Why do we buy private label brands?

Almost all of us buy private label brands (PL). But have you ever wondered why? Low price is, of course, the key reason. But does it suffice to explain it all? What goes through our mind when we buy PL? What happens afterward? Which archetypal forces are controlling us? Let’s analyze a little.

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As said above, we buy PL, primarily, because of its economic value. For almost a century, we have been conditioned to think that way. We intrinsically assume that PL is the cheap option. Oddly, though, experiment after experiment, neuroscientists demonstrated that our brain is wired to think, “If a product is expensive, it must have higher quality” regardless of its actual quality. Then, the obvious question becomes: “Why do we want to buy the cheap option?”

Sometimes, we just can’t afford a better brand and have to settle for the PL. But sometimes, even though we can afford a more expensive brand, we buy the PL. What about that? What is going on there? The answer might lie in our collective unconscious.

Sometimes, we just can’t afford a better brand and have to settle for the PL. But sometimes, even though we can afford a more expensive brand, we buy the PL. What about that? What is going on there? The answer might lie in our collective unconscious.

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For the sake of the argument, let’s define an archetype as a “universal way of thinking, acting and living.” For sure, we are all unique. That said, should we look at the stories that we are living (or mythic stories of the past), we would notice some emerging patterns: Sometimes we all act bravely (call for the Hero). When in doubt we all seek guidance (call for the Sage). When required we bend the rules (call for the Destroyer). And we all need order and control in our lives (call for the Ruler), etc. Similarly, we all have an “Inner Orphan,” who is cynical about life. That little child lacks trust in people and organizations in general.

We all have those archetypes (or to put it more correctly as the great James Hillman said: “Ideas that we don’t know we have, have us.”) Most of the time those forces are dormant. Often we control them. But sometimes they manage us. So, maybe when we are buying PL, our Inner Orphan is in charge. Maybe it tells us that aside from all that fancy branding, all products are same; that there’s no difference regarding quality; that the manufacturers of the PL and name brands are the same. Maybe the doubter in us, by being cynical, tries to protect us from marketing gimmicks. Maybe it is afraid of falling victim to commercialism. Maybe by doing so, our Inner Cynic is telling us that we are “smart shoppers;” that we don’t buy into all that marketing non-sense.

If our Inner Orphan is in control while buying PL, then we should be cynical about all branding and design, right? After all, it tells us: “Pay no attention to how it looks, they are all the same.” If that were the case, though, then all PLs should have looked faceless, characterless and bland. In all fairness, that used to be pretty much the case. But, as we discussed earlier, there is a PL renaissance going on. Retailers are upping the ante in design, launching aesthetically appealing brands. How about that? After all, the Orphan doesn’t trust appearance, right? Well, maybe that isn’t the only archetype in charge!

According to James Hillman, the founder of archetypal psychology, soul, first and foremost, yearns for beauty. Indeed we’re unconsciously attracted to beauty. Beautiful objects, images, and faces arrest our life and take over our attention. When we encounter beauty, we automatically stop and pay attention (a beautiful scenery, a magazine ad with a beautiful face, a nice pair of shoes on a shop’s window, etc.) We also cannot help but to “love” what we consider “as beautiful.” Without beauty, there is no love. Without love, actions are mechanic. Hillman also says that the soul of the world (anima mundi) is not any different. In life, being beautiful is advantageous. That means, what we often consider as form (beauty) is also a function (evolutionary advantage.) But when we look at the world around us, we realize that humanity separated form from function, which is completely counterintuitive.

Back in the day, PL used to embody the “pure function, no appeal” line of thinking. We used to buy PL brands. But deep down we were ashamed to be associated with them. We would not proudly tell our dinner guests that the ingredients of their food were PL. In the absence of beauty, our relationship to PL was not loyalty: It was enslavement.

The PL renaissance is turning that dynamic upside down. Aesthetically appealing PL brands arrest our attention. Their beauty makes us fall in love with them. We care for what we love. No longer we are ashamed to show our choice. Finally, we feel both smart and pleased. And for that reason, the future looks really bright for PL!

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  1. Pingback: Branding luxury

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