Ten Thoughts On the True Value of Brands

It always pays to be just a bit cynical about the value brands provide to consumers. With that in mind, here's a list of ten thoughts that help focus my thinking when I consider buying a branded product:

1) A brand you trust and have "known" for years may not even make its own stuff. Please keep the example of Sara Lee in the front of your mind.

2) Brands are not people. They do not deserve unquestioned trust and loyalty.

3) Many consumer products companies think it doesn't matter that they don't actually make the products they sell.

4) Less expensive store brand products may actually come from the same factory as so-called branded products.

5) Therefore, it's quite possible that store brand products may be of equivalent (and even better) quality than branded items. Yet they are almost always priced at a meaningful discount.

6) For obvious reasons, consumer products companies don't advertise these facts about branded and unbranded products. It is up to us as intelligent consumers to figure this out for ourselves--and spend our money accordingly.

7) Companies should never be so dismissive of the intelligence of their customers that they would try to hide the fact that they outsource the manufacture of their products. Unfortunately, they occasionally are that dismissive.

8) Never pay a premium price for a branded product unless it provides enough of a difference in quality to make it worth it to you.

9) In a surprising number of instances, brands provide nothing more than imaginary value. Savvy consumers do not pay for imaginary value.

10) All consumers should adopt a general mindset of brand disloyalty. If you ever hold mindless, habituated loyalty to a brand, you will be consistently separated from your money.

Readers, what thoughts would you add? What do brands signify to you?

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Emmy said...

I think the premium price on brand-name products subsidizes the ability for the companies to print and the public to use coupons. Which you have to buy the Sunday paper in order to acquire, but gives you a false "something-for-nothing" feeling. Makes no sense, or cents, either. Though I'm not above sifting through my neighbors recycling bins for those who throw away the coupons, for the most part we're no-frills kind of people. :)

kasey said...

The more I think it through, the more I agree with you, and I'm going to start trying to expand my awareness of this. (I went back and reread the 2009 post, and the Tide example stuck me, as it did the first time I read the post (um, in 2009), but I'm still using Tide...)

One thing I am not so sure about is whether it matters that much that a company doesn't manufacture its own product. If Sara Lee can say it makes its cake, that really just means that it owns the factory. To me that's not a ton different than contracting out the production to a reputable factory. Yes, if Sara Lee owns their own factory there are more factors of production under their direct control. But I don't know that it's really fundamentally different.

edj3 said...

Brands mean little to me, and I can and have tried whatever is cheapest. Mostly that works fine (although I did not like the generic version of unscented, dye-free laundry detergent. Our clothes didn't quite get clean).

We look at the price and for us the price doesn't include using coupons. To Emmy's point, you have to find the coupons either in a purchased newspaper or else wade through bazillions online. Since we follow your "eat low on the food production chain" mantra, we generally don't find coupons for what we do use.

So yes, price matters. In store loyalty sales are important and of course how a food or cleaning product works is the ultimate test.

Jenna said...

Brands used to matter jack and... well. You know jack's brother.

Now, I have to be a little more brand loyal - due to celiac and some food allergies, there are now a few brands I trust over others, because straying from the faithful means I get sick.

Luckily, not a LOT of brands I have to worry about. But some names are lifelines these days.

chacha1 said...

Until someone starts offering me coupons for my yellow bell peppers and purple cauliflower, I'm going to continue blithely disregarding brands in favor of 1) price and 2) ingredients.

OOoh, but did you see the story about new, red celery? It's branded. But I may have to try it anyway when it shows up at Ralphs. :-)

Daniel said...

Some great comments so far.

Emmy, you are right and I think you've just given me a post idea. So many people get separated from their money using coupons to "save" on items they wouldn't even otherwise buy.

Kasey, thank you. I never thought about this issue either--until I just happened to see the price differential for Tide vs other products. And the rest is history, as readers of my "Brand Disloyalty" post well know.

I don't have a problem per se with Sara Lee's outsourcing decision, either. But for me it was an excellent way to highlight that there is a lot less difference between branded products and unbranded products than we think. And thus in many instances it may not worth paying a huge premium for many brands.

Kx3: you and I are pretty much on the same page here.

Jenna: Your response is what I want to hear from my readers. I just want them to think about whether a brand deserves their loyalty, rather than handing that loyalty over mindlessly.

Chacha: I'll pay extra for red celery as soon as they start offering coupons. :) I think we'll be waiting a long time...

What are other readers' opinions?


Cynthia said...

For the most part, I don't worry about branding. If it's on sale and what we need, I buy it. The most notable exception is mayonnaise: I buy Hellman's or make my own. We really like the way Hellman's tastes and I'm willing to pay extra for it.

Diane said...

For some things brand matters. Mostly no. Mostly I just buy raw ingredients, and there are no brands for bitter melon, goat or peaches.

But for laundry (Tide), mayo (Best Foods/Hellmans), cream cheese (Philly) and Coconut milk (Chaokah or Mae Ploy), Fish sauce (Golden Boy) and a few other things I won't substitute. Experience has taught me the pain of deciding to swap these out. And no matter how wasteful it is to pay a premium for these brands, it's worse to spend $$$ on a substitute, find you hate it, and then have to give or throw it away.

Anonymous said...

I have mixed feelings about my brand loyalties. Sometimes the branded item means you are really getting a higher quality product, as in Band-aids, tissues, and girl products. And my good friends Ben and Jerry, along with booze. Most of the time it really doesn't matter, and I LOVE my store brand facial scrub. Just is so much better.

It's a toss up, as in how much of it is branding, and how much of it is paying more for a higher quality product, I am willing to spend more if I know I'm going to generally get better tasting/performing stuff.

Daniel said...

Diane, Cynthia and Autumn, what you are saying is exactly what I want my readers to do. Evaluate the brands you like and buy them if they are superior and worth the money. An empowered consumer does not engage in mindless loyalty or make habituated, passive buying decisions.