Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Value Proposition

What’s your word for not-a-lot-of-money? “Value-priced?” “Inexpensive?” “Cheap?”

Despite today’s economic wobblies, there’s still a snooty reluctance to mention actual price in commercials and other advertising media. For years, Walmart’s TV executions, with their animated yellow smiley faces flying around the store like Pong icons with scissors, have been raked up one side and down the other by industry taste fairies. It seems like there’s still something wrong with calling inexpensive goods…adequate. It’ll do. Good enough.

This wasn’t always so, especially in ad examples from America’s Great Depression. In one story, I recall reading a 1930s department store owner put a sign up on a rack of men’s ties:

They’re not very good ties
but at 10¢ they’re good enough.

(Anyone know where I can find the original of this retail tale?) Take another example, from one of inventor John Frier’s companies: Alox Shoe Laces. Like his POP sign says above, there are good sets and better sets.

In any hard economic cycle, “Best is the enemy of good enough.” But for reasons of entitlement or sensitivity, it’s not acceptable to say that some goods are better or less good than others. I wonder if that applies to the scale or complexity of the product.

For example, most people know that a 2009 Beemer M6 costs one hell of a lot more than, say, a 2009 Buick LaCrosse. And for about half the Buick’s cost, you can get an adequate car that’ll get you there and back…we understand the differences in these platforms. On the other hand, tell your friends that you’ve found a superb wine for $3.50 or $4.00 and you’re gonna get laughed at. (I suppose you ought to see what I wrote about Estación, below.)

Most retail conversations never say anything outright about the price-value relationship. Even Walmart has changed its apparent presentation to the world. I say “apparent” because it’s mostly thanks to Walmart that Americans can have such relatively high-quality goods at such low prices.

The company’s slogan these days is, “Save money. Live better.” Nothing wrong with that.


Richard Laurence Baron said...

BTW: “Nickel is the preferred Standard spelling, nickle a fairly rare variant to which many people firmly object. Use nickel, especially in Edited English, for both the metal and the coin.”
--Kenneth G. Wilson (1923–). The Columbia Guide to Standard American English, 1993.

On the Money said...