On being ... brand concsious

By Ingrid Sapona

I’m not a brand snob, nor have I ever been terribly impressed with things simply because of the brand they might be. And, I find it odd when brand names are prominently displayed on the outside of things like clothing. I know, some people want everyone to know they’re wearing a Hilfiger this, or a Roots that. But honestly, am I the only one who thinks labels belong on the inside?

Indeed, maybe I should be embarrassed to admit this, but I once discreetly mentioned to a woman after an exercise class that it seemed there was something small, but quite bright, stuck on her behind. It looked like one of those florescent orange price stickers stores use to show sale prices.

She seemed genuinely appreciative of my mentioning it and when we got back to the ladies change room we both had a closer look. It turned out to be the brand label intentionally sewn into the seam on the outside. Needless to say, I was embarrassed I drew her attention to it, but she seemed equally embarrassed that the label drew attention to her behind. Why would a manufacturer do that? (True, it got my attention -- but for all the wrong reasons!)

Don’t get me wrong -- I pay attention to brand names for some things. To me, a brand represents a certain standard of quality and uniformity of manufacture. I’m willing to pay a bit more for brand names for products I rely on to be of the same quality over time -- things like tea, toothpaste, underwear, etc.

Recently, my faith in brand names and the quality I’ve assumed goes with them has been shaken. The first tremor was caused by a report on the Today Show about holiday shopping at manufacturers’ outlet stores. Though I’d noticed that the number of outlet stores has grown exponentially over the past 10 years or so, I never wondered why. I always thought outlet stores sold seconds or “irregulars”, or stuff from the previous season that didn’t sell.

According to this report, however, many companies actually manufacture items just for their outlet stores. Often these products look like that manufacturer’s regular goods, but they’re made of lower quality materials and are less durable. To the untrained eye (or at least when looked at from a distance) they may look the same, but they aren’t the same quality. I guess that explains the proliferation of outlet stores.

The second, and more discouraging, realization that a brand name doesn’t necessarily guarantee the quality I might expect came last week when I was shopping for a television. I had done some preliminary research and had decided about the type, size (37"), and amount I was willing to spend. I had also decided I’d buy it at an electronics store my family has shopped at for years. This store carries a wide selection at competitive prices, they’re well known for their service, and the salespeople are not on commission, so they don’t pressure you.

Because it was a Saturday before Christmas, I went to the store early. The prices and brands of 37" sets were the same as I’d seen elsewhere. As well, they had a 40" in a brand I was interested in and it was $100 cheaper than the same brand’s 37". I asked a salesperson why the price difference on that set and he immediately said, “That was one of our Black Friday specials and we still have a few.”

On closer examination of the specs I noticed a few differences between the 37" and 40", but they were in things that, frankly, I didn’t think I’d notice at home. The 40" seemed like a good deal. But, I needed to think about it and consider whether that size would fit the room.

Later that day I went back to get the 40". Before handing the salesperson my credit card I had one more question: I asked whether he thought the store’s five year extended warranty (which was $99) was “worth it”. Without skipping a beat he said, “On that set it’s DEFINITELY a good idea -- that’s our Black Friday special.”

The authority with which he spoke and unequivocal nature of his comment compelled me to ask whether they’d experienced problems with that model. He said, “Well, no -- we’ve only had it a couple weeks so it’s too early to tell -- but it’s our Black Friday special.” Still not clear about the implications of it being the Black Friday special, I asked what that meant. He explained that over the past few years companies have become very sophisticated and they manufacture Black Friday specials specifically to a price point. Naturally, to do this, he explained, they use lower grade components.

I told him I thought so-called Black Friday specials were just loss leaders intended to bring folks into stores. He said that they are, but now manufacturers have come up with a way of maintaining their margin and pleasing retailers by offering models specifically manufactured as Black Friday specials. I was astounded -- and even a bit skeptical -- but that might explain why I hadn’t seen any 40" models by that brand a few months ago when I started looking at televisions.

Well, this information certainly brings a whole new meaning to the idea of “special”. In the end, I didn’t go with the Black Friday special; I went with the 37" I had originally had my eye on and I skipped the extended warranty. Time will tell whether I made the right choice.

I don’t know about you, but these revelations make me angry and reduce the limited appreciation I had for brand names. I have no problem with a company that offers a range of products at different prices -- like a book being available in hardcover or paperback. But, a company putting its name on an item and marketing it at a “sale” price when, in fact, it purposely manufactured that item to a lower standard seems dishonest.

So, next time you’re jealous that someone’s wearing this brand of X or has that brand of Y, take heart -- there’s a good chance the item isn’t quite what it appears to be.

© 2009 Ingrid Sapona


Post a Comment

<< Home