Everybody wants to see the next best thing. They want to be there for genesis. Which is why car companies build concept cars — as an opportunity to electrify their audience and show off their most radical thinking. If the car is a winner, some or all of it will make it to production. If the car is terrible, no problem — it was an experiment to begin with.

This isn’t exclusive to the automotive industry. Fashion shows and public software betas are parallel examples of predicting the future by creating it. The nice thing about the future is that people don’t know what to expect. It won’t all be beautiful or bug-free and that’s ok. That’s the nature of a creative process, it’s an experiment into the unknown. And anytime there is a bit of mystery, people are drawn in. Because who doesn’t want to pull the curtain back on their favorite company and see what they’re working on? A look inside the skunk works gets people fired up, which is what branding is all about.

The automobile, fashion, and software industries have found a way to take risks without big consequences. Take the Ferrari 308GT Rainbow for example:

Ferrari had no intention of releasing this car, it was purely a design exercise. Yet, despite it’s terrible styling, it managed to achieve something great. It was the first car to have a folding hard-top roof that was stowed behind the rear seats — an option that’s currently being offered by nearly every manufacturer. For a car that was destined to die as soon as it was drawn, it had a major impact on an industry.

Just like any other experiment, there’s the potential for total failure. Like Porsche in 1988 with their Varrera minivan. It was a sloppily rebadged VW Sharan with the engine from a 911. Unsurprisingly it went nowhere. And no one cared.

So, by releasing prototypes as sanctioned outbursts of creativity, companies are constantly getting people’s attention in a way that allows for failure. It’s a fantastic mechanism for building brand loyalty. Because even if people never get, or want, the chance to own what’s being produced — they’re equally as excited about seeing a brand build something new and different. So, what’ve you been working on?

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