does product quality decrease as marketing savvy increases?

I hope I picked the right forum for this one…

In a number of areas I get the feeling that low quality
products are being sold because marketing as a science is
getting better.

Actually perhaps it is not that simple. But can we say at
least that the quality of products is less than it would be
otherwise thanks to better marketing?

I’ve noticed the phenomenon with outdoor gear, for an example, like tents and backpacks, things like that.

They start out with some guy in his garage figuring he can make a better product, and so he does. Meticulously engineered, attention to detail, highest quality components, outstanding return policy (as if it were ever needed) and the product takes off.

Then the relatively small, but red hot, company gets bought out by TimeAOLJohnsonwaxIBMPhillipMars. They don’t give a shit about hiking, in this instance. The problem is, the bean counters aren’t necessarily interested or knowledgeable about particular products, just general business and marketing.

So, the whole operation gets shipped off to Sri Lanka (no offense, pliz) and the product goes to hell. Corners get cut, circles get squared, and the cycle begins anew.

Do you mean why are people buying more products made shoddier or why are there more shoddy products out there?

Well, the first part of the question, buying more shoddy products, is easily answered; because people can. America is in the middle of a great income boom the likes of which has not been seen since the Great Depression. People have money to blow on luxuries, and so they do. Also, the selection of shoddy products has gotten greater, like those pretty and complicated looking watches they give away on TV with each order of something. It looks great! All lumpy and bumpy, with dials and manly bezels, but, like the ‘skins’ you can get off of the Internet for your music player, about as functional. They cost about 50 cents each to produce, sell for around 70 cents apiece and retail at $5.00 at the counter. Cheaply made, functional, eye catching and with a limited life span. You probably can’t even change the battery in them. (Casio produces a data watch at $39.95 which does not allow you to change the battery without a special tool, that no one seems to have. Trying to do so without one breaks the watch.)

A certain section of consumers buy glitz by the ton. They keep thinking they’re getting a great deal.

Manufacturers also are into greater profits. Cutting corners is the name of the game. That shirt you bought from Great Brand Name Store for $50 is made of the same quality material as those bought for $14.95 at Walmart. The difference is the designer label. Manufacturers and retailers once were content to sell high volume to make a profit but somewhere along the line, they decided to make greater profits by selling less stuff at higher prices. Your $50 shirt probably is made in an over seas shop, nonunion, where workers make about fifty cents for each piece they complete, and they not only make your shirt but Walmart’s to boot.

They just sew on different label’s.

American Union garment workers would charge probably $2 for each piece, so farming the work out is more cost effective, and sewing shops over there have lower overheads because of something like no labor laws, where over here, overheads are higher because of such laws.

So, the manufactures, knowing that you will pay $50 for a shirt by Big Brand Name because they have studied your psychology and know you are a fool with money, buy them from the foreign garment makers at $4 each (notice, the high profit per shirt for the foreign factory owners – not the workers – around $2.50 per piece), then sell them to the outlet stores at around $20 each, who then sell them to you at $50, sometimes, $40 and bargain basement of $30.

The quality varies from shop to shop because each foreign shop is going to use the cheapest materials to put a shirt together with for greater profit. Higher quality shirts, however, will have a restriction on the quality of thread and buttons used. Still, plastic, shell buttons might be used to simulate real, punched shell buttons. Plastic buttons sell at $20 for 20 pounds where shell ones sell at $50 per 20 pounds.

People put up with the shoddy stuff for several reasons: 1) there is so much of it that they become uncaring with the ‘can’t fight city hall’ mentality. 2) They have grown up with it and figure it is inevitable. 3) They agree with the philosophy of ‘no profit is ever too much profit,’ which has corrupted the average mentality anyhow.

Trying to get enough people to stop buying a shoddy product in order to force the maker to do better is about like trying to stop an avalanche with a snow shovel. So many people don’t care, will not get involved, have too much ‘mad money’ or have not been stung enough in this area that it’s hard to unify them to make a change. Not to mention that many are convinced, thanks to rigged TV, radio and newspaper polls, that their efforts will not count anyhow.

