OPINION: Is product or idea innovation more important?

Mike Napolitano
By Mike Napolitano | 7 January 2013

Recently Nissan Australia was fortunate enough to be named as one of BRW’s Most Innovative Companies.  Also quite impressively the only car company on the list.

This got us to thinking about innovation not just in the auto category but also more broadly as an industry.

New thinking, innovation, category firsts, these are the starting points for consumers' excitement and engagement.

In an effort to differentiate, brands will often highlight an obscure product feature that a competitor doesn’t have and make this the key driver for product news.  These features usually bare little or no relevance to the consumer.

This is particularly relevant in mature categories, and with the rise of retailers driving the product agenda for many manufactures. Simply being ‘on air’ to keep awareness up is becoming costly with diminishing ROI’s.

But innovation in isolation isn’t the way forward either. Strong consumer insight around the innovation matched with stand out innovation in communications is where we need to be - a true partnership of ideas. 

Too often we see great product thinking that’s matched with average communications.  A stock standard approach to stock standard problems is basically going through the motions and ends up doing nothing. 

Whilst much of the product innovation from large multinationals we see here in Australia comes from their global hubs, the challenge is still for the local marketers and agencies to find new and ‘innovative’ ways to tell a story to consumers.

Having a view to innovation within our clients businesses is paramount for the local advertising industry.  The push from local agencies continues to see great work come from big global brands here in Australia.  Taking the easy road of ‘insert global creative’ should be the absolute fall back position for these big innovation briefs not the default.

Our own experience with Nissan Australia and their global electric vehicle (EV) the Nissan Leaf is a good case in point.  Having launched in the United States and Europe in 2011 those markets were already ahead of the curve when it came to talking about EV’s. The challenge for Australia was to educate consumers about EV’s and what they could offer the local market and more importantly the environment.

The numbers suggested that people wanted to know about EVs, but they were just unsure about what they wanted to know.  It was here that the strategy and creative idea took a great leap and pushed in the direction of the old foe, petrol. 

We took a journey into ‘A World Without Petrol – a art installation featuring 40 decommissioned petrol bowers transformed into useful items like, mini golf, a guitar amp, gumball machine and a water fountain.  Perhaps a little esoteric but it sparked imagination in our audience and got them asking for more. This saw us take them on a fact finding tour through social media and PR letting them know about and engage with the new world of EV’s and more specifically Nissan Leaf.

Nissan Australia continues to look at its global new product pipeline to find ways of continually living the brands Innovation that Excites mantra.  Nissan Leaf is a global standout in the EV world and one that the company is very proud of, but of equal importance to this great innovation is the communication that has partnered with it to take a new and important product and propel it into the hearts and minds of current and future EV considers – again a true partnership of ideas.

Mike Napolitano
Group Account Director
Whybin\TBWA Melbourne

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