Un-branding is the New Black: Two Companies Compete to Become Our New Favorite Generics

Un-branding is the New Black: Two Companies Compete to Become Our New Favorite Generics

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Melissa Massello
Jul 22, 2017
(Image credit: Billion Photos/Shutterstock)

As lovers of design, pretty packaging can sometimes be the thing that draws us to a product. But two new companies are betting they can forgo fancy branding and still draw us in by appealing to our wallets and our ethics, with high-quality all-natural products starting at $1.50.

Brandless, which just received $50M in funding, and Public Good (formerly Morgans), which just launched its Kickstarter on July 11th and is already funded several times over, are just two of the un-brands streamlining retail by offering high-quality unisex beauty, grooming, personal care, health and grocery items — for starters.

Both companies have adopted the direct-to-consumer trend that allows them to "cut out the middleman" of traditional supply chains and offer more affordable products at the same high level of quality, but both companies are also going a step further by additionally cutting out the budget for marketing, advertising, and branding with a modern take on "generic."

As Racked reports this week in its more in-depth take on the trend, "Meet the New No-Brand Brands Selling $3 Shampoo," both brands have learned from the hard-won lessons of the history of generics, and while eschewing pretty packaging are still putting the product features — and values — front and center. Thanks to some great investigative reporting by those writers, you can still read this time capsule of a 1986 New York Times article that describes how generics died a fairly quick death because they failed to promote, among other things, what was actually in the products and where they were made.

So, what's in store for this latest crop of un-branded, at-cost household products?

Here's a side-by-side comparison of both brands — one funded by venture capital, one funded by crowdsourcing — with promotional videos!


BRANDLESS

Deep pockets and deep product selection define Brandless, the Silicon Valley-based, venture-backed brainchild of iVillage co-founder Tina Sharkey and Yes.To co-founder Ido Leffler, who spent two years developing their mission to provide "Better Everything for Everyone." The company, which Business Insider reports just raised $50M in funding, wants to give consumers a more values-filtered product catalog of generics where everything is just $3 to $5. (In some cases, such as in categories like packaged snacks, everything is actually just $1.50.)

The "Field Guide to #BrandlessLife" on the company's blog expands on that mission to say that, "Here at Brandless we put people first, which means value and values stick together. Better stuff, fewer dollars, no nonsense."

When shopping the Brandless catalog, consumers can add multiple filters, including Gluten-Free, Certified Organic, Vegan, Non-GMO, and more, to ensure that their product selections wholeheartedly match their values (or food allergies/dietary restrictions, in the case of grocery and beauty products). These are qualities that Brandless co-founder Sharkey told BI are becoming "mainstream" in America, but are still hard to find for a fair price on the shelf.

Currently, Brandless offers a whopping 115 products, and will offer more than 200 by the end of 2017, across household and grocery categories. While the products range from $1.50 to $5 each, shipping is an additional flat rate of $9 per order unless you order $72 or more — or join the (un)brand's B.More program for $36 a year, which gets you free shipping at a lower threshold of $48 or more per order. It appears as though nearly all Brandless products are Made in USA, and each purchase also gives back to Feeding America — with even more buy one/give some benefits for B.More members. See what existing customers are "unboxing" on Instagram under the hashtag #BrandlessBox.

But the Brandless brand is still a brand, especially seeing as the company submitted a trademark for the white box, which forms the base for the ultra-simple graphics rolled out across its range, that it also co-designed with Brooklyn agency Red Antler, according to dezeen.


PUBLIC GOODS

Bootstrapping, for-the-people by-the-people vibes dominate this crowdsourced company, formerly known as Morgans — after founder Morgan Hirsh. The Brooklyn-based, back-to-basics generics are designed to be unisex and appeal to all — while taking feedback and funding from actual customers, via the recently launched Kickstarter campaign and regularly hosted AMAs with the co-founders. Just 10 days into Public Goods' crowdfunding campaign, the $20,000 funding goal has been met almost five times over, with contributions from more than 2,000 existing and future customers.

Packaging and fragrances/scents are designed to be unisex and straightforward, a "collection of household products revolutionizing the buying process by offering all products at cost, for the first time ever," according to BackerCamp. The brand name itself is "derived from the public good, as in something that's available to all, like a park." Which is why, after the membership fee, products are offered at cost.

But the Public Goods catalog currently only contains 13 products, in health & beauty and household basics: shampoo, conditioner, hand soap, bar soap, moisturizer, lip balm, sunscreen, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, body wash, razors, shaving cream, and toilet paper. New products will be launching every month — including a forthcoming launch announced for biodegradable garbage bags — and groceries coming in 2018.

"And just like we want our products to be kind to you, we also want them to be kind to the environment," the founders write in their crowdfunding pitch. "We use bioplastics in our packaging, and are always striving to be more eco-friendly. By keeping things local and making our products here in the U.S, we're also keeping our carbon footprint down."

Central to the Kickstarter campaign are Lifetime Memberships, currently being offered for as low as $49 (as of publication), with incremental increases each time a crowdfunding level sells out. Lifetime memberships will supercede the $12 monthly and $96 annual memberships regular customers will pay in order to secure the $3-5 per product prices on Public Goods products. Everyone will receive free shipping on orders of $25 or more, according to the two founders.

Transparency in manufacturing also seems central to the Public Goods' (un)brand. According to the Kickstarter campaign, manufacturing will happen mostly in the US, with the exception of the bamboo products (toothbrushes and toilet paper, for starters), which will be made in China or "where bamboo grows."

"Our bar soap is made in Tennessee. Our toothpaste in Utah. Our liquids and soap in New Jersey. And our bamboo toothbrushes are made in China where bamboo grows. Our tree-free toilet paper also."

What do you think? Are you into this trend toward unbranding? Tell us in the comments.

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