Caption: “The Illusion of Choice.”
For anyone moderately familiar with marketing, advertising, or even general business, it doesn’t come as a surprise to learn that basically 90% of the brands you seen on store shelves are produced by one of these 8-10 “mega-brands.”
This image has been making the rounds online alongside the aforementioned caption, implying that while consumers may think they have the right to freedom of dish detergent, they’re pretty much supporting P&G or Unilever one way or another. Therefore, we are powerless against the corporate machine.
But in any industry, be it consumer goods or wireless service or automobiles, consolidation is the trend. A new market is identified or created, deemed to be ripe with customers and cash, and lots of tiny brands begin to sprout up, all competing for this desirable new target. To better compete (through increased capital, better distribution, proprietary information, etc), the brands begin partnering or acquiring one another, creating brand portfolios and parent companies. Consumers are then left with a choice between Conglomo-A and Conglomo-B.
It’s a little depressing to think we’re confined to forever support one of two or three corporate overlords. But fret not… this is when the opportunity for innovation is best! True, these big companies have money, and supply chains, and R&D. But the one thing they can’t do that startup brands can is move. Little brands can dodge and weave and change direction in order to meet demand, like speedboats. P&G and Nestle are like cruise liners, or even aircraft carriers. Huge behemoths that are slow and difficult to turn around.
Media companies have glommed together over the past 50 years, bringing us the 42-minute TV “hour” and lowest-common-denominator programming. Huge companies need to appeal to the widest demographic possible. But now, through innovation and technology, we’re seeing brands begin to challenge those big boys. Netflix and Hulu posit that maybe video entertainment doesn’t *need* to capture 10 million viewers or rely totally on advertising revenue. YouTube has shown us that amateur videos of people’s real lives can be just as entertaining as scripted network comedies. The market is changing, and the behemoths are being tested.
This can happen with the consumer brands in this infographic, and already is in many ways! Increasing demands for sustainable and natural goods have given rise to small, challenger brands like Method (good-for-the-earth cleaning products) and Trader Joe’s (all-original, often-natural groceries and packaged goods). These are the challengers that will begin to break apart the massive, monopolistic brand map you see above.
There’s no “illusion of choice.” The real choices are just a little hard to see right now beyond the all-caps, screaming billboard of the big brands. But just wait— they’re on their way. That’s the natural flow of the marketplace.