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Is marketing the dark side of the force?

If the same products are sold with different price tags, is it innovative marketing or blatant exploitation?

Every time I go shopping, I see more and more Star Wars related products, many of which are so irrelevant it’s unbelievable. Star Wars baubles. Millennium Falcon bottle openers. Even Lightsaber chopsticks (seriously). It made me chuckle to myself and think that it’s a marketers dream – you’d think that Disney had bought the franchise – and then I remembered…!

Couple this with this morning’s announcement about Nurfoen being told to take a product off the shelf in Australia due to misleading marketing, and we’ve got some interesting cases of whether marketing is innovative or misleading.

Let me present you with 4 case studies of where identical products have been sold with different price tags to demonstrate my case and ask you – innovative marketing or blatant exploitation?

Disney and Star Wars. 

I love Disney, and I love Star Wars – but anyone who’s been to any of the Disney parks knows that they excel in taking a product (for example, a chocolate bar), slapping Mickey on the front of it, and tripling the price. Why? Because they can. Everyone’s bought into the experience and is in the “buying” mood – and are often getting pestered by their children begging for merchandise. I’d suggest that it is blatant exploitation, but on the same front it’s a part of “The Disney Experience”. This is precisely what’s hopping with Star Wars at the moment – it’s a licence for Disney to print money. I would love to know how much they’ve made from licensing the brand alone – probably enough to pay for the film!


This morning, Sky News is reporting that the company that makes the painkiller Nurofen is to be investigated by the advertising watchdog over claims that it misled consumers. This comes after the Australian Federal Court ordered the company to stop selling several versions of the painkiller, which it ruled were identical to its standard pills, but nearly twice as expensive. Nurofen Back Pain, Period Pain, Migraine Pain and Tension Headache Products are in fact identical and the firm has “engaged in misleading conduct” by labelling them for different ailments. The company are arguing that they’re making the choice easier for the consumer who has a specific problem – but if this is the case, how can you justify the almost 100% difference in cost?

The Beauty & Skincare Market 

This ties directly into a fantastic procurement event for a major UK chemist chain (probably the biggest one…!) that I went to a few years ago. Someone from the audience asked “what if I have a cream that’s good for spots and good for wrinkles – should I approach your teenage products or beauty products team and what shelf would it go on?” The answer was very interesting, and suggested that it is commonplace to take the same – or almost identical – products and market them differently. Rather than sell a single cream “for spots and wrinkes” and confuse the target market (selling to no-one) they’d package it differently and pitch at different prices. It was suggested that a spot cream is around £3, where as a good skin cream can be about £30! I always believe it’s the same for different shampoos – are they REALLY that different for blondes and brunettes?! Either way, whoever finds out which £3 spot creams have the same products as the £30 skin creams could be onto a winner…


Finally, I was at an investment event a few years back and saw a fantastic example of creative marketing. A toolmaker had about 10 different “front end websites” for their business, and sold all at different prices. They were on top of their SEO game so when you searched the internet for tools, they pretty much filled the first page. The top 3 had quite different propositions – one was classy and high cost, one mid range, and one rough and ready with low costs. In one fell swoop, they’d captured everyone from the person who wants “something cheap to do the job” through to those who believe that “if you pay more, you get better”. And pretty much everyone bought from one of the three sites, not realising that exactly the same company was behind all 3. They just had different trading identities.

So, there we have 4 examples of how the same product sells for different prices. Which are innovative and which are blatant exploitation?! Are they right or wrong? What extra tips do you have and use?

Do I fall for any of them? No. Never. And on that note, I’m off to enjoy my Star Wars noodles in my Death Star bowl, with my Lightsaber chopsticks. May the force be with you.

Richard Harrison