In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« Film Noir 101, Plus Many Self-Indulgent Musings | Main | Fat Facts »

July 31, 2004

Time for Branding?

Dear Vanessa --

Shopping in a big-box store today, I nearly fell over when I approached the toothpaste counter. The varieties and sizes of Crest alone were overwhelming. I couldn't help myself; I counted. (I don't often shop in big-box stores.) There were 32 kinds of Crest on display. Do you want a large Crest Extra Whitening Clean Mint? Or perhaps a small Crest Whitening Plus Scope? The difference between Clean Mint and Scope I can kinda picture. The difference between "Whitening" and "Extra Whitening," though, really taxes my imagination. My favorite option was a "special-edition" Spiderman container of Crest. Too much! But at least Spiderman Crest came in only one size.

Doesn't it sometimes seem as though any company that manages a popular brandname is determined to slap that brandname on as many varieties and products as it can? Plausibility, convenience, and respect for the brand's most loyal customers be damned, of course. Presumably choice is a good thing. Presumably too the companies take us for idiots.

Has this vogue for branding gone just a little too far? Or has the time maybe come to issue a Spiderman Special Edition of 2Blowhards?



posted by Michael at July 31, 2004


I like the citrus flavored Crest. My only question is: what took them so long?

Posted by: sam on July 31, 2004 8:40 PM

The sad part is that this is why we pay extra. 1) We think we're being catered to, and hell, "we're worth it!" 2) Not only advertising costs, but production costs as well to set up different machines with the different packaging to squeeze the "different" toothpaste into. 3) The extra vats and machines needed to hold the different flavors. 4) Yes, the advertising and promotion costs to come up with something different to appeal to each market. This is why a tube of toothpaste costs almost four dollars, and why for ninety-nine cents I bought one of those tube-squeezers. (At least now I don't have to cut the tube open to get my money's worth.)

Posted by: susan on July 31, 2004 8:42 PM

Take a gander at the "feminine products" aisle next time you go.....

Posted by: Deb on July 31, 2004 11:12 PM

Americans With Too Much Stuff Category. You wanna know what's really as useless as rubber lips on a woodpecker? Commercials at the movies. Went to see The Manchurian Candidate last night. Didn't mind the upcoming previews for the newest movies-you-must-not-miss, but the commercials for must-have-crap is obnoxious. Did you know there are three flavors of Aqua Velva For Men? Hell, I didn't even know they still made the stuff. "There's something about an Aqua Velva Man," is still their slogan. And now, thanks to Cool Cinema Commercials, I have "Don't ya wanna a Fanta, Fanta", zinging around my subconscious and breaking in at most inopportune moments.

Oh, the movie was great.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on August 1, 2004 12:06 AM

I have thought this same thing, but have never quite articulated it. Yes, the companies definitely think we are dummies...they do all kinds of demographic research that apparently proves it. I miss the little bitty stores in Mexico. We are so busy worrying about which brand of freaking toothpaste to buy that we forget about the bigger issues...maybe most of what is around us is a distractor...

Posted by: Michelle on August 1, 2004 12:40 AM

Adult humans have 32 teeth, Crest has 32 different kinds of tooth paste. This seems no coincidence. Maybe they just are going to convince you lot people really need to give each tooth special care.

Maybe they're just hoping to make you insecure you don't take care enough.

Posted by: ijsbrand on August 1, 2004 8:50 AM

Susan's post reminded me of what the uncle of a friend of my cousin told her: if everyone had the exact same tastes, cars would only cost $5,000.00. Makes sense.

Posted by: jerr on August 1, 2004 9:48 AM

It's easy to complain about having too many options, a particular favorite of mine is "what happened to the regular tropicana orange juice?". It would seem to behoove us not to complain so much as this might facilitate a very plausible sounding Stalin or Lenin to successfully campaign at limiting choices and thereby centrally planning our way to prosperity!
"There's far too much waste in manufacturing cars! Elect me and I'll streamline the car industry so that we all drive Yugos and then all that waste can be put to building affordable housing in grey looking mega apartment buildings."

