New Product Research: Innovation Doesn’t Always Equal SuccessJan Carlson
In February of this year, Coke announced the first frozen beverage in the 31-year old Diet Coke brand lineup. In an exclusive agreement with 7-Eleven stores, Coke launched Diet Coke Frost Cherry with its usual advertising and media fanfare. And many welcomed the introduction of another diet Slurpee product to 7-Eleven. (Currently, the only diet Slurpees available are Fanta Sugar-Free Mango and Sprite Cranberry.) Indeed, consumer reviews were mostly favorable at Slurpee.com. (Yes, there really is a website devoted to all things Slurpee.)
Alas, in spite of consumer acceptance, this month Coke was forced to pull the product from stores, citing the quality and consistency problems that many 7-Eleven operators had experienced. (Apparently diet sweeteners do not behave like sugar and high-fructose corn syrup when frozen, causing the product viscosity to become unreliable.) “In keeping with both companies’ quality standards, 7-Eleven has decided to remove the product,” said the companies in a joint statement. Please note that there were no health or safety issues with the product.
Now, the demise of one product isn’t going to significantly damage the Diet Coke brand franchise, but you have to wonder about this. Didn’t they test the product? How could companies the size and stature of Coca-Cola and 7-Eleven introduce a product that is pulled for quality reasons? Won’t heads roll for this?
Apparently, we as consumers are becoming much more tolerant of brand failures, even giving companies credit for experimentation and pushing the boundaries. “A major trend today is high tolerance for trial and error,” says Steven Addis, CEO of the branding agency Addis. “Consumers are more open to companies trying new things and will give them the benefit of the doubt for attempts at innovation — even if they fail.”
Perhaps the internet takes credit for that phenomenon. We have become inured to rapidly appearing and disappearing electronic offerings, and that has bled over to bricks-and-mortar retailers. Or perhaps we are getting used to computer and electronic products that are introduced in less than perfect condition – after all you just have to download a patch!
Is the lesson for marketers therefore that speedy innovation is much more important than successful innovation? And if so, what implications does that have for new product development and brand management? No word yet on the planned introduction of Diet Coke Frost without the “hint of cherry” or on the re-introduction of the original frozen Diet Coke beverage. But I would bet that consumers will be much less tolerant in the case of reintroduction of a new product, so let’s hope that Coke and 7-Eleven get it right next time!