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Confusopoly (aka Dilbert's confusopoly) is an economic and marketing term referring to a purposeful act by a seller or group of sellers to confuse the buyer in order to ease the sale. A portmanteau of confusion and monopoly or oligopoly, Dilbert's author Scott Adams defines confusopoly as "a group of companies with similar products who intentionally confuse customers instead of competing on price". For example, similar items like mobile phones are advertised at various price plans according to different combinations of available minutes, text messaging capabilities and other services, thus making these offers practically incomparable when it could be easy to price similar units of usage to allow informed comparisons. The term confusopoly also applies because confusion within the targeted consumer group is purposefully maintained, so choices are based on emotional factors (Larsen et al. 2008).
In reality the mobile phone market is a perfect example of Dilbert’s confusopoly. That is, various price propositions are on offer with different combinations of free minutes, texts, and other services, whilst in reality the same level of usage would result in roughly the same cost, leaving the user so confused that they simply choose the product with the name they like the most – a fact most notably recognised by the operator Orange with their animal-themed tariffs, such as Dolphin and Raccoon, and by LG who give their phone’s names such as Chocolate and Shine. Indeed, there has been a recent trend to take this a step further with co-branding of phones such as LG’s Prada, and Samsung’s Armani offerings.—Larsen & al.
The term has been adopted by economists. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director Richard Cordray, championing meaningful regulation for the financial industry, used the term confusopoly to refer to large financial institutions (Cordray 2014, 4'04"-4'26") :
There's actually an economic term for this; it's called "Confusopoly." If [the sellers] can confuse the consumer enough then the consumers won't necessary know what choice they're making and they can be talked into just about anything."—Richard Cordray, 2014/01/08
The same phenomenon occurs in biological systems, during mate choice, which is akin to a situation with a seller who advertises his "product" and a buyer who chooses among several sellers. It is referred to as the "sexual interference hypothesis" Multiple sexual ornaments.
- Larsen, Jakob Eg; Kristensen, Kristian; Edwards, Reuben; Coulton, Paul (2008), Mobile Users: Comparing Trends in Denmark and Britain
- Cordray, Richard (Jan 8, 2014), Richard Cordray Extended Interview Pt. 2