by W. Chan Kim and
Renee Mauborgne A
ONETIME ACCORDION PLAYER, Stilt Walker, a n d
fire-eater, Guy Lalibertd is now CEO of one of
i Canada’s largest cultural exports. Cirque du
Soleil. Founded in 1984 by a group of street performers,
Cirque has staged dozens of productions seen by some
40 million people in 90 cities around the world. In 20
years, Cirque has achieved revenues that Ringling Bros,
and Barnum & Bailey-the world’s leading circus-took
more than a century to attain.
Cirque’s rapid growth occurred in an unlikely setting.
The circus business was (and still is) in long-term decline.
Alternative forms of entertainment – sporting events,
TV, and video games – were casting a growing shadow.
Children, the mainstay of the circus audience, preferred
PlayStations to circus acts. There was also rising sentiment.
76 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW
fueled by animal rights groups, against the use of animals,
traditionally an integral part of the circus. On the supply
side, the star performers that Ringling and the other cir-
cuses relied on to draw in the crowds could often name
their own terms. As a result, the industry was hit by steadily
decreasing audiences and increasing costs. What’s more,
any new entrant to this business would be competing
against a formidable incumbent that for most of the last
century had set the industry standard.
How did Cirque profitably increase revenues by a fac-
tor of 22 over the last ten years in such an unattractive
environment? The tagline for one of the first Cirque pro-
ductions is revealing: “We reinvent the circus.”Cirque did
not make its money by competing within the confines
of the existing industry or by stealing customers fro
Ringling and the others. Instead it created uncontested
market space that made the competition irrelevant. It
pulled in a whole new group of customers who were tra-
ditionally noncustomers of the industry-adults and cor-
porate clients who had turned to theater, opera, or ballet
and were, therefore, prepared to pay several times more
than the price of a conventional circus ticket for an un-
precedented entertainment experience.
To understand the nature of Cirque’s achievement, you
have to realize that the business universe consists of
two distinct kinds of space, which we think of as red and
blue oceans. Red oceans represent all the industries in
existence today-the known market space. In red oceans,
industry boundaries are defined and accepted, and the
competitive rules of the game are well understood. Here,
companies try to outperform their rivals in order to grab
a greater share of existing demand. As the space gets
more and more crowded, prospects for profits and growth
are reduced. Products turn into commodities, and in-
creasing competition turns the water bloody.
Blue oceans denote all the industries not in existence
t o d a y – t h e unknown market space, untainted by com-
petition. In blue oceans, demand is created rather than
OCTOBER 2004 77
Blue Ocean Strategy
fought over. There is ample opportunity for growth tbat
is both profitable and rapid. There are two ways to create
blue oceans. In a few cases, companies can give rise to
completely new industries, as eBay did with the online
auction industry. But in most cases, a blue ocean is cre-
ated from within a red ocean when a company alters the
boundaries of an existing industry. As will become evi-
dent later, this is what Cirque did. In breaking through
the boundary traditionally separating circus and theater,
it made a new and profitable blue ocean from within the
red ocean of the circus industry.
Cirque is just one of more than 150 blue ocean cre-
ations that we have studied in over 30 industries, using
data stretching back more than too years. We analyzed
companies that created those blue oceans and their less
successful competitors, which were caught in red oceans.
In studying these data, we have observed a consistent
pattern of strategic thinking behind the creation of new
markets and industries, what we call blue ocean strategy.
The logic behind blue ocean strategy parts with tradi-
tional models focused on competing in existing market
space. Indeed, it can be argued that managers’ failure
to realize the differences between red and blue ocean
strategy lies behind the difficulties many companies
encounter as they try to break from the competition.
