Forget the Product Life Cycle (PLC) 1976

I wanted to find the origins of the product life cycle and noted this debate that occurred in the 70s. Takeway? All models are easily debated because they’re generalizations of conditions that will never always be the same. It’s like the practice of using personas as a means to distill generalizations of people. Generalizations are useful as makeshift scaffolding for draft ideas, but they’re not good to build on because betting on *average* quality materials will lead you to just average outcomes.

From “Forget the Product Life Cycle Concept!”:

The product life cycle has been described, analyzed, and annotated so often in the literature of marketing that it has become a “given” in the minds of many executives. This article challenges it—not just certain aspects or interpretations of the life cycle notion, but its very concept and existence. Moreover, the authors contend that the notion has led many companies to make costly mistakes and to pass up promising opportunities. Management would be far better off, they believe, if it employed an efficient information system for each product, deciding in a pragmatic way how and whether to continue promoting it. They describe some elements of a system that will give managers the data they need.

Dhalla and Yuspeh
  • “With the exception of nonfilter cigarettes, year-to-year variations make it difficult to predict when the next stage will appear, how long it will last, and to what levels the sales will reach.
  • One cannot often judge with accuracy in which phase of the cycle the product form is.
  • The four major phases do not divide themselves into clear-cut compartments. At certain points, a product may appear to have attained maturity when actually it has only reached a temporary plateau in the growth stage prior to its next big upsurge”.

“Exhibit IV shows the life cycle trends of certain brands in the product forms earlier discussed. The evidence for the PLC concept is discouraging. With the exception of nonfilter cigarettes, the brands tend to have different sales patterns, and the product-form curves throw no light on what the sales would be in the future. All that can be said is that if a product form (e.g., nonfilter cigarettes) is truly in a final declining stage, it is very difficult for a brand (e.g., Chesterfield) to reverse the trend. However, with respect to the first three stages of the PLC, no firm conclusions can be drawn about brand behavior from the product-form curve.”

“After three years, it was felt that sufficient data had been collected to start building a marketing-communications model that would bring relevant variables, both controllable and uncontrollable, into a coherent, unified picture. Using this picture, management could examine the effects of its marketing policies on two key consumer targets.”