Look at RONCO. He starts out with a cheaply made product, like the food dehydrator, that he sells to you only from TV for just $99.98 (the psychology here of the numbering is obvious. Keep it UNDER the desired figure, even by two cents, and people will think they are getting a deal) and people buy it. After making enough to pay off his manufacturing and advertising costs, he drops the price to $74.99. Now, the whole thing probably only cost him $10 a unit to make. He is counting on high pressure sales and your gullibility to buy the initial ‘hot’ product at a high price to recover his costs within months.

After that, the rest is profit. After about 2 years, the $99.98 food dehydrator is on sale in K-mart or Walmart at $39.95 and showing up in yard sales at $15. He has made his profit picture, and continues to make more by selling replacement parts for the unit, like a plastic food tray at $5, and it cost him 50 cents to make, or the heating coil at $9.00 that he had made at $2.00 each.

I own a dehydrator and the thing is so cheaply made that I was impressed and I got mine for $29.95 on sale. See, while plastic is from petrochemicals, and petrochemicals come from crude oil, which is soaring per barrel, curiously enough the manufacturing costs for the stuff has not gone up. (That makes you think about why gasoline and oil products are so high, doesn’t it?) ---- (SUCKER!)

Greed is the basic reason for cheaper, shoddier products.

A final example. In the late 70s I bout a Black and Decker drill from KMart for a cheap price. I bought it because I know the B&D quality from way back. Within a short time, the drill wore out so I took it apart, and found that B&D had replaced a vital central bearing with a cheap plastic one. In fact, it was a slippery plastic disk instead of a bearing. I was stunned!

Kmart, then the BIG DISCOUNTER of the time, had made a deal with B&D. They would buy X hundred thousand of the B&D household drills if B&D would sell them at Y cost per unit. B&D, naturally seeing millions here, reworked a standard product to bring the cost down. A steel bearing could be replaced with a slippery plastic disk, that would wear out with hard usage, but the drill was being marketed for home use so contractors and builders would be a low percentage of the buyers.

KMart was counting on the selling power of the B&D name and reputation. The ‘new’ drill was created and KMart stocked them predominately. Home tinkers, like me, bought them, and they probably lasted years under light usage, but I took mine into harder labor. The bearing melted. A steel one would not have. I had counted on the B&D name, not realizing the deal KMart had made which was absolutely legal.

Both parties made millions and I got stiffed. My next drill was a more expensive one, bought from a hardware store. B&D made a sizable profit and so did KMart.

Greed. Higher profits at less cost even if the quality of the product suffers. Look at cars today. When most manufacturers do this, you have limited choices and wind up buying from them anyhow. Like cars.

Quality can be defined as ‘what the customer wants’ which can include price i.e. do you want cheap and nasty or one you can’t afford ?

I suppose you can get ripped off when a product that had a reputation as been hard wearing and long lasting changes because they are trying to produce it cheaper and increase profits.

Things do change, except for old established brands that usually keep up the same ‘qualities’ that have ensured people like to buy these things.

Bob Pirsig talks at length about this concept in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”

I look it at as sort of like the Supreme Court justice talking about pornography - I know it when I see it.

With much of the consumer goods produced overseas, inflation has sort of become especially hidden. The very finest stereo equipment made is produced in the United States, but you won’t find it at Circuit City or Wal-Mart.
Why? Because it’s priced completely out the average americans budget.

I think price points have something to do with it, psychologically. A cup of coffee used to cost a dime, or a quarter, or .50 cents. Rather than raise the price, they dilute the product. Starbucks offers a superior product (probably similar to what was offered 75 years ago) but it ain’t 25 cents.

You can buy a TV stand/Entertainment center for around $20, made of particle board, and destined for the junk pile. It looks like shit. “Son, this will be yours someday…” Yeah, right. It just won’t last that long.

Corporate definition of quality;
“Meets, but does exceed, customer expectations”.
A corporation’s first duty is to maximize Total Shareholder Return. The duty owed to the customer is to do that which maintains the first duty.
Quite different than the focus of a privately owned company, which should be on the customer.

Corporate definition: There’s a sucker born every minute. Never give a sucker an even break.

To date, I cannot say that there is any company that I am aware of that actually has the well being of it’s customers really in mind, unless it is a real small, Mom and Dad operation, but those of such a type that I am aware of are even no longer client oriented but profit generated. The 80s killed off most of the real good corporations and hostile takeovers finished off many more.

