Innovation Convergence

by Stephen Shapiro

by Stephen Shapiro

I never really thought much about toothpaste. But at the last two innovation conferences where I spoke, toothpaste was one of the hot topics.

At the FT Innovate conference in London, Unilever discussed their “Signal White Now” (and other brands) toothpaste. Instead of using harsh bleaches and abrasives, they borrowed an optical-effect technology from their laundry team. This toothpaste uses a blue pigment to make yellow teeth instantly appear whiter. This same ingredient is used to make white clothes look even whiter.

At the Open Innovation Summit in Orlando, GSK discussed how their “Aquafresh iso-active” toothpaste borrowed an idea from Edge shaving cream (now a division of Energizer Holdings, Inc). The toothpaste comes out like a gel, but foams in the mouth, much like the shaving cream. This formulation, according to the can I was given, removes 25% more bacteria than regular toothpaste – or 3x more according to the picture on the right.

This got me thinking. If toothpaste manufacturers can get ideas from shaving cream and laundry detergent, where else could they get ideas? Within 5 minutes, I thought up a few ideas of how to gain inspiration from other products:

  1. Pop Rocks: As a kid, I loved how Pop Rocks, the carbonated candy, exploded in your mouth. What if you added Pop Rock-like crystals to toothpaste? Not only would the toothpaste foam, it would fizz and explode. Maybe this would blast the plaque off your teeth. Of course, it might blast off your teeth like Pop Rocks reputedly did a few times.
  2. Shampoo: Shampoos are infused with vitamins and minerals to give your hair bounce and shine. What if you infused toothpaste with these ingredients? Or maybe you could add some homeopathic remedies – for those who believe in these alternative “medicines.” Sublingual administration (under the tongue) is a common and effective way of delivering drugs directly into the bloodstream.
  3. Conditioner: We use shampoo to clean and conditioner to protect. Maybe they can create a tooth conditioner; a special toothpaste that you use after your regular toothpaste. It could coat your teeth to prevent staining, bad breath, or split ends. Even better, they could borrow the “technology” used by shampoos like “Pearl” that combine shampoo and conditioner into one formulation.
  4. Moisturizers: Several moisturizers have an AM and a PM formulation. One is used in the morning and the other at night before you go to sleep. The AM formula of toothpaste could be infused with caffeine that would be absorbed into the bloodstream sublingually (see idea #2 above). And the PM formulation could be infused with melatonin to help you sleep better at night.
  5. Weight Loss Products: I’m not sure how this would work, but what if you could create a toothpaste that somehow made certain foods taste bad? This might cause you to reduce the amount of food you eat. Or maybe there is another way to make toothpaste a weight loss product. OK, this one is a stretch, but there might be a kernel of an idea there!

In a breakout at the Open Innovation Summit, an innovation leader from Johnson & Johnson, when asked to name the most important word for their business right now, answered “Convergence.” By this, he meant the sharing of ideas across business units and brands.

Ideas can indeed come from anywhere. And quite often, the best ideas will come from inside your own organization – just from a different product, function, division, or brand. Where will your next big idea come from?

If you have other toothpaste innovation ideas, I would love for you to post them as comments!

Stephen ShapiroStephen Shapiro is the author of three books, a popular innovation speaker, and is the Chief Innovation Evangelist for Innocentive, the leader in Open Innovation.

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