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Ahead of the Pack

January 25, 2010

Early in my business career, I came to appreciate the value of packaging.

In my first marketing job, I worked on four unadvertised product lines, and my task was to inject some excitement into them. One of  them was a line of chocolate pieces packed and merchandised in clear cellophane bags. As with the other brands in my portfolio, they tended to be treated as an afterthought and, in the stores that sold them, they tended to be dumped into bins at the bottom of the shelving, where they sat for quite some time. Because chocolate melts at about body temperature, the product inside could easily melt and discolor or just look unattractive, which contributed to the long stay on the shelf.

To inject some life into this brand, I recommended we put the cello bag ¬†inside a folding carton, which could be printed with appetizing photos of the product (no mean feat) and which could be merchandised at eye level to make them more visible to shoppers. Having the bag inside the box allowed us to say on the outside, “Sealed for Freshness” and, if any of the product melted while in the distribution channel, it would be noticed by shoppers, who would only see the appealing images on the carton.

This line became one of Hershey’s biggest selling products, and was regularly featured in mass merchandisers. Over 30 years since the product’s debut in the new pack, the form has remained unchanged, with the same key messages, and continues to be a top seller.

Another brand I worked on was PINE-SOL liquid cleaner.

When I started on PINE-SOL as brand manager, it was packed in a cylindrical glass bottle with a dirty green label and a logo that looked like it came from the 40’s. It was the number 3 brand in its category behind MR. CLEAN and LESTOIL and just seemed to be languishing.

However, prior to being assigned as Brand Manager, I led a project team to develop the first plastic bottle for PINE-SOL in the world, and part of my assignment was to introduce this new packaging form.

Putting PINE-SOL into plastic was not an easy task. The product contained terpene alcohols (think turpentine) that either dissolved most plastics used in making bottles or, in the case of transparent plastics, turning them cloudy so they became translucent. Within a few months of starting the project, we identified a resin compound that remained crystal clear while in contact with PINE-SOL and eventually perfected the bottle design and manufacturing process.

The plastic bottle was designed to be oval in shape. This enabled retailers to stock 30% more product on the shelf than the old cylindrical bottle, and contributed to solving a nagging out-of-stock problem that had plagued the brand. We changed the label to change the green to a cleaner-looking green and contemporized the brand name to make it bolder and look authoritative.

Within two years of introducing the new plastic pack, sales of PINE-SOL doubled, and the brand became the highest volume and most profitable brand in Cyanamid’s consumer products group. PINE-SOL took over the #2 slot in the category, which it still holds today.

Why did we see such a jump in sales?

Most consumers use PINE-SOL in bathrooms (the pine scent detracts from food aromas, so not much use in kitchens) and the biggest reason why consumers resisted buying PINE-SOL was a concern about the glass bottle breaking and having broken glass in a room where people are usually barefoot. The plastic bottle provided reassurance. Certainly, the label changes gave consumers a stronger impression of clean than the dirty colors previously used. We also were able to sell in the penitentiary system, a channel previously unattainable because the glass bottle could be used as a weapon in a prison.

These are just two examples of dramatic changes in the fortunes of brands where packaging alone was a key success factor.

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