“Lipstick on a Pig” or change the Animal? (2024)

Aidan McCullen



Published in

The Thursday Thought


5 min read


Jun 29, 2017


“Lipstick on a Pig” or change the Animal? (3)

To put “lipstick on a pig” is a rhetorical expression, used to convey the message that making superficial or cosmetic changes is a futile attempt to disguise the true nature of a product. So, if you put lipstick on a pig, it is still a pig. Don’t put lipstick on a pig when no-one wants pork, sometimes you need to change the animal.

“If you digitise a pig, it is still a pig”

While there have been many, many laggards, now companies and indeed entire industries are grabbing the bull (pig) by the horns and implementing digital transformation.

I can feel my cortisol levels rise and that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I picture the mavericks within such companies battling with short-term minded CEOs and CFOs. The CFO is (often) used as the bad cop (often she is one) to quash any investment that doesn’t have a robust business plan and doesn’t follow the “rules” that got the company to where it is today.

When we are dealing with total shifts in business models, in human desires and consumption patterns it can be difficult to quantify. Many a maverick inherently knows “if we don’t do this we won’t have a company”.

Alas, after putting up a good fight, the maverick leaves, change stagnates and the old order is restored. The CEO blames new technologies, the shrinking market or some global competitor (who does cater for shifts in human desires, consumption patterns and new business models).

The board of directors question why did the maverick leave. She wasn’t a good fit, she was too disruptive or “She didn’t quit we fired her!”. Under pressure from the board there are some new “token hires” or new contractors, maybe with “Data” in their title, but definitely with “Digital” in their title. A new CDO or Chief Digital Officer perhaps?

“Lipstick on a Pig” or change the Animal? (4)

The ones I feel for the most are the ones who are in a rush to digitise the business.

These people work long hours, push developers and suppliers to improve user experience. They develop an app (often unnecessarily so) but no matter what they do, they have to justify their every move.

So, after much blood, sweat and tears the old, defunct, undesired product, business model or service is now digitised. The Golden Gate Bridge has been painted, now it needs another lick of paint and the process begins again.

There is finally lipstick on the pig and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. The pig is digitised!

“Lipstick on a Pig” or change the Animal? (5)

“Either hold a rock concert, or a ballet; but don’t hold a rock concert and advertise it as a ballet.” Warren Buffett.

Next, an often out-of-date marketing function run social media campaigns (outsourced) and digital advertising to push people to their website/app/pig.

The next board report may as well be written in lipstick font :) We achieved a huge CTR (click through rate, including fat finger and bot traffic). We achieved x% uplift of site traffic (and twice that in bounce rates) and some people will never come to see our pig again.

Almost everyone knows the emperor is naked, there are a couple who are ignoring digital until they make it to their retirement, but no-one calls it. Finally, the board put the foot down

Maintaining your percentage (or even a larger one) of a shrinking pie in face of disruptive, VC-backed startups becomes the story. The VC-backed startups hire some of your people and your best people go quiet. The VC-backed startups have a clear mission/goal/purpose, you have lost yours, if there ever even was one.

“Lipstick on a Pig” or change the Animal? (6)

When everyone thinks outside the box, it becomes the box within which everyone thinks.

In this world of disruption you need to question the box, the pig, the business model. Just like in life, if we do not constantly reimagine ourselves, we stagnate, we grow old and we die. Businesses need to continually examine the box in which they think, operate and produce.

To digitise a broken business model is simply accelerating demise. A better version of yourself is not better, incremental change is not innovation. Businesses need to be re-imagined and take into account more than just business models.

When you change your animal, you need to change not only your business model, you need to change your mental model.

Hence, telcos are not about telephones, they are platforms to connect people, taxis are not transportation companies, they are logistic and data companies and AirBnB does not enable room rentals, it enables experiences.

Changing your mental model means recalibrating how your company thinks, acts and behaves internally and externally. Don’t accept lipstick on a pig, change the animal, don’t think inside the box, change it.Thanks for reading please share this so others may see it.

On this week’s innovation show I talk to Joel Beckerman , founder and leader of MMM, Man Made Music, a strategic music and sound studio.

MMM score entertainment and brand experiences by creating and curating soundtracks and sonic ids.

Joel Beckerman is an award-winning composer and author and had the vision to set up MMM, when very few saw the value in sound. Fast forward to today and Joel is a leader in his field and his services employed by Global, forward-thinking brands. Joel is author of the great book ‘The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy’. We discuss the book, the main insights and how you can use sound to transform your brand and yourself.

In a world where the whole brand proposition is essential, sound is essential and Joel shares his insights on why this is.

As an expert and enthusiast, I don't have personal experiences or emotions, but I can provide you with information on the concepts mentioned in the article you shared. Let's break down the key concepts and discuss them:

"Lipstick on a pig"

The phrase "lipstick on a pig" is a rhetorical expression used to convey the message that making superficial or cosmetic changes is a futile attempt to disguise the true nature of a product. The analogy suggests that even if you put lipstick on a pig, it is still a pig. In the context of the article, it is used to emphasize the importance of making substantial changes rather than just superficial ones.

Digital Transformation

Digital transformation refers to the process of integrating digital technologies into various aspects of a business, including operations, processes, and customer experiences. It involves leveraging digital tools and technologies to improve efficiency, enhance customer satisfaction, and drive innovation. The article mentions that companies and industries are now embracing digital transformation to adapt to changing business models and consumer preferences.


In the context of the article, a maverick refers to an individual within a company who challenges the status quo and pushes for change. These individuals often have innovative ideas and are willing to take risks to drive transformation. However, they may face resistance from short-term-minded executives who prioritize immediate financial returns over long-term strategic shifts.

Business Model

A business model is a framework that outlines how a company creates, delivers, and captures value. It encompasses various elements such as target customers, value proposition, revenue streams, and cost structure. The article suggests that in the face of disruption, businesses need to reevaluate their existing business models and consider new approaches that take into account changing market dynamics and consumer preferences.

Mental Model

A mental model refers to an individual's cognitive framework or way of thinking that shapes their perception, understanding, and decision-making. The article emphasizes the importance of changing mental models to drive meaningful transformation. It suggests that businesses should not only focus on changing their business models but also reevaluate their underlying assumptions, beliefs, and ways of thinking.

Sound in Branding

The article briefly mentions the importance of sound in branding. It highlights the role of soundtracks and sonic identities in creating and curating brand experiences. Sound can play a significant role in shaping consumer perceptions, emotions, and brand associations. The author suggests that businesses can leverage sound to transform their brands and create unique experiences.

Please note that the information provided above is based on the concepts mentioned in the article you shared. If you have any specific questions or would like more information on any of these topics, feel free to ask!

“Lipstick on a Pig” or change the Animal? (2024)
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