In this article, we present the concept of blue ocean
strategy and describe its defining characteristics. We as-
sess the profit and growth consequences of blue oceans
and discuss why their creation is a rising imperative for
companies in the future. We believe that an understand-
ing of blue ocean strategy will help today’s companies as
they struggle to thrive in an accelerating and expanding
Blue and Red Oceans
Although the term may be new, blue oceans have always
been with us. Look back 100 years and ask yourself
which industries known today were then unknown. Tbe
answer: Industries as basic as automobiles, music record-
ing, aviation, petrochemicals, Pharmaceuticals, and man-
agement consulting were unheard-of or had just begun
to emerge. Now turn the clock back only 30 years and
ask yourself the same question. Again, a plethora of
W. Chan Kim (email@example.com) is the Boston Con-
sulting Group Bruce D. Henderson Chair Professor of Strat-
egy and International Management at Insead in Eontaine-
bleau, Erance. Renee Mauborgne (renee.mauborgne@
insead.edu) is the Insead Distinguished Eellow and a pro-
fessor of strategy and management at Insead. This article
is adapted from their forthcoming book Blue Ocean Strat-
egy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make
the Competition Irrelevant (Harvard Business School
A Snapshot of
Blue Ocean Creation
This table identifies the strategic elements that were
common to blue ocean creations in three different
industries In different eras. It is not intended to be
comprehensive in coverage or exhaustive in content
We chose to show American industries because
they represented the largest and least-regulated
market during our study period. The pattern of blue
ocean creations exemplified by these three industries
is consistent with what we observed in the other
industries in our study.
multibillion-dollar industries jump out: mutual funds,
cellular telephones, biotechnology, discount retailing,
express package delivery, snowboards, coffee bars, and
home videos, to name a few. Just three decades ago, none
of these industries existed in a meaningful way.
This time, put the clock forward 20 years. Ask your-
self: How many industries that are unknown today will
exist tben? If history is any predictor of the future, the
answer is many. Companies have a huge capacity to cre-
ate new industries and re-create existing ones, a fact that
is reflected in the deep changes that have been necessary
in the way industries are classified. The half-century-old
Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system was re-
placed in 1997 by the North American Industry Classifi-
cation System (NAICS). The new system expanded the
ten SIC industry sectors into 20 to refiect the emerging
realities of new industry territories-blue oceans. The ser-
vices sector under the old system, for example, is now
seven sectors ranging from information to health care and
social assistance. Given that these classification systems
are designed for standardization and continuity, such a re-
placement shows how significant a source of economic
growth the creation of blue oceans has been.
Looking forward, it seems clear to us that blue oceans
will remain the engine of growth. Prospects in most
established market spaces – red oceans – are shrinking
steadily. Technological advances have substantially im-
proved industrial productivity, permitting suppliers to
produce an unprecedented array of products and services.
And as trade barriers between nations and regions fall and
information on products and prices becomes instantly and
globally available, niche markets and monopoly havens
are continuing to disappear. At the same time, there is lit-
tle evidence of any increase in demand, at least in the de-
veloped markets, where recent United Nations statistics
even point to declining populations. The result is that in
more and more industries, supply is overtaking demand.
78 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW
Key blue ocean creations
Was the blue ocean
created by a new
entrant or an
Was it driven by
or value pioneering?
At the time of the blue
ocean creation, was
the industry attractive
Ford Model T
Unveiled in 1908,theModetT was the first mass-produced
car, priced so that many Americans could afford it.
GM’s “car for every purse and purpose”
GM created a blue ocean in 1924 by injecting fun and
fashion into the car.
Japanese fuel-efficient autos
Japanese automakers created a blue ocean in the mid-1970s
with small, reliable lines of cars.
With its 1984 minivan, Chrysler created a new class of auto-
mobile that was as easy to use as a car but had the passenger
space of a van.
CTR’s tabulating machine
In 1914, CTR created the business machine industry by
simplifying, modularizing,and leasing tabulating machines.
CTR later changed its name to IBM.
IBM 650 electronic computer and System/360
In 1952, IBM created the business computer industry by simpli-
fying and reducing the power and price of existing technology.
And it exploded the blue ocean created by the 650 when in
1964 it unveiled the System/360, the first modularized com-
Apple personal computer
Although it was not the first home computer, the all-in-one,
simple-to-use Apple II was a blue ocean creation when it
appeared in 1978.
Compaq PC servers
Compag created a blue ocean in 1992 with its ProSignia
server, which gave buyers twice the file and print capability
of the minicomputer at one-third the price.
Dell built-to-order computers
In the mid-1990s, Deli created a blue ocean in a highly
competitive industry by creating a new purchase and delivery
experience for buyers.
The first Nickelodeon opened its doors in 1905, showing short
films around-the-clock to working-class audiences for five cents.
