Gentlemen: It’s not marketing… it’s innovation!!

A especially controversial issue for the definition of professional territories.

In 1988, Fox marketed the film Big, directed by Penny Marshall, with its script written by Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg, starring an extremely young Tom Hanks and Elizabeth Perkings. Briefly summarized, the film is about the difficulties of a teenager who (thanks to magic) enters an adult’s body (Tom Hanks). After many circumstances, our young adult turns into the success manager product of a great toy multinational company.

The scene in which the project is introduced for the launch of a new toy to the multinational company’s owner and the product committee is particularly brilliant. I use this shot in the film in my lectures as an attempt to treat the difference between marketing and innovation, a especially controversial issue for the definition of professional territories.

The first time I saw the film was in 1990, I was collaborating with the company, Famosa, developing part of the Pyn y Pon range; a project in which we introduced ourselves in the world of children and toys, reflected later with more than 8 years of strategic collaboration with Imaginarium.

The film, beyond its family reading, shocked me deeply due to the professional concepts it launched. Even today I bear them deeply in mind in my work.

The date of production of the film is not trivial; in 1998 United States was suffering the full impact of the Japanese economy; for the first time after the Second World War, its industry was immersed in a crisis. The sequence shows an American powerful multinational company (by custom) focused on the toy market; the company (based on commercial and marketing management) is constantly launching product concepts on the basis of market research studies and penetration, sales increase, etc.

The professionals (except the owner) which appear in it have lost the ‘spirit’ of the business, they have forgotten their mission by focusing on a cold and efficient management type. That is the cause of such crisis; the industry has lost the ‘spirit’ as a result of excessive marketing and rationalization, creating products that are not so much directed toward the user’s needs.

This factor has been very well used by the Japanese industry, which has found the way to enter the American market and the vulnerability of its products and services. Thus sectors such as self-propulsion, electronic appliances and high fidelity have begun to define their world leadership.

For the first time, we are faced with the company/user divorce; we are faced with a value crisis. The situation we are undergoing nowadays which involves crisis, market reduction, competition of emerging economies, etc. is very similar to that reflected in the film.

By following the analysis of the scene, we can observe how the forceful arguments of marketing are taken to pieces by the main character, Josh Baskin (Tom Hanks) by means of an innocent ‘I don’t understand’ that results from the user’s mind (Josh is actually a child). Facing the user’s lack of understanding, the sale arguments show their lack of value and the concept is challenged.

It is at this moment when the scene develops itself in a masterly way; after the contact with the concept (without consulting) the user shows his lack of understanding toward the suggested value; the reaction triggers a professional response from the audience to the product committee, focusing the initial concept on those legitimized values of product, quality and level of play (from static to convertible, from building to robot), adaptation to the social circumstance and factor of modernity (from robot to flea).

To sum up, it is a return to the original values of the sector and product, highlighted again by means of a clear innovation exercise regarding concept and product qualities. (not as a business model) We can also observe that the response to the market dictatorship and the organization corset involves the return to the surprise and the opportunities caused by the social and cultural evolution (in the case of the scene). It also reflects one of the most complex characteristics of the toy, music or leisure industry: The lack of historical consolidation; it is no use having occupied the first position in the past if we are not able to surprise our user day by day by focusing on the real value of products and services. This is the situation reflected today in most sectors.

The consumer does not understand technology, marketing strategies or business models. He or she understands (and searches for) good experiences of use and relation value-price. Using innovation and marketing appropriately constitutes an essential tool for competitiveness: Distinguishing the philosophy of each one, delimiting the methodologies we receive as proposals and selecting each tool properly according to the problem focus becomes the key factor for an appropriate response.

Markets are full of products and services as a result of an inaccurate prioritization between innovation and marketing, of turning a tool (user’s observation) into a work philosophy and also as a result of failing to discriminate which is the best method for each problem.




Mª Luisa Vives – Jaime Gross

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