Brand Names – The Falsehood Of You Get What You Pay For

My brother-in-law, whom I called “a bachelor with expensive taste” in a previous article, wants a retraction. He says “bachelor” is a slur. He prefers to be called “a single, successful marketing genius.” I will call him single and successful, but “genius” is pushing it. Yes, he does well in his advertising career, but he still isn’t quite smart enough to see through much of the hype his industry produces.

This successful single man with expensive taste (he didn’t argue with that part) says I should write an article about why it’s better to spend more money to get expensive, “quality” items. He told me so while wearing his “low-priced” $110 jeans and $10, six-year-old socks from the Banana Republic. The socks had a hole in the side and soles worn so thin I could see flesh peeking through the threads.

I am always surprised by how many people, even frugal people, believe that “you get what you pay for.” While there are some exceptions (I expect some comments will point out their favorites), most no-name or store-brand items are just as well made as brand-name items. My discount-store socks (I think I pay about $1 a pair) last as long as my brother-in-law’s $10 socks, and the no-name jeans I was lucky to find (with tags!) for $4 at a yard sale cover my body just as well as his outrageously priced Lucky-brand jeans. Both of my no-name clothing items fit me comfortably, and I actually prefer those inexpensive socks to the slightly higher-priced, ill-fitting Hanes socks I bought several years ago.

Many times, store-brand items are nearly identical to name-brand items and are even made by the same manufacturers. For obvious reasons, manufacturers don’t disclose whether the store-brand things they make are exactly the same as their pricier counterparts, but it was no surprise to me that the Peter Pan peanut butter recall in February also included Great Value (Wal-Mart’s store brand) peanut butter. The FDA announcement mentioned that both were “made in the same facility” and had similar product codes.

A decade ago, I worked at a motorcycle battery packaging plant. Although I worked on the line and did not actually pull the batteries, I am fairly certain the ones we marked with the high-priced brand labels and the ones we labeled with a low-priced brand name were exactly the same batteries. After that work experience, I was never afraid to try a store brand or low-priced brand of anything. Occasionally I found ones I did not like, but the same can be said for expensive brand name items. More often, I found that the lower-priced things were just as tasty, durable, comfortable, and/or functional as their brand-name counterparts.

So if the quality of store-brand items is usually comparable to that of brand-name items, why are the brand names more expensive, often significantly so? The companies that make expensive brands spend a lot of money on advertising and promoting their image, trying (usually successfully) to convince consumers that their products are somehow better than their competitors’. In many (most?) cases, when you spend more for a brand-name item, you aren’t paying for better quality; you’re paying for the name on the packaging and the image that name represents.

Maybe my brother-in-law is a marketing genius. Maybe by calling himself “single” instead of “a bachelor,” he is creating a brand image for himself and thereby promoting his own worth to his advertising peers. But I know that whether my brother-in-law calls himself a “bachelor” or a “single, successful marketing genius,” his actual value to his employers, friends, and family is the same. That’s how it is with most products. Why should I pay for the “single, successful marketing genius” (the brand-name product and its image) when I can get the same value for much less money when I buy the “bachelor with expensive taste” (the store brand product)? Image is everything to some people; to me, it’s just a waste of money.

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10 Responses to Brand Names – The Falsehood Of You Get What You Pay For

  1. Marissa says:

    sometimes people go with the brand name because it is a “tested” product, while you are “taking a risk” with the no-brand stuff…depending on the original price difference, it might or might not be worth it. For example, there’s a local brand well known for their quality in children’s socks. They cost $1.75- $2.50 per sock. The ones I bought DD were no-name socks and cost me $2 for a 6 pack….and I discovered they are just as good! really soft and long-lasting.
    The no-name shoes I bought her for $6, on the other hand, were a complete waste….they lasted 10 days!!…If I had stayed with brand name, I’d have paid anywhere between $20-$40, but, the shoes would have lasted at least 6 months (or I would have been able to request a refund/exchange!)…so, I never buy no-name shoes anymore!

  2. Mike D. says:

    CVS is a good example of this. They have their brand of everything and it is usually exactly the same as the name brand.

  3. Amy says:

    Here are a few experiences I’ve had with brand name/no name products.

    Whenever I need an extra battery for my cell phone or camera, I purchase it on eBay for about $7 including shipping. I am shocked to see that the same item with the brand sticker costs at least $30 retail. I have never had any issues with these no-name batteries. However, a couple of years ago I bought some Walgreens brand AA batteries and found that they drained unbelievably quickly (one hour in a CD player). I bought two packages about a year apart and had the same experience with both, so I felt pretty confident that they really were inferior.

    Where I live, you can buy shoes and clothes very cheaply from cramped, no-name stores in a chaotic part of town. They are the exact same, mass-produced factory items that we pay at least twice as much for when we go to the mall!

    My brand name, highly touted Apple computer had more problems than any product I’ve ever purchased.

    A couple of shirts I bought from J. Crew cost about twice what I usually pay at Old Navy, but they have held up better over the years, much to my surprise. There has been no pilling, thinning, or fading of the fabric.

  4. Ann says:

    Not five minutes before reading your article, myself, my husband, and my brother-in-law were comparing our past “production line” jobs and the way we just put away one set of stickers (or bags) and got out another, for the exact same assembled product from the exact same boxes of parts.

  5. I’m humbled to admit I’ve rarely been mindful of brand-name vs generic-brand shopping before. Sure, I realized the generic brands were less expensive; I just rarely made a conscious, deliberate decision to shop for generic offerings. But the comments regarding product assembly in factories – with same products for big brand and generic ones – really woke me up. Thanks for this discussion thread; it’s motivating a video post at my vlog…so thx for the idea!

  6. baselle says:

    It would be ironic if your brother’s brand name, expensive items were actually counterfeit. Another good reason to buy no-name/generic is, well, who would bother to make a knockoff.

  7. Amber says:

    I agree that there are too much hype when it comes to brand names. But I must say you pay for what you get. I bought a pair of socks from Walmart that lasted only one to two washes and compared to my socks from Macys that I have had now for a while there is a difference. An d when it comes to jeans for me qaulity deos count but I buy the $100+ at thrift stores for far less

  8. Meredith says:

    Amen, Sister.

  9. Chris Erikson says:

    While there are times that no name items are fine, in general, the store made products (even the ones made at the same plant) use lesser quality items to make their items. Not so much that it doesn’t work, but enough to annoy you to want to buy the brand name product.

    Also, a lot of brand name items now have customer satasfaction included in the purchase. For instance, Apple ipods if they break will be fixed at cost by apple. And if they break three times, they replace it for free to the consumer. Buing a cheaper MP3 player doesn’t come with this satisfaction and makes the Apple brand product more appealing.

    I would tend to agree, you do get what you pay for.

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