Brand Inundation

I went to the supermarket yesterday to get myself a toothpaste. After crossing several shelves, I finally found the toothpastes’ rack. There were hundreds of brightly colored and neatly arranged rectangular parallelepipeds proudly staring at me, subtly hinting their numerical dominance. But I wasn’t there to be overpowered. I had a preference. I had a brand name in mind. “Just pick it up and drop it in the basket.” — That’s how simple I thought it was. But I couldn’t be more wrong. Only if selection was that easy.

My brand was Colgate. So, I went past the other brands and found myself staring blankly at the bright red facade of the great Colgate wall. Here’s what I found in the Colgate inventory.

  • Colgate Dental Cream
  • Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief
  • Colgate Max Fresh
  • Colgate Active Salt
  • Colgate Total
  • Colgate Sensitive
  • Colgate Kids
  • Colgate Herbal
  • Colgate Cibaca
  • Colgate Fresh Energy Gel
  • Colgate Max white

Wait. I thought I’d just pick up the ‘white paste’ and get the hell out of that place. And what’s ‘Dental Cream’? Am I supposed to smear it gently over my teeth after which a motley crew of intelligent atoms spring into action and kick the plaque’s ass? And then there’s ‘Sensitive Pro-Relief.’ I knew the ad on TV where an excessively charitable, white-aproned doctor hands over toothpastes to the passers-by, asks them to try it out for a week, and then waits for them to come back only to tell them that their dental weakness has been reduced by 99.9 percent. Where’s the doctor? Never mind. Perhaps Pro-Relief was what I regularly used. But wait. What’s the difference between Sensitive Pro-Relief and Sensitive? Does Colgate Sensitive ‘lack’ pro-relief? If Colgate Total ensures total protection, what do the other pastes do? I hate gels and certainly don’t fancy having celebrities with camera crews in my living room whenever I have a toothache.

I knew one thing for sure. The kids’ versions of Colgate have minimal (or zero) amounts of Fluoride and pictures of cartoon characters on their cover. But that wasn’t it. There were packs with pictures of Dora the explorer, Spongebob Squarepants and Transformers (for tweens, apparently). Not to mention the multicolored, fruit-flavored Colgate 2-in-1. So the kids weren’t free from (inter-) brand inundation either.

Such were the thoughts going through my mind as I tried to identify the good old Colgate I always used to buy. While it’s agreeable that different variants of toothpastes are inevitable in the portfolio of a multinational company like Colgate, I also realized that the brands do this on purpose. They intentionally throw the customer into a twisted labyrinth of their own products so that the customer only moves from one of their products to another product (of the same company, of course) if he’s not satisfied. This was the perfect example of The Paradox of Choice the term coined by Barry Schwartz, an American Psychologist.

When people make a choice from an extensive choice set, they tend to be less motivated to choose, less willing to buy and less satisfied with their choice (Iyengar & Lepper, 2000). When confronted with a great number of options, people tend to have a more difficult time making a choice. This has been dubbed the paradox of choice by Schwartz (2000). Schwartz argues that when assortments are large, consumers have greater expectations of the option that they choose. While making the choice, they anticipate regret. And they will experience regret, because of the increased expectations they have. Consumers are simply less happy with a choice from a large assortment.

Classical Economics operates under the assumption that all the customers are rational, have full information about the product, and make a choice that maximizes their benefit. Based on the above anecdote, the customer:
  • Is rational (at least, by human standards)
  • Doesn’t have full information about the product(s)
  • Hasn’t made a choice yet (and hence, isn’t a Homo economicus).

To sum this up, here’s what I feel about brand inundation — While a large assortment is successful in getting a lot of customers, it inundates the customer with too many choices and renders him helpless, effectively making him lay the blame on himself for his poor selection.

My choice? I walked out empty-handed from the supermarket and got my paste from a kirana store below my house. Turns out, the paste the shopkeeper gave me was exactly what I needed.

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