From FMCG products to lifestyle products & clothing, Shilpa Ahuja gives examples of marketing gimmicks & tactics brands use for false advertising.
A few days ago, I was in the supermarket, looking for a razor. Just like everything meant for women, they’re hard to find in your exact preference, are expensive and yet not perfect. I’ll come back to other women’s products later. But first, let’s talk, just for a second, about women’s razors.
Women’s razors are purple (not pink – hey, girly but not too girly!). They’re expensive, and very hard to find. I had been looking for a replacement for mine for months – finding good and bad alternatives for my hair removal needs in the meanwhile, like waxing or my old razor (useless and ugly, and yes – I can’t throw it away just for these emergencies).
Long story short. Finally, I found Gillette Venus women’s razor. And I mentioned to my husband how I didn’t like its new design at all. They used to be fine before. But now they come with a soapy edge, which lathers when you use it, and doesn’t suit my sensitive skin. He then asked me a question women all over the world probably feel they’re better off without knowing the answer to. “Why can’t you use men’s razor? They’re all the same. It’s just a marketing gimmick.”
“And I’ll fall for it,” I said defiantly. The idea of using a men’s razor sounded scary. I didn’t want to have skin damage, cuts, or whatever other horror that must come with it. I didn’t want to take a chance. Having been a victim of marketing campaigns for so long, I’m scared to try other alternatives that aren’t marketed to my gender, skin or age group, even though I dislike the product that’s sold to me.
My husband though, is a marketing expert, and isn’t swayed by creative marketing ideas. He somehow he managed to convince me to try the men’s razor using marketing buzzwords. (“Try this Mach 3: It’s the ultimate precise razor. Well-researched, tried and tested. If I can use it on my face, you can surely use it on your legs.”)
I was already regretting my purchase even until the next morning, but when I used it, I was shocked at its perfect results. It was easy to clean, efficient. And like all good ideas come in the shower, it came to me. The millennial generation prides itself over being well-educated, making decisions through information & research, and yet we keep falling for marketing gimmicks. This is despite the fact that we have the power of reviews on the internet.
What are Marketing Gimmicks
A marketing gimmick is an idea or selling point that helps sell a product at an increased price point but with little or no extra value. This is different from marketing segmentation. Brands create segmentation’s of products to cater to consumers’ different needs, for example creating different products according to quality in coffee or chocolate, which will be priced accordingly. Segmentation can be for different consumer segments, such as men vs. women’s perfumes, or sub-segments, such as women’s perfume for those women who don’t like flowery fragrances. One key value that such gimmicks provide is to make their consumer feel that they are special, which is most of the times, a good reason why consumers fall for it, over and over again.
But before we get into the debate of how to avoid marketing gimmicks, let’s look at a few examples to help us understand how frequently we see them around us.
Examples of Marketing Gimmicks
A lot of marketing gimmicks are targeted towards women, and they have been for decades. From FMCG products to electronic goods to beauty products, they’re everywhere. Print fashion magazines are plagued with marketing gimmicks, the first few pages of which are filled with ads. They make women aspire for the fashionable lifestyle. Elle, Glamour – take your pick, and you’ll feel like you’re browsing through a product catalog, not a publication.
Magazines in themselves are a marketing gimmick. Advertisements fill about 40-50% of a magazine’s pages, and even within the actual content, you’ll find less journalism and more product talk, often paid by brands without explicitly looking like an ad. It’s as if the whole publication is created just to make you want to buy more stuff you don’t need.
Here are a few examples of common marketing gimmicks:
Thread Counts in Bedsheets
The higher the thread-count, the softer and more luxurious the sheet. Thread counts of 300-500 are considered highly coveted, but above that, things get tricky. You’ll also find bedsheets that claim to be 1000 thread count, which The Good Housekeeping Institute Textiles Lab tested, comparing them to those with 500 thread count. They found to be exactly the same in a blind comparison test for softness and feel, even though the latter were $40-$110 cheaper.
Skin experts recommend that we wear sunscreen with SPF of at least 30 when spending time in the sun. The general idea is that the higher the SPF, the more protection it offers against sun’s harmful UV rays, up until 30 or 35. However, there are sunscreens that claim to have an SPF over 50, which experts at Skin Cancer Foundation claim may not be any more helpful than those over 30.
There are whole companies dedicated to curating, making and selling “superfoods” which are nothing but preserved and concentrated organic whole fruits, seeds and vegetables. Yes, they are nutritious, and but why pay $50 for a concentrated jar than just buying whole greens and cooking them? According to an article on the topic by Harvard School of Public Health, “Superfoods often translate into super sales that have created a billion-dollar industry. Consumers are willing to pay more for foods perceived as healthy, and health claims on labels seem to help.”
Diet Juices & Fad Diets
You must have already heard of juices and diet plans that claim to help you lose 30 pounds in 3 weeks. All of the research in its evidence is paid for by companies that sell these products. “Juicing” is a whole term, where one goes on a juice-only diet for a week. Not only nutritionists say this is very unhealthy, but there are also ready-made juices (hello, sugar!) to help you spend more while you’re being unhealthy.
