Prego Paradox: Pasta sauce, presidents and local races

In the 1980’s Howard Moskowitz had an unusual task. Create a better tomato sauce for Prego. Howard was not a chef, but was a Harvard PhD in experimental psychology.

Prego’s sales had slumped and they needed a change. They turned to Moskowitz to research Americans’ taste preferences. Prego wanted to create a pasta sauce all Americans loved.

But that’s not exactly what Moskowitz discovered. Moskowitz ‘s research found Americans didn’t want the one perfect pasta sauce. They wanted many perfect pasta sauces.

Prego had given Moskowitz the wrong task. There isn’t a perfect pasta sauce. But, because individuals have a wide variety of taste and preferences, there could be many perfect pasta sauces.

Moskowitz realized to create a product that appealed to everyone, it would appeal to no one. At best, a mediocre product. No one would hate it, but no one would love it either. People would eat it because it was there.

Moskowitz advised Prego to create three versions of pasta sauce –chunky, spicy and traditional. This small change revitalized the Prego brand and rocketed it to the top pasta sauce maker in America. The rest of the industry took note and an explosion of pasta sauce variations ensued.

This story presents interesting applications to politics.

Each presidential election season, each party nominates one person to run for president. They are the single style of pasta sauce. A Prego or a Ragu.

Acceptable enough for many, but exciting to few. It’s why the base gets upset with the nominee as they move from primary to the general. They temper their message for broader appeal.

This is what I call the Prego paradox – the higher office a candidate seeks the harder it is for mass appeal.

You see it now with the Republican primary. Different candidates appeal to different fractions of the party. Cruz and Huckabee appeal to the social conservatives and Rand Paul to the libertarians.

Prego paradox – the higher office a candidate seeks the harder it is for mass appeal.

As you go down the ticket, you see the effect weaken. With US House members there’s a more diverse mix of personality and characters. They tend to have greater popularity with their constituents. It’s why Americans tend to “love their Congressman but hate Congress”. They like their unique blend of pasta sauce.

Local candidates have an upper hand on Presidential candidates. They actually share many points of similarity with their voters. Local voters rarely ask about the issues or policies. Instead they connect with you over common experiences or common background.

The smaller the race and district, the more a candidate can be their constituent’s perfect blend of sauce. They reflect the specific preferences of the area. They share the same accent, went to the same schools, and have the same hobbies.

Embrace this similarity. You don’t have to act like a US Senator or President. Act like someone from your area. Someone who just happens to be running for office.



Source: The story of Howard Moskowitz was made famous by Malcolm Galdwell’s 2004 TED talk


About the Author

Trevor Bragdon

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Hi, I’m the founder of EquipGOP. Every election cycle I meet smart, hardworking Republicans who are running for the first time but don’t know where to start. EquipGOP's goal is to help these local Republican candidates learn tactics and strategies they need to win on Election Day.