Brand Names Are Better
"Men who know medicine recommend aspirin. The trouble is, they never recommend Bayer by name — despite the billions of free samples we send them... because aspirin is aspirin, darn it!" noteOne of the more Common Fan Fallacies that exists is that products that carry brand names are higher in quality, taste better, last longer, and so on than lesser known names or even generic products. Related to this is the idea that, the more expensive something is, the better it will be. Neither of these ideas is necessarily so... it is often proved that the only real difference between High Priced Brand X and Generic Product Y is the name on the label. Sometimes it is true that the more expensive product might have been made with higher-quality materials, thus justifying the price tag as opposed to the off-brand, but this isn't always the case, as many store-brand items have the exact same ingredient list. Indeed, this trope is all about how people prefer the name brands, when the difference just isn't there. Also, it is very common for many big name companies to make a generic/store brand version of the product as well, which means that the only differences are the price and packaging. Can be a form of Up Marketing if the brand name is intentionally designed to appeal to wealthy shoppers. See also Conspicuous Consumption, when flaunting the brand name gives the perception of class. Also related to the Placebo Effect, in that the belief of an item's better quality may be enough to make it really seem better.
- The entire designer clothing industry hinges on this. Addressed in Cracked's "4 Celebrity Products That Are Proof People Will Buy Anything".
For $120, you can own a plain white T-shirt "designed" by Kanye West, because the limit of his design prowess seems to be looking at a Hanes catalog and saying, "Just make that, only for $120 and with my name on it." It doesn't grant wishes or give you super rapping powers, although it does imbue you with the ability to instantly regret its purchase.
- The cosmetics industry has come under criticism a few times for this. It is fairly common for products of widely varying brands and prices to be completely identical for the simple reason that they are all repackagings of the same product from a single supplier.
- Any medication, really. Legally, a generic medicine must be the exact same thing as the brand name to be considered a generic; the only differences are "intangibles" such as the shape and color of the pill. And yet, countless consumers will gladly pay several times more to get the brand name because they've convinced themselves that the generic just doesn't work as well. Name-brand painkillers are particularly subject to this.
- In some cases, the generic can be BETTER if the inert ingredients are different. A common example is generics that don't contain food coloring - they're preferable if you're allergic to coloring.
- There have been some quality control issues with some generic prescription medications that have made the news however.
- Note that generic drugs must legally (at least in the U.S.) match the amount of the drug absorbed and the peak blood concentration of the name-brand drug within 80-125% accuracy. That's okay for most drugs, but for some drugs that have small doses and/or require very specific dosages, such as medications for seizures and thyroid disorders, that small variation can be very dangerous.
- Let's not forget the Placebo Effect. If the consumer believes the brandname drug will work more effectively, then they should probably buy it.
- Differences in the inert ingredients (such as the binding of the pill) may affect the rate at which the active ingredients are absorbed into the body, causing the exact same type and amount of medication to have a somewhat different effect.
- The phrase "designer water" has sprung up for any basic product that's being pretentiously labeled, overpriced, and sold as if it wasn't still the basic product. Taken literally in the case of some brands of bottled water, such as Voss. It comes in a glass bottle and is sold in high-class stores like Nordstom's for $30 a bottle or more. But no matter how pretty it is, in the end it's just water. In point of fact, several of the higher priced bottled waters come directly from municipal sources (tapwater, in other words) with no further processing.
- Spell Evian backwards. (It's a coincidence, but hilariously appropriate nonetheless.)
- Some spring water brands do actually have a subjectively better taste (or, more specifically, lack of bad taste) than tap water, and when available they are usually cheaper than Dasani, Evian, or Aquafina (which are all straight from the hose, then "filtered").
- The television comedy Only Fools and Horses played on this whole issue with bottled water - and in 2004 the UK press revealed it to be Truth in Television in Dasani's case.
- For non-Brit tropers, the reason Dasani crashed and burned in the UK is because it turned out that they really were just bottling and selling tap water. Part of the problem is that, being part of the Coca-Cola brand, they tried to brazen through it instead of just admitting it was a fair cop, and insisted that they were making the water better by purifying it. This meant that the water board immediately leapt on them and started issuing indignant statements that there was nothing wrong with the water that came out of the tap, it certainly did not need purifying before drinking, and if Dasani were trying to imply that it did, they'd be quite happy to take them to court to show them the error of their ways. The thing just dragged on and on, with most people caught between outrage and amusement at the whole business. The best part, though, was the fact that with the show being a bit of a British comedy standard, pretty much everyone has seen the Only Fools and Horses episode mentioned above, which involved the boys try to sell tap water under the name "Peckham Spring", Peckham being the part of London in which they resided. Guess where the Dasani factory was, where they'd been bottling the water. For the press, it was like all their Christmases had come at once, it was a PR disaster on an epic scale, and Coke eventually ended up pulling the whole brand from the UK market. Even now, watch carefully if you open a bottle of Dasani in front of a Brit. They might not tell the story, but they'll almost certainly grin.
