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Budweiser is a perfect case study of the lowest quality product, with marketing, being described, with meaningless descriptions, as one of the highest quality. Misleading advertising removes, to the consumer's eyes, the real lack of quality. Meaningless descriptions are the name of the game today. Long live Budweiser, the highest quality lowest quality beer I've ever had.

Home / Economics /
The Lack Of A Lack Of Quality

Choicest quality?   The founder of Anheuser-Busch called his King of Beers "dot schlop" and opted instead for wine

Have you ever been to a supermarket and read a label for an item which said "Made with only the lowest quality ingredients?"  Ever seen a resume, where the applicant admitted, under skill sets, that he didn't have many?  Or noticed a restaurant sign, prominently displaying "Lack Of Quality . . . since [fill in a year far enough back to make the restaurant seem like a historical institution]."

Everywhere you look someone, somewhere, is proclaiming that his products are of the highest quality, that his company is the leading provider of such-and-such.  None of those grand-sounding adjectives ever needs to be qualified.  You and I know this obviously can't be true.  If everyone were manufacturing or featuring products of the most sublime quality, then there'd be no such thing as low quality.  And yet we know from the broken DVD player and vacuum cleaner sitting in our garage, which never worked well and malfunctioned completely just after the warranty period ended but remain cost-ineffective to fix, that plenty of stuff out there, in fact most of it, is low quality. 

We live in a marketing age, the age where the sizzle most definitely counts more than the steak.   It's not that important if something is good; it's far more important how effective one is in getting out the message that it's good. 

The companies know consumers can't be that stupid to believe that everything they say is of the highest quality actually is.  They also know that if enough companies are shouting into a potential customer's ear an almost identical message that their product is super special, perhaps using a celebrity to shill it, then the customer will grow more confused and find it more difficult to figure out which of the companies really does make the highest quality.   Quality ceases to become an easy saleable issue if everyone's boasting they've got it.    

Still, salesmen never cease to use it.  It's one of their favorite defenses, when a customer tries to beat them down on price.  "We prefer to rest our reputation on quality, not price."  Heard that one before? 

Advertising, marketing  . . . and yes, salesmen are misleading.  If I am a salesman working for computer company ABC, then I'm going to try to sell you an ABC computer, regardless of its alleged quality.  If you ask me if ABC makes the best computers, it'd be similar to asking a tourist filling out a United States visa application if he intends to overthrow the American government.  There can only be one correct answer.   If I eventually decide to leave the employ of ABC for computer company XYZ so I can earn higher commissions, and were I queried by a potential customer if XYZ makes superior merchandise to ABC, you already know what I'm going to have to say.   This is all notwithstanding that company DEF actually manufacturers the best computers.  But do you honestly believe I am going to tell the prospect that?     

Similarly, can you imagine an applicant coming into a job interview and being asked what makes him special, and the applicant responding, "Not much, but the job isn't anything special."  The burden is on the applicant to come up with something distinctive about himself, even if there isn't anything to report.  In an increasingly impersonalized society, you're forced to set yourself apart from the crowd by embellishments.  Filing papers and depositing them into their appropriate baskets for processing in your previous job becomes on your resume "categorized multimillion dollar accounts by name, type, and cost for onward billing processing and retrieval."

In effect, we've all become mercenary whores, expressing loyalty to whomever is currently paying our wage.  The advertising director at the multinational agency who slobbered to get the account for a huge multinational company has to portray that company in the best possible light, to tweak, adjust, or even fabricate an image that sells that company's products to consumers.  If ethics come into play and the advertising director refuses that multinational company's accounts because of prior dubious business practices, some other agency will land the account and do the tweaking, adjusting, and fabricating.  Likewise, if the computer salesman at XYZ tells an inquiring mind that ABC and DEF make better computers, he'll find himself not making any commissions and soon out of a job.  There's not much room for ethics in the equation. 

I don't portray myself as an innocent here.  I've marketed products that were not of the highest quality and yet depicted that they were.  What choice did I have?  Could I really have said, "We're half the quality of the leading brand, but only a quarter of the price"?   In some cases, companies do come to market with the best product/service and charge a premium for it, and in those circumstances, they're not lying when they spout the usual clich├ęs.  But seriously, how many products or services can land at the top of the heap?  How many of us can be special or be #1?   Most of the marketplace isn't looking for the best product either; they want the best value.  Bill Clinton was able to question the meaning of the simple word "the" when he was being impeached.   If the definition of "the" can be debated, then companies have a field day manipulating the nebulous definition of "value."

We can't blame the companies entirely.  We, as consumers are guilty, too.   It's every company's objective to place their products and services into the right market niche.  A large number of consumers really want the cheapest price and will take an inferior quality product if that's what it means.  But if the companies became more honest and advertised products with variations of quality, like "superior low quality" or "the very highest medium quality" or "low grade high quality", would we respond by buying their products?  We're complicit in the mess.   In public, we say we want the highest quality and won't settle for less, but in reality, we'll purchase lower quality to save money. 

I can give you a real life example.  My brother got me interested in a company that, by most accounts, makes some of the highest quality essential oils anywhere in the world.  You can't buy them in your local stores.  These therapeutic-grade oils must be ordered online, and they cost a hefty premium.    A small 5 ml bottle of their rose oil costs more than US$200.  Doing a very quick internet search, I found another company offering a 15 ml bottle of "incredible" rose oil, supposedly infused for over 5 years, that costs only US$19.95.  Comparing the two products, ml for ml, the second oil is less than 4% of the cost of the first.  I'm sure the therapeutic grade oil company is making plenty of profit per bottle, but not 80% profit margins.  The essential oil market is too competitive for that.   I'd guess the cheaper oil will still smell like roses, but have a less expensive base, like almond oil, to account for the significantly cheaper cost.  They have to be cutting corners somewhere.  The cheaper companies are less-than-forthright about admitting this.  They wouldn't sell much rose oil if they called it almond oil with a scent of rose. 

As consumers, we're more likely to purchase the cheaper rose oil.  If interrogated, none of us would admit to wanting an artificial oil.  We'd say we want the real deal, but when shown a $200 price tag, we're willing to let ourselves be convinced the cheaper oil is just as good, but we can't do this if the companies are perfectly honest. 

So, if anything, we are the real hypocrites.  We may complain about lower standards but we, through our wallets, encourage them.    There's a huge mail order vitamin reseller in the U.S. that over a decade ago, I referred to my father.  They claim on their web site "Guaranteed Highest Quality."  The best thing I can say about them is that their prices are the cheapest.  They are certainly not the highest quality, and I've got to wonder how they can guarantee something so intangible.  When I first started purchasing their calcium tablets, I noticed they were manufactured with trans fats, one of the worst things you can put in your body.  My father to this day continues to order from them.  I don't believe he's fooled for a second that the products are high quality, but he, like the rest of us, likes to pretend he's fooled to convince himself he's getting a great bargain.

Our desire for higher standards have both raised the ceiling on the best we can expect as well as broadened the marketplace for inferior versions claiming to offer the best.   Next time you go shopping, remind yourself that you're the reason "quality" is everywhere.

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