Quality depends on the buyer. He has a right to reasonable quality of a good based upon the value of his money and his station in the economic striations of the local economy. A person making $6.50 an hour will buy that cheaper pack of toilet paper of 6 rolls for 150, knowing that it is loosely wound to puff it up and make it look big, and that it will have not only less sheets but be of a poorer grade paper than that .98 a roll, scented, padded, decorated, quilted, cream infused, and tinted stuff. They have a right to not have their fingers go through the wad when using it, or to have it tear everywhere but on the dotted lines.

A person buying a shirt from KMart at $6.50 expects it to last through at least 20 washings and a $14 dollar shirt to last through around 40. It should not come apart within two or three uses nor should it suddenly shrink up or warp out of shape.

I worked in the retail business for years for a major company and one of the last things they are concerned with is your desires and needs or rights, though they certainly want your buying power and bucks. Why do you think so many companies decline to recall bad products until it gets made public, even though, like Firestone, they knew months in advance that the stuff was dangerous? Bucks. Geedis. Moola. Cash. Grease. Skins. In many cases, it has been decided to be cheaper to fight lawsuits or pay out settlements outside of court than to recall a product that has been killing folks until they absolutely have to.

I observed a training meeting where a new developer had created an inexpensive product, and marketed it and did well. Pleased with his achievement, he worked on the item, found ways to cheapen the production to make a greater profit, which was fine, but he also increased the selling price of the product. It still sold. Very pleased he crowed about how he switched to cheaper materials to build his item with, saved a fortune in money, but decreased the durability of the thing and people still bought it and even better – now when their originals broke, they came back for more. His profits were soaring and he was working on increasing the selling price of the product again to make greater profits, while gushing to an appreciative audience about how he legally screwed his customers by good business practices and was now rich.

They do the same with light bulbs. It is possible to make a 75 watt incandescent, frosted bulb that will last easily over 4 years, but where is the profit in that? You’d pay more for the bulb, say $1 each, because making them durable is not expensive, but then the company making them would not have a guaranteed rolling income like they do off of bulbs lasting around 60 days.

Examine the drug companies for a great example of greed gone wild! They no longer work on drugs for all illnesses but mainly concentrate on the high profile, cash generating ones. Viagra is $10 a pill, and is made for around 75 cents a tablet and their research costs have been recovered within the first 2 years of sales, so now the rest is all profit. Look at the barrel those AIDS patients are who need medication to live and are paying thousands of dollars a month for dosages that cost around $100 a month to make. They’d probably be better being hooked on crack because they’d spend less money monthly.

Look at the airline industry. They falsely advertise their luxury aircraft, never mentioning that the goodies are only for first class and make the things look spacious through careful camera angles and you buy a costly tourist class ticket and go aboard to find you just paid several hundred smackers to ride in accommodations more closely packed than in a Greyhound bus and more restrictive! Plus, drinking on aircraft has caused more problems than smoking ever did, including injuries, death and crashes, but it draws passengers so the airlines, ever safety minded, ply you with booze in great masses in the terminal and then more on board! All for money!

Your survivability is a secondary consideration, though so long as they keep getting paid, your survivability could become just a foot note.

Passengers drinking on airplanes cause crashes?

“This is, ah, your captain speaking. We’re now cruising at 36,000 feet. If you look out the right side of the aircraft, ah, you’ll be able to see Mt. Shasta. We’re expecting a smooth ride all the way to Denver, so, ah, we’re gonna go ahead and turn off that fasten seatbelt sign. We’re also going to choose a passenger at random to fly the plane… will Mr. Curtis in seat 14B please come to the cockpit.”

Mr2001, drunk passengers have put flights in peril many times, I think there has been at least one crash, but I’m not sure of the circumstances. I think it was a smaller plane.
If you demand cites, you’ll have to wait 'till tomorrow, because I’m just not in the mood right now.
Iwonder’s reply is somewhat hostile, but that doesn’t diminish the truth of it. If the developer he/she mentioned hadn’t followed the described course of action, that person would probably be looking for another line of work.
It’s produce or perish in the business world, especially at the corporate level. And it’s never good enough. You always have to do more than last year.

