Picture this scenario and tell us how familiar it feels. You’re watching television or streaming a video (with advertisements) online and suddenly a commercial pops up to tell you about how a company has figured out a truly innovative way to improve upon laundry detergent or cleaning products or rain-repellent clothing. Or you’re reading an online publication and there is a “sponsored” story about how innovative a new product on the market is. It may even be technology related (or a car). Innovation is, by default, generally a good thing. So obviously you want to buy the most innovative solutions available to you, right?

Sure, that’s right (unless you’re basking in the satisfaction of enough that day). If those solutions are actually innovative and not just smart marketers using the word loosely because they know the impact it will have on you. And since you can’t entirely escape the consumer media machine, you instead need to be armed with the knowledge of what’s innovative and what’s hype. But how do you sort that out?

Firstly, Take a Moment to Reflect on the Definition of Innovation

According to Merriam-Webster, innovation is defined as: a) a new idea, device or method or b) the act or process of introducing new ideas, methods or devices. So, that definition is fairly loose and one could argue that changing the order of the buttons on a radio dial within a car is certainly a new idea, method or device … for playing music on your car stereo. But we’re not robots. We’re humans. And we can extrapolate from the basic definition of innovation.

What Do We Think Innovation Means?

We think that innovation takes it a step further than the generic Merriam-Webster definition. Because when you think about what constitutes a new idea, there are a lot of gradations to look at. Using blue paint instead of pink paint in a baby girl’s bedroom may be a new idea to many people (gender stereotypes are alive and well), but that doesn’t make it a new idea worthy of elaborate hype. In fact, if you sit back and think about it, would any color of paint in a baby girl’s bedroom truly be an innovation? It’s still paint. It’s still a baby girl’s bedroom. You’ve been painting and baby girls have had bedrooms for centuries. Would a color change be considered an innovation just because it’s not commonly done or even because in theory it hasn’t been done before?

We think you know the answer to that.

Now, Apply This Thinking When You See Advertisements for “Innovations.”

If the example above seems like it’s obvious, you might be surprised how many advertisements that get you hyped up about a new “innovation” are just as obvious when you slow down and apply a little bit of critical thinking to them. Realistically, how many innovations can occur in consumer areas that have been around for decades if not longer? Is anybody really going to find an entirely new way to lose weight? Or to combat wrinkles and aging? Or to cook pasta? The answer is clearly no. And that doesn’t mean that many of the items you see advertised may not be better than the existing or conventional way of doing things. But they’re unlikely to be an innovation. That’s when thinking about what a value to you is … and isn’t.

For example, you may really have a hard time cooking pasta, so it’s worth it to you to try a new steamer method that may solve your problems for you. Nobody’s denying you that right. But you do need to use good judgment about whether you trust any advertisement that uses the word innovation. Marketers know that what they’re marketing isn’t a true innovation. They’re using that word to solicit a reaction from you. Don’t give them a reaction. Give them a well thought out response about whether what they’re selling really is an innovation, or whether it’s just something that may be better than the alternative. Then make your purchasing decision based on that critical thinking.

You’re not a robot, so don’t let marketers treat you like you are. You have a brain, and you know what an innovation is (and isn’t). You don’t have to stop purchasing. But you do need to think about what you do purchase and why!

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