Does anyone actually give a shit if a product changes its packaging graphics?

Every now and then some big brand name will decide that the look of its packaging has gotten old and boring so they decide to spice things up with a redesign. That much I can understand, but what I don’t understand is why they think a change in the look of their packaging is in any way a selling point for their product?

Note, I’m not talking about a new container design such as a no-drip bottle or easy-pour spout or what have you, just a change in the graphics on the package. Take, for example, the folks who make Barilla whole grain spaghetti. They’re about to unleash a new look for the box and they just can’t help but tell you about it:

Pic of Barilla spaghetti package.

Click to embiggen.

Along the right hand side of the box you’ll see that they’re advertising what the box is going to look like in the near future. What’s worse is the fact that, as pointed out by the folks at Slate.com, they had to redesign the current package just to tout the upcoming redesign. According to the back of the box “nothing else has changed” about the product.

I realize I’ve got an above average IQ, but I just don’t understand why I should care. OK, I can maybe see a reason in the idea that some idiots may get confused by the new package and be unable to determine that the product is right there in front of them, but you can do that without selling it as being some great new feature of your product. I don’t buy spaghetti based on how pretty the box it comes in happens to be.

I had the same reaction when Coca-Cola announced that they had new plastic bottles that were similar in shape to the old glass bottles. (They recently made the same change to their 2-liter bottles.) I didn’t care if the bottle was shaped like the old glass ones. It wasn’t a major factor in my purchasing decision. Now, had they brought back glass bottles then I’d have been much more interested. I’ve always thought the product tasted better in glass bottles.

Knowing my track record I’m probably in the minority on this topic similar to how I’m in the minority about those stupid kindergarten-like motivational posters some companies like to plaster all over their workplaces. I find them insulting to my intelligence, but I’m told they actually work which is why employers use them. I’m probably too cynical for it to work on me.

27 thoughts on “Does anyone actually give a shit if a product changes its packaging graphics?

  1. It’s probably some psychological thing like putting the a SALE sign in the window when nothing is cheaper. People think that if it is redesigned it might be better or that the company is actually thinking of them…the whole FRESH NEW LOOK.

    Personally I hate it when companies redesign packages. They do that to female products all the time and it pisses me off because I can’t find what I need…ok sorry…maybe TMI…but still…

  2. I plan on losing 20lbs by summer. If I pack on an extra 10lbs right now, then I can tell everyone I lost 30lbs!

  3. Never underestimate the capacity for people to be interested in stupid shit. The last real job I had, the company redesigned their logo. Not only did they redesign their logo, but they told everyone in the company about it. Not just “Here.. we redesigned our logo” but 1) Why they redesigned their logo (I could give a rat’s ass), 2) What every part of their logo signified (I cared even less about that) and 3) why it was so good (what THAT boiled down to was “Other companies are doing it, so we will”)

    Then they told us we had to buy new logo shirts and not wear the old one’s to work any more. They were afraid it might confuse people. Never mind that neither the name of the company nor the acronym had changed, they were worried about someone thinking that the different SHAPE of the old and new logo’s would confuse people.

    How much whiny, useless, waste-of-money-and-time BULLSHIT can you shove into one topic that doesn’t even deserve a memo much less the dozen meetings they had on it?

    So yeah… packaging changes?? Doesn’t surprise me at all, and surprises me even less that it doesn’t make any difference whatsoever. Just because something is useless or silly doesn’t mean a company won’t do it, especially if they or someone else ever did it before.

  4. It appears the new free marketing strategy is working pretty well. I was not even thinking about eating Spaghetti.

  5. (Hi! New here!)

    Actually, warning people the box design is going to change might be helpful for some folks. When it comes to certain products I use (cosmetics and hair dye come to mind), I almost never remember the name of the product, but I always remember what the packaging looks like. When the packaging changes, I have an awful time finding that product again.

  6. I gave up understanding advertising years ago when a local supermarket mailed out a flyer to everyone saying (literally) “We’re Changing Our Name to Serve You better.”

    Now they weren’t changing *owners*, or refurbishing the *store*, or even doing a simple redecoration – apart from changing the name sign. No, they assumed (or they wanted *us* to assume) that if they *called* themselves something different, they’d *be* something different…

    *SIGH* Why can’t people let go of the idea of sympathetic magic?

  7. Companies don’t spend piles of cash on redesigns and telling us about those redesigns to waste time. They pay focus groups to figure this stuff out. It’s all about making more money.

    Besides, every time one of my clients redesigns their packaging, they pay me to re-shoot that packaging, which is good for me and the companies I buy stuff from. I wish companies did it more often.

  8. @Brooks: Except it’s not about actually making money… not in a logical “make a better product” way. It’s about being like the competition, but one better. Your competition makes money, so you do what your competition is doing because Hey! It’s better than thinking or innovating…

    If it was about what makes money than advertising would be different. Focus groups don’t tell you anything except what the questionnaire asks them, and since the average consumer doesn’t know why they prefer Coke over Pepsi, they are hardly going to be able to convey what they don’t know to the company. The problem with advertising is when it comes right down to it, there is no way a company can say with any real confidence “This dollar in sales came from a specific amount we sank into marketing.” They believe focus groups because it is what you do when you want to find out what your consumers want. They spend millions of dollars to pick the right people for focus groups, to ask them “the right” questions, even to pick the right day to ask them, when all they need are two questions #1) If you use our product; why? and #2) If you don’t use our product; why not?

