Loewy had an uncanny sense of how to make things fashionable. He said to sell something novel, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it novel — Loewy called his approach “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” – MAYA
Raymond Loewy is one of the most influential industrial designers / marketers that you’ve probably never heard of.
His firm designed mid-century icons like the Exxon logo, the Lucky Strike pack, the Greyhound bus, as well as Frigidaire ovens and Singer vacuum cleaners. Even the blue nose on Air Force One was his idea.
Loewy had an uncanny sense of how to make things fashionable. He believed that a balance must be struck between two concepts: the curiosity about new things and a fear of anything too new. He said to sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something novel, make it novel. Loewy called his approach “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” — MAYA.
Loewy wasn’t the only one to embrace this marketing strategy. Alfred Sloan, the CEO of General Motors, saw that changing a car’s style and color every year, trained consumers to crave new versions of the same product. To sell more stuff, American industrialists worked with designers to make new products beautiful and cool.
MAYA doesn’t just apply to new product design…
In The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, he describes how the song “Hey Ya!” by OutKast failed to gain traction with listeners. Hey Ya! was by all measures supposed to be a hit. A company named Polyphonic HMI, formed by artificial intelligence experts and statisticians, created a program called Hit Song Science that analyzed the mathematical characteristics of a song and predicted its popularity. Hit Song Science predicted Norah Jones’s Come Away with Me would be a hit after many industry experts dismissed the album, as well as “Why Don’t You and I” by Santana. Hey Ya! scored one of the highest scored recorded at the time. However, when stations would play it, people would switch stations during the song.
It wasn’t until DJs sandwiched Hey Ya! between two familiar songs, people stopped switching stations. After a few weeks, listeners became familiar with Hey Ya! and it gained the traction that Polyphonic HMI predicted it would.
…MAYA Also Works in Reverse
Inserting a familiar song within unfamiliar songs also works. This was the case for Matt Ogle, who, helped build Spotify’s Discover Weekly, a personalized list of 30 songs delivered every Monday to tens of million of users. The original version of Discover Weekly was supposed to include only songs that users had never listened to before. In its first internal test at Spotify, a bug in the algorithm included songs that users had already heard.
However, after Ogle’s team fixed the bug, engagement with the playlist actually fell. It turned out that having a bit of familiarity bred trust. According to Ogle, “If we make a new playlist for you and there’s not a single thing for you to hook onto or recognize—to go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a good call!’—it’s completely intimidating and people don’t engage.” It turned out that the original bug was an essential feature: Discover Weekly was a more appealing product when it had even one familiar band or song.
MAYA is Everywhere but Comes in Steps
Notice the new hard seltzer craze? It’s everywhere. White Claw, Wild Basin, Truly, even Bud Light has gotten into the game.
But before the bevy of new beverages Zima was the novel beverage about town. Introduced in 1993, Zima is a clear, lightly carbonated alcoholic beverage marketed as an alternative to beer, or coolers as they were called at the time. However, if the ill-fated Zima is any indication, hard seltzer was a jump the market wasn’t quite ready to handle. It had to take something familiar…namely, a subtly flavored, non-alcoholic beverage whose popularity took everyone by surprise: La Croix.
Although the exact formulation between sparkling malt beverages and hard seltzers may be different, the taste profile and market demographics are similar enough that if Zima came about 15 years later, it may have found greater success than it did.
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