One day in Wal-Mart recently, I found myself staring at shelves of tea and wondering what the world was coming to. Avid tea drinkers, Tim and I each consume about two cups a day in hot weather and four or five cups a day in cold weather, so I’m always on the lookout for new flavors.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that Celestial Seasonings had launched a new line of teas, but I was surprised to discover that this was a line of “wellness teas” that claimed to provide everything from energy to sleep to detoxification to immune system boosts to easier bowel movements.
Seriously? It’s tea. Why can’t they just market it as tea that tastes really good? Why does it have to do something extraordinary for us and why would we believe that it can? I know that there are certain health benefits to tea, but these claims are slightly ridiculous. Do consumers really believe that a cup of chamomile is going to clear up their allergies and provide relief from sinus congestion?
Things only got worse when I was showering this morning and happened to glance at the back of my soap bottle. I’m not joking, people: my soap promised me a vacation. It wasn’t some island getaway contest; it was a claim that smelling Caress Tahitian Renewal would be the approximate equivalent of a trip to Tahiti. Just so you know, this fanciful claim had nothing to do with why I bought it. I only like about 30% of soap scents, but I change them out frequently. When it’s time to buy new soap, I will literally spent 10-15 minutes in the soap aisle smelling different brands until I find one I like. Yes, I’m one of those people. You have your quirks too. Don’t judge.
Anyway, I have no idea why the marketing folks at Caress felt that they had to provide a whole fake tropical experience and intriguing island storyline along with their body wash. Soap is soap. Its molecules bond with dirt, grease, and oil so that when the soap is rinsed away, so is the yucky stuff. It’s scented so that the whole dirt-bonding-and-rinsing process is slightly more enjoyable for the shower-er. Sorry, but there’s no vacation included.
These are just two examples of what I call “over-performing products,” and both store shelves and television commercials are full of them. Our water has vitamins, our shoes burn calories, and our music heightens intelligence. Companies aren’t selling products; they’re selling experiences.
Honestly, it’s a bit insulting. Why do marketers think that by connecting their product to a grandiose and totally unrelated benefit, I’m going to be duped into buying it? On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that it’s the expectations of the public, and not just the marketers, that are driving labels in this direction. Maybe we expect our water to do more than simply hydrate–it has to have vitamins and minerals while remaining sugar, fat, and calorie-free. Maybe it’s not enough for us anymore for tea to just be a warm, comforting liquid–it has to cure cancer. Maybe we demand more from our soap than simply clean skin–it has to teleport us from Schenectady to the Virgin Islands.
I’m not diametrically opposed to this type of marketing, but I think it’s important for consumers to train themselves to look past the experience and see the product for what it is. If a company can’t sell an ordinary product for its ordinary features, we should ask ourselves whether it’s really worth buying. Ignoring the hoopla with which corporations try to dazzle us sends a strong message: we want good products that do what they’re supposed to do, and we want them at fair prices. And if you give us that, you’ll feel as though you’ve been instantly transported to an island getaway…