America, the greatest nation on earth, Canada included. What makes us so special? Our commitment to equality under the law? Perhaps. Our belief in limited government but limitless citizenry? Could be. How about the breadth of our economy, where goods and services exchanged are bound only by the limits of our imagination? Now you’re talking.
Make no mistake, creating an economy that’s the envy of the world hasn’t been easy. Maintaining success means risking failure — just ask Billy Squier, who’d surely like to have that Rock Me Tonite video back. It takes passion and persistence. As your cousin Ruben reminds you at every family gathering, Thomas Edison said he never failed, only “found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Of course, Edison died with over two thousand patents to his name. Meanwhile Ruben, whose recipe for three-alarm chili is solid but likely not protectable intellectual property, still lives in Aunt Trudy’s basement.
But let’s be clear. I’m not here to celebrate America’s smashing commercial successes – Apple, Under Armour, NFL, yoga pants – these wonderful things speak for themselves. Nor shall I praise failures that led to greater commercial success. Go to Wharton if you want to study them. I’m here to praise the products that create no discernible value but nevertheless have found a home in our bountiful economy. To give hope to dreamers like Ruben.
Spray-on Sunblock. Recall conventional sunblock instructions: squeeze the tube and rub the lotion in. Sure, they’d have moved more product if, like those young men in a hurry at Prell, they went with Squeeze, Rub and Repeat. But that fact alone didn’t invite disruptive innovation. What, then? Maybe spray-on sunblock seemed like a good idea at first, like driving cross-country with the lead singer of Blues Traveler. But within the first hour in the tight quarters of your Scirocco, you’re like He’s not really going to sing “But Anyway” again, is he? Maybe it went something like this:
CEO: So you spray it on and you’re done, is that the play, time-saving?
Brand Manager: Not exactly, sir. After you spray it on you still need to rub it in, just like lotion.
CEO (subconsciously making a Vardon grip with his hands): But that’s easier, yes? Because you’ve covered more surface area by spraying?
Brand Manager: Sort of. Aerosol means you’re more likely to miss big areas, like your kid’s clavicle. And you really should apply it outside, away from cats. And people.
Executive Assistant to CEO: Sir, your car is ready. 11:00 tee time at Winged Foot.
CEO: Right, well, sounds like a winner, Shitzley. Good luck with it.
Brand Manager: It’s Shotzley, sir.
Motion-Sensor Bathroom Faucets. Was turning the handle such an imposition? Don’t tell me it’s an ADA accommodation. If that were the reason, a good flick of the wrist would be enough to trip the sensor, not the sink-side Macarena I’m forced to do. Plus if the technology is so game-changing, why not go ahead and uniformly automate the soap dispenser, too? Are all the smart bathroom technologies having a good chuckle as I wait for soap that won’t come until I pump it, old-school?
Deodorant, But Not Antiperspirant. Who greenlighted this? Isn’t sweating exactly the problem to be solved? Let me put it differently. As you drive carpool home from freshman football practice, do you think Wow, my Camry smells fresh as a daisy or Foot, Doritos and Axe Body Spray — thank you, boys?
Dual Buffer Electric Shoe Polishers. I’m fine with the black one, but why the red buffer? I can think of one and only one washroom where this makes sense:
Ronald McDonald (at sink, looks left): Hey, buddy, are you okay? You look terrible.
Grimace: It’s all good. Purple’s my normal color. But I was out too late with the French Fry Guys.
McDonald (washing hands): Market’s been brutal to us, just brutal. We’ve got a great story to tell, if only the Street would listen. (Looks right) Any ideas bouncing around that big head of yours, Cheesy?
Mayor McCheese: Well, you could offer the Hamburglar early retirement.
McDonald: Replace my CFO? Never. He’s been with me from the beginning. You know what he said when a rogue director offered him my job? Robble robble.
McCheese: He’s consistent, I’ll give him that.
McDonald (heading to the red buffer): No, we’ll weather this, Cheesy, like we always do. It’s a confidence game, and it starts with buffing my giant red shoes with a fine chamois.
I could go on, but you get the point. Our economy is so strong, our land so bountiful, that there’s a home even for crazy products like these ones. Plus my time is short – I promised Ruben I’d review his Three-Alarm Chili Business Method Patent Application. Happy Thanksgiving!