April 7

In the 1980s, A&W Restaurants decided to compete head-to-head with McDonald’s famed Quarter Pounder hamburger. The idea, promoted by owner A. Alfred Taubman, was to compete on value by introducing an even larger burger, a third of a pound, at the exact same price point as the McDonald’s quarter-pound burger. They poured resources into their “Third Is the Word” marketing campaign. As Taubman relayed in his bookThreshold Resistance, “We were aggressively marketing a one-third-pound hamburger for the same price…but despite our best efforts, including first-rate TV and radio promotional spots, they just weren’t selling.” Frustrated as to why the burgers weren’t selling in spite of being an incredible value, A&W decided to investigate by talking directly to consumers. Was it the messaging? The quality of the food? Something else?

Turns out it was none of that. When asked, customers said that they didn’t understand why they would pay the same price for one-third-pound hamburger as they do for a quarter-pound hamburger. They thought one-third was smaller than one-quarter, therefore making A&W’s offering a worse value.

Remember that the assumptions you make about your work are founded on your personal experiences but may not reflect the perceptions of your intended audience.

The reason an idea isn’t working is often more subtle—or even more obvious—than you think.

What assumption do you need to challenge today?

Related Articles