Close this search box.


Generic Brands Fail Again — This Time Online with Brandless

By Lisa Merriam
AMA New York Board of Directors

Jewel Foods in Chicago tried to market generic brands in the early 1970s.

Generic brands always fail. Trying to market a product without a brand has been tried many times, most recently with Brandless, fast-moving consumer goods “built on the premise of selling non-branded consumer goods” that are sold online and “designed for the Instagram generation.” The problem is that it is hard to create “want” for something that is nothing. Countless grocery stores have tested the concept from the early 1970s onward. They failed, as has Brandless.

The eternal allure of creating a great product at a great price without wasting money on branding and marketing attracts businesses to try the concept again and again. Yet no amount of Instagram-cool can change the fact that people love brands and that branded marketing is a helpful, necessary part of doing business. Without brands and marketing, you have a car without gasoline–one that is rather homely at that.

Why Brands Matter

1. Brands provide assurance.

Consumers want want assurance they are buying the right product, one that provides a known and consistent product experience. Generic brands can’t provide that.

2. Brands save time.

People are time crunched. Brands help them cut through the clutter to find what they want fast.

3. Brands are distinctive.

Brands make it easy to know what is different and desirable about one item in a profusion of choices.

4. Brands are less risky.

A known brand is a safer choice. You simply don’t know what you are getting in a white box that says spaghetti.

5. Brands add value.

Consumers consistently pay higher prices for brands because of all the factors listed above and because they add meaning. They can express who we are and what we value. lThey are the hook we use to talk about and share experiences and opinions about products.

About the Author:

Lisa Merriam serves on the American Marketing Association board of directors and is chairman of the communications committee. She is a marketing, brand, and content consultant at Merriam Associates. She is the co-author with Milton Kotler of Weaponized Marketing: Defeating Islamic Jihadists with Marketing that Built the World’s Top Brands, Rowman Littlefield, Spring 2020.