“Generics Make Me Feel Bad About Myself”

Monique writes in with a heartfelt observation:

The biggest reason I can’t bring myself to actually buy generics when I’m in the store is that I feel cheap and poor when I buy the white labeled knockoffs. I don’t like feeling like that. I like saving money, but when it leaves me feeling like a loser I’d rather spend a little more and get the name brand.

It’s marketing at work.

Take a look at this Tide commercial.

The entire point of that commercial is to create warm fuzzy feelings and associate them with the Tide logo. Look, there’s a loving father and a cute baby and sparkling white clothes and… Tide! Tide! Tide!

If you repeat that kind of association enough, you begin to, on an unconscious level, begin to associate good feelings with a brand. Those good feelings come out when you’re at the grocery store and trying to decide between a generic brand (no feelings because no advertising) and a name brand (good feelings built up by lots of advertising over the years).

“But I don’t watch television commercials,” some will say. Do you read magazines? Do you drive anywhere near billboards? Do you see the sides of buses? Do you listen to the radio?

The same effect is always in play.

That’s the purpose of at least one flavor of advertising. It’s all about building the brand. You’re not actually being encouraged to go buy a specific product. Instead, the entire point of the ad is to create an emotional imbalance in favor of a particular product versus another product.

Of course, you pay for that emotional imbalance when you’re at the checkout. Almost always (outside of a sale or some sort of great coupon stacking), the name brand item comes at a premium.

One of the biggest themes of The Simple Dollar is to avoid buying things based on emotional impulses. If you’re buying a name brand because buying it makes you feel good or because buying generic makes you feel bad, you’re making a buying decision based on emotion.

That’s not to say there isn’t a reason to buy name brand items. As I discussed in an earlier article, The Cheap Garbage Bag Dilemma, you do need a product to perform well for you. That’s why I often base my purchases on my own personal history with the item, as well as reports from unbiased sources like Consumer Reports.

If an item makes you feel a certain way that you can’t quantify with hard facts, marketing is probably at work. Ignore it. Make your purchasing decisions based on facts and come away with the best buy you can.

That’s something you can always feel good about.

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.