Thursday, December 28, 2006

Paying For Branding

If you have any interest in the roles of branding and status in consumer culture, you absolutely must read this article, "What's Noka Worth?" The author of the Dallas Food blog takes on a gourmet chocolate brand, and argues convincingly that with a supreme act of branding, the accountants-turned-chocolatiers behind Noka Chocolates have been rebranding a good-but-not-outstanding base chocolate for markups between 2,592% and 6,956% (depending on the quantity in which one purchases). They sell the most expensive chocolate in the world, with none of the skill of lifetime chocolatiers. It is remarkable.

What this means is that when you pay $40 for .3 oz. of chocolate (let me write that out: that is three-tenths of an ounce of chocolate, or approximately one-fifth of a Hershey bar by volume), what you are paying for is not the quality of the chocolatiers' ingredients, which do not differ in quality level from the ingredients of other top-flight national-market chocolatiers (Vosges, La Maison du Chocolat, Jacques Torres, &c.), and it is not the work of the chocolatiers (which is, according to this report, below average). What you are paying for is branding, pure and simple. What you are paying for is the story told to you by the chocolatier, a story about purity and tradition and an almost ascetic gourmandism. What you are paying for is the assurance that you have impeccable taste, and what you are getting is the proof that you do not.


Anonymous said...

"What you are paying for is the assurance that you have impeccable taste, and what you are getting is the proof that you do not."

Fantastic! A great little barb to keep in reserve for use against snotty faux-connoisseurs.

Stingy Student said...

What do you think about diamonds? The same thing goes on in the diamond industry. Being the cheap guy I am, it would be amazing to find a girl who didn't want a diamond (hint, hint, nudge, nudge), both for financial reasons and ethical reasons.

English Major said...

As it happens, I do have ethical objections to buying diamonds, stingy student! I'd never want to wear a blood diamond.

But...I can't quite get all the way to "don't want any diamond." I wouldn't say no to a diamond bought from a vintage jewelry dealer or an estate sale, which can subsequently be resized. This works for me both ethically and aesthetically: it doesn't support the incredibly dirty contemporary diamond industry, and besides, my taste in jewelry runs to the antique. Then again, I also think the fetishization of diamonds is a little intense, and I'd be just as happy with another (less insanely overhyped) gem: a ruby or a sapphire would suit me just fine. All of these options would run my hypothetical fiancĂ©-to-be far less than three months' salary—leaving more money for travel and/or real estate!