Innovation is the lifeblood of the economy but it is by definition a fleeting and occasional thing. It can hardly be planned upon or scheduled and thus many companies have settled for the next best thing. Barring any new innovation, they decide to have old innovations. Without adding anything new to an idea, they boldly repackage it and sell it as new.
Hollywood has led the way in this modality for decades and it has finally caught on in the consumer world as well. If the major studios can sell movie-goers the same movie over and over again why not sell them the same ideas as well?
#1) The Swiffer
Hailed as a revolution in house cleaning, the static charged Swiffer Sweeper was launched in the late nineties with a clever ad that showed us the unending dust-pan line. Like Zeno’s Runner, the line of dust would diminish but never fade completely. Then, through space age technology, the Swiffer would come along and lick that age old problem in seconds.
It is true that Swiffer uses space-age technology, but this is true because the space age began in the sixties. Static charged sheets are nothing new and we’ve been tossing them in our dryers for ages. Two rubber bands and a sheet of fabric softener will serve the same function as the sweeper sheets, but it does so at 1/5th the cost.
#2) Flavored Water
The bottled water phenomenon has served as something of a high water mark for consumerism in the US and abroad. Selling or buying bottled water is not stupid in itself but an equation of national stupidity could theoretically be charted by comparing the sales of high dollar and generic brands of the exact same oxygen and hydrogen molecules.
The beverage companies indulged our gullibility and provided us with dozens of brands of exactly the same substance. Upping the ante of stupidity, they eventually added vitamins and flavors and called it “Flavored Water”, as though the notion of introducing a flavor agent to water was not the basis for the very term “Beverage Industry”.
But despite the inanity of the term, whole sections of “Flavored Water” greet you at every convenience store. The term virtually demands a tongue in cheek winking emoticon since all the other drinks contain both flavor and water as well. It’s rumored that the people that brought us this innovation are presently hard at work designing solar powered sundials.
#3) Transitions Lenses
The makers of "Transitions Lenses" earn an honorable mention in this list for the sheer stupidity with which they advertise this decades-old technology. In a world that looks like a sterilized Buck Rogers set, a space age couple wearing space age white unitards take the space-shuttle to the space-mall and when the space-sun hits their space-glasses they magically go from simple corrective lenses to sunglasses.
Despite the Michael Bay backdrop, the notion of glasses that turn from clear to dark in sunlight is at least two and a half decades old, as my brother had a pair in 1986. I suppose the commercial is not entirely disingenuous as I’m sure the same technology will still exist in the future as well. In the same way one could sell a paper clip as a “data collation system used by top universities and NASA.”
#4) The Fushigi
I know that I’ve mentioned the magical gravity-obeying ball on this blog before, but it deserves a quick revisit. For those who still haven’t seen the late-night infomercials, let me see if I can sum up the unique properties of the Fushigi in a short paragraph:
It’s a ball.
The commercial subtly suggests that there is something more to this ball that seems to magically roll around upon the hands and arms of a skilled juggler. The fact that a person could literally do the exact same thing with an orange should take some of the wind out of the Fushigi’s sails, but these poorly constructed contact juggling balls are now popping up all over the country.
If you have yet to see the Oxi-Clean commercial congratulate yourself and get back under the rock for another decade. For the rest of us, just the mention of the term brings to mind imposing beards, blinding blue shirts and far more enthusiasm than should ever be ascribed to a cleaning agent.
But fueling their late great pitchman’s success was the notion that there was something new or unique about the formulation of this miracle product. Surely Oxi-Clean was the byproduct of the kind of laboratory tinkering that usually results in super-villains. Surely it was the brainchild of some lonely chemist who spent years toiling with different compounds until the fateful Eureka moment that would skyrocket him into Nobel contention.
Or, on the other hand, it might have been the result of a clever marketer taking some sodium percarbonate that you could buy at any pool supply store, diluting it a bit and wrapping it in a fancy package before charging you a 400% markup for his efforts. Certainly it was one of those two scenarios.
#6) Boneless Wings
At some point, the fate of the chicken wing was forever altered. In my youth, the wing was the crummy piece you got stuck with when the drumsticks and breasts were gone. The feeble scraps of meat fortified between the bones of the wings were hardly worth the trouble of freeing.
But at some point, wings hired a PR company or something and became one of America’s favorite menu items. Soaked in buffalo sauce and dunked in bleu cheese dressing, these once hated morsels became a staple of nearly every restaurant in the nation.
Through it all, the problem of the bones remained. Little drumsticks snuck in with the wings to distract us from this obvious flaw in our hors d’oeuvres but still the inconvenience of freeing the third of a mouthful of chicken was a clear drawback. It seemed that the wing was forever doomed to mild pain-in-the-assery.
And then along came the “Boneless Wing”. They were different from chicken nuggets in that they weren’t called chicken nuggets; they were called boneless wings. The only real innovation here is that the nuggets of chicken parts were being pressed back into the shape they were in before they were shredded. This was likely inspired by the famous restaurant industry adage, “well it worked for dog food, didn’t it?”
PS If you arrange all the words in this blog alphabetically and then read only every eleventh word, it will spell out the location of this week’s mystery body.