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Don’t give me lipstick, give me hope when I buy from you

June 9, 2010
Image of a bottle of Vimto

Vimto - the vim tonic - not quite Coca Cola but whose early years as a health drink enabled it to survive decades in its own understated way


It was Charles Revson, Revlon founder, who said about his lipstick: “when it leaves the factory it’s lipstick. But when it crosses the counter in the store, it’s hope”. It is this simple statement which underpins the pricer’s strategy in the modern world. 

Pricing, to quote Dolan and Simon*, is the “economic sacrifice a customer makes to acquire a product or a service. The customer compares this sacrifice with his perception of the product’s value. Price and value are the cornerstones of every economic transaction”. So, for strategists in any business, the question to ask is “what value am I offering customers in return for their financial sacrifice? 

Today, strategists create brands based on perception and not necessarily on deliverables. Take for example, the usual pomposity of the England team in the world cup. They are variously described as lions, patriots, stubborn Englishmen taking on the world. Alongside this mythology – and media hagiography – established brands take on the mantle of the English team to enhance themselves. 

Brands like Coca-Cola, the American manufacturer of curiously flavoured fizzy drinks, becomes a supplier of health beverages who are “celebrating the magic of the FIFA World Cup”. Or Carlsberg, the Danish brewer of indescribably bland lager, suddenly become the beating heart of the “thin red line”, touching a vein of British bulldog spirit stretching back through the Battle of Britain, Rourke’s Drift and Agincourt. 

That’s right, a Danish brewer has created “the official beer of the England football team”. The apogee of clean living – mens sana in corpore sano**, as Juvenal may well have said, satirically, in anticipation of a world to come.  

Of course, this sort of posturing has a value. By tapping into a perceived national fervour, brands hope to increase volume sales and profits. But is this truly ethical? In some ways, this singular methodology is a reflection on the modern age – the creation of current national mythology in the absence of actual national delivery. Consumers want a sense of identity even if the way identity is created is a total illusion. 

But brands do not need to go to such extent to achieve credibility and desire in the mind of consumers. If a product has to deliver beyond the price which is charged, then a value of substance needs to be created. What hope does your product give your user? Will they be more attractive? More skilled? More articulate? More healthy? 

Think carefully. Whatever your message, it must be substantiated. If you can show hope, provide evidence to back it up, and deliver a reason to choose you as its provider, then you have a business which will grow. 

But follow the posturing of the mega brands of this world and you will quickly fall by the wayside. Cola and Carlsberg clearly have money to burn and money to earn. But for smaller businesses, truth and credibility will go a long way to deliver you consistency of custom, revenue and profitability. You don’t need to be a mega player to operate profitably and ethically. 

Stay well, friends, and prosper. 

* Dolan & Simon: Power Pricing (Free Press, 1996) 

** the mind be sound in a sound body (or a healthy mind in a healthy body) – Juvenal, Satire X

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 9, 2010 11:01 am

    “… the economic sacrifice a customer makes to acquire a product or a service”

    I’m curious about this. Economic sacrifice depends on how rich or poor you are. If I’m rich enough, I make no real economic sacrifice – my stash remains pretty much undiminished no matter what I buy.

    So…. if I’m really, really rich, this law shouldn’t apply. I compare my sacrifice (zero) with my perception of the product’s value (more than zero) and – er, I buy everything no matter what it is?

    Oh, ok, that’s pretty much what does happen, doesn’t it? Fair enough then. Good rule.

    • June 9, 2010 11:47 am

      I suppose the more you earn, the more you want your money to buy even higher value. Even Rolls-Royce has competitors in luxury cars; I can’t see the Prince of Wales buying a nylon vest. Of course, when the going gets tough, it’s a harder call to sacrifice money for value perceptions – the mentality therefore works up and down the scale; all the way along you have mental calculations about whether it’s worth the money.

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