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The Package IS the Product

September 21, 2010

I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell‘s BLINK. I know, it’s been around a while, but I took it with me on vacation and read it in a day.

In Chapter 5, Gladwell describes the work of Louis Cheskin, who postulated that most people don’t make a distinction between the product and the package.

It brought to mind Marshall McLuhan‘s expression, “The medium is the message” which became the mantra of the advertising and media worlds. So this seemed to me to be an appropriate way to title this post.

BLINK describes some experiments Cheskin conducted to help a client understand why their brandy was losing market share despite comparable pricing and comparable advertising spending. In this case, the products were Christian Brothers Brandy and E&J Gallo Brandy.

In blind taste tests, consumers couldn’t differentiate between the two products.

When the samples were identified, Christian Brothers scored better than Gallo. Cheskin postulated this was because the brand name had more positive connotations and, perhaps, the brand image was stronger than Gallo’s.

Cheskin’s team then tried another approach. They put Gallo brandy in a Christian Brothers bottle and Christian Brothers brandy in a Gallo bottle. This time, the product in the Gallo bottle won hands down.

What came out of Cheskin’s research on this project was that Gallo had packaged their brandy in a way that was consistent with European practice. The bottle was ornate and shaped like a decanter. The glass was smoked, not just clear flint glass. There was foil wrapping around the opening, and a rich looking embossed label.

The Christian Brothers bottle was slender, like a wine bottle, and had a simple off-white label.

[I’d love to be able to show you photos of the two packages to illustrate the differences between them, but couldn’t find photo’s of the bottles from the period of the research. If anyone can help, I’ll gladly add them to the post.]

This study suggests packaging has a powerful influence on perceptions of the product – not just visual but also flavor, and likely other sensory dimensions.

For image products in particular – cigarettes, beverage alcohol, fragrances and cosmetics – there is more investment in the packaging than in the product itself.

I think more people smoke MARLBORO for the rugged, masculine image than they do for the taste. Would CHANEL No. 5 smell as sweet if it were packaged in an OLD SPICE bottle? The whole ABSOLUT vodka advertising campaign is based on the shape of the bottle, not the flavor of the vodka.

When I spent a year working as a packaging manager in a fragrance company, we had a perfume called Geoffrey Beene RED, that sold for about $400/ounce.

RED came in a crystal decanter with a cut crystal stopper. My recollection was that there was a tag and a cord that carried the branding on the primary package. The display package was a lacquered wooden box, hand-made made in Italy, that cost about $50. The perfume itself cost perhaps a dollar for an ounce.

RED traded on the image of the Geoffrey Beene designer name and image. That’s what consumers bought into. The fragrance itself was not to my liking, and it was hard to imagine anyone liking it. Yet it sold.

The power of packaging.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 21, 2010 5:00 PM

    Were we separated at birth somehow?

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