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 critical reason. But would it be enough to explain it all? What goes through our minds when we buy PL? What happens afterward? Which archetypal forces are controlling us? So let’s analyze a little.


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. So then, the obvious question becomes: “Why do we want to buy the cheap option?”

Sometimes, we can’t afford a better brand and must 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 can’t afford a better brand and must 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.


For the sake of 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 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 (the Destroyer’s name). 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.”) Those forces are mostly dormant. Often we control them. But sometimes they manage us. So, maybe when we buy PL, our Inner Orphan is in charge. Maybe it tells us that aside from all that fancy branding, all products are the same; there’s no difference regarding quality, and 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;” and that we don’t buy into all that marketing nonsense.

If our Inner Orphan is in control while buying PL, we should be cynical about all branding and design. After all, it tells us: “Pay no attention to how it looks; they are all the same.” Of course, if that were the case, 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, a PL renaissance is 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, the 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 (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 “love” what we consider “as beautiful.” Without beauty, there is no love. Without love, actions are mechanics. 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 form (beauty) is also a function (evolutionary advantage.) But when we look at the world around us, we realize that humanity separated form from the position, which is counterintuitive.

Back then, 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. Without beauty, our relationship with PL was not loyalty but 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 are we ashamed to show our choice. Finally, we feel both intelligent and pleased. And for that reason, the future looks bright for PL!

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