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.