(In)Consistency is the Hobgoblin of Packaging Design

I am a creature of habit. I freely admit this, as it’s something I have in common with most people. Don’t believe me? Okay, riddle me this, Batman, when you go shopping at your local grocery emporium/supermarket/superstore, and you’re looking for a particular brand, what do you look for? If you’re like me (and millions of other homo sapiens), you’ll look for the color, general shape, and size of a package, in order to locate it quickly. This helps me find things and avoid a lengthy search. Now most things are (usually) pretty easy to find at my local Kroger or Walmart. But there are certain items that defy definition of what part of the store they should be found. Instant mashed potatoes, for instance. Some stores put ’em with the 3 minute rice. Some don’t. But as long as I can spot the big red box of Hungry Jack, I’m a happy camper. But my visual shorthand system has come under fire lately, from an unexpected source: marketers

I’ve spotted an ugly trend lately. Call it “gratuitous packaging redesign.” Take your average product package from a nationwide brand. They usually put an ungodly amount of thought into every exposed surface, agonizing over the typography, photography, and every other -ography you can think of. The result is usually (but not always) a highly functional package that serves on the front lines of brand differentiation. Informative? Check. Easy to spot? Check? Memorable? Check. But then there are companies that redesign their packages so radically, their brand identity gets lost (Tropicana, I’m talking to YOU), and worse, companies that keep redesigning their packaging, with new versions coming down the pipeline every month or so. (Old Spice: pay attention.)

Nothing drives me more crazy inside a supermarket than having to spend more than five minutes looking for a product I buy regularly, and missing it because the morons in marketing are justifying their existence by (once again) redesigning the packaging. Enough, already! I don’t friggin’ care what Old Spice deodorant looks like. Pick a design and stick with it. Hell, if you wanna make some package that looks like the Old Spice guy with a rollerball where his bald head ought to be, I can live with it (that would border on kink, but still). JUST STOP CHANGING THE PACKAGING.

How often do you buy things like deodorant, toothpaste, or other grooming products? I dunno about you, but I have to buy deodorant only about every couple of months, and that’s using it every day. EVERY time I’ve had to buy deodorant, I see they’ve changed the bloody package. And not for the better – it seems to be change for the sake of change. And don’t get me started on-line extensions. Guys do not need – nor do we want a dozen different scents. Newsflash – we’re guys. We don’t want to waste brain cells or processing power on trying to decide if Arctic Winter smells better than Ocean Breeze. My nose hasn’t worked right since first grade. I’m lucky to be able to smell natural gas leaks. And the more choices you give me, the more I have to think about them, which is NOT how I want to spend my time. While I’m at it, if you boneheads in marketing are going to come out with a scent, at least have the decency to extend the fragrance across your product line. I find a deodorant I kinda like, only to find out that it’s not available in a cologne or a body spray. Since I can’t really smell anything, I’m deathly afraid that if I mix “Old Saddle” with “Eau de Dew Dah Daye” it’s gonna cause someone to notice that my cologne and my deodorant are engaged in a grudge cage match somewhere around my chest hair. Not a good idea.

So, fellow marketers – cut your loyal customers some slack, wouldja? Let’s find another way to justify those six-figure salaries and give the packaging design thing a rest, okay? And while you’re at it, a scent called “Wear This and She’ll Stop Bugging You About Your Cologne” would be a big seller. Trust me on this.


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