#19 Malcolm Gladwell’s Ted Talk on Spaghetti Sauce Helps Explain Market Segmentation


Why this talk is important to ask as a strategic marketing & brand planner: Am I solving the right problem? Am I asking the right question? 

This talk by Malcolm Gladwell, the writer who is a “detective of fads and emerging subcultures”, is about the history of how pscyophysicist Howard Moscowitz uncovered the utility of brand line extensions. Until the 1980’s most companies looked for the universally pleasing and perfect “one” product. For example The One Pepsi that pleased everyone, the One Vlasic pickle that pleased everyone, the One Prego spaghetti sauce that pleased everyone. In the 1980’s things started changing when a researcher discovered his taste-test satisfaction data points were all over the map.

The problem was companies were asking people “What do you want?” without realizing that in general, people can’t identify what they want until they see. People didn’t know they wanted spaghetti sauce contained visible solids., like one cluster that Moskowitz identified. They didn’t until they were presented with Prego Chunky Garden sauce. Prego introduced six new styles of spaghetti sauce and made $600 million in profit over the next 10 years.

Wow. The lesson here for strategists like me is there is not one universal perfect product or message that will please everyone. Segment your market and don’t look for universal solutions, instead I need to look to understand the variables you are facing.