In a bid to differentiate its menu, a restaurant in Bangalore offers the ‘Gold Plated Dosa’ at a pricey Rs. 1011/- (There’s some numerology at work here!). That’s about fifteen to twenty times the price of a regular dosa at any decent vegetarian restaurant. So what’s the difference? A little olive oil and a sliver of gold foil placed reverentially over the crisp face of the dosa. It has succeeded in creating a flutter in the market and getting some gullible customers to fork out an insane amount to eat some gold foil, in addition to the spiced potatoes and chutney.
What does this tell you about brand differentiation? Apart from the obvious ‘There’s a sucker born every minute’, we know excess is celebrated and coveted, not necessarily real value. Ever since Kaun Banega Crorepati trivialised the winning of Rs.5 Crores in a series of 15 questions, we marvel at the ease at which huge quantities of money are made and spent in hours and minutes, rather than years. Hard work to build companies and earn legitimate profits get a few lines in business dailies and magazines. But what grips the public imagination is overnight success and lottery or gaming riches. Instant transformations from rags to riches or the other way around.
So, in a restaurant where people at the next table are ordering the regular items on the menu, it offers an opportunity to show off. Sure, you can walk into a jewelry showroom and spend a major fortune. But the salesmen behind the desk sees that every day. The rest of the customers are in the same bracket in their ability to spend, so your purchase is unlikely to get any wide-eyed looks of astonishment. Most likely, they would sneer if you asked for something at a lower price than they were expecting. You know that film stars are mobbed in public but completely ignored when they walk into airports or 5 star hotels. The people who frequent these places are far less likely to be smitten by the image of the star and the so-called glamour, since they know what goes into the making of the image. It’s a façade and the façade only holds in certain situations.
But in a middle-class restaurant when you order the gold plated dosa, or the $1000 pizza, or the $750 ice cream sundae you can command a lot of attention. You can catch people giving you little looks of envy. Luxury has no value if you can’t make others feel a little small. Its hardly a price to pay if you have the money and seek the attention. If you really wanted gold plated dosas, all you have to do is get a few sheets of gold foil and make them at home. But that wouldn’t get you any snob value, would it? Nobody would know.
So, the smart hotel entrepreneur has got himself quite a bit of media attention and free advertising by charging some rich airheads a lot of money for a simple pleasure. Mark Twain’s story of the boy who got all his friends to pay for the privilege of painting a fence comes to mind. And so does the fable of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.