- They were also adding calcium chloride (containing safe levels of bromine) to the water and using ozone to oxidise it. This also oxidised the bromine, meaning the final product contained around twice the legal limit for bromate (a known carcinogen). The case was about a lot more than just bottling tap water for profit.
- Made slightly funnier by the fact the exact same pollution thing happened in the Only Fools and Horses episode thanks to Del and co dumping toxic waste in the reservoir.
- There are some good reasons to drink bottled water, such as if your water supply is contaminated, you need distilled water for a medical device, your water has off tastes, or you are travelling, among other things. For medical devices you need distilled, not spring or other fancy water and might as well get the cheapest you can get, while for drinking cheap refillable jugs are just fine, or a filter, depending on your water quality. That said, expensive name brand water has been shown in numerous tests to neither taste better nor be healthier than tap water, though depending on where you live your tap water might not taste as good; most of these tests are apparently done with New York City water, which is apparently pretty good. In fact, some spring waters have been shown to have dangerously high levels of bacteria and chemicals.
- An element of We All Live in America here - not everywhere has safe-to-drink tap water. For instance, even many locals don't drink the tap water in Russia. St. Petersburg is especially bad - the parts of the plumbing are as old as the city itself, the city is built on top of nasty marshland (which is now also full of industrial pollution) and in parts of the city the tap water is yellow. Siberian towns, like Ust Nera, are even worse. In such circumstances, always buy spring water, especially if you are a tourist.
- This is the case in China, as well, where most people boil water before they drink it. Because of this, foreigners almost always prefer to just buy bottled water and drink it, or buy a couple of higher-quality bottles and cool them down with water from a boiler.
- Most times people think widely recognized audio equipment brands sound better, which in practice it's not always the case. Audio devices from widely recognized and expensive brands can be more complex, incorporating more research into electronics and acoustics, finer controls, cooler designs. But when dealing with simpler devices, like a tabletop radio, which are rather basic in their electronics, the winner is the one who used the best materials in the construction. Between a cheap brand with solid wood or MDF cases, polymer speakers, solid plastic buttons, aluminium face panels and a more renowned brand with plastic case and paper speakers, it becomes obvious that brand itself does not make the sound.
- Beats headphones are a well known example, selling at a huge markup purely because they were endorsed by Dr Dre and are massively popular. Audiophiles who have compared them to other headphones say they are not really much better than some headphones that can be had for under $100, but they are used as a status symbol regardless.
- Made more jarring by many high-profile manufacturers who often say that their best cables and connectors are gold-plated and thus allow for unparalleled performance. The problem is that when it comes to resistivity and conductivity, gold is inferior to common copper and not much better than aluminium.
- There is a reason why gold-plated connectors are used in high-end electronics. Copper, while being an unparalleled conductor, tarnishes very easily, especially in the damp air, and copper oxide is a semiconductor, leading to the whole slew of weird contact effects and parasitic noises.note Gold, while a somewhat poorer conductor, doesn't tarnish at all, and, being very soft, actually flows under the normal forces in most connections, ensuring a perfect contact and airtight seal, which protects other, not so resistant materials. Now, the "oriented strands" and "presounded cables" on the other hand... That's pure bullshit.
- It should be noted that for digital connections noise has to be pretty bad before it will have any effect on the quality of audio or video since it has to completely flip a bit, or since most protocols for that sort of thing have error correction, multiple bits close together in time. There's very little point to expensive digital cables since if there's a noise problem the effects will be VERY obvious, or non-existent, there really isn't a middle ground.
- Averted in the Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven book, Lucifer's Hammer: a senator has a number of unknown brands of liquor in his study, including one from the Southern California-based Fedco department store chain, called "Old Fedcal". He points out that the liquor is actually Old Forrester, Fedco simply has them bottle it under their label.
- In Tricky Business, the gangsters running the casino boat have bottles of various expensive liquors, but once they were empty, they were simply refilled with the cheapest brand thereof. Customers never knew the difference.
- John Stossel's nonfiction Myths, Lies & Downright Stupidity addresses the fallacy of assuming brand name foods are better (the stuff that isn't "Grade A" is no less nutritious but often simply doesn't look as palatable). Interestingly, Stossel noted that people are far less squeamish about off-brand household products and toiletries even though tests showed that the brand names really were better in most every case.
- In The Night We Never Met, Sam Lester is a chef who runs a high-class delicatessen. He's constantly trying to convince his customers that the only difference between the less-expensive but still-high-quality domestic products he sells and the expensive, brand-name imports is the fact that a) they are imported and b) they are brand names. Most of his customers couldn't care less and buy the imports for the "prestige" factor.