Created by Roxy Rothapfel in 1914, these theaters provided
an operalike environment for cinema viewing at an affordable
In the 1960s, the number of multiplexes in America’s subur-
ban shopping malls mushroomed.The multiplex gave viewers
greater choice while reducing owners’costs.
Megaplexesjntroducedin 1995,offered every current block-
buster and provided spectacular viewing experiences in
theater complexes as big as stadiums, at a lower cost to
(mostly existing technologies)
(some new technologies)
(some new technologies)
(mostly existing technologies)
[some new technologies)
(650: mostly existing technologies)
Value and technology pioneering
(System/360: new and existing
(mostly existing technologies)
(mostly existing technologies)
(mostly existing technologies)
(mostly existing technologies)
(mostly existing technologies)
(mostly existing technologies)
(mostly existing technologies)
*Driven by value pioneering does not mean that technologies were not involved. Rather, it means that
the defining technologies used had largely been in existence, whether n that industry or elsewhere.
OCTOBER 2004 79
Blue Ocean Strategy
This situation has inevitably hastened the commoditi-
zation of products and services, stoked price wars, and
shrunk profit margins. According to recent studies, major
American brands in a variety of product and service cate-
gories have become more and more alike. And as brands
become more similar, people increasingly base purchase
choices on price. Peopie no ionger insist, as in the past,
that their laundry detergent be Tide. Nor do they neces-
sarily stick to Colgate when there is a special promotion
for Crest, and vice versa. In overcrowded industries, dif-
ferentiating brands becomes harder both in economic
upturns and in downturns.
The Paradox of Strategy
Unfortunately, most companies seem becalmed in their
red oceans. In a study of business launches in 108 compa-
nies, we found that 86% of those new ventures were line
extensions-incremental improvements to existing indus-
try offerings-and a mere 14% were aimed at creating new
markets or industries. While line extensions did account
for 62% of the total revenues, they delivered only 39% of
the total profits. By contrast, the 14% invested in creating
new markets and industries delivered 38% of total reve-
nues and a startling 61% of total profits.
So why the dramatic imbalance in favor of red oceans?
Part of the explanation is that corporate strategy is heav-
ily influenced by its roots in military strategy. The very
language of strategy is deeply imbued with military ref-
erences – chief executive “officers” in “headquarters,”
“troops” on the “front lines.” Described this way, strategy
is all about red ocean competition. It is about confronting
an opponent and driving him off a battlefield of limited
territory. Blue ocean strategy, by contrast, is about doing
business where there is no competitor. It is about creating
new land, not dividing up existing land. Focusing on the
red ocean therefore means accepting the key constrain-
ing factors of war-limited terrain and the need to beat
an enemy to succeed. And it means denying the distinc-
tive strength of the business world-the capacity to create
new market space that is uncontested.
The tendency of corporate strategy to focus on win-
ning against rivals was exacerbated by the meteoric rise
of Japanese companies in the 1970s and 1980s. For the
first time in corporate history, customers were deserting
Western companies in droves. As competition mounted
in the global marketplace, a slew of red ocean strategies
emerged, all arguing that competition was at the core of
corporate success and failure. Today, one hardly talks
about strategy without using the language of competi-
tion. The term that best symbolizes this is “competitive
advantage.” In the competitive-advantage worldview,
companies are often driven to outperform rivals and
capture greater shares of existing market space.
Of course competition matters. But by focusing on
competition, scholars, companies, and consultants have
ignored two very important – and, we would argue, far
more lucrative – aspects of strategy: One is to find and
develop markets where there is little or no competi-
tion-blue oceans-and the other is to exploit and protect
blue oceans. These challenges are very different from
those to which strategists have devoted most of their
Toward Blue Ocean Strategy
what kind of strategic logic is needed to guide the cre-
ation of blue oceans? To answer that question, we looked
back over lOO years of data on blue ocean creation to see
what patterns could be discerned. Some of our data are
presented in the exhibit “A Snapshot of Blue Ocean
Creation.” It shows an overview of key blue ocean cre-
ations in three industries that closely touch people’s
lives: autos – how people get to work; computers – what
people use at work; and movie theaters – where people
go after work for enjoyment. We found that:
80 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW
Blue Ocean Strategy
Blue oceans are not about technology innovation.
