I enjoy a good Red Robin burger or Pop Tart as much as anyone else. In fact, I probably took a few years off my life in college downing Red Robin Royal burgers (fried egg, bacon and cheese on top) and brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tarts were a breakfast staple in my youth. But every time I have a burger or a Pop Tart, the last thing I think of is the word innovation. I think delicious, but not innovative.

Dennis Berman investigated the Case of the Over-Used Word in the Wall Street Journal last week. He found in the last three months that brands have used the word innovation to describe everything from temporary tattoos for pets to beer. The Kellogg CEO called the new Gone Nutty! peanut butter Pop Tarts an innovation while presentations from Red Robin executives at an event in late November used the words, as Berman puts it, “innovate or innovation 21 times to describe, variously, pepper hamburger buns, beer-can cocktails and beer milkshakes.”

With CES approaching early next month, brands need to get their collective you-know-what together, especially in the messaging process. There will be a wealth of products at CES far more innovative than a Pop Tart or a burger. Unfortunately, brand marketers around the world have gone to the innovative well so many times that the word now means nothing.

As brand marketers approach product launches at CES, here’s a few tips to break through:

  1. Don’t rush product messaging upfront: Involve stakeholders from across marketing communications and ensure your message is consistent across all channels and appropriate for those channels. If you’re marketing to stay-at-home moms, is the word “innovative” really going to motivate them?
  2. Don’t make messaging so confusing that you can’t tell what the product actually does: Don’t over-word the description. Keep the initial description high-level and use imagery/videos to bring the description to life.
  3. Stop using comparisons, especially when they don’t make sense: You’re not the B2C version of Salesforce for couponing in the cloud. I don’t even know that means. If your category is new, describe the category uniquely and how it will impact the end audience rather than trying to tie yourself to someone or something else completely unrelated.

And please start describing products with adjectives that actually make sense. A Pop Tart is delicious. If someone described a product at CES as delicious, it would probably catch my attention far more than describing it as innovative. But that product had better darn well be delicious. Because if not, I’m going for a Pop Tart instead.


T. Wieland

Tim Wieland is a Vice President for Airfoil, an integrated marketing communications firm, with offices in Silicon Valley, Detroit, London and Hong Kong.  Follow Tim on Twitter: @timwieland