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Sunday
May092010

If consumers like it a lot--it's likely been around for a long time. What's old is new again, Part 2.

It could be a very long time, indeed.

A few days ago I wrote on the news of the return of Polaroid "instant" pictures [see Polaroid photography makes a come-back]--which got me to thinking of all the products in vogue today that many people think are "new" or "modern" inventions--but which, in fact, are very--sometimes very--old product concepts.  In cases like these, the brand might be different; however, the underlying product offering is essentially the same as that which existed [or has existed] for decades!  Here are some examples that readily came to mind:

Energy drinks
Might you have thought that the interest in "energy drinks" is a recent phenomenon?  Hardly.  At the turn of the 20th century the marketplace was filled with what then was called "elixirs" and patent medicines [the only difference is that today we call them energy drinks].  Nonetheless, they were sold as beverages that were meant to give you a boost in energy and spirit--all by virtue of the ingredients they contained.  Today at least two huge bottlers offer a panoply of products intended to confer such benefits as brain-power, alertness, stamina, energy, and beauty.  An interesting example of a drink that existed then and still persists today:  Coca Cola.  Others you might be familiar with--and mistakenly think as products designed for just the 21st century include Monster, Red Bull, and Rockstar.  

Banks inside of grocery stores
I asked a young bank executive a while ago which bank was the first to put an extended-business-hours-even-on-weekends "branch office" in a supermarket setting; she proudly told me that it was her banking conglomerate, sometime back in the 1980's.  She was surprised when I shared with her the historical fact--and photo [see below]--of a Wells-Fargo branch office; Wells Fargo claims to have pioneered the concept of one-stop banking and shopping, 'way back in--are you ready for this?--1852.  Check out the cool photo!

Disposable cameras
Slightly less so than before the pre-point-n-shoot digital cameras days, one can still buy a "disposable" [plastic] camera at convenience stores and gift shops, usually at destination resort-type places...cameras that you take pictures with and then return the unit for processing and print generation.  If you were "up" on your marketing history, you'd know that that's exactly how the first cameras produced by Kodak worked:  you bought the unit pre-loaded with film; you then mailed it back to have the film "developed" after you'd taken the pictures; eventually you were sent the printed images you took and new film put back in your camera, only to start the cycle over again.  We do it slightly differently today, but the concept is still the same.  

Groceries delivered to your house
Beginning in the late 1800's delivery of grocery items was not uncommon in the UK and the US. Typically, delivered between midnight and 8am, grocers would leave the ordered goods in a cold storage box usually left on customers' porches.  Today, access to cold storage is still an issue, but more than a few chains are "re-inventing" this old service concept, including Pea Pod, Amazon, Safeway, and others. 

Having the mailman deliver what you bought at home
Back in the late 1880s Sears pioneered the concept of people buying things from the comfort of their homes and having them delivered to them, first by the U.S. Postal Service and, later, by other carriers.  This was first conceived by marketing people at Sears to over come what in the business is called spatial separation between the seller and the customer--most people lived far away from the nearest Sears outlet.  Today most of the population in the U.S., at least, live within a 10- of 15-minute drive of a modern shopping mall; the geographic distance has long been spanned--but a new problem now exists:  consumers don't have time to actually go to the mall; now the problem is one of temporal separation--and home delivery of goods still flourishes, but now for a different rationale.  In effect, it's an old practice for a new problem.  

Telephones with cameras
Telephones with cameras were on display as early as the early 1960's, say at the 1964 World's Fair in New York.  [Some claim that phones with cameras were shown at such events two and three decades even before this!]  Also, if you visited The House of the Future, 50 years ago in Tomorrowland at Disney's Anahiem, California, theme park you would have seen phones with the ability to visually show who the parties were who were talking to each other on a call.  It is hard--with their ubiquity today--to understand why they didn't catch on back then.  The answer is that the popularity of the technology was superseded by the strong preferences by users back then to want to not be seen by others without special preparation to be seen.  Today those inhibitions, of course, are difficult to fully appreciate.  

Television talent shows
Today's it's American Idol, now in its ninth season; over 60 years ago it was The
Arthur Godfrey and his Firiends television show which ran from 1949 to 1958--11 seasons--a show based simply on the performance of young people vying for recognition and fame by demonstrating their musical abilities.  And too, not that long ago, the rage was the Who Wants to be a Millionaire quiz show; in the mid-1950's is was The $64,000 Question weekly television show where contestants showed how smart they were. Apparently people very much enjoy--then and now--watching other people perform unusual feats. 

Customer loyalty programs
They're still around, but less and less so...trading stamps like S&H Green Stamps, Wise Owl Stamps, and Blue-Chip Stamps.  To young consumers today the idea seems a little bizarre--getting a bunch of trading stamps 
to be pasted into a book that is ultimately to be taken to a redemption store for "free" stuff.  

Two ordinary examples of the very same idea point to the reality that the notion is still alive and well: cash-in "reward points" based on credit card usage [leading to the the consumer being able to choose from a catalogue of "free" stuff based on the number of points]; and, frequent flyer mileage programs based on the amount of airline patronage.  The most prevalent, pure form of an old-fashion redemption program I can think of that's still around today is practiced by Subway: fill up the card with little stickers you get from buying sandwiches over time--and then you get a free one.  It's the very same "old" idea of building loyalty--just in modern form.  

Like I said before:  What's old is new again!  
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