Too much difference in money for the 12 year and lifetime tanks. Myself, I would go for the 6 or 9 year tanks. There wouldn't be much difference with them anyway other than some added insulation and the added warranty. No reason why a six year tank won't last 15 years with proper maintenance and no hard water. I had a five year tank last 17 years, there was basically nothing wrong with it. I replaced it because it was old.
I agree, I guess often times the marketers want us to gravitate towards a number they want us to use, and not consider marginal benefit v marginal cost, where marginal benefit should exceed the marginal cost.
Starbucks is good at the above. A drink is $5.50 for medium, and $6 for extra super duper large. If the super duper is priced correctly, then the medium is a rip off. But, MB > MC so I would buy the super duper, although I don't like Starbucks, just saw this in action when there with my wife.
An example is when I bought a used Lexus. They were all 10 years old in 2016, and if you can believe it, some were going for $23k because of low miles, like 20-40k on the odometer. Mine was $14k with 81k. So was it worth it to pay $9k more, to have 40-60k less miles on the car, when it was a 2006? Since there were examples of this car (variants) that crossed 1 mil miles, and the conventional wisdom said it's 300k miles easily, 500k good chance, why would anyone pay the $23k? Time is the enemy, not the miles. I'd say same with the water heater, and you're likely right that 6 or 9 is in the sweet spot. Few can be scientific because how many have we purchased in our lifetimes? Me, 1.