The first time I walked into the tofu division of the True Foods store in San Francisco’s Noe Valley, I had an attack of what I call segmentation vertigo. It’s when a alternative that need to be easy turns into complicated attributable to there are too many alternatives. And these aren’t the more or less alternatives that represent wanted qualitative differences. Reasonably they are alternatives that exist to manufacture you trip diversity the procedure you may well well seemingly trip a driving rain (even supposing there isn’t a hell of plenty of difference between one product and the following). Tofu—company, extra company, or silky—is tofu.

This occurred once more most no longer too prolonged within the past within the toothpaste aisle of Duane Reade. I modified into once looking to search out the more or less toothpaste that I mechanically steal—Colgate Full Mint Fresh Stripe—but I couldn’t to find its identify with out peeking within the leisure room, and modified into once confronted with an array of some 20-plus styles, including Baking Soda & Peroxide Whitening with Tartar Alter Brisk Mint Paste, Elegant White Mint Zing, Herbal White, and SpongeBob SquarePants Bubble Fruit. And that modified into once precise on the Colgate raze of the aisle. Over in Crest there modified into once Vivid White, Rejuvenating Effects, Fresh Citrus Streak, and Adolescence’ Spider-Man Right Motion Liquid Gel.

There had been Colgates and Crests within the historical horizontal tube, the more fresh very finest tube, the pump dispensers, and the sporty asymmetrical squeezable bottles. Cartons glittered with hologram-fancy swirls; boxes boasted scratch-and-sniff labels. One toothpaste, Colgate’s Fresh Self belief, had a designate apparently inspired by the legendary Russian Constructivist Alexander Rodchenko, with kind angling out of a disembodied mouth.

It came about to me that the toothpaste aisle is the purest example of what happens when one thing prosaic gets whipped up into one thing special in the course of the magic of invent. Once high-raze manufacturers fancy Alessi would rent someone fancy Stefano Giovannoni to flip the lowly leisure room-cleansing brush precise into a thing of beauty—and we would maybe well well all convey its praises. Now no longer lower than I do know I did. Then came Aim and Michael Graves, and that modified into once chilly too. Nonetheless what happens when a trendy commodity-producing American producer fancy Colgate-Palmolive or Procter & Gamble turns into no longer a invent client but a invent addict? Stand within the nook of the toothpaste aisle with your eyes extensive initiate and—I divulge—it’ll manufacture you dizzy.

When the bounty of the market makes my head lag, I deem John Naisbitt. He modified into once the creator of the finest seller Megatrends, which modified into once to 1980s futurism as Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock modified into once to the 1970s. Nonetheless Toffler’s vision had a dejected edge—the road to a postindustrial society would be a bumpy one—and Naisbitt’s future modified into once sunny and blithe. His vision modified into once neither Utopian nor Dystopian. It modified into once more fancy Fruitopian. Naisbitt modified into once almost about obvious things: we would maybe well well, as an illustration, in some unspecified time in the future comprise computer systems as our chums.

Basically the most resonant “megatrend” for me modified into once the “the vinegar aisle.” In a chapter about the transition from an “both/or” society to 1 with “multiple alternatives,” Naisbitt remarked on the burgeoning forms of mustard, coffee, and yogurt. He predicted an explosion in tofu gross sales (bingo!), and within the passage I to find in mind most efficient—seemingly attributable to at the time I regarded it with potentially the most contempt—he wrote, “There might be now tarragon vinegar, along with raspberry white-wine vinegar, blueberry vinegar, peppercorn pink-wine vinegar, Oriental rice vinegar, and strawberry, shadowy currant and cherry vinegar, among others.”

A brief depend in my nearest drugstore confirmed 26 completely different forms of Colgate (including completely different flavors and gear forms but no longer completely different kit sizes) and 32 Crests. While segmentation is occurring at some stage within the store, it’s most vulgar within the toothpaste aisle, where you’ve bought a outdated fashion product class looking to act immature.