Leading-edge technology is sometimes involved in the
creation of blue oceans, but it is not a defining feature of
them. This is often true even in industries that are tech-
nology intensive. As the exhibit reveals, across all three
representative industries, blue oceans were seldom the
result of technological innovation per se; the underlying
technology was often already in existence. Even Ford’s
revolutionary assembly line can be traced to the meat-
packing industry in America. Like those within the auto
industry, the blue oceans within the computer industry
did not come about through technology innovations
alone but by linking technology to what buy-
ers valued. As with the IBM 650 and the Com-
paq PC server, this often involved simplifying
Incumbents often create blue o c e a n s –
and usually within their core businesses.
GM, the Japanese automakers, and Chrysler
were established players when they created
blue oceans in the auto industry. So were CTR
and its later incarnation, IBM, and Compaq
in the computer industry. And in the cinema
industry, the same can be said of palace the-
aters and AMC. Of the companies listed here,
only Ford, Apple, Dell, and Nickelodeon were
new entrants in their industries; the first three
were start-ups, and the fourth was an estab-
lished player entering an industry that was
new to it. This suggests that incumbents are
not at a disadvantage in creating new market
spaces. Moreover, the blue oceans made by in-
cumbents were usually within their core busi-
nesses. In fact, as the exhibit shows, most blue oceans are
created from within, not beyond, red oceans of existing
industries. This challenges the view that new markets are
in distant waters. Blue oceans are right next to you in
Company and Industry are the wrong units of analy-
sis. The traditional units of strategic analysis – company
and industry – have little explanatory power when it
comes to analyzing how and why blue oceans are created.
There is no consistently excellent company; the same
company can be brilliant at one time and wrongheaded
at another. Every company rises and falls over time. Like-
wise, there is no perpetually excellent industry; relative
attractiveness is driven largely by the creation of blue
oceans from within them.
The most appropriate unit of analysis for explaining
the creation of blue oceans is the strategic move-the set
of managerial actions and decisions involved in making
a major market-creating business offering. Compaq, for
example, is considered by many people to be “unsuccess-
ful” because it was acquired by Hewlett-Packard in 2001
and ceased to be a company. But the firm’s ultimate fate
does not invalidate the smart strategic move Compaq
made that led to the creation of the multibillion-dollar
market in PC servers, a move that was a key cause of the
company’s powerful comeback in the 1990s.
Creating blue oceans builds brands. So powerful is
blue ocean strategy that a blue ocean strategic move can
create brand equity that lasts for decades. Almost all of
the companies listed in the exhibit are remembered in
no small part for the blue oceans they created long ago.
Very few people alive today were around when the first
Model T rolled off Henry Ford’s assembly line in 1908, but
the company’s brand still benefits from that blue ocean
Red Ocean Versus Blue Ocean Strategy
The imperatives for red ocean and blue ocean
strategies are starkly different.
Red ocean strategy
Compete in existing market space.
Beat the competition.
Exploit existing demand.
Make the value/cost trade-off.
Align the whole system of a com-
pany’s activities with its strategic
choice of differentiation or low cost.
Blue ocean strategy
Create uncontested market space.
Make the competition irrelevant.
Create and capture new demand.
Break the value/cost trade-off.
Align the whole system of a company’s
activities in pursuit of differentiation
and low cost.
move. IBM, too, is often regarded as an “American insti-
tution” largely for the blue oceans it created in comput-
ing; the 360 series was its equivalent of the Model T.
Our findings are encouraging for executives at the large,
established corporations that are traditionally seen as the
victims of new market space creation. For what they reveal
is that large R&D budgets are not the key to creating new
market space. The key is making the right strategic moves.
What’s more, companies that understand what drives a
good strategic move will be well placed to create multiple
blue oceans over time, thereby continuing to deliver high
growth and profits over a sustained period. The creation
of blue oceans, in other words, is a product of strategy and
as such is very much a product of managerial action.
