The time-honored bromide “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door” has been erroneously attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Would-be innovators, however, still insist on taking the adage literally.
According to author Ruth Kassinger, (“Build a Better Mousetrap”) since 1828, when the U.S. Patent Office was founded, not only have more than 4,400 mousetraps been patented, but with an average of 40 patents granted each year, the mousetrap remains “the most frequently invented device in U.S. history.”
So how many mousetrap moguls are actually making money? When was the last time you had a problem with rats?
Yet, across the fruited plain, we can’t help thinking of ourselves as innovators.
We are convinced that any one of us could hatch the “next big idea.” In fact, we believe a super-creative problem-solving gene is wired into our DNA — right alongside the much-touted American can-do spirit.
A hilarious holiday season video is currently making the rounds (more than 12 million hits) on YouTube, that, at least, musically, makes my point. Fourteen hooded students from South Kitsap High School, posing as a contemplative (silent) order of monks, are performing the Hallelujah Chorus.
How is that possible, you ask? Answer: the clever and creative use of flash cards — but please, see for yourself.
You and I were not present in December 2008 when a proud parent from Port Orchard, Wash., shot the original video.
Yet, via YouTube, millions can now experience and appreciate the ingenious interpretation of the G.F. Handel classic by the Silent Monks — for free.
Not really free. A 20-second commercial precedes the video. YouTube needs money to keep the lights on but what I find disconcerting is that these talented kids doing the work receive zero compensation. Nada.
Let’s return to the mousetrap moneymaking question. Manufactured by Reckitt Benckiser, d-Con seems to have cornered the rodent control market.
It, in turn, bestow much of the credit and millions of dollars on Euro RSCG New York, the ad agency that devises its 30-second seductions for the boob tube, which also (coincidentally?) show up on YouTube.
Yet, Itamar Simonson, lead scholar on a new Stanford University Business School study, now claims that Wall Street is being seriously undermined by consumer evaluations like those on Amazon, Yelp or Google Local.
His research concludes that the wealth of online product information and user reviews has ultimately caused a fundamental shift in consumer decision-making.
Today, Simonson told The New York Times, products are being appraised according to their “absolute value, their quality.” His research suggests that not only should corporations spend less loot attempting to shape consumer opinions with traditional advertising, but also spend more studying consumers and the values that shape their purchasing decisions.
If you consult the 11 (total) user reviews for the d-Con “No View, No Touch” mousetrap on Amazon, you will find that ratings for this item averaged 3.7 out of 5 stars. Since the two dissatisfied buyers didn’t make much of a case for submitting abysmal scores, most buyers won’t be deterred.
But what about those who would game the system by paying for positive reviews or negative reviews of the competition?
Although neither is allowed on Yelp, MarketWatch (Wall Street Journal) reports that 20 percent of Yelp reviews appear to be fraudulent — typically written by freelance writers from the Philippines, Bangladesh and Eastern Europe who receive between $1 to $10 for each review.
In fact, according to Reuters, 19 New York City companies that specialize in boosting online search results to combat negative reviews were caught submitting bogus evaluations on such websites as Yelp, Google Local and CitySearch.
Snared in a yearlong sting operation dubbed “Operation Clean Turf,” these search optimization firms finally agreed to pay $350,000 in penalties.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office argued that faux evaluations breached laws against false advertising and deceptive business practices.
“Consumers rely on reviews from their peers to make daily purchasing decisions on anything from food and clothing to recreation and sightseeing,” Schneiderman told the Huffington Post.
“This investigation into large-scale, intentional deceit across the Internet tells us that we should approach online reviews with caution,” he said.
Two ways Amazon hopes to boost the credibility of its reviews is by verifying an actual purchase and publishing every response in full.
Although the better mousetrap aphorism actually popped up some seven years after Emerson’s April 12, 1882 demise, what he, in reality, wrote, according to John H. Lienhard’s “Inventing Modern,” was “If a man has good corn or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods.”
True? That’s what Jeff Bezos hopes we believe.