What’s Your Color?

If you wanted to start a groundbreaking business in 1981 where you could express your creativity and beat your competitors, I bet you wouldn’t have chosen the nail polish industry. At the time, it was a mature industry with deeply entrenched leaders such as Maybelline and Max Factor. Going head-to-head with these giants who were well capitalized, enjoyed extensive distribution, and owned highly-recognizable consumer brand names would be a crazier bet than taking your life savings to the track.

George Schaeffer, however, had a different idea. He believed that creativity could differentiate his new company even in the highly competitive world of cosmetics. He launched his new company, OPI, and he’s been beating the odds ever since.

George used curiosity to question the status quo. He realized that other nail products were sold at drug stores and department chains, so he sold his products only through salons. He also used the Magic Three Questions (why? What if? and Why Not?) around the names of his nail polish colors. WHY do the names of colors have to be boring? WHAT IF we developed names that were fun, romantic, and mysterious instead of boring? None of the competitors sell adventure and intrigue, WHY NOT?

Today, OPI is one of the hottest and most successful nail polish manufacturers in the world. Their various collections represent exotic and romantic places around the world such as the Mexico Collection or the South Beach Collection. Instead of the boring names used by competitors such as “bright pink” or “dark red”, OPI’s names are a riot. Here are a few of my favorites:

• I’m not really a waitress
• We’ll always have Paris
• Lincoln Park after dark
• Your cabana or mine?
• Yes, I can-can
• Your royal shy-ness
• Keys to my Karma
• Sand in my suit
• My private jet
• Text me? Text You!

By questioning conventional wisdom and challenging the status quo, OPI went on to become a tremendous success. Their original sparks of curiosity led to a new approach to distribution and product names. Their fresh approach broke through a mature, commodity business and led to great results. If they can create groundbreaking change in the nail polish industry, just think what you can do you your industry.

EXERCISE: You and your team have just been hired as Creative Directors at OPI. Your job is to invent new names for various OPI colors. Take five minutes and brainstorm a list of new names for nail polish. Make sure the names are fun, suggestive, mysterious, adventuresome, sexy, and/or alluring. Post your best names as a comment to this blog. Let’s show our goods here as part of the Creativity Generation!