The late Steve Jobs is well known for a famous saying: “Customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them” ; a saying that holds true in many cases and which I have had the chance to experience firsthand very recently in one of its most blatant figures.
Saudi Arabia is a market mostly known to attract products from the 4 corners of the world; so if you are a fan of studying brands and comparing what they do as opposed to their competitors then here is the best place for so. Add to it that up until recently, shopping – in all its forms – had been the main source of entertainment, so there is always a competition and a struggle to attract customers in all sorts of ways. I’d like to add that this competition is not always clean or ethical – at least not when compared to CSR initiatives that many companies are taking in order to show that they care about the society and would like to give back.
I was in the cereals and morning food aisles and there was no shortage of cornflakes options at all; brands from the united states, to Europe to the Middle East were conveniently placed next to each other. One thing you need to take into consideration that in this market, all US products are sold for premium prices that is sometimes triple the price of local or middle eastern competitors because of the additional overhead needed to get the product to the shelves and because it is perceived as a higher quality. The boxes were stacked to serve a specific purpose which is to target the main customers of this category: the 7-8 year olds who are the main consumers of this commodity.
It was a classical marketing lesson: on a “relatively” higher shelf were the boxes of a cereal brand that is made in a Middle Eastern country; those come in a 1 kg packaging and for a very competitive price – 16 SAR the equivalent of $4.27. Such a box would be a sensible choice for any parent but on the lower shelves exactly at the eye sight and arms reach of the 7 year olds was a “foreign” box that came in 500 grams packaging and ran for the price of 14 SAR or the equivalent of $3.73 so when compared to the other brand you would be getting half the quantity for almost the same price – not a wise economic decision one might say. Facing those aisles was a father who was doing his regular grocery shopping for his family and he had brought his son with him.
After the father reached out for the bigger box the son told him that he wanted the smaller one; the father refused and told him that the bigger one was better but the son insisted and said that this one had a toy and he wanted it. The discussion went on back and forth for a while and you can easily predict who won that confrontation at the end…. The father had to give in to his persistent son and accept the losses that came out of it….
This is not a unique case nor were the boxes randomly placed like that; companies pay premium prices to have their products placed on shelves and levels that would attract customers the most; it is a part of their “push” strategy where they want their product to be in your face. Regardless if you really need the product or that brand specifically they create a need for you and most of the time you just go along with it. Many times you buy a product not because you need it but because you saw it in your face and something about it attracted you. A bar of soap now boasts to contain more fruit than a piece of cake, you look at the wrapping and you think that it is for a chocolate bar with pictures of all kinds of berries on it; also a strategy to attract you.
We like to believe that our choices are our own but most of the time they are planted into us; What does phone X that costs you a massive amount of money do for you that the much cheaper phone Y can’t do? Would you have bought this specific brand hadn’t it not been conveniently placed for you? More importantly do we really need that “gift” and is it really a gift when we are indirectly paying for it because we went for the more expensive choice? Big companies spend fortunes on marketing and market research in order to influence and attract customers. In one of the teen choice awards events there was a well-known company that was doing research focused only to know what is the percentage of teens who were using Facebook as opposed to those using Twitter and as opposed to other social media platforms. The reason was very simple: know where to spend the biggest chunk of their marketing budget in order to attract more people.
If there was one piece of advice that I wish that someone had given me as a child it would be: “never go after the product that has a gift or free item” ….. I’m not saying that that those products are not good but at the same time I am just questioning why was the gift placed and was it actually a gift? So the next time you go buy a cereals box ask yourself or your child if that gift is really worth it……