The Defining Characteristics
Our research shows several common characteristics
across strategic moves that create blue oceans. We found
that the creators of blue oceans, in sharp contrast to com-
panies playing by traditional mles, never use the compe-
tition as a benchmark. Instead they make it irrelevant by
OCTOBER 2004 81
Blue Ocean Straten
In blue oceans, demand is created rather than
fought over.There is ample opportunity for
growth that is both profitable and rapid. ^
creating a leap in value for both buyers and the com-
pany itself. (The exhibit “Red Ocean Versus Blue Ocean
Strategy” compares the chief characteristics of these
two strategy models.)
Perhaps the most important feature of blue ocean strat-
egy is that it rejects the fundamental tenet of conven-
tional strategy: that a trade-off exists between value and
cost. According to this thesis, companies can either cre-
ate greater value for customers at a higher cost or create
reasonable value at a lower cost. In other words, strategy
is essentially a choice between differentiation and low
cost. But when it comes to creating blue oceans, the evi-
dence shows that successful companies pursue differen-
tiation and low cost simultaneously.
To see how this is done, let us go back to Cirque du
Soleil. At the time of Cirque’s debut, circuses focused on
benchmarking one another and maximizing their shares
of shrinking demand by tweaking traditional circus acts.
This included trying to secure more and better-known
clowns and lion tamers, efforts that raised circuses’ cost
structure without substantially altering the circus expe-
rience. The result was rising costs without rising revenues
and a downward spiral in overall circus demand. Enter
Cirque. Instead of following the conventional logic of
outpacing the competition by offering a better solution
to the given problem-creating a circus with even greater
fun and thrills-it redefined the problem itself by offering
people the fun and thrill of the circus and the intellectual
sophistication and artistic richness of the theater.
In designing performances that landed both these
punches. Cirque had to reevaluate the components of the
traditional circus offering. What the company found was
that many of the elements considered essential to the
fun and thrill of the circus were unnecessary and in many
cases costly. For instance, most circuses offer animal acts.
These are a heavy economic burden, because circuses
have to shell out not only for the animals but also for their
training, medical care, housing, insurance, and transpor-
tation. Yet Cirque found that the appetite for animal
shows was rapidly diminishing because of rising public
concern about the treatment of circus animals and the
ethics of exhibiting them.
Similarly, although traditional circuses promoted their
performers as stars, Cirque realized that the public no
longer thought of circus artists as stars, at least not in the
movie star sense. Cirque did away with traditional three-
ring shows, too. Not only did these create confusion
among spectators forced to switch their attention from
one ring to another, they also increased the number of
performers needed, with obvious cost implications. And
while aisle concession sales appeared to be a good way
to generate revenue, the high prices discouraged parents
from making purchases and made them feel they were
heing taken for a ride.
Cirque found that the lasting allure of the traditional
circus came down to just three factors: the clowns, the
tent, and the classic acrobatic acts. So Cirque kept the
clowns, while shifting their humor away from slapstick
to a more enchanting, sophisticated style. It glamorized
the tent, which many circuses had abandoned in favor
of rented venues. Realizing that the tent, more than
anything else, captured the magic of the circus. Cirque
designed this classic symbol with a glorious external
finish and a high level of audience comfort. Gone were
the sawdust and hard benches. Acrobats and other
thrilling performers were retained, but Cirque reduced
their roles and made their acts more elegant by adding
Even as Cirque stripped away some of the traditional
circus offerings, it injected new elements drawn from the
world of theater. For instance, unlike traditional circuses
featuring a series of unrelated acts, each Cirque creation
resembles a theater performance in that it has a theme
and story line. Although the themes are intentionally
vague, they bring harmony and an intellectual element
to the acts. Cirque also borrows ideas from Broadway.
For example, rather than putting on the traditional
“once and for all” show, Cirque mounts multiple produc-
tions based on different themes and story lines. As with
Broadway productions, too, each Cirque show has an
original musical score, which drives the performance,
lighting, and timing of the acts, rather than the other
way around. The productions feature abstract and spiri-
tual dance, an idea derived from theater and ballet. By
introducing these factors, Cirque has created highly so-
phisticated entertainments. And by staging multiple pro-
ductions. Cirque gives people reason to come to the circus
more often, thereby increasing revenues.
82 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW
Blue Ocean Strategy
Cirque offers the best of both circus and theater. And
by eliminating many of the most expensive elements of
the circus, it has been able to dramatically reduce its cost
structure, achieving both differentiation and low cost.