You’ll find so many product categories that even looking at the health drinks aisle in your supermarket will seem unnecessary. There’s shelves full of just types of Horlicks these days, when in my childhood there was just one or two types. You’ll find a jar in every color – pink Horlicks, brown Horlicks, green, orange, blue, Horlicks for 1-2 year olds, 3-4 year olds, 8-9 year olds, 14-17 year olds, Horlicks for women, Caramel, Protein Horlicks, Junior Horlicks, Horlicks for Growth, Horlicks “Cardia”, Lite… the list goes on. These are some innovative sales ideas. Great job, guys, I’m still wondering how ‘Junior’ is different from ‘Growth’.
We’ve already talked about women’s razors above. But there are women’s products in every category. Brands make special women’s products with a pink packaging and why?! Just to charge extra money and increase their shelf space, that’s why. Media even has a name for this extra money that women have to pay for their every product. It’s called the ‘pink tax’.
Remember the Pink Horlicks I talked about before? A 400g jar costs INR 295 in India, compared to the classic 400g jar that costs INR 242 on Amazon. Pay more if you’re pregnant. 2 boxes of Mother’s Horlicks (200g each) would cost INR 400! Similarly, Nivea women’s Water Lily body wash costs INR 159 for 250ml, whereas Nivea Men Deep Impact body wash costs INR 148 for 250ml.
It’s the same story for all FMCG products, clothing and even salon services.
Skin Lightening Products
The whole category is so widely debated it sounds like a scam to me. Not only some products in the category are found to have toxins like mercury or bleaching agents, but also there exists no evidence that they actually work (in the long run). And yet you keep seeing products like Fair & Lovely cram Indian stores, claiming to actually lighten your complexion. There’s also one for men, called Fair & Handsome (oops, it’s now Glow & Handsome).
These beauty products promise to make the skin look younger by reducing wrinkles, and prevent or even reverse signs of aging like poor texture or sagging. However, there’s never been any clear evidence of their positive results. And users post mixed reviews, some admit they only use these products for their luxe factor or immediate results.
Also read: Do Anti Aging Cream Work? Or Another Scam?
Hand Creams vs. Face Creams
There are creams for every body part – hands, feet, cuticles, under-eye, and face. There are also oils for every body part, including special men’s ones for beard. Call me lazy but I’ve used the same product (it’s called olive oil) both on my face and hands for years. Also on my legs and feet. A dermatologist recommended I do this and it’s helped. Thank you.
Fake Butters, Cheeses & Juices
Let’s now go to a very tricky category of falsely marketed foods. Did you know there are two types of beverages that are packaged exactly like juices? Here are two images, showing each type, notice how one says it’s juice and the other says it’s a “beverage” in very tiny letters. If you weren’t careful enough, you’d not even notice while picking it up.
Similarly, margarine brands have already gained a bad rep for creating packaging that looks like butter and even has ‘butter’ written on it in large letters, in some way shape or form. Mislabelling and making false promises is a big problem in the packaged food industry. “Several samples of cheese on pizzas were not in fact cheese as claimed but cheese analogue, made with vegetable oil and additives,” according to tests done by a public laboratory in 2014, whose results were shared in the Guardian.
Coming back to women’s products, I’m gonna let my article come back in a full circle. If you’re a woman, this is old news to you, but if not, let me break it to you. Fashion brands don’t give us proper pockets in our clothing just to increase their sales of handbags. Handbags won’t sell much otherwise, as they’re an utterly useless item in today’s age, when all we need is in our mobile phones.
Even our jeans come with pockets too small to even carry phones. Jackets, pants and dresses often even have fake pockets. These look like a pocket from the outside but on the inside, it isn’t there! Of course, most clothing brands also have a handbag range, so it works for them.
How to Spot & Avoid Marketing Gimmicks
Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell whether you’re looking at a good product that’s suited to your taste or consumer segment, or just marketed to appeal to you with no added value. In the product clutter that is the modern mall or e-commerce industry, and a sea of paid reviews and biased editorials with hidden disclaimers, it’s really hard to tell whether you’re falling for marketing gimmicks or not.
Shilpa Ahuja is the Editor-in-Chief of OpiniOwn. She has a Masters in Design Studies (MDesS) degree from Harvard University Graduate School of Design, class of 2011. She is also the founder of Shilpa Ahuja Media (SAM).
Shilpa’s work has been published in the University of Fashion and Jet Airways magazine. She is also the creator of Audrey O. comics. She enjoys creative writing and art. Her work has been exhibited at Harvard Graduate School of Design and the Aroma Hotel, Chandigarh and also been published in Chandigarh Times.
Originally from Chandigarh, Shilpa also has a professional degree in architecture and has worked in interior project management. She is also the author of the book “Designing a Chinese Cultural Center in India”. For feedback & questions, please email her at [email protected].