Our newsletter this month highlights the story of the baby carrot, a product that answered the question, "How might we make an unsellable carrot sellable again?"

This question is an example of Framing. As the term is used in the Behavioral Economics field, Framing is how people perceive and communicate about reality. And when it comes to the innovation process, it’s important to take extra care framing your challenge or opportunity in a way that will lead you in a decidedly new direction. If you use the same frame as the rest of your category, or frame things the same way you’ve done in the past, your process will likely yield only more of the same results—thus defeating the purpose of your innovation efforts.

This technique has worked for more than just baby carrots. The creation stories of Buffalo Wings and Miller Lite illustrate that making the effort to examine your challenge, and potentially shifting how you frame it, is time well-spent. 

That’s not garbage, that’s a party starter!

Though there are a variety of reports, the story goes that Buffalo Wings came about as a bar owner decided to use up the part of the chicken that usually went to waste—the wings. When chickens were cut up, the wings were often thrown away or sold for pig food. The bar owner simply thought, "It’s not garbage and pig fodder, it’s a way I can make an almost free snack to keep my patrons happy and in the mood for another beer." To make that ‘garbage’ attractive, the bar owner added a spicy sauce—the now infamous Buffalo Wing Sauce. Chicken wings have come so far that the former giveaway is now a pay-for menu item that spawned a whole a restaurant chain—the iconic Buffalo Wild Wings.

I’m Sorry—What is Gablinger’s Beer???

Framing also applies to advertising. Consider this: Just how do you ‘serve up’ low calorie beer? The first big attempt to sell low calorie beer was with the Gablinger’s brand. The main message was centered on diet—saving on the calories consumed from downing those beers.

The campaign—and the beer—went FLOP! Eventually Miller Brewing acquired the recipe and offered up essentially the same product—a lower calorie beer called Miller Lite. Mind you, the benefit might still have been fewer calories, but the power is in choosing the right articulation of the right benefit.

For the next campaign, they came up with beefy, manly bar goers, one contingency shouting "Less Filling" (Thus I can drink more…how manly is that?) versus "Tastes Great” (Hey, man, love the great taste of my brewski, and that’s why I drink so much of it). The idea that light beer was meant not for weight loss but for drinking in large quantities, along with ads featuring football star John Madden and baseball star Bob Uecker (among others), worked to up the appeal with men and make a bigger dent in the market. The result was the biggest impact on the beer category since the introduction of beer in a can.

Given the near-universal presence of light beer and wings, it's easy to see the value in re-framing your challenge—because it's really an opportunity in disguise. Try it and find out how the right frame leads to innovation success.

Ed Harrington is CEO and Innovation Process Facilitator at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.

©2015 Ideas To Go, Inc. All rights reserved


The New Yorker: An Attempt to Compile a Short History of the Buffalo Chicken Wing.

The Smithsonian Magazine: A Brief History of the Buffalo Chicken Wing.

The Atlantic: Light Beer: You Don't Have To Like It, But Respect It.

The Brewer International: Brewing Legacy: A Portrait of Joseph Owades.

The Washington Post: Joseph Owades Dies at 86. The Father of Light Beer.

Ed Harrington

Ed Harrington is CEO and Innovation Process Facilitator at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies to incorporate the voice of the consumer in ideation and concept development. He co-authored the book, "Outsmart Your Instincts: How the Behavioral Innovation Approach Drives Your Company Forward."