- There's the true story, dramatized in the movie Bottle Shock, of how a new American wine defeated well-known French wines in a taste test... in France. They call it the Judgment of Paris, and all the (French) judges were absolutely horrified at what they'd done.
- Played straight in the animated film Foodfight!, where Brand X is the villain and several advertising characters have cameos.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cordelia Chase once said that, when she goes shopping, she always buys the priciest thing she can find. "Not because it's expensive, but because it costs more."
- The idea that "more expensive equals better" was the entire point behind Robin Leech's Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, what with its exposes on solid gold toilets and such.
- Demonstrated and lampooned in an episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, where they set up a fake "designer water" restaurant in an upscale neighborhood. Whatever the clients ordered, they ended up getting municipal tap water from a garden hose in the back. Even so, they tasted differences between the "flavors", implying that the placebo effect is involved.
- An episode of Bones features the owner of a cheap winery getting back at the expensive winery next door by putting cheap wine in knockoff bottles. Almost no one noticed.
- The 2004 John Cleese documentary Wine for the Confused includes a blind tasting party, where about twenty of Cleese's friends sampled wines ranging from $10 a bottle into the hundreds. The guests' opinions were spread all across the spectrum, with no clear overall preference for cheap or expensive, imported or domestic. Cleese's message from all this: drink what you like, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise.
- Used in Scrubs where Turk buys an off-brand pregnancy test that takes longer than the name brand. This leads to a whole story where Turk knows about his wife's pregnancy before she does.
- Played with in a MythBusters episode, where a myth about filtering vodka was tested. In a double-blind test, an expert was able to taste which was the expensive vodka, which was filtered rotgut (and even how many times it was filtered), and which was unfiltered rotgut. (A test of chemical composition found that both the filtered and unfiltered rotgut had virtually the same composition as each other, while the top-shelf vodka had a distinct composition to the others.) Jamie, apparently something of a vodka connoisseur, also did reasonably well, rating the top-shelf brand over all others and getting the order close to correct. Kari, on the other hand, actually rated the unfiltered rotgut over the top-shelf brand.
Kari: I guess I'm a cheap date!
- On Monk, Monk will only drink Sierra Springs water. This is due to Super OCD. Until season 6 when he suddenly changes to the fictitious Summit Creek water. In Mr. Monk Gets Cleaned Out, he goes to Fiji water.
- Garth Marenghis Darkplace includes a parody, in which the hero delivers a lecture on the important of using name-brand batteries. This is either the result of in-universe Product Placement or in-universe Author On Board.
- A recurring gag on Malcolm in the Middle is that, when Lois is trying to get one of the boys on her side, she does so by letting him have a name-brand soda.
- In a taste test conducted by the people behind Cooks Illustrated magazine, cheaper bottled waters and tap water actually scored higher marks for taste than the more expensive brands, and Evian, typically known as a "high end" water brand, scored dead last in how it tasted.
- In the United Kingdom, Global Radio tried this with Heart and Capital replacing heritage brands such as Trent FM, Fox FM, Hereward FM, and then rivals such as Celador followed with The Breeze, and Orion Media replacing Beacon Radio, BRMB, Mercia and Wyvern with the generic-sounding Free Radio, and rumours abound that Bauer Media will do the same. However, the public seem to prefer heritage brands, and despite what some critics say in the business pages and in blogs, it hasn't worked, even for Heart, the British Trope Codifier for this in radio. Proof that this is very much an Inverted Trope.
- In one episode of Kim Possible, the clothes at Club Banana are revealed to be literally the exact same clothes as at bargain store Smarty Mart, except with a tiny banana patch (they're owned by the same corporation). Kim still refuses to buy the cheaper clothes because they aren't as "cool". She gets better, but not too much better. She'd spend more to buy shoes from Club Banana because the shoes from Smarty Mart are black and the ones from Club Banana are onyx.
- Clerks: The Animated Series had Randal correct a bleeding customer asking for Band-Aids, demanding they be referred to as "Adhesive Strips". He's weaning people off of brand names. Yep, no spine of Jell-O here, my friend.
- In one episode of 101 Dalmatians: The Series, Dearly Farm runs out of its usual supply of Kanine Krunchies. Lucky, Cadpig, Rolly, and Spot are offended and horrified when they hear that they'll get AnyMutt brand kibble instead, arguing it must be worse because it doesn't have TV adverts. After foiling an attempted robbery on the local store, the pups and chicken are rewarded with dog food. Said dog food is AnyMutt, yet they didn't notice the difference. Or care since AnyMutt is apparently just as good, if not better.