Snarky Behavior

How the Existence of “Big Brother 10″ Proves I’m Not a Populist

July 16, 2008 · 4 Comments

Since I consider myself both a partial-consumer and full-time observer of mass American culture, I like to think that, at any given moment, I have a thumb pretty close to the pulse of what’s popular in the United States.

This is not to say that I read US Weekly diligently, or watch American Idol.  Only that I know that such things exist; have engaged with them enough to understand them; and appreciate that they and the contents within are massively popular across a broad audience.

Every so often, however, I learn something about my country that really knocks me off my kilter.  Most recently, it was that the show “Big Brother” has been on a major television network for 10 freaking seasons(!!!)

Now, while I’ve heard of the show, I don’t understand its premise, and I’ve never watched it.  Moreover, I cannot recall ever having a conversation with a single friend who has watched the show.  I have friends who watch pure crap — Gossip Girl, Tila Tequila, The Hills, The Bachelorette, Bad Girls Club– I’ve even known people who watched Survivor well into its dying years (is that still on the air?)  But nowhere within my six degrees of separation do I know a single person who watches Big Brother.

(Note: this is not an exaggeration.  I just did an advanced profile search on facebook and not one of my 358 “friends” has Big Brother listed as a TV show he or she watches.  I’m sure we’d find similar results with The Mole, but that’s another post entirely).

My larger point here is that no matter how well I may think I know/understand the people of the country in which I live, the simple truth is that I really don’t.

I mean, insofar as I am a student of economics, I implicitly understand that individuals have divergent preferences, and markets emerge to meet these preferences.  And within markets, there are competitors who fight to capture market share by best meeting the majority of consumer preferences, or at a least a segment of the market.

What I don’t understand is why anyone would use Hotmail before Yahoo, or Yahoo before Google.  Google is demonstrably better, it offers more space, it crashes less often, it has an embedded chat, it comes with a suite of other products, etc.  In my mind, Google should own 100% of the market in terms of e-mail service, because 100% of consumers should recognize that it’s a superior product in an environment where virtually all options are free.  What baffles me is people continue to choose inferior products.  Why?  Why is that?

A few months ago I wrote about how Tide was the preferred detergent of most people, even though detergent seemed like a fairly consistent commodity and Tide was always the most expensive brand.  One consumer researcher stated that the less pricey competitor Gain was “the experiential and fragrance brand, and had strong ethnic performance.”

I have two theories here:

1.)  Is a  matter of education.  Education means critical and analytical thinking, including the ability to distinguish and appreciate levels of value.  People who are better educated have “more taste,” as it were… or at least know how/when to differentiate between a product that is worthwhile versus one that is cheap/crap.

2.)  The second is consumer behavior.  People who live on a tighter budget instinticively learn to gravitate to the products that inherently seem cheaper.  (Note:  this theory is based on my-friends-who-shall-remain-nameless who squeal with delight over any/alloffers from the following restuarants:  Olive Garden, Taco Bell, Bob Evans.) They are not concerned with value, per se, only attracted to the least costly option… and this mentality carries through even when the product choices are free/no cost to the consumer.

Anyway, my larger point is, again, I don’t get it, which I think means I’m not the populist I like to make myself out to be.  I’m still voting for Obama though.

PS…If you like thinking about consumer choice, you’ll love this TED Talk by Malcolm Gladwell:

Categories: Opinion
Tagged: , , , , , ,

4 responses so far ↓

  • X // July 16, 2008 at 7:47 pm | Reply

    It’s not really about education or value but about brand loyalty. My mom only bought Tide and Downey and now I only buy Tide and Downey. I know and trust Tide and Downey. I know Tide won’t ruin my clothes and I want my kids to jump into a pile of April Fresh warm towels just as I did when I was their age. Sure, I could save 15 cents but is it worth the risk of having less-than-bright white scratchy sheets? I’m not willing to run the risk so in the cart the big orange jug goes.

  • Rohit // July 16, 2008 at 7:57 pm | Reply

    There is a reason to not use Google for e-mail, but it’s not Yahoo and certainly not Hotmail. If you don’t feel comfortable with the amount of information that Google gathers and retains for purposes that are not really clear at this time (don’t be evil?), you might feel compelled to seek other options. I did, for quite some time, but in the end, I too gave in. I know several hardcore nerds, however, who still run their own mail systems to avoid Google’s data-hording embrace.

  • Jon // July 16, 2008 at 8:14 pm | Reply

    The 10:30 mark of this video… “the mind knows not what the tongue wants.” I think that’s a huge takeaway, people always say they want dark/rich/hearty roast of coffee, but most people truly like milky/wheat coffee. That’s why polls can be so misleading. The reason we make decisions are much more primal and not always in line with the rational capacity for thought we believe we have.

  • Jon // July 18, 2008 at 5:22 pm | Reply

    *Also, I mean education in the sense of familiarity…not formal instruction. The more knowledgeable you are about all of the options available to you, the better decision you will make in terms of value.

Leave a Comment