You should avoid most name brands and go straight for the generic.
There, I said it. Post over. …If only it were that easy. The fact is, we all know that we are deceived by a name brand. We know we shouldn’t get addicted to the brand, but we do anyway!
Penny’s annual science fair was this month. As I was perusing the other boards, I came across this one:
I love the anecdote. This kid is eating 2 cakes, which are both delicious, and his parents start talking about money and quality. The adults have been trained. They spent hard-earned money on those cakes. If the cheaper one is really as good as the expensive one, think of all the money they’ve been wasting over the years! Thanks to intense loss aversion, we would rather maintain the delusion that the cake is better if it costs more money than admit we’ve been wasting our money all this time. We also believe in the delusion so much, I’m convinced we actually experience a difference! Thanks to the young scientists out there, we can test it!
This kid gave people the SAME chocolate. One, he told them cost more than the other. Then he had them rate the chocolate. His hypothesis? The would be rated the same. No one could be fooled into thinking the exact same chocolate was better because they told him it cost more money!
So how did they actually do? His words: “My hypothesis was wrong. Cost can affect taste because when something is said that another thing is different a switch goes off in your brain telling you that it taste different [sic] just because of what the person told you so yes cost does affect taste.”
“Well, that’s crazy,” we think. What fools were tested in this elementary school science fair project? It turns out, it could have been any one of us. When it comes to grocery store products, the generic version is often EXACTLY THE SAME as the branded one. It just comes in a different box. Lifehacker has covered how generic products work with a list of products and their identical, cheaper versions. It’s time to stop assuming we’re getting the best stuff because it costs more.
I wish I could end my post with a simple call to action to re-think your grocery shopping, but the problem goes deeper…
Brand Name is Not Always Better!
In February, a study was published looking at the impact of brand names on placebo drugs. 87 students were given 4 pills and told to take one dose for the next 4 headaches and then fill out a questionnaire about how well it worked. 2 of the pills were labeled “Nurofen,” a fake brand name. The other 2 were labeled “Generic Ibuprofen.” Also, half of them were placebo pills. So, each participant was given:
- A Branded Ibuprofen (still Ibuprofen, but with a fake label)
- A Generic Ibuprofen (regular ole’ Ibuprofen)
- A Branded Placebo Ibuprofen (a fake, branded pill)
- A Generic Placebo Ibuprofen (a fake pill indicating a generic ibuprofen – your standard placebo)
Now the placebo effect is real. Doctors don’t test if a medication or treatment does better than nothing. They always test if it does better than placebo, because placebos work. So, we know that if we take anything, we will feel better than taking nothing. So here were the results:
- “branded tablets worked similarly well at reducing headache pain whether or not they contained an active ingredient.” – Yes, you read that right. If a pill was labeled “Nurofen,” it worked. It didn’t matter if there wasn’t any medicine in it. The branding was more important!
- “generic tablets that contained a placebo were significantly less effective than generic tablets that contained an active ingredient.” – When they took away the brand name, the actual medicine went back to working better than the fake stuff! Phew! Ibuprofen works.
- “Participants attributed significantly fewer side effects to brand name tablets containing placebo compared to the same placebo tablets with a generic label.” – Our immediate thinking is “something must be wrong with the cheap one,” so we make up problems. The pills were the same. One had a fake brand name put on it and one didn’t. The one without the brand caused side effects.
If it wasn’t clear, this is a problem. Requesting generic drugs can save both the individual and the healthcare system major money over brand name drugs. But it seems we’re fighting a losing battle. If we can’t get people to buy the exact same spaghetti sauce at the grocery store without a brand on it, how can we expect them to make those choices when it comes to their own health?
But you’re different. You’re a wise consumer. And you question everything. Do you think you can beat the odds?