Why all those types of toothpaste?

I was shopping for toothpaste and there were a billion different types:

-Extra fluoride
-Fresh breath
-24 hour protection
-Sensitive teeth
…and several others I don’t remember now. Note that all those were from a single maker only, some of them come in different flavours and there were 4 or 5 different brands, so there were several racks full of toothpaste!
Why so many different types of toothpaste? Are they really different or is it just a marketing gimmick? Is it impossible to combine all those properties in a single toothpaste?

It is a marketing gimmick. Take a look at the food shelves in your store. It’s the same thing there. Every now and then the manufacturer launches a new and “better” product just to get your attention.

There are actual differences in the formulation of the different types of toothpaste (you forget the gel vs. paste), but the variety is due to marketing and the fact that people feel they need a certain type of toothpaste. I, for instance, don’t buy whitening (I’m not convinced it won’t do damage). Some people do have sensitive teeth and the ingredients in those helps them. But for the most part people decide they want a particular set of features in their toothpaste and want to buy formulations that match what they want to have.

On a tangentially related note, you can read Malcolm Gladwell’s article about why we have dozens of popular varieties of mustard and spaghetti sauce, but only one popular variety of ketchup:


Right. Have you counted how many kinds of Coke there are? Gatorade? (Remember when there was just one of each?) It is market saturation. The more varieties you offer, the more likely someone will pick your product over a competitor, and the more shelf space you can suck up.

It’s just sound marketing.

Why please 19 customers if we can please 20? Company X doesn’t want to leave a gap in the market that Company Y could exploit.

It’s also a way of growing the market. People who want to sell lots of toothpaste stand to gain if they collectively encourage the public to think there are many different, special types of toothpaste to try or to benefit from. The fact that the actual formulation may differ only slightly if at all is beside the point.

Also, to some extent people like to think they are exercising some choice and making a discerning judgment. The trick is to give the consumer just enough choice to make this feel satisfying, but not so much that it becomes overwhelming, tedious or likely to give rise to anxiety about making the wrong choice.

That was awesome, thanks!

I second the motion. One of my favorite non-fiction essays ever.

According to my dentists, you are just as well off brushing with a little powdered baking soda and water. The amount of fluoride in most toothpastes is not significant, and most of the ingredients are inactive.

I remember an interview with some toothpaste company head researcher who basically said that all the different types of toothpaste where just meant to keep people brushing long enough. Apparently toothpaste doesn’t do its magic if you brush for less than 3 minutes and all the different types with peroxide, baking soda, silly flavors, etc were all about producing different pleasurable mouth sensations so that people will brush for long enough.

I think it’s all about shelf space.
A friend’s first job as a business student was inspecting supermarket shelves for his company.
Every product had to be displayed with a specific number of rows on the shelf, as specified in the contract with the supermarket.And he told me that the company created variations (differently scented, colored, etc ) of products because it guarranteed an extra row on the shelf . The supermarket management would hesitate to display 10 rows of identical product; But 10 “different” products ,of one row each, looked better, and sold better.

I’d like to point out that “marketing” is used in a pejorative or dismissive sense. As Gladwell points out it’s about identifying what people want and then serving that desire or need.

Once you reach a certain base standard of product, all you have are variations on the theme that appeal to different people. Some people prefer extra-chunky pasta sauce, other people prefer spicy pasta sauce. It doesn’t mean extra-chunky is better than spicy or vice versa. Nor does it mean that extra-chunky is just a “gimmick”.

Having dozens of flavours or types of any product is a legitimate approach to fulfilling a demand and an illustration of good marketing.

Companies often barrage the consumer with so much apparent choice that we have no real idea which is best product for us… I almost never remember which toothpaste I bought last time, so I just go for whatever is on sale from the same manufacturer.

I think many people do it this way and therefore to be successful, the company tries to occupy the most shelf space… hence the innumerable, almost identical products. Just to keep us off balance, they keep changing the packaging too.

I think this is what Scot Adams of Dilbert fame calls a confuseopoly.

Not ALL the manufacturers seem to do this though. They use the same packaging all the time and they only have one or two varieties.

Oh, and mecaenas
Marketing is the opposite of what you and Gladwell say it is. It is (I think), serving the need or desire (of the manufacturer) by making people want something.

Riiight. Gladwell is wrong, and I’m wrong, and all the professional marketers I know are all wrong. Marketing is about tricks and deception because one guy on an internet message board says so.

I have known and worked with professional marketers too, and I have been a consumer for decades. I have not taken marketing classes and I do not know Gladwell’s work. That said, it is evident even to the casual observer that marketing has more than one face. Part of marketing is to discover the preferences and needs of the market and exploit those needs. (I do not say “serve” because, with rare exception, companies’ missions are to make money, not altruism.) Multiple varieties of a base product are a combination of meeting needs, and stimulating need. But it’s simply disingenuous to deny that marketing uses gimmicks and misdirection.

The objective of marketing is to take advantage of consumer behavior to be able to sell product. Sometimes that means meeting needs, sometimes it means creating needs, sometimes it means pretending that a product will meet needs that it does not.

People by nature notice when things change. They tend to fatigue from sameness, and desire something different; car styling is the classic example. Marketers understand this and the oldest cliche in the book is “New and improved!” That meets a need only in the sense that the marketers use what they know about human behavior to retain the consumer’s attention.

Remember FDS? Women were suddenly being told in advertisements that they needed genital deodorant. These ads caused at least some women to suddenly become aware of a problem that they didn’t realize they had (and didn’t in fact have) but figured they’d better do something about.

The recent ads for young mens’ products like a body spray whose name escapes me show women wildly attracted to men who use the product. Now I will allow that young men perhaps have a need for women to be wildly attracted to them, but marketing a spray that way doesn’t seriously “meet a need.”

Danika Patrick is hot but what in the world does that have to do with domain names at GoDaddy? Puh-lease don’t try to tell me this is meeting a need. It’s a gimmick to get attention. Countless products are advertised by associating it with desirable sexual scenarios, either subtly or blatantly. Weight loss, cosmetics, fitness, pharmaceuticals. You name it, they market it with sex. But none of these products actually get you more sex.

A professor of consumer psychology (or something similar) also said so on a TV program I saw last week.

There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding the term ‘marketing’.

‘Marketing’ is the optimisation of a company’s relationship with its chosen market.

It involves a range of related activities. These include market research (trying to understand what people want, and what they are going to want), product development (trying to build a better moustrap), positioning (figuring out which end of the market to cater to) and so on.

Marketing also involves deciding which communication channels to use, both ‘above the line’ (any of the broadcast media) and ‘below the line’ (narrowcast media and things such as point of sale material), and the development of a promotional strategy that may or may not involve hiring the services of an advertising agency.

If a company does hire an ad agency, they will work together to devise ways to promote the company and the brand. Sometimes this involves very simple, straightforward strategies (e.g. hyping an innovation that your competitors can’t copy yet), and sometimes it may involve the introduction of what some would regard as ‘gimmicks’ and ‘tricks’.

Hope that helps.

Sure it’s a need. It may be a trivial, immature, or even outright stupid need, but as they say, everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it. No more, and nor less.

I can give Bod/Axe/whatever a pass because their supposed purpose is to make a male smell better so he can attract a mate to reproduce. That’s a need, even if the person in no way needs the product for that purpose, nor will it likely help. But GoDaddy.com makes no sense. The need they fulfill is the need to have a URL for your website. Their use of sex to sell has nothing to do with convincing the consumer that they fulfill a need.

One of the jokes I always heard when at drinking parties with certain types of ad people was “marketing holds them down, advertising fucks them.”

Has anyone heard this bon mot?