Is this a Microsoft thing? In their case, the answer is yes.

Great marketing, less than great products.

I think the OP is referring to (correct me if I’m wrong) the balance between marketing and product.

It’s certainly true that one can determine the amount of available product differentiation in a market by the relative amounts of marketing dollars in that market.

As an example I point you to beer (I don’t drink it but I follow the entire marketing world as closely as I should). An enormous amount of dollars dropped on marketing the major label brands (Bud, Miller, Coors, etc) but not one whole hell of a lot of difference in the product itself. As I said, I don’t drink beer but when I served those brands at parties no one touched them, even when no alternative was available. Get a local micro-brew, however, and the stuff goes like snow in a blast furnace. In this instance, because there is no difference in product quality (and perception of that quality is low) a higher marketing budget is necessary to drive sales.

Or cars, for example. In the early 90s there was no difference (at all) between a Toyota Corolla and a Geo Prizm. Zero. Just the nameplate. But through agressive marketing the Geo was able to earn market share. Once again, no product differentiation (and general low quality) leads to increased marketing. You don’t see the Jaguar XJS advertised every 18 minutes during ball games do you?

So the answer is (IMHO) yes. There is an inverse correlation between marketing dollars spent and quality of product. So be warned when you’re tempted by a full-on hype blitz for a product.

  • Jonathan “Dir or Marketing” Chance

Okay, I have a lot of thoughts on this one. First I’ll address the core issue, then some specific points, and hopefully it’ll sound coherent.

First, on the issue of quality vs. marketing. Caveat emptor. (I’ve posted here like 4 or 5 times, and I’ve already said that twice now). Buyer beware. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. People/companies marketing low quality/useless products is no new phenomenon. The most famous example I can think of is all of the “amazing” or “miracle” tonics and elixirs sold in the 1800’s. The fact is, if somebody can figure out a way to convince you to buy a pile of crap, they will. Today, there’s a few more laws out there to protect consumers, but companies can basically still wriggle around the truth. They just cannot out right lie to you or trick you. The reason cheap crap is being sold today is not because marketing is any more savvy (comparative to the savvy of consumers) than it was 150 years ago. It’s just that there is still, was, and always will be foolish people who will buy cheap stuff.

However, its not just foolish people who buy the crappy stuff. We are a pretty material society. Stuff=status.
So, I can buy that green tee at Walmart or the Nike store, with the difference being a Nike logo, more or less. Why would I do that, being there is about a $20 price difference? Because Nike has spent money on Marketing to present itself as a status product. Pro athletes I like wear Nike, I need to also. Now, Nike’s profit margin is larger than Walmart’s, but don’t think that shirt cost both companies the same. Nike’s advertising budget is built into the price of that shirt, hence the price of Nike Status is built into that shirt. Intrinsically, you get more value with that Nike shirt. To stave off an attack I see already: I would be willing to bet Nike’s advertising budget is a much larger percentage of costs than Walmart’s.

Now, there’s another reason we buy low quality, and it has little to do with marketing. We are a very impatient society. With a few exceptions, most of us do not want products that will last 25 years. We get bored with it and want something new in a couple of years. If it wears out, there is no guilt about tossing it out and getting a new one. Now this point I make could be debated, some could say marketing has conditioned us to want new new new. Maybe it has helped, but advertising has never MADE me buy something. Helped my thought process along, yes. Made, no.

Scattered thoughts:

I’ve worked retail-hated it. Yes, there is a greater concern amongst corporations for profits than customer satisfaction. There is a lot of word play about how important customers’ needs being met are, and that word play is usually lacking conviction. CEO’s know, however, that if you ignore consumers too much, somebody else will knock you off your pedestal. It’s just too competitive out there. Or else you merge, merge, merge until you own half your competition…that’s another thread.

The beer industry is made on the status through advertising thing. What scares the hell out of the big boys was that it became cool in some segments of society to drink hard to find, various-flavored beers. These little guys barely needed to advertise. Miller bought Leinenkugel’s in 1988 and A-B made macro-micros through Michelob to try and stem this. I could talk beer marketing all day. But I won’t.