It’s All Relative

4 Feb

I get a real kick out of reading the labels on packages- I suggest you start doing it, if you don’t already. There are all kinds of fun descriptions and questionable claims, peppered with a healthy dose of magnifying words like “incredible” and “improved.” One label that always gives me a giggle, though, is the kind that starts with “compare to…” There’s a lot of comparison labels out there, urging you to think about many dimensions of the product. These labels always call your attention to something else in an attempt to reinforce some value of the product in your hand. But do they really prove anything? Or do they simply distract you to the point you think you have a winner? Consider:

  • Compare to the normal product: This comes up when you’re eating a bag of chips and the label says “compare to regular chips! 50% less salt!” The company is basically celebrating itself for creating a slightly healthier product- but in comparison to its OWN other product. Look! Slightly less bad for you! Applaud us! Love these.
  • Compare to the national brand: Implying that this product may cost less, but is equal to the national brand in quality. Though note that it doesn’t actually SAY “just as good as the national brand!”- it simply asks you to compare them, and the meaning is implied. Also, national brand doesn’t necessarily mean good quality.
  • Compare to the suggested price: Often used at discount stores to show you how much better their prices are than elsewhere, but these prices (and those manufacturer suggested prices, by the way, stated as MSRP) are often completely false- they’re often purposely inflated on the tags so that retailers can sell the goods for less and pretend they’re offering a deal. (If you’re interested in that, check out JC Penney’s new pricing policy; they’re now just going to offer a lot of low prices all the time instead of “falsely” lowered prices)

The point is… these are all relative references. Cheaper than something else that was artificially highly priced. Equal in quality to something that is questionable in quality. A better option than something that is a bad option. These label claims aren’t really that informative- they’re simply suggesting a certain frame of reference that will make you feel like you’re making the smart choice as you shop around. But what if I adopted this mentality into my everyday life? What if I described myself on a first date as “50% less clingy than your ex!”? Or if I told my boss that she should compare my work to the national standard? Not so sure it’d fly…

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