions in the world that makes all the money. X-Men 2 will always make more money than X-Men.
Now, if you make money not thinking out of the box, why would anyone do it? That’s why out of the box thinking is often limited to increasing number of blades in a razor from 2 to 3. That again is hardly out of the box thinking.
So it’s pretty clear. There is excitement and romanticism in thinking out of the box. But there is absolutely no incentive for marketers to do things out of the box. Predictability is safe. Similarity is what people want at times. That’s why out of the box is often out of fashion.