Dating app Tinder was recently found guilty of age discrimination based on their pricing policies. Tinder charges individuals over 30 twice the price they charge those under 30 for their premium service, Tinder Plus. Their rationale was that younger people have less money to spend but the court said that older members can be budget constrained as well. You can read more about the issue in this Slate article. Tinder argued that companies like Amazon do the same thing (with a lower price for Prime membership for students) but there’s an important distinction. Ask your students why what Amazon does is legal and what Tinder does is not. The key is the concept of protected classes. Amazon provides their discount based on status as a student. While most students are younger, there can be older students as well. Most importantly, “student” is not a government recognized protected class whereas age, race, sex, etc. are recognized as protected classes and subject to discriminating scrutiny.
Smartphones revolutionized the world and it wasn’t long after the first smartphone was released that everyone wanted one of their own. For years, smartphone manufacturers were able to capitalize on unmet demand but as the product-market reached maturity and demand became saturated, manufacturers needed to find ways to entice users to upgrade in order to protect their new revenue stream.
The classic approach in technology is to release new versions of products. If a manufacturer delivers enough added value with the new release, existing consumers will be willing to buy the new product to replace their old one. But how much is necessary to entice consumers to upgrade? That answer is dependent on several factors that influence consumer buying behavior. These influences are reviewed in detail in Chapter 5 – Final Consumers and Their Buying Behavior.
This article, “Your Next Phone Will Probably Cost $1000“, talks about the latest generation of smartphones to hit the market and the various influences that will determine their success or failure. In particular, the article notes that this is the first generation of products to pass the $1000 price barrier. The article suggests that surpassing that psychologically significant price barrier may slow adoption of the new line of phones.
Ask your students how many have purchased or intend to purchase one of these new phones, when they purchased (or intend to purchase), and why they chose to upgrade. This can lead to a good discussion regarding all of the influences that impact that purchasing decision. Some will choose to buy primarily because of psychological social needs – the desire for status or acceptance from peers. Others will apply a more economic assessment. Those individuals may justify the purchase based on faster performance, larger screen sizes, new features, etc. A full discussion of the various factors that influence consumer purchasing behavior is covered in Chapter 5 – Final Customers and Their Buying Behavior.
This conversation can also apply when covering the adoption curve discussed in Chapter 13. In any given classroom you’re likely to have students that can be classified as members of the early adopters and early majority segments of the adoption curve but you may also have members of other segments. Asking students from each group how they make decisions about when to buy can really help illustrate the differences between segments.
Most industries report a decline in the effectiveness of advertising as a means to tell customers about their product. As we note in chapter 16, customers tend to place more faith in what real people say about goods and services they might buy. Apps, including the online review site Yelp and social media site Instagram, offer customers an easy and fast way to hear about other customers’ experiences.
Restaurants have long benefited from word-of-mouth (telling a friend about that “great meal you had at the new bistro”). Today, some restaurants are looking for ways to be more “Instagrammable.” Read more at this trend in “Instagram is pushing restaurants to be kitschy, colorful, and irresistible to photographers,” The Verge, July 20, 2017.
This article could be discussed at many different points in the semester. It offers an interesting example of customer value (chapters 1, 8 and 17); for some target customers, improving the “shareability” of an experience enhances the experience. For many young people, sharing the experience is part of the experience. It also suggests how consumer behavior (chapter 5) with social media (chapter 16) can impact new product development (chapter 9). After sharing this example in class, students could be asked: why are these businesses doing this? They are likely to immediately get that it fosters word-of-mouth, but may not readily connect with other benefits.
It was hard to miss the story of Mylan’s pricing of the EpiPen as it played across the business news cycle for a couple of weeks in late August and early September 2016. Now that the dust has settled a bit, we will offer some perspective and ideas about how this might be used in a principles of marketing class.
The pricing of pharmaceutical drugs has unique challenges including long product development cycles (with most ending in failure), patent protection, sometimes life-saving qualities, and frequently paid for by insurance (for more, see the What’s New? box in Essentials of Marketing 15th edition, chapter 17).
Focusing on maximizing profits, companies can make a lot of money charging a high price for a drug that is on patent (or in this case has no adequate substitutes) and saves lives (that tends to reduce price sensitivity). On the other hand, high prices can bring in new competitors, or in this case attracts negative publicity and possibly increased regulation.
We have pulled together a few articles that you might read to understand this topic better. A Bloomberg Businessweek article, “The EpiPen Drama Shows What’s Wrong With How Drugs Are Priced” (September 1, 2016) provides a good overview of the issues and history. Among other things, it notes that when Mylan acquired marketing rights for EpiPen in 2007, a pair of the auto-injectors cost around $100. They now cost over $600. That is a big margin on a product estimated to cost about $20-30 each to produce. Most of the cost is for the auto-injection system as epinephrine “drug” that is delivered costs less than a dollar.
Another interesting teaching element of this case is how the profits are distributed along the long channel of distribution for the drug: Mylan gets $274, while “…your insurer keeps $249. The pharmacy benefits manager that negotiates between Mylan and your insurer gets $40. Your local pharmacist keeps $27. The wholesaler gets $10.” (NBC News, September 6, 2016). This raises questions about the efficiency and value provided by this channel of distribution. This suggests an opportunity to discuss EpiPen when you cover Place.
There is also an opportunity to explore some of Mylan’s promotion and targeting practices for EpiPen (see Bloomberg Businessweek, “How Marketing Turned the EpiPen Into a Billion-Dollar Business,” September 23, 2015). The company aggressively built the EpiPen brand name, started selling the delivery devices only in two-packs, and sought to have them stocked in schools and public places (including every room in Disney World hotels). With expiration dates, most of those EpiPens will go unused — and have to be replaced. What are the ethics here? And why do they cost less than $100 in Canada? The certainly raise issues that could be used when discussing Product as well as segmentation and targeting.
This case primarily deals with ethics and marketing strategy. It covers more than pricing — as profits from successful drugs are used to fund R&D for new drugs. Yet when some families have to decide between buying EpiPens and a month’s worth of groceries, important questions are raised. These are questions our students should wrestle with. We think that the case provides an opportunity to discuss a range of marketing issues in your class.
In chapter 17 we discuss dynamic pricing — when prices change “according to the level of demand, the type of customer, or the state of the weather.” Uber is a company that connects people who need a ride with drivers who can give those rides (a competitor to the taxi cab).
A key part of Uber’s business model is “surge pricing.” Surge pricing is a form of dynamic pricing and prices increase as cabs become more scarce (due to fewer drivers or a significant increase in demand). So for example, when the weather is particularly cold or wet, many pedestrians seek out cabs. Surge pricing gives drivers more pay to encourage them to keep working at these times. Surge pricing is controversial — and some customers don’t like that prices change based on supply and demand.
A new Uber rival, Gett, does not use surge pricing and touts this point in an ad campaign — see more at “Gett Ad Campaign Takes Jab at Uber for Surge Pricing” (HybridCars.com, June 21, 2016).
Some consumers don’t like surge pricing and wonder if this is fair. In some countries, laws have been enacted to prevent this practice. Is it ethical for Uber to charge higher prices? Do you think Gett has a good strategy to counter Uber? Explain. How could it effect Gett’s driver availability and reliability? Will it have drivers when customers need them?