Choices

In one of his TED videos, author Malcom Gladwell discusses the influence psychophysicist Howard Moskowitz  had over the food industry. He is most known for his involvement in market research for the Campbell soup company in their effort to improve the Prego brand of pasta sauce. Gladwell claims that Moskowitz revolutionized the industry with the concept of horizontal segmentation, which is essentially a wide array of available options.

The theory behind horizontal segmentation is that people crave something new and different–they just don’t know it yet. With this in mind, it is beneficial for a company to have more than one kind of a particular product. This is we can choose from 36 different varieties of Ragu pasta sauce (For whom Moskowitz also did some consulting work).

In an interview with BusinessWeek in 1998, Steve Jobs said, “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” For the past decade, this has largely been Apple’s policy. They don’t ask people what they want in their computers or phones. Instead, they dazzle people with all the things an iPad can do. The same is true with food. There was no public outcry for new flavors of pasta sauce. Nobody demanded Mountain Dew Code Red or Doritos Locos Tacos. Still, these new products are massively successful.

I’m not sure whether to be disturbed or delighted. On one hand, my unconscious desires are being met. On the other, an industry is understanding what I want before I do. Perhaps most chilling is the fact that I didn’t even notice this was happening.

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