Time would appear to take care of the sh#t that doesn't sell, supply & demand you know. Imagine those malevolent producers and advertisers pushing too many flavors of toothpaste? There ought to be a law! It is far too wasteful. Let me, the omniscient central-planner streamline the process of manufacturing (possibly taking blue-prints from the Post Office) so as to fascilitate a more just and less wasteful production process. We cannot have the advertisers brain-washing the ignorant into thinking they want these un-necessary amenities. Imagine, McDonalds! Why the good old days when the poor were poor and poor meant starving, living blissfully in a dirt floor hut -- instead of obesity and old age afflictions. When salt was a precious commodity, instead of a practically costless addition to anyones cooking practice. And now they tell us it is bad for us! Ah yes the good old days. If you didn't have sugar, you'd still have teeth! Sugar was a precious commodity in the good old days, before the low-lifes demanded it too. Now they complain about too many flavors of toothpaste! Imagine the gall. Ah the good old days where people knew their place. Where "natures" "natural" "equilibrium" culled the masses to a manageable miserable stay, and even in that: they were thankful! They had no feking choice!

Posted by: reader on August 1, 2004 10:58 AM

It's called a linear product expansion. For a market leader, the results are more shelf space, better consumer visibility, and in the long run, word of mouth free advertising. For example, this post.

Posted by: Neha on August 1, 2004 12:11 PM


What're you a tease? You tell us you went to see The Manchurian Candidate. Thumbs up? Down? More important, was Streep channeling Hillary? Give, will ya.

Too many cherces? But on the other hand, generic is so b-o-r-i-n-g.

Posted by: ricpic on August 1, 2004 12:20 PM

Costco, Wal-Mart's most dynamic challenger, stocks a highly limited assortment of products. They research what's best so you don't. It makes shopping much faster.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on August 1, 2004 9:44 PM

I don't mind the vast array of products, I just ignore it and stick to something I always buy.

What drives me nuts is how small stores in Manhattan - especially Duane Reade - have absolutely no idea how to deal with this suplus of varieties. I may have to try three establishments to get a standard variety bag of Doritos - or comparably normal product. Products that are in a store one week disappear the next.

Big boxes don't have this problem, but given that my trip between stores here is likely equivelent in walking distance to wandering around a big box and the parking lot, I guess I shouldn't complain too much.

Posted by: Jonas Cord on August 2, 2004 6:03 AM

This is off topic, but Tyler Cowan at Marginal Revolution has an interesting item about modern urban architecture (scroll to "Has rban architecture declined?")

Posted by: Ann on August 2, 2004 1:23 PM

There used to be such a thing as "regular" Tropicana Orange Juice? Wow, lifetimes ago...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 2, 2004 2:14 PM

Hey, y'know what the ever-proliferating-branding thing reminds me of? Bad software, the type that just keeps piling features on top of features, as though this were, by definition, a good thing.

To be straightfaced for a sec ... I find myself thinking -- not that I'm ready to argue this, just that I'm thinking it -- that a world of too many options obviously beats a world of too few options. On the other hand, why pretend that living in a world of too many options doesn't present its own challenges? It's like the way so many Americans are fat these days. Obviously better to live in a state of food abundance -- but at the same time, that becomes its own set of challenges. And perhaps even one that we aren't biologically well-prepared to deal with. We need to deal with it anyway, of course. But many people obviously find it hard to manage the temptation to eat too much. And, IMHO anyway, finding too many product choices kind of dizzying and a pain might be a natural response. I remember reading about a study that suggested that once a consumer has more than eight choices to choose from where a given product's concerned, he/she starts to become less likely to choose at all. Sounds very smart of Costco to limit choices!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 2, 2004 2:26 PM

The authors to read on this are Jack Trout and Al Reis. They say that brand extension is brand dilution.

