Marketing & Variability - Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti Sauce

Howard Moskowitz – has done as much to make people happy as anyone. Known for reinventing spaghetti sauce.

When they analyzed the Diet Pepsi data, they were asking the wrong question. They were looking for the perfect Pepsi, and they should have been looking for the perfect Pepsis.

He would say, "You had been looking for the perfect Pepsi. You're wrong. You should be looking for the perfect Pepsis."

"to a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish.”

"There is no perfect pickle, there are only perfect pickles."

Prego is a better tomato sauce than Ragu. The quality of the tomato paste is much better, the spice mix is far superior, it adheres to the pasta in a much more pleasing way.

If you analyze all this data on spaghetti sauce, you realize that all Americans fall into one of three groups. There are people who like their spaghetti sauce plain, there are people who like their spaghetti sauce spicy and there are people who like it extra chunky.

“We've been thinking all wrong!" And that's when you started getting seven different kinds of vinegar, and 14 different kinds of mustard, and 71 different kinds of olive oil

he fundamentally changed the way the food industry thinks about making you happy. Assumption number one in the food industry used to be that the way to find out what people want to eat -- what will make people happy -- is to ask them. And for years and years and years and years, Ragu and Prego would have focus groups, and they would sit all you people down, and they would say, "What do you want in a spaghetti sauce? Tell us what you want in a spaghetti sauce." And for all those years -- 20, 30 years -- through all those focus group sessions, no one ever said they wanted extra-chunky. Even though at least a third of them, deep in their hearts, actually did.

People don’t know what they want. The mind knows not what the tongue wants.

And a critically important step in understanding our own desires and tastes is to realize that we cannot always explain what we want deep down. If I asked all of you, for example, in this room, what you want in a coffee, you know what you'd say? Every one of you would say "I want a dark, rich, hearty roast." It's what people always say when you ask them what they want in a coffee. What do you like? Dark, rich, hearty roast! What percentage of you actually like a dark, rich, hearty roast? According to Howard, somewhere between 25 and 27 percent of you. Most of you like milky, weak coffee. But you will never, ever say to someone who asks you what you want -- that "I want a milky, weak coffee."

he made us realize in the importance of what he likes to call Horizontal Segmentation

Mustard – grey poupon came out and took over the mustard industry. And everyone's take-home lesson from that was that the way to get to make people happy is to give them something that is more expensive, something to aspire to. Right? It's to make them turn their back on what they think they like now, and reach out for something higher up the mustard hierarchy. A better mustard! A more expensive mustard! A mustard of more sophistication and culture and meaning. And Howard looked to that and said, that's wrong! Mustard does not exist on a hierarchy. Mustard exists, just like tomato sauce, on a horizontal plane. There is no good mustard, or bad mustard. There is no perfect mustard, or imperfect mustard. There are only different kinds of mustards that suit different kinds of people. He fundamentally democratized the way we think about taste.

Howard confronted the notion of the Platonic dish. Why were we attached to that? Because we thought that what it took to make people happy was to provide them with the most culturally authentic tomato sauce, A, and B, we thought that if we gave them the culturally authentic tomato sauce, then they would embrace it. And that's what would please the maximum number of people.

We used to be obsessed with looking for universals, in this case, cooking universals. What’s great revolution in science of the last 10, 15 years? It is the movement from the search for universals to the understanding of variability. Now in medical science, we don't want to know how necessarily -- just how cancer works, we want to know how your cancer is different from my cancer. I guess my cancer is different from your cancer. Genetics has opened the door to the study of human variability. What Howard Moskowitz was doing was saying this same revolution needs to happen in the world of tomato sauce.

Howard not only believed that, but he took it a second step, which was to say that when we pursue universal principles in food, we aren't just making an error, we are actually doing ourselves a massive disservice.
And the example he used was coffee. And coffee is something he did a lot of work with, with Nescafe. If I were to ask all of you to try and come up with a brand of coffee -- a type of coffee, a brew -- that made all of you happy, and then I asked you to rate that coffee, the average score in this room for coffee would be about 60 on a scale of 0 to 100. If, however, you allowed me to break you into coffee clusters, maybe three or four coffee clusters, and I could make coffee just for each of those individual clusters, your scores would go from 60 to 75 or 78. The difference between coffee at 60 and coffee at 78 is a difference between coffee that makes you wince, and coffee that makes you deliriously happy.
That is the final, and I think most beautiful lesson, of Howard Moskowitz. That in embracing the diversity of human beings, we will find a surer way to true happiness.