TED: Are more choices better, or has more become less?

TED: Technology, Entertainment, Design is a nonprofit project that started in 1984 and focuses on Ideas Worth Spreading. TED holds an annual conference where talented and innovative speakers and performers speak about their lives ideas and challenges. Some of these speakers include Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Bill Gates, Brian Greene and many other brilliant people. This April, Terry Hayes and Dr. Persuit held a video session and discussion time to watch two speakers and for students to discuss the topics and their opinions.

One of the speakers was Malcolm Gladwell, and his speech was titled “Spaghetti Sauce.” His speech focuses on one man, Howard Moskowitz, and his philosophy that “There isn’t one “perfect Pepsi” there are in fact numerous “perfect Pepsis.” Howard built his reputation and transformed the market world based on this idea, that companies should not try and find the “perfect something,” instead they should find varieties of perfect products. This idea gained its acceptance and status when Howard applied the theory to spaghetti sauce, specifically Prego. Prego hired Howard in the 1980s to help them compete with Ragu. Howard did millions of tests on millions of people using different types of spaghetti sauces and found out that people do not prefer one specific type of spaghetti sauce, instead the American people like many different specific types. This is why when you walk down the grocery isle with spaghetti sauce, there are difference sauces ranging from plain, to extra chunky, to mushroom flavored, and so on. Howard successfully changed the way the food industry approaches marketing, making of the products, and meeting the desires of the American people. The fundamental idea can be used in not just the food industry but in all areas of marketing. Marketers are beginning to realize that the way to make the consumer happy is not remember that they are all individuals with specific and different desires, needs and wants. Howard successfully passed along the lesson that the human population is filled with diverse beings with different ways to achieve their happiness.

The second speaker was Barry Shwartz and his speech was titled “Paradox of Choices.” His speech talks about his book, which is about the way to maximize the welfare of all of the citizens, you must maximize the individual’s freedom through maximizes the choices people have. Choices lead to freedom which then leads to welfare, which should be the defining goal of societies. Barry shows the world through the choices we are offered by explaining that in a grocery store there are over 175 choices of salad dressing, and when you go to the doctor he or she will give you a number of choices of health care you can choose, and you can choose what prescription drug to take and so on. This has resulted in people giving the choices to wake up every day and invent our own identity and choose from all of the choices offered what kind of person we want to be. All of the choices we are offered occupy our entire day, all day and everyday leaving zero time to actually live the life we have chosen. He does point out the good news about having so many choices, which can be easily seen, but he discusses more deeply the bad news about all of the choices. One is that people are paralyzed by all of these choices because they are unable to choose which action to take. People have become either too lazy or to overwhelmed by all of the options available to them that many times they choose no action, or put off deciding for days and days. Another negative effect of the many choices is that people are beginning to have the expectation to receive perfection because of so many choices they have to choose from. This is resulting in people’s expectations not being met and the people ultimately being disappointed by their choices.

 The TED viewing finished with discussion questions for students to wrap their minds around. I invite you to also watch these brilliant speakers and ponder these questions:

• Think of companies that have achieved success by offering limited product lines.

• Think of companies that have achieved success by offering vast product lines.

• As marketers, do we need to offer more varieties of our products, or should we offer fewer choices in order to help customers decide?

 • When are more choices better? Does it depend on the type of product or service? Is it always better to have more choice for high-involvement products, or is simplicity sometimes preferable?


 -Shannon Meadows