(For a depiction of the economics underpinning blue
ocean strategy, see the exhibit “The Simultaneous Pur-
suit of Differentiation and Low Cost”)
By driving down costs while simultaneously driving up
value for buyers, a company can achieve a leap in value
for both itself and its customers. Since buyer value comes
from the utility and price a company offers, and a com-
pany generates value for itself through cost structure
and price, blue ocean strategy is achieved only when the
whole system of a company’s utility, price, and cost activ-
ities is properly aligned. It is this whole-system approach
that makes the creation of blue oceans a sustainable strat-
egy. Blue ocean strategy integrates the range of a tirm’s
functional and operational activities.
A rejection ofthe trade-off between low cost and dif-
ferentiation implies a fundamental change in strategic
m i n d – s e t – w e cannot emphasize enough how funda-
mental a shift it is. The red ocean assumption that indus-
try structural conditions are a given and firms are forced
to compete within them is based on an intellectual world-
view that academics call the structuralist view, or environ-
mental determinism. According to this view, companies
and managers are largely at the mercy of economic forces
greater than themselves. Blue ocean strategies, by con-
trast, are based on a worldview in which market bound-
aries and industries can be reconstructed by the actions
and beliefs of industry players. We call this the recon-
The founders of Cirque du Soleil clearly did not feel
constrained to act within the confines of their industry.
Indeed, is Cirque really a circus with all that it has elimi-
nated, reduced, raised, and created? Or is it theater? If
it is theater, then what genre – Broadway show, opera,
ballet? The magic of Cirque was created through a recon-
struction of elements drawn from all of these alternatives.
In the end. Cirque is none of them and a little of all of
them. From within the red oceans of theater and circus,
Cirque has created a blue ocean of uncontested market
space that has, as yet, no name.
Barriers to Imitation
Companies that create blue oceans usually reap the ben-
efits without credible challenges for ten to 15 years, as
was the case with Cirque du Soleil, Home Depot, Federal
Express, Southwest Airlines, and CN N, to name just a few.
The reason is that blue ocean strategy creates consider-
able economic and cognitive barriers to imitation.
For a start, adopting a blue ocean creator’s business
model is easier to imagine than to do. Because blue ocean
creators immediately attract customers in large volumes.
they are able to generate scale economies very rapidly,
putting would-be imitators at an immediate and continu-
ing cost disadvantage. The huge economies of scale in
purchasing that Wal-Mart enjoys, for example, have sig-
nificantly discouraged other companies from imitating its
business model. The immediate attraction of large num-
bers of customers can also create network externalities.
The more customers eBay has online, the more attrac-
tive the auction site becomes for both sellers and buyers
of wares, giving users few incentives to go elsewhere.
When imitation requires companies to make changes
to their whole system of activities, organizational politics
may impede a would-be competitor’s ability to switch to
the divergent business mode! of a blue ocean strategy.
For instance, airlines trying to follow Southwest’s exam-
ple of offering the speed of air travel with the fiexibility
and cost of driving would have faced major revisions in
The Simultaneous Pursuit of
Differentiation and Low Cost
A blue ocean is created in the region where a company’s
actionsfavorably affect both its cost structure and its value
proposition to buyers. Cost savings are made from eliminat-
ing and reducing the factors an industry competes on. Buyer
value is lifted by raising and creating elements the industry
has never offered. Over time, costs are reduced further as
scale economies kick in, due to the high sales volumes that
superior value generates.
OCTOBER 2004 83
Blue Ocean Strategy
routing, training, marketing, and pricing, not to men-
tion culture. Few established airlines had the flexibility
to make such extensive organizational and operating
changes overnight. Imitating a whole-system approach is
not an easy feat.
The cognitive barriers can be just as effective. When
a company offers a leap in value, it rapidly earns brand
buzz and a loyal following in the marketplace. Experience
shows that even the most expensive marketing cam-
paigns struggle to unseat a blue ocean creator. Microsoft,
for example, has been trying for more than ten years to
occupy the center of the blue ocean that Intuit created
with its financial software product Quicken. Despite all
of its efforts and all of its investment, Microsoft has not
been able to unseat Intuit as the industry leader.
