Brands—concentration of ownership behind the illusion of diversity

In the world of brands, all is not what it seems. Thousands of brands jostle and compete with each other for our attention and money. Behind the scenes we usually find that there is just a handful of corporations behind this diversity. This is certainly true of the soft drinks industry.

Consider The illusion of diversity: visualizing ownership in the soft drink industry by Phil Howard, Chris Duvall and Kirk Goldsberry

Three firms control 89% of US soft drink sales. This dominance is obscured from us by the appearance of numerous choices on retailer shelves. Steve Hannaford refers to this as “pseudovariety,” or the illusion of diversity, concealing a lack of real choice. To visualize the extent of pseudovariety in this industry we developed a cluster diagram to represent the number of soft drink brands and varieties found in the refrigerator cases of 94 Michigan retailers, along with their ownership and/or licensing connections.

Click on the above link and explore their cluster diagrams and see how the diversity of brands obscures ownership of them.

At the top of that page you will see links to similar research into other brands.

This is an example of Visual Complexity. It’s best understood by looking at examples of it. Explore this last link and see if emotions can be understood this way, visually. Or check out the blog here.

Visual complexity

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