Monday, February 04, 2013
Tide detergent - not just a cultural currency any more
I have no idea how this topic came up, but during dinner with friends the other evening, our conversation turned to Tide detergent. We all agreed that the brand has a distinctive aroma. One that is particularly noticeable on a cold, frosty evening when someone is doing their laundry and running the tumble drier. But it never occurred to us to think that Tide might also be a black market currency.
Ben Paynter’s article in New York Magazine titled “Suds for Drugs,” details how America’s best-loved detergent has become the target of theft. Why? Because bottles of Tide have become ad hoc street currency, with a 150-ounce bottle going for either $5 cash or $10 worth of weed or crack cocaine. Paynter reports that the “oddly brand-loyal crime wave” has gone national, striking bodegas, supermarkets, and big-box discounters across the country.
Now I should point out that this story has been doing the rounds in one form or another since early last year, and there does seem to be some doubt as to whether it is true or not. But heck, it’s too good a story not to talk about it. And besides, what more proof do you need that when a brand is a cultural currency, a common reference point that everyone understands, it also has real value. A brand that is used like money? Now that’s real brand equity.
But why Tide? Well last year’s BrandZ finds Tide to be meaningful, different and hugely salient compared to other brands. The end result is that people believe Tide is worth paying more for - 50 percent more than the average brand in our study. And the same sort of premium also seems to apply to the black market. In a story published on FoxNews.com last year, Cristina Corbin notes that Tide can easily be converted into cash, noting:
A $20 shoplifted bottle of Tide, for instance, could be sold illegally for $10 – more than the sale of a lesser-known, generic brand.
But Sudhir Venkatesh believes that the brand owes its financial liquidity to its cultural status. In a post on The New York Times’ Room for Debate, Venkatesh states:
When it comes to detergents and American culture, Tide serves as the great equalizer. You may be down-and-out, but your clothes smell just like those of your fellow citizens.
He suggests that Tide’s price premium allows people to use it as a signal that they are keeping up with the Joneses.
But maybe there is another explanation. If something has value, people will be tempted to produce counterfeits, perhaps refilling old Tide containers with a low-priced product. But would they be able to mimic the fragrance? Maybe the fragrance is the equivalent of the metal strip or watermark found in bank notes. Black market traders only have to sniff to tell whether the brand is fake or not.
So what do you think? Why is Tide a currency? And what other brands might be worth something on the black market? Please share your thoughts.
This entry was posted on Monday, February 04, 2013
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