From The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding:

"The emphasis in most companies is on the short term. Line extension, megabranding, variable pricing, and a host of other sophisticated marketing techniques are being used to milk brands rather than build them. While milking maybring in easy money in the short term, in the long term it wears down the brand until it no longer stands for anything."

And your Crest example is mentioned:

"When we worked for Crest, the marketing manager asked us, "Crest has thirty-eight SKUs. Do you think that's too many or too few?"
"How many teeth do you have in your mouth?" we asked.
"No toothpaste should have more stock-keeping units that teeth in one's mouth," we responded.
When we asked that question, Crest had 36 percent of the market. Today the brand has more than fifty SKUs, but its market share has declined to 25 percent. And not surprisingly, Crest has lost its leadership to Colgate.

But in taking this stand they're going up against one of the foundational legends of marketing lore: Ford v. Sloan.

Everyone's probably heard it: Henry Ford makes the no frills Model T and serlls a million of them, then Alfred P. Sloan's General Motors comes along and "differentiates" their product line, thus clobbering Ford. The moral taken away is usually that differentiation is the Holy Grail of marketing.

Which side's right? Beats me.

Posted by: Brian on August 2, 2004 4:00 PM


Tropicana, lifetimes ago? You're the one putting up posts about black&white pictures from 60 years ago. Great stuff. I'll revist that post in the future for films to start on or who knows? some, maybe revisit.

In rereading my post i happened to notice that it could be read as attributing an evaluation to your person that certainly I had no intent in doing so to you personally, hopefully of which you understood intuitively anyway, and by writing this I'm unnecessarily slowing the exchange of thoughts in this forum by pondering an acknowledged. No, much more so, I would attribute the evaluation as a third party representation of myself within the concepts conveyed.

Today I had to contemplate three different chocolate milk varieties from the same brand . . . Wha, Wha, Wha?

Posted by: reader on August 2, 2004 10:51 PM

Criticism of choice in capitalism comes from 2 directions:

1. The capitalist system produces way too many options, it would be much more efficient to just produce one variety of motorcar/toothpaste/whatever

2. The mass production of the capitalist system forces people into endless uniformity, wiping out individual expressionism. It would be much less alienating if we made all our own clothes, etc, etc.

My own opinion - it's very interesting how people carry on about the range of options in toothpaste or breakfast cereals or soft drinks, but not in status symbols like wine. Is it just because wine in all its multiple varities has been around for centuries, while 32 brands of toothpaste is a new thing? Or is it snobbery? A lot of cultural criticism looks very much like the rich criticising the tastes of the poor and middle class.

Posted by: Tracy on August 3, 2004 4:18 AM

reader: no offense taken--either too old to assimilate the information or never was that quick anyway!

Posted by: susan on August 3, 2004 11:17 AM

Toothpast connoisseurship. Maybe it's not that far off.

Check this out:

This guy has an idea for a "toothpaste hookah":

On the same subject, I bought a tube of toothpaste in Austria and it was anticeptic flavored. Like the original, yellow Lysterine. That's all they had. Didn't finish the tube. Still haven't trashed it, but I'm back on the Colgate. Not even sure of the name of the flavor. Mint gell with teeth-whitening sparkles?

Posted by: tp on August 3, 2004 12:24 PM

Definitely agreed on resemblance to software feature-creep.

Excess of choices isn't something I particularly enjoy, but, really, is it such a big deal? Perhaps I'll look over the flavors once in awhile, but I really don't care. The purpose of toothpaste is not to taste good. Is it cheap? Does it have the [ubiquitous] approval by the ADA?

In some ways I view this 'problem' as a positive thing. People need to learn how to ask relevant questions to the task at hand, ignore extraneous factors, and discipline themselves to use what is needed and do things that are good but not necessarily enjoyable. These are characteristics of mature human beings which our society seems ill equipped to promote.
Our primary social institution, the government, will probably never get involved in this. We've already, for all practical purposes, decided that individual freedom is more important than maintaining certain aspects of society. We've got a slew of self-help gurus, churches, and other secondary institutions scrambling now to fill in for these things and help people along. It'll probably be another generation or two before most people can truly internalize this change in the landscape and adapt.

