Turning the Product Lifecycle Framework Around on Itself

The Product Lifecycle (PLC) framework draws controversy proportional to its use — and it gets used everywhere. Anytime a new product category gets introduced into the market, PLC predicts it will follow a pattern. Gauged only by the time it takes to move through each of four steps in the pattern, it allows marketers to estimate a product’s lifespan based on how it follows a bell curve.

The time this takes varies among product categories. Market analysts have to track the sales to calculate when the product has reached a peak. Then they have a tough choice between spending more on marketing to stretch out the product maturity phase, or to just not bother with marketing at all. This brings this framework’s greatest controversy. Critics claim that counting on the PLC accelerates decline when marketing budgets get cut. Excessive caution, they claim, can even generate decline before product maturity has lived out.

One reason for that perception is unexpected market influences. Consider prominent toy products, like Hula Hoops. They tend to have a genuine cycle in their lifecycle, with decline eventually returning to growth as parents who enjoyed them as children want their own kids to enjoy them as well. In 2012, according to CNN Money, this happened when Easy Bake Oven, My Little Pony, Hot Wheels, G.I. Joe, and Big Wheel began making a comeback.

Media also affects such resurgent growth. The movie Toy Story created a marketing landslide for Buzz and Woody dolls, the films new characters, but also brought a surge of interest in the classic Mr. Potato Head and Slinky Dogs. These all show that clever consideration of all market forces — and creative application of strategic alliances and innovative exposure — can turn the PLC back around on itself. The key is for superior marketers to proactively generate “unexpected” influences, rather than waiting for some that may never come on their own.