Packaged Goods


Last week at the Sustainable Brands ’11 conference in Monterey, CA there were some prominent takeaways that many brands (large and small) are now doing as a normal part of business. Being sustainable, which is both environmental and social, has become more than an eco-trend and much more than presenting the consumer with a “green” image.  In fact, green washing is one of several varied terms used to describe businesses that attempt to fool the customer into believing that their products are safe, natural and/or do no harm to the environment. However, today’s mobile consumer is extremely savvy and often are quite cynical. In response to this backlash many businesses are finding that authenticity and transparency are the keys to building successful and lasting relationships with their customers and shareholders.

What was loud and clear to this attendee is that sustainability should be embedded rather than tacked onto existing business practices and that marketing efforts should focus on product quality first rather than any “green attributes”.  The key is to understanding what motivates consumers and one emerging movement is the use of gaming for marketing and product usage purposes. What is referred to as “gamification” is now a major catalyst for changing well-entrenched behaviors and creating new social norms while engaging consumers in fun and rewarding ways.

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Do popular brands help define who we are? Do they help provide the visual and iconic clues that define an era or specific moments in time? And do brands need to stick to one image or campaign in order to be successful as representations of moments in time?

Brands that stand the test of time are the ones that are fully ingrained in consumers’ minds. Al Ries of Advertising Age recently wrote an excellent article that argues, “Once a brand is established with a clearly defined marketing position, the brand’s owner should ask a fundamental question before making any significant changes. Why tinker with success?”

Mr. Ries also states, “the way to build a brand is with a consistent message over an extended period of time.” The end result of creating a consistent message is what’s known as building brand equity. Brand Equity is created over time through marketing, PR, advertising and more recently social media, and is constantly reinforced by gentle or sometimes over-the-top reminders (ads) that together serve as a ubiquitous force that’s woven into our collective conscience. In other words, we become so familiar with the brand that we recognize it as being a normal part of popular culture and our everyday lives.

As Colin Drummond so eloquently wrote in his blog Brands Belong in Culture, Not Categories:

A brand’s true usefulness is in how it helps us to participate in culture… brands represent aspects of today’s America: modernity, hope, intelligence, optimism, blindness and decay. These brands are culturally useful to us when we use them or even just have an opinion about them. Because our association with them says a lot about who we are. Significant brands are never just relevant to a category, they contribute to culture at large.

Marking Time with Familiar Brands

Familiar brands from Apple and IBM to Kellogg’s and Colgate-Palmolive often form the backdrop to our daily existence and over time become the icons that help define the present and our past. As Science Creative‘s blog mentioned in an earlier post on technology, “look at any old photograph and it’s the clothes and “products” around the subjects that truly dates the photo.”

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SEE THIS ON SCIENCE CREATIVE

Picture yourself living a middle class life at the beginning of the last century. Let’s say the year is 1904. The times feel modern and technology is rapidly expanding and seemingly improving our lives.  Amazing things are happening in this new century, back on December 17, 1903 the Wright brothers actually flew an engine-powered aeroplane – magnificent! Later, in 1904 a Canadian by the name of John E. Kennedy would define advertising as “salesmanship in print”. This would ensure from that point onward, new technology would be marketed as a product or benefit that every consumer needed – now.

The onslaught of new fangled technology such as radios, the new Gillette safety razors, vacuum cleaners and even Crayola Crayons had to be marketed and the public was soon immersed in the wonderment of being able to consume and live the life of modernity.

Back then there was a sense of excitement and a feeling of anticipation with the introduction of each new technological marvel. Because so much of what was becoming available could hardly have been imagined only the year before it was a magical and incredible time.

Of course marketing and advertising helped promote this “idealistic world” that new technology offered in ever-growing abundance. Over time consumers became accustomed to the “what’s new” marketing formula. As a result, what was once “new and incredible” soon became old, dated and years later would stand as a marker of history. Look at any old photograph and it’s the clothes and “products” around the subjects that truly dates the photo.

As the 20th century progressed and wars came (which accelerated technological advancement), marketers and advertisers continued to promote an ever-growing variety of “New” consumer goods with technological advancements that were always remarkable.

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As mentioned in my previous post on Eco-Friendly packaging, the question was asked, “how can we develop the most cost effective packaging solutions that will fit into the design, marketing and functional needs?” Well, a big part of that equation comes in the form of plastic. Plastic has been great for consumers and without a doubt, has allowed human kind to progress beyond anyone’s predictions.

However, today we are literally choking on the stuff and we need to find alternatives and more ways to recycle and reuse ASAP.

In this post we will provide examples of some businesses currently recycling conventional plastics as well as those who now using, or are beginning to explore, biodegradable plastic as an alternative. In addition, there are those who advocate a shift in the way we do business which may also be a part of the answer to realizing new business models that are profitable and environmentally responsible.

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Updated: June 15, 2010

As a marketer and advertiser who understands the importance of consumer packaging across the marketing mix (4 P’s – product, price, place, promotion) I am also concerned about how retail industries should be using more biodegradable and recycled packaging.  I recognize that it comes down to the simple economics of cost and practicality as much as function, convenience and of course brand image, but much like the movement to rid styrofoam of CFC’s back in the late 80’s, there needs to be a new movement to ensure all, or most, packaging becomes recyclable, biodegradable and/or re-used.

While walking the local grocery isle I am often perplexed by the variety of packaging that seems to be well above and beyond what is needed to contain and promote the product. Excess plastic and non-functional design make some of these products difficult to purchase since the company hasn’t thought about its packaging strategy beyond cost. Yes, I am being general (there are probably many examples of eco-friendly packaging that are also functional) but there aren’t enough products with eco-friendly packaging available.

The folks at Frito-Lay are promoting their new eco-friendly and biodegradable Sun Chips bags which is a start, but why aren’t they extending this practice to all their packaging? (And, as a pet peeve, these new bags make a lot of noise.)

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