Posted by: . on August 3, 2004 1:03 PM

I think there are too many books. If we could simply limit the selection to say 100 books, that would be much better. The quality would be higher, they would be cheaper and I wouldn't have to spend so much time ferreting out which are worth reading.

Posted by: JT on August 3, 2004 2:26 PM

Oh, Deb, I think it's bad enough we have to look at feminine brands. Nobody else should have to...

Posted by: annette on August 3, 2004 3:29 PM does make you wonder when they're going to come up with orange-flavored V@#gra, or pine-scented V$#gra...or something! (Hey--your spam killer works, I couldn't post this when I spelled out the whole product name!).

Posted by: annette on August 3, 2004 3:31 PM

consumer product companies do this because it makes sense. People like variety, and while it may take more time than it's worth the first time to pick out just the right tube of toothpaste, when you find a product you really like, life is good. [For me, it's Mint Snapple.] When companies leave "product space" uncovered, it creates opportunities for competitors to come in with new products. Would your consternation be the same if instead of 32 types of Crest there were 16 different brands with 2 varieties? I suspect not, that would be a triumph. [Praise be to Whiteteeth brand for finally making Orange flavored toothpaste!!] Of course, Crest would be much less happy with this state of the world, so they make all the possibilities, and leave no niches to fill.

Posted by: wph on August 3, 2004 11:30 PM

Was someone proposing an argument about public policy vis a vis choice?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 4, 2004 2:59 AM

The way you phrase the abstract thought is not in its more dialectical form and hence requires a synopsis of the evolution of government as an added extrapolation.

Posted by: reader on August 5, 2004 10:26 PM


Posted by: annette on August 6, 2004 3:34 PM

1. see Susan's response to reader above.
2. There is a time in everybody's life when you learn new words and just dying to use'em. The desire has to be commended, really.

Posted by: Tatyana on August 7, 2004 7:58 AM

Annette, Tanya: Yup, abstruse. I felt that one of the Blowhards comments warranted a reply expositing why there are more reasons than just the status quo or previous experience for government defending individual rights, mostly, in a philosophical sense these rights are negative. Negative rights evolve, just as technology, and knowledge can evolve. For example, I see that Encarta portrays Woman Rights, as they were attained during the time of the 19th Amendment, as being a positive right acquired. I disagree with that -- as woman are humans and hence are entitled to individual rights, mostly negative. How that effects Chivalry . . . time will tell.

The reply that I thought Michael bloward's comment warranted was something along the lines of how a constitutional republic that recognizes negative individual rights allows for more knowledge to be gained than any other known system of cultural agglomeration. And how that contributes to wealth creation not necessarally in dollars & cents, but also towards a life well lived in awareness and appreciation; as compared to some of the other historic commonplace societal arrangements that have occurred.

In consideration of thus, this link:

(via marginalrevolution)

offers an interesting representation of what the beliefs and considerations were in the West a hundred years ago. I'm just working my way through it right now. Recommended to skip past the verbose introduction to get to some concise opinion and explanation.

As for me not posting the reply that I thought was warranted, for one, I took heed of a previous post that considered 'procrastination'. Also, needless to say, what I posted might not of been up to the task.

Enjoy your comments. Interesting forum. I don't have an opinion on everything.

Posted by: reader on August 7, 2004 10:01 PM

"Tatyana", sorry.

Posted by: reader on August 7, 2004 11:45 PM

Public Choice Theory intro:

Posted by: reader on August 8, 2004 4:17 PM

Branding is certainly milked for all it is worth once the name is popular.

My issue with using branding on ( non healthy ) foods to persuade screaming kids to want them.

Posted by: itil on August 12, 2004 10:42 AM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?