Jiffy OneWho doesn’t like popcorn?  Maybe it’s the taste, or maybe it’s the thrill of truly stuffing our face with it, or maybe it’s the sheer quantity that we’re allowed to eat: It’s a terrific food. We are practically raised and educated to enjoy popcorn. But what if you had never heard of popcorn before? How would you sell it?

When I was a little boy, I remember my mother heating oil in a pot, and dropping the corn kernels into the oil. It wasn’t the safest way to cook popcorn, nor was it the most exciting way to pop it. The clean up wasn’t exactly a breeze, but the end product sure was good.

Then a company called Jiffy Pop came along. Jiffy Pop not only simplified the process of cooking popcorn, but it also did something else that had never even been considered; it made cooking popcorn fun. The company actually branded the product as, “Jiffy Pop – The Family Fun Treat!” and boy, was it fun!  As a matter of fact, Jiffy Pop said more: “It’s as much fun to make as it is to eat!”

Phase one of “Popcorn Fun” started by simply removing the cardboard cover, and putting your Jiffy Pop pan on the stove. There was no real cleanup because it came in its own cooking, and serving, container. Once your Jiffy Pop hit the burner, Phase two of “Popcorn Fun” began as you would gently shake the pan so all of the kernels would pop. Phase three of “Popcorn Fun” was the best phase of all: Jiffy Pop would begin to expand in its spiral sleeve as more and more of the kernels popped. Phase four? You could open it up and eat it!

When I ask people about Jiffy Pop, almost everyone remembers everything about it except one thing; the taste. That’s because popcorn is popcorn, and if you’ve tasted one popped kernel, you’ve pretty much tasted them all. We don’t really remember the actual flavor, or the fairly high amount of kernels burnt on the bottom of the Jiffy Pop pan. What we do remember is the experience.

Sadly, this thing called a microwave oven came along, and popcorn seemed to be the poster child for just how easily something could be made using this contraption. That put an end to most of our “Jiffy Pop Family Fun.” Oh, it’s still sitting in your supermarket, perched up high on a dusty shelf, like an awkward 8th grader sitting alone at the school dance.

We can learn an important lesson from this “Family Fun Treat.” I’m pretty sure that if I created a popcorn lineup, you wouldn’t be able to identify your favorite popcorn just by taste. That’s not the real reason why you bought this product. If you look at most of the products you have in your house, you’ll realize that you purchased many of them for two reasons. The first reason is the product itself, but the second reason is the “idea” of the product.

  • The popcorn is the “product,” but with Jiffy Pop creating a family fun treat is the “idea.”
  • The cereal is the “product,” but with Wheaties having the breakfast of champions is the “idea.”
  • The burger is the “product,” but with Burger King having it your way is the “idea.”
  • The insurance is the “product,” but with Allstate knowing you’re in good hands is the “idea.”

When we are trying to sell a product, how many times do we find ourselves overselling the product, and overlooking the idea? One reason for this is because most sales training is typically spent on the product. If you want to separate yourself from the competition, you need to do more than just sell the product. You need to sell the idea. Just in case you don’t know what the idea is, there’s a sure fire way to find out; ask your client, because they’ll tell you exactly what it is.


  1. Ron Cutter says:

    Thanks, Rob! I remember Jiffy Pop – it was fun and it made the whole idea of eating popcorn fun. You are right that so many products are sold because of the “idea” – I guess that’s how advertising companies survive – they help come up with the “ideas” behind the products. I can see how you can use that concept if you’re interviewing or even if you’re trying to sell a service. If a good idea is connected to what it is you’re trying to sell, it will make you, or the service or product, unique! Thanks Rob.

    • If it works for companies, why don’t we apply this principal to ourselves? What’s our big idea? You’re right; it makes “you or your service or product, unique!” Thanks for posting Ron.

  2. Ann Marie Kelly says:

    Yes what you say about selling the idea is good. It would be good to use this concept on entrepreneurship training courses where students look at ideas behind a wide range of products. This might help them become mire idea focused.
    Ann Marie

    • Oh my, you’ve wandered into a real hot button for me. Why don’t entrepreneurship training courses, or even business courses for that matter, spend more time on real-world issues like this? It’s baffling. I’ll give a shout out to the University of Houston for having a real, honest-to-goodness sales school that pounds away at the real stuff. I’m a Maryland Terp, but hats off to the Cougars! Thanks for posting Ann Marie.

  3. Thanks Rob for this very interesting topic. Are “Ideas behind the product” sometimes equivalent to “Solutions to problems”? Using the example here… The burger is the “product,” but with Burger King having it your way is the “idea”. Can you say the solution is to provide fast food for convenience? Be aware that this solution may not be a healthy one.

    • Well… you could say that solution is fast food or convenience, but you might not separate yourself from the crowd. Which competitor would say, “Well, you’ve got us there.” But having it your own way? That’s a unique branding statement. Some do, and most don’t. Thanks for posting Hui – you always make me think harder about what I write!

  4. Greg Khost says:

    Hi Rob
    Love this post. Absolute right on the money.

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