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
Everywhere you look someone, somewhere,
is proclaiming that his products are of the highest quality,
that his company is the leading provider of
None of those grand-sounding adjectives ever needs to be
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
that one before?
. . . 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
best thing I can say about them is that their prices are the
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.