Product Management and the Overton Window

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

American newspaper USA Today recently broke new ground by including emoji in its headlines. The top story of the day "U.S. hero of French train attack stabbed" was accompanied by a large comic drawing of a crying face to help readers understand that violence can be sad.

I remember when USA Today became the first major newspaper to use color photographs in its print editions. It was laughable. It was scandalous. It was a big business risk. In a no true Scotsman style, critics argued that no serious reader would ever read a newspaper with color photographs. Indeed, one of the most prestigious papers (The Wall Street Journal) was still using hand-drawn images rather than any photographs at all!

USA Today's use of emojis may be controversial now, but it would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Comic faces in the headlines were just too far from what potential customers would consider the norm. However, a changing culture and media landscape have shifted popular opinion as to what may be considered acceptable. Though the Overton window was originally intended to explain changing acceptance of government policy, it can be applied to the field of product management as well. One can see the continual creep of "normality" in positioning everywhere.

One of my favorite brands to poke fun at (Breyers) was once known for its focus on using a small list of natural ingredients. Here's a snapshot of the ingredients in a box of Breyers' gelato today.

List of ingredients in Breyers' gelato

I'm unfamiliar with several of the ingredients in the list, though a bit of research has informed me that the effects on the livers of test animals from PGPR are quite thankfully thought to be reversible.

When introducing a new product, it's important to understand what consumers will accept. Even if your product will be adapted or even desirable in the future, there is no guarantee that you will be able to sell it in the present. You may need to properly position your good and hold off on extreme changes (until the norms of society have changed sufficiently) in order to have any chance of success in the long-term.

How do you know what customers would be willing to pay for? Well, you can start by contacting us for a private consultation.