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Political Correctness

May 4, 2006 - by Robert E. Stevens, GENESIS II(The Second Beginning) E-Mail:

I'm glad my career was coming to an end as political correctness was coming on the scene. My early experiences with P.C. developed into the impression that it was going to be a deterrent to problem solving. For example, my first real taste of P.C. occurred in the 1970s. At that time we were experimenting with the effects of product positioning on test results. It was our Package Soap R&D staff’s belief that there were three basic types of research: blind product, directed interest, and brand context research. The Market Research Department only believed in the paired comparison blind test. From their point of view a directed interest test was inappropriate because telling respondents the product's "reason for being" would bias the test results and you would never conduct a test in brand identified containers.

At the time we were evaluating two potential top sheet replacements for Pampers (T & PE). As would frequently happen, nested within the actual study, we included a methods study. This nesting process was a win-win situation. The brand received additional information at no extra cost to them and we were able to do methods research at half the cost. In this study we were placing six monadic test legs involving three products, the current top sheet, T & PE. Within each of the three product test legs there were two test legs, directed interest and a non-directed test leg. The directed interest legs identified the top sheet's reason for being or you may call it the product positioning. The current top sheet was used as the control.

                            Intent to Purchase Score - Test minus Control

                                                      T                                      PE

Non-directed                                4.2                                     1.6

Directed                                      (2.2)                                   3.5

Note that if the products are just tested as disposable diapers the T top sheet product has a substantial advantage over the PE top sheet. But if you position the product as they will be in the market, the T top sheet scores lower than the current top sheet and much lower than the PE top sheet product.

Following the study the report was published within the R&D community. I also covered the finding in my Biweekly Report which had a much wider distribution which included top management. Unfortunately my Director felt that the results were too political and would not allow the distribution of the Biweekly. Pampers T was introduced into test market and followed quickly by failure.  I believe fear of violating a P.C. position and fear of failure are the two greatest deterrents to business. About two decades after the above incident, P&G adopted a new business metaphor called "Putting the moose on the table." It was an outgrowth of the concept of being overly polite where members of a group want to avoid conflict and therefore, skirt tensions rather than being willing to engage in honest and decisive debate.

For anyone interested, the moose metaphor states that one day a group comes together and standing right in the middle of the table is a big ugly moose. Still, no one mentions it. People stretch and bend to address each other between the moose's legs, talking about one triviality after another, all without acknowledging that there is a moose on the table. How often do we ignore the real problem because to address it may make us feel uncomfortable?

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