Capitalism Breeds Innovation: A Hallmark Christmas Movie Moment
It’s shopping season, which means it’s time to pick on capitalism.
The latest meme for doing that is to create a collage of very similar products and tag it with the comment “Capitalism breeds innovation.” And the latest version of that meme, illustrated here, uses the Hallmark Christmas movie genre as its illustrative example.
It’s a good joke. (Though I’m a bigger fan of the prose version that goes: What has 15 actors, four settings, two writers, and one plot? 632 Hallmark movies.) And there is something both creepy and funny about all those smiling, shiny, green and red clad couples posed affectionately on the movie posters.
But it’s a pretty bad criticism of capitalism’s ability to inspire innovation.
These Hallmark movies all look alike, it’s true. And they are, in a certain sense, really all alike. But they are alike only in the same way that Coke and Pepsi and their variants are all alike. Or in the way that Dr. Pepper and its knock-off versions (another popular meme target) are all alike.
As anyone who has encountered a die-hard Pepsi or Coke fan knows, there are distinct differences between the two brands, and equally distinct differences among their sub-brands. Coke Zero drinkers want little or nothing to do with Diet Coke, for example, and would probably rather drink water than Diet Pepsi. To me, all their variations taste like overly sweet battery acid mixed with television static, but to connoisseurs, the distinctions among them are subtle, nuanced, and important.
And when it comes to all those knock-offs of Dr. Pepper? I’m sure their consumers are similarly loyal to their own favorite version. In addition, to me, there seems to have been considerable creativity put into finding innovative ways to name each of these drinks in order to point consumers to the resemblance to Dr. Pepper, without actually violating its copyright. Equally, while the can’s share some visual similarities, a closer look demonstrates wild innovation in typefaces and other design elements. Many of the cans are also store brands, indicating innovations in price points and purchasing convenience for shoppers–no matter how much the drinks may taste alike to casual consumers.
So shouldn’t we approach Hallmark movies with the same assumptions? I cannot see the variety that they surely contain, and I’m not overly interested in watching a few dozen of them in order to discover it. But surely we can trust fellow consumers who do enjoy them, and who have particular favorite films to which they are devoted. They see subtleties and distinctions that many of us do not, and the market is fulfilling their preferences for them.
And even if the movies are all essentially indistinguishable, that is, in itself, an innovation. It’s an innovation in marketing, and an innovation in family traditions for many people for whom “watching the new Hallmark movies” is now as much a part of the holiday season as caroling or decorating a tree.
I’m not going to spend my December cracking open a Coke or Pepsi while I watch a Hallmark movie. But I’m also not going to spend it claiming that my ability to choose among a few hundred ways to do so is a sign that capitalism is a failure.
Dec 17 2021 at 11:02am
“violating its copyright” should be “violating its trademark”.
“the can’s share” should be “the cans share”.
Sad to say, I don’t have anything better to do right now. 🙁
PS. I hope there are no errors in this response. 🙂
Dec 19 2021 at 5:52pm
The lions share the lion’s share. 🙂
Dec 26 2021 at 6:24am
The lion’s share the lions share is the lions’ share.
Dec 17 2021 at 12:01pm
I’m not sure Hallmark Movie fans (I don’t actually know any) are devoted to particular favorite films or see special subtleties. But perhaps they’d be bored seeing *exactly* the same 3 films over and over and the minor variations keep them interested? How easy is really to produce just the right blend of novelty and familiarity to keep fans happy? And, really, isn’t that the same problem faced by artists, writers, and musicians of all kinds? And I’m not sure why it makes more sense to pick on Hallmark rather than Marvel, whose superhero movies seem equally formulaic and uninteresting.
Capitalism breeds both innovation and imitation. So what? Do those spreading the memes really imagine that variations in soda flavors is really all that capitalism does (while doing the spreading with smart phones over a global network — things that even their middle-aged parents couldn’t have dreamt of when they were children?) Are all those lefty critics of capitalism really that blinkered? Sadly, I’m afraid they probably are.
Dec 19 2021 at 9:55pm
Not everything has to be innovation!
That word has taken over corporate discourse at the moment (I’m a translator of corporate blather, and I am heartily sick of it). Obviously innovation is massively important, but lots of things that companies and people do are not innovative at all, nor should they be. Rather than try to claim that there is innovation lurking in knock-offs, better to just accept what MarkW said: “Capitalism breeds both innovation and imitation.”
Obviously what drives the joke here is that we think of movies as creative/artistic endeavours, so imagine that they *should* have innovation; but these movies probably have very little. But that’s all it is, just a jarring and comic clash of preconceptions, which makes for a good meme, but not, as Skwire says, a good argument.
“Do those spreading the memes really imagine that…” I think you’ve let your imagination run away with you, there. The reason people spread memes is that they’re funny.
Dec 17 2021 at 1:54pm
As MarkW said, capitalism breeds imitation in addition to innovation. From the 12/14/21 WSJ:
“GAC Family, an upstart cable channel run by Hallmark’s former boss….has been recruiting heavily from the Hallmark ranks to build its own rival Christmas movie empire.”
I confess to recording Hallmark’s new Christmas movies, usually two every week. However, GAC Family has been offering two per night. My DVR is crying uncle, and on this Christmas this non-economist has learned the true meaning of diminishing marginal utility.
Dec 19 2021 at 12:00pm
These memes also ignore that imitation happens because it is profitable to imitate. Hallmark Christmas movies may have been a “Blue Ocean” product – one because it was a niche without competitors produced high risk-adjusted rates of return. But thanks to markets, others, Lifetime and GAC Family can see the abnormal returns Hallmark made and produce their own versions of these movies.
Dec 19 2021 at 5:50pm
I don’t see Mr. Pibb 🙁
People seek to set themselves apart, as well as show themselves as similar, even outside of commercial activity. There was a time when effectively everything we bought was distinct – before GMP and more basic manufacturing processes allowed standardization.
To what extent is it patent and copyright that drives innovation within capitalism, and to what extent is it capitalism?
Dec 20 2021 at 10:53am
Communism has done a fair job of both, as well. China, for instance, has become a master at imitation. Little wonder, as it’s a low cost, low risk business strategy and “a common product of bounded rationality and effort-saving hueristics” (Economics Web Institute definition). China has managed to “copy” its way to the largest economy in the world and now stands ready to emerge as a global leader in innovation through a careful combination of government-funded capitalist ventures in what they call “special economic zones.”
I’m in capitalism’s corner, but, as it’s reigning heavy-weight champion, the U.S. is currently on the ropes and better start counter punching its way back into this fight, or capitalism may lose to communism in the arena of ideas where future generations are concerned. Anta tennis shoes for Christmas, anyone?
Dec 20 2021 at 12:02pm
There are those (philistines?) who see no significant difference between Bach and Handel, or the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Chevrolet vs. Plymouth, Balzac vs. Stendhal, Douglass North vs. Joel Mokyr, etc., etc.: if we have one, why (some think) do we need the other, too? How wasteful is the competition between Boeing and Airbus, AT&T and Verizon, etc.! “If I do not notice a difference, it does not exist (or, at least, it is completely unimportant—of negligible value).” Let us rationalize things by simplifying and streamlining, so that resources can be directed towards (i.e., appropriated for) the projects I consider important (though I would not actually invest much in them, myself).
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