Saturday, April 21, 2007


What Your Buying Habits Reveal About Your Personality
Dr. Howard Rosenthal
When I was a youngster my father owned a company that manufactured shampoos and hair conditioners. His bestseller was the original Rum & Egg Shampoo, a product he invented himself. Now here’s where the story gets a little humorous (or perhaps not so humorous depending on your vantage point). We would routinely receive correspondence from folks who just loved the Rum & Egg . . . heck, they thought it was the best darn shampoo on the face of the planet. In fact, they’d go a step farther and trash another brand or two of Rum & Egg and say something like, “Why can’t Brand X or Brand Y make Rum & Egg like yours? The product they manufacture is pure junk.”
Now you might be thinking that we were patting ourselves on the back for making such a great product. Well if that’s what you thought then hold onto your horses because I haven’t gotten to the punch line yet. Moments after the first call we receive another telephone message. This time it would be from an irate customer who would be ranting and raving about how inferior our product was, “Why in the heck can’t you guys make a decent Rum & Egg Shampoo like Brand X or Brand Y? I’ll even send you a bottle of their brand so you can see how good the competition’s product really is.”
And send us a bottle, they did! Now what the aforementioned dummies (um excuse me, I mean customers) didn’t know was that most of the time it was the exact same stuff! Let me put it in a different way. We’d fill a thousand bottles to the brim with Rum & Egg and some bottles would get our label, others Brand X, and others Brand Y, Z or whatever. We never had a clue which bottles received which labels. Hello folks: you’re all buying the same stuff.
Often the same shampoo or conditioner would even be made under the same name with ten different colors, ten different brand names and ten different perfumes. (Sorry to disappoint you ladies, but in cosmetics generally the most expensive part of the product is the package and the perfume, in that order.)
But this principle goes way beyond hair care products. At one time made in Japan meant junk, but that’s hardly been the case for the last twenty years. Now Japanese always stands for superior quality . . . or does it? A few years back researchers took models of automobiles and VCRs that were sold either with US nameplates (Dodge or RCA) or Japanese badges (Mitsubishi or JVC). Like the shampoo saga, the products were actually identical. Customers were given the Japanese brand and the American issue and told to rate them. Perhaps you’ve already guessed that the products sporting a Japanese label – never mind that in reality they were the same – were rated much better. Consumers made comments like, “The Japanese model just rode quieter,” or “the picture and the sound were markedly better.” Had you performed the experiment in the early 1950s the products with the US nameplate would surely have won by a landslide.
Your belief in what you purchase has a lot to do with what the media tells you and that can be altered by where you live. Recently, I was speaking with a very successful businessman visiting here from Japan for the first time. “Do you drive a Lexus?” I asked. “Why would I drive a Toyota?” he quipped. “I own a huge company and need to impress people, so I can only purchase a BMW or a Mercedes. Toyota is not a luxury car in Japan.”
“But you know it has tremendous prestige in the US,” I protested. “Yes,” he responded, “we have heard this once or twice in Japan. We just find it strange, kind of funny, I guess.”
The war to invade your wallet, that little plastic card of yours, or your pocket book, begins and ends with the battle for your mind.
Dr. Howard Rosenthal is Professor and Program Coordinator of Human Services at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley and a multi-book author. His website is