“This began to warmth up about five years within the past,” explains Sean Rugless, vice president at the Cincinnati-basically based Fisher Slay, a company that specializes in “holistic mark pattern.” He frail to be in mark management at Procter & Gamble, maker of Crest, additionally headquartered in Cincinnati. Undoubtedly one of his predominant clients at Fisher is Colgate. “Either Colgate or Crest,” Rugless continues, “is the incumbent.”

The incumbent? What Rugless procedure is the conclude-promoting mark. Based mostly entirely on a November 2004 represent on the “U.S. Marketplace for Oral Care Products” from market examine company Packaged Facts, there are 25 “significant” mass marketers of “dental preparations,” but two of them, Colgate and Crest, rake in two-thirds of the toothpaste greenbacks. Colgate controls 34 percent (down half of some degree from the old year), and Crest modified into once at 31.6 percent (up bigger than some degree). GlaxoSmithKline’s Aquafresh is a a long way away third, with 14.8 percent. Within the slack 1990s, nonetheless, the “incumbent” modified into once Crest. “So if you earn the 2 main manufacturers looking to be number 1, each product innovation gets duplicated.”

Whitening. Tartar adjust. Fresh breath. Uncommon flavor. Sketch characters. Glamour. Day-Glo shade. Tit for tat. Extra whitening. It’s fancy nuclear proliferation: escalation with out raze. And as Rugless parts out, the major weapon on this war for hearts and mouths is invent. Crest packaging, he rings a bell in my memory, “frail to be white with a multicolor typeface, a monumental pink C, and a puny flag.” Crest now has a blue kit with a white burst and “a selected notify for flavor and versioning. The blue gets into this full opinion of being refreshing.”

As I hear to Rugless, it dawns on me that the toothpaste aisle isn’t Naisbitt’s vinegar aisle since the futurist innocently assumed that a diversity of flavors intended a diversity of manufacturers. What has truly occurred in latest years is that the 2 main manufacturers private retooled their packaging to higher dominate the store cabinets; smaller manufacturers are squeezed out because the market leaders introduce more flavors, colors, and watch-catching graphics. Colgate packages are redder; Crest packages are bluer. In between is a modest patch of mint green, belonging to Aquafresh. Nonetheless despite the seems to be to be to be like of kaleidoscopic diversity, we’re truly a pink toothpaste/blue toothpaste nation with, certain, a pink toothpaste incumbent.

One other motive the toothpaste aisle seems to be to be to be like the procedure it does is that, in the course of the miracle of computerized manufacturing and invent, it takes no time to kind a fresh diversity of precise about one thing. “You’re no longer talking about a twelve-month ramp-up to put a fresh product on the market,” says Dr. Robert Passikoff of Imprint Keys. “If Colgate Palmolive or Procter & Gamble or Tom’s of Maine discovers a fresh section, the opponents are on the market inner thirty days.”

Passikoff’s interpretation of the toothpaste pain: pure desperation. Neither company can cease the ramp-up in mark extensions attributable to feverish permutation is the finest procedure to hold on to market portion. We would maybe well well goal be a pink toothpaste/blue toothpaste nation, but we’re so addicted to novelty in each facet of our lives that Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, and their armies of invent consultants are churning out fresh products as rapid as they may be able to create fresh market segments.

And what if we’re so overwhelmed with minor choices—solid mint or tangy citrus—that we can no longer specialize in major ones? Perchance the toothpaste aisle is largely Toffler territory. “When fluctuate, nonetheless, converges with transience and novelty, we rocket the society toward an historical disaster of adaptation,” he wrote serve in 1970. “We kind an setting so ephemeral, irregular, and complex as to threaten millions with adaptive breakdown.” Naturally, Toeffler concluded, “This breakdown is future shock.” Precisely so—excluding I diagram shut to deem it as segmentation vertigo.