In other situations, attempts to imitate a blue ocean
creator conflict with the imitator’s existing brand image.
The Body Shop, for example, shuns top models and makes
no promises of eternal youth and beauty. For the estab-
lished cosmetic brands like Est^e Lauder and L’Oreal, im-
itation was very difficult, because it would have signaled
a complete invalidation of their current images, which
are based on promises of eternal youth and beauty.
A Consistent Pattern
while our conceptual articulation ofthe pattern may be
new, blue ocean strategy has always existed, whether or
not companies have been conscious ofthe fact. Just con-
sider the striking parallels between the Cirque du Soleil
theater-circus experience and Ford’s creation of the
At the end ofthe nineteenth century, the automobile
industry was small and unattractive. More than 500 auto-
makers in America competed in turning out handmade
luxury cars that cost around $1,500 and were enormously
unpopular with all but the very rich. Anticar activists tore
up roads, ringed parked cars with barbed wire, and orga-
nized boycotts of car-driving businessmen and politicians.
Woodrow Wilson caught the spirit ofthe times when he
said in 1906 that “nothing has spread socialistic feeling
more than the automobile.” He called it “a picture ofthe
arrogance of wealth.”
Instead of trying to beat the competition and steal
a share of existing demand from other automakers.
Ford reconstructed the industry boundaries of cars and
horse-drawn carriages to create a blue ocean. At the
time, horse-drawn carriages were the primary means of
local transportation across America. The carriage had
two distinct advantages over cars. Horses could easily ne-
gotiate the bumps and mud that stymied cars-especially
in rain and snow-on the nation’s ubiquitous dirt roads.
And horses and carriages were much easier to maintain
than the luxurious autos of the time, which frequently
broke down, requiring expert repairmen who were ex-
pensive and in short supply. It was Henry Ford’s under-
standing of these advantages that showed him how he
could break away from the competition and unlock enor-
mous untapped demand.
Ford called the Model T the car “for the great multi-
tude, constructed ofthe best materials.” Like Cirque, the
Ford Motor Company made the competition irrelevant.
Instead of creating fashionable, customized cars for week-
ends in the countryside, a luxury few could justify.
Ford built a car that, like the horse-drawn carriage, was
for everyday use. The Model T came in just one color,
black, and there were few optional extras. It was reliable
and durable, designed to travel effortlessly over dirt roads
in rain, snow, or sunshine. It was easy to use and fix.
People could leam to drive it in a day. And like Cirque,
Ford went outside the industry for a price point, looking
at horse-drawn carriages ($400), not other autos. In igo8,
the first Model T cost $850; in 1909, the price dropped
to $609, and by 1924 it was down to $290. In this way.
Ford converted buyers of horse-drawn carriages into car
buyers – just as Cirque turned theatergoers into circus-
goers. Sales ofthe Model T boomed. Ford’s market share
surged from 9% in 1908 to 6i% in 1921, and by 1923, a ma-
jority of American households had a car.
Even as Ford offered the mass of buyers a leap in value,
the company also achieved the lowest cost structure
in the industry, much as Cirque did later. By keeping
the cars highly standardized with limited options and
interchangeable parts. Ford was able to scrap the prevail-
ing manufacturing system in which cars were constructed
by skilled craftsmen who swarmed around one work-
station and built a car piece by piece from start to finish.
Ford’s revolutionary assembly line replaced craftsmen
with unskilled laborers, each of whom worked quickly
and efficiently on one small task. This allowed Ford to
make a car in just four days – 21 days was the industry
norm-creating huge cost savings.
Blue and red oceans have always coexisted and always
will. Practical reality, therefore, demands that companies
understand the strategic logic of both types of oceans.
At present, competing in red oceans dominates the field
of strategy in theory and in practice, even as businesses’
need to create hlue oceans intensifies. It is time to even
the scales in the field of strategy with a better balance of
efforts across both oceans. For although blue ocean strate-
gists have always existed, for the most part their strategies
have been largely unconscious. But once corporations re-
alize that the strategies for creating and capturing blue
oceans have a different underlying logic from red ocean
strategies, they will be able to create many more blue
oceans in the future. ^
To order, see page 159.
84 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW
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