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In Marketing, Logic Ain't Logic
by Barry Feig

I've gotten over being surprised at the exasperation of marketers facing real life consumer reaction when it flies in the face of market research, which it invariably does. Consumer logic turns out to be so...so...illogical, essentially because it doesn't meet the marketer's preconceived ideas about the market.

The problem is, just when you think you've got it, you really don't. The only logic about the consumer market is that there really is none. Or is there?

I like to think of chaos as undiscovered logic (particularly when people make fun of my desk) and what can be more chaotic than the constant churnings of the consumer marketplace? Marketers often make their decisions based on cliche judgments, yet consumers make theirs on idiosyncratic whims at the time of purchase. So the consumer and the marketer are, at best, at basic odds with one another to begin with.

It's virtually impossible to outguess the consumer because what makes absolutely no sense to the marketing maven makes perfect sense to the consumer -- like the following:

If everyone's trying to cut down on sugar and artificial color, how do we account for such cereals as Dinky Donuts and Breakfast with Barbie? Why do premium brands of liquor continue to dominate even in a recession and especially in low-income areas? If, by law, all domestic vodkas have to be neutral, i.e. tasteless, what difference does it make what brand you buy? If something sounds too good to be true, some people will buy it anyway. If some things look too good on the package, people will buy it. But represent the product faithfully on the package and nobody will want it. In a weird sort of way, people expect to be deceived. The movie is never as good as its own coming attractions.

How can Philip Morris, well-known peddler of tar and nicotine, get away with selling 7UP based on a health claim of no caffeine with no apparent public outcry? Why do people hide their money in shoes, yet give out their credit card number to perfect strangers when buying something over the phone? If toothpaste or medicine tastes too good, people won't believe it
works or let their kids use it (this drove a V.P. at Colgate nuts). Rich taste in a cigarette, beer or liquor is good, but mention it in the context of food and it's considered unhealthy. If we all seem to be on a diet and we all spend time in the health club, how do we account for the success of Ben and Jerry's, Haagen Dazs, and cheesecakes?

How can the same people who gorge themselves on gourmet ice cream drink diet sodas?

How come real cheese is considered unhealthy but artificial cheese is considered nutritious?

Why do people insist on Arm & Hammer Baking Soda, when there is no difference between it and any other baking soda? Or Morton's Salt and generics?

When Oldsmobiles and Chevrolets come off the same assembly line with identical equipment (I've seen it), how come people pay $5,000 more for the Olds?

Why do adults, with no money bet on the game, care who wind?

What is a whipped topping, anyway?

When you see twin lobsters on the menu, how do they know? (Thanks to my friends at S&H Foods.)

If the name must be short and punchy to be successful, how do we account for "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter"?

Isn't white chocolate an oxymoron?

And then, of course, there are some products that seem so logical, one wonders why they never went anywhere. For instance, no one has succeeded in a big way of marketing a shaving cream positioned for women's legs. One new product director of a major tobacco company managed to solve the problem very quickly, simply, and logically. He shot down every new product idea brought to him!

Barry Feig, president and creative director of New Products Workshop, has helped launch products for Pepsi-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive and American Express among others.

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