Useless product innovations #1

And now for a new regular feature of the blog: Useless Product Innovations.

Water filter jugs are a pretty straightforward product. You pour water into the chamber at the top of the jug, it trickles down through the replaceable filter cartridge, and the filtered water sits in the bottom part of the jug, ready to pour. It’s not the most essential item, but it has a clear and simple purpose, and provides some value: if you’re in a hard water area, it does make tap water taste less minging, and reduces limescale in other appliances like kettles and irons.

The leading brand of water filter jugs is Brita. They’ve pretty much got the market wrapped up. If you decide you need or want filtered water, you go and buy a Brita water filter jug, it does its thing, and you’re satisfied.

Unfortunately, Brita suffer from the widespread belief that they need to constantly innovate to keep their market share. And so, there are dozens of different Brita water filter jugs, offering customers a bewildering range of options, including different sizes (possibly useful), colours (marginal) and handle grips (no no no). However, the most ludicrous innovation is the supposedly “advanced technology” of the Brita meter, an LCD display which tells you when you should replace your filter cartridge.

Here’s what happens with the Brita meter. After about three jugs’ worth of water have been filtered, it tells you it’s time to replace the filter. Since the filters cost £5 each, and the meter is suggesting a ridiculously short life span, you decide that it’s a commercial conspiracy to encourage you to buy more filters than you need. So you ignore the Brita meter, and continue using the current filter, until you notice that the water is starting to taste a bit hard again, and then you replace it. Which is exactly what you would have done without the meter.

So the meter provides absolutely no value whatsoever. And what annoys me most about it is that somewhere, a group of people sat around and came up with it. They would have thought one of two things. Either they thought they were coming up with a great new innovation which would be useful to their customers – in which case they were delusional. Or, they knew it would be useless, but their aim wasn’t to invent something useful, only to invent something which the marketing department could trick customers into buying – in which case they’re despicable vermin.

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