The Expatriated Consumer

Imagining life without debt. Working to make it reality.

What’s in YOUR bottle?

Posted by Max Finkle on June 4, 2008

One of the keys to achieving financial success is knowing what you’re buying. Name brands are not always better, the most expensive is not always better. Oftentimes, price is the marketing point. It’s expensive, so it must be good, right? Not necessarily. Case in point:

I worked in a liquor store for many years not so long ago. Being interested in all things beer at the time, I stumbled onto an article in the local industry beverage journal regarding Rolling Rock beer. I had not-so-fond memories of hairy next-morning experiences in relation to that beer brand, given that it was the beer of choice as a fresh 21 year old on a limited budget.

For those who may not remember, Rolling Rock was infamous for their longneck import bottles. They came in reusable flip top case boxes that could be purchased for as little as $10 a case. In addition there was a $1.50 deposit to ensure safe return of the empties so they could be reused by the brewer. It was always a glorious weekend when the stack of empties was large enough to net us a “free” case of beer after bottle redemption.

There was a slight ache in my heart when suddenly the price of Rolling Rock sky-rocketed to close to $20 a case, and they started to phase out those glorious longneck import bottles. They had upgraded their packaging, now retailing the beer in boxes and six pack racks featuring crisp images of Rolling Rock bottles sporting beads of sweat, indicating they were ice-cold and ready for the thirsty. The old packaging was a dull green, with the most interesting feature being the “33” on the back of the bottle, that everyone saw, but no one wondered about.

At the time the article was written, Rolling Rock was running full tilt with their ad campaign “Same as it ever was.” Little did I understand when the commercials started airing that it was a bit of a tongue in cheek statement. What was really going on was pure marketing genius.

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the brewer was on the verge of going under. Sales were dropping precipitously, and corporate knew something had to happen, and fast. They decided to bring in a new marketing exec.

He came along, looked at numbers, reviewed their promotional history, and furrowed his brow. “You need to raise the price,” he finally decided.

“You’re nuts,” corporate retorted, “We can’t sell the beer now, at the current prices.” And they prepared to tar and feather him for wasting their time. They were expecting recommendations for prize promotions or a new recipe.

“Hold your horses,” he replied, “Consider this: Budweiser is the standard by which all beer is held in this country. Folks see Rolling Rock at budget prices, and think: Cheap. Cheap = not as good as Bud. Raise the price to a tier just above Bud, put on your Galoshes and watch the cash flow tidal wave.”

Corporate considered the logic, and without changing a thing in the recipe, took the leap, raised prices, launched the “Same As It Ever Was” campaign, and suddenly Rolling Rock went from being the darling of the college frat houses to the bell of the ball for the yuppie crowd. Sales skyrocketed, and they found themselves rolling in piles and piles of cash.

Many consumers actually believe that Rolling Rock is a better beer today than it was yesterday simply because the price went up. I have an occasional one just to reminisce about the old days, but I don’t buy it simply because it’s a “Premium” beer now.

Every time you make a purchase consider why you chose that particular product. Price is a consideration, but should not be the only criteria by which you make a particular buying decision. Oftentimes, the less expensive options can be as good or sometimes even better than the more expensive ones. Let the marketers spend their money, keep as much of yours in your pocket as you can by seeing past their schemes.

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