Economists: Is There A Collective Term For This Type Of Product/Service (explained in OP)

I’m looking for a term that describes the economy that relies on the purchaser pretending that they aren’t purchasing the product for the reason they’re purchasing it.

For example, at the head shop, you don’t buy a bong. You buy a water pipe, because you’re going to use it for smoking tobacco or eucalyptus, you see… You don’t buy whippits. You buy whipped cream propellant, because you’re going to use it for pastry needs, wink wink. You don’t buy poppers. You buy room deodorizers, because you want your room to smell like a high school locker room after a football game. Or you play the slot machine at the bar, which is clearly marked “for amusement only,” and you absolutely do not redeem the tickets it dispenses for cash or free drinks or whatever.

A YouTuber used the term “gray market,” but the Wikipedia definition doesn’t seem to match this interpretation (“gray market” has to do with items being sold outside of the manufacturers’ intended distribution channels; like computer parts to the general public rather than to authorized dealers).

Anyone knowledgeable in economics care to take a crack at this?

I often wonder how many vibrators are actually used for massages

All of them - they massage the clitoris, the anus, the nipples, etc. etc. etc.

If no one comes up with an answer, you should call it the, Wink, wink, grin, grin, nudge, nudge, say no more strategy.


My Dad has one. It has a round metal plate near one end, about 2.5-3 inches in diameter. It originally had a heating element, but that part no longer works. And it is LOUD–you can hear it through a closed door and across two or three rooms.

The overall look of the thing is fairly similar to this, although most of the details are different.

A lot of pornographic material was marketed as being intended for artistic or scientific interest.

“The pictures of nude models in this magazine are intended as an aid to those with an artistic interest wishing to study human anatomy.”

“This fictional depiction of a group of co-eds engaging in sexual acts is intended as a serious psychological study for those wishing to conduct research into the modern sorority lifestyle.”

I believe is some cases, these disclaimers were a legal necessity. Material could be banned if it was determined its intent was purely sexual entertainment. So publishers had to claim the material had some value beyond just sex.

The nearby thread about the slot machine that wasn’t gambling might be another case in point.

Something along the lines of “legal fiction”?


Smut, Tom Lehrer.

There’s a couple of subgenres here.

  1. Things, e.g. bongs, that are sold as something they are not to skirt a regulation. “Bath salts” and other “designer drugs” meant to stay one jump ahead of the regulation writers are a closely related idea.

  2. Things, e.g. personal massagers, that are sold as something they are not to minimize customer embarrassment and therefore minimize the customers’ barrier to purchasing.

I don’t have a good name for either, but I think if they do have accepted names, they’ll be different. I’ll check with my family resident economics prof; he may have an idea.

In the world of engineering, there is a term “dual use technology” I.e. technology that has use in military as well as civilian use.

For example : alloys used in gas turbines for power plants can be used in military use jet engines

Centrifugally cast alloy pipes can we used in Nuclear Reactors or Fertilizer making steam reformers.

Usually the sale of such items require end user certificates and government oversight.

The plain brown wrapper economy.

I got a hold of him. He was not aware of any “official” term like this in academic economics.

In the course of discussion we coined the term “Euphemistic market” to describe both the “plain brown packaging” market (all thanks to Nemo) and the “skirt the regs” or “fool the Man” market.

@kenobi_65 is a career advertising / marketing dude. If anyone knows what those folks call this idea it’d be him. He oughta see the Obi-signal I just sent up pretty soon.

I’m not immediately aware of a specific term for this sort of thing. Googling tells me that the term “illicit trade” could potentially cover this, as one form of illicit trade is “any licit product for non-licit purposes as defined by international law” (source). But, that still doesn’t give a specific name for things like water pipes and whippets. :wink:

If I may jump in on this one. In financial markets terminology, the term “grey market” indicates the market where operators provide a close substitute for a regulated product without meeting the legal definition of that product, and thus without being subject to the same regulation.

For instance, the activity of taking deposits is core banking business, and can therefore only be done by a licenced bank. Money market funds provide an opportunity to invest in short-term assets in a manner that, in economic terms, can come close to deposit-taking, but legally it isn’t deposit-taking, and therefore does not require a banking licence. Similarly, the grey securities market refers to over-the-counter trading in securities as opposed to on a regulated market.

So the key characteristics of the “grey” market are that it isn’t regulated (or at least not to the same extent as the fully regulated market), but its not illegal either because it doesn’t meet the legal definition of the regulated business.

“What sets us apart from other banks is that other banks are banks.”