If you want to see one of the best examples of a great use of marketing theory, watch American Idol.

For a long time now, we marketers have been using a “push” approach to new products. Expressions you have probably heard include “Let's run it up the flagpole and see who salutes”; “Throw it against the wall and see if it sticks”; and, from my days in England, “Will the punters buy?”

Two well-known academics, Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad, called such an approach by a fancier name, “Expeditionary Marketing.” Japanese electronic giants would launch dozens of new products a year and let the gadget-loving market dictate which ones should be launched worldwide based on their purchases. Not a bad idea in some sectors; however, it can burn up a lot of resources.

Well, leave it to TV game shows to invent new marketing methods that actually work.

American Idol has developed a marketing method that creates guaranteed top-selling CDs. The show began two summers ago when thousands of Americans between the ages of 16 and 26 lined up to audition to become the next pop star.

Last year, over 50,000 auditioners turned out. This huge group was narrowed to 100, and over a 30-week period (through the polling of TV viewers who either called in, emailed, or used text messaging) viewers selected their favorite singer.

That group was further sliced and diced until only one proud contestant (Rueben Studdard) was left standing as the ultimate champion.

It sounds like a popularity contest doesn't it? Well it is! The most popular product sells the most. Here, in Canada, winner Ryan Malcolm's first single, “Something More,” quickly become the number-one seller.

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Karl Moore is an associate professor of marketing strategy at the Faculty of Management, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
Mark is a doctoral student in marketing, at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.