Battling Brand Malpractice


With private label brands currently accounting for more than one-third of all shopping cart purchases in the U.S., it’s safe to say that our depressed economy has done wonders for the private label sector.

But at what cost to name brands? A national or retail brand imbued with its own positioning, a unique selling proposition and a one-of-a-kind look and feel is a gold mine. However, the fact that retailers have access to the newest products and latest positioning by leading national brands enables them to steal valuable colors, shapes, symbols and keywords for the design of their own private label brands—a phenomenon that can and should be described as “brand malpractice.”

Adding insult to injury is the fact that many of these same retailers play God with consumer product manufacturers by selecting their own shelf placement.

Retailers would do well to acknowledge that they can’t be good at everything. With studies showing that an average of five parking lots are visited during a typical shopping day, it’s clear that consumers will cross-shop if iconic brands—and increasingly their line extensions—are muscled out of retail.

The playing field should be leveled with the understanding that it’s the customer, not the retailer, who will always be king. So how do consumer product manufacturers and retailers play well together? By recognizing that consumer tastes and rituals are the final word, and that national brands and retailers need each other.

The fact that private label brands are prospering in today’s economy is no surprise. Time and time again, consumers across all income levels, even those in the $100,000 plus range, turn to private label products as a money-saving strategy during times of crisis.

This hearkens back to the early 1970s, when baby boomer moms would fill Wheaties boxes with generic cereal or pour no-name vodka into empty bottles of Absolut. Why did these boomers go to such great lengths to keep up appearances? Because brands like Wheaties in the pantry, Heinz ketchup on the dinner table and Gold Bond Powder in the medicine cabinet helped them feel safe during troubled times. These iconic brands represent an idealized past and still enable aging boomers, who account for approximately one-third of all purchasing power today, to reach for a box, bottle or tube of reassurance.

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