In a recent radio podcast, “How to Save $1 Billion Without Even Trying” (, Freakonomics author Stephen J. Dubner is speaking with several experts on why people buy national products over private label or vice versa. The question comes up: Why would people pay more for an item when a less expensive duplicate is available?

Matthew Gentzkow, professor of economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, likes to kick off such thoughts with a look at the basic background questions. He asks: “What is advertising and branding and all this stuff that companies spend so much effort on really about? Is it fundamentally about trying to inform consumers, help them make good decisions, help them identify what are the best products so they can buy them? Or, at the other extreme as a lot of people have speculated, is it really about trying to confuse people, cause them to make mistakes, convince them that stuff that really is not any better is, and get them to pay a lot of money for it?”

Nothing in our industry prickles me faster than the idea of manipulating people into buying inferior items through marketing that touts them as something special. As a consumer, I prefer to buy the best quality I can afford (be it national or own brand items), and as a branding and packaging editor, I believe brands should be putting out the highest quality products they can, even at low pricepoints. Otherwise, all this talk on brands’ reasons for being, connecting with your consumers and everything else preached goes in vain for your company: People are smart and will quickly figure out a brand for what it is — one that is out to make a quick buck.

 Last month at Packaging That Sells, we had so many wonderful examples of brands that are putting out high-quality, well-designed products and packaging that reach their targeted audience with their marketing. Sure, butter LONDON, hello, Dyson, LAY’S, method and many others are profiting. But their fans don’t mind: They are getting what they want when purchasing the brands’ items. They are getting goods that make their lives more enjoyable or better. So, as we go into our Luxury issue, consider quality and where your brand stands with it.