    It’s not about making a product that people want to buy, it’s about making people buy the product you make. Those are two vastly different goals, but they both involve people paying you money, so it is real easy for CEO’s and executives to confuse the two. Most companies work towards the latter, not the former. A lot of the pioneer work in this field was done by Microsoft. That is the clearest example I can think of of a company that beat out their competition when most (if not all) of their competition had a better product than they did. Unfortunately, this thinking causes them to do weird things like change their packaging or their logo because they think it will make people look favorably on their product. It has NOTHING to do with the quality (or the price or availability) of their product, which is what they SHOULD be concerned about.

  9. Color theory input, red, yellow and orange stimulate appetite. Kind of a manipulative redesign. Barilla, if memory serves, has been pushing for a larger US market share over the last few years.

    Twiddling with the packaging is cheaper, likely by an order of magnitude, than redesigning the product. It’s about a low risk/cost way of making more money by improving how much is sold rather than the high risk/cost of screwing with the ingredients, supply chain, the sequences of machinery that produce and package the product, etc.

    A full redesign of all of the packaging and related promotions for the brand might run into the hundreds of thousands. Replacing the machinery in just one step of the production for one kind of noodle in a single facility might well get into the tens of millions. The cost of making machines for industry is divvied up among only a few customers after all.

    A plum in the resume of whatever graphic design team that landed the account. One with a big ol’ pit in the middle, established brands can be nitpicky to work for from what one of my former teachers said. She said she did something for coke and they made sure she had the mixing proportion list for all manner of paints and inks to achieve coca-cola red.

  10. Twiddling with the packaging is cheaper, likely by an order of magnitude, than redesigning the product. It’s about a low risk/cost way of making more money by improving how much is sold rather than the high risk/cost of screwing with the ingredients, supply chain, the sequences of machinery that produce and package the product, etc.

    That’s the problem, though. There is no reliable way of telling that any increase in sales is attributable to a package redesign (or any other marketing ploy). The most they can do IF they get an increase in sales is by process of elimination. If they can’t think of any other reason for the jump in sales, they’ll say it was due to whatever marketing gimmick they happen to be implementing at the time.

    Marketing works, but not enough to justify the crazy industry that has sprung up around it.

  11. I never equated making more money with making a better product. Packaging is simply designed to make people se it and reach for it first. Some people are brand loyal enough that they don’t care what the packaging looks like, but I’ll be the first time they actually bought the product they are so loyal about, packaging had at least a little bit to do with it.

    Every tweak to a product, be it the actual product or the packaging, or how much they pay to get their product at the eye level of their target customer on the shelf is done to make more money. It’s been working like that for a loooong time. And it DOES work.

    And it does make me more money, as a small consolation. πŸ™‚

  12. @Brooks: And I never said you did. What I object to is the massive amount of money that goes into marketing when the return is questionable. That you get a return is undeniable, and sometimes that return is what keeps you alive (eg Microsoft), but the difference between throwing money into marketing to make people buy your product to throwing that money into making a product people will buy….. it seems companies are more and more simply relying on marketing and not on quality.

    The advertising industry revolves around the assumption that no matter how good your product is, you can’t make a profit unless you advertise the shit out of it. Like credit card companies; if people were more personally responsible, it would eliminate the entire industry.

    That some marketing is a good idea I will not deny, but changing the packaging on your product so that it tells people the packaging will be changing soon?? Come on.. How much insult can we heap upon the consumer before we see how ridiculous this is? Can we not see that there is something fundamentally wrong when this is seen as normal?

  13. Well, we do have one person in this here comment thread that believes it’s helpful to them.. I can only imagine that there are many people who buy that product that will look at that and say, “Oh, OK.. I’ll keep an eye out for that so I can find my favorite whole grain pasta!” For every thing we look at and say. “That’s fucking stupid!” there are a bunch of people how love it and think it’s the greatest thing ever. Which also reminds me.. How much better can you make whole grain pasta? πŸ™‚

  14. Yeah, I figured I was probably in the minority on this one. It just seems silly to me to redesign the current package to announce the new package when you could’ve just released the new packaging and been done with it.

  15. @Brooks: and people think Credit cards are a cool idea, and yeah they do make things easier in many cases, but the fact of the matter is that if the consumer didn’t live beyond his/her means and/or paid off the credit card balance right away, the credit cards would go out of business. They live off of debt.

    Marketing exists because people are unable or unwilling to figure out which product is better on their own. I admit that some of that is necessary and I don’t want to be my own Consumer Reports, but damnit we HAVE Consumer Reports, and tons of other ways to compare products. SOME advertising is almost certainly beneficial, but I still maintain that this is over the line in so many ways. We have got to start setting our standards higher. Otherwise, what’s the point?

  16. Having already looked behind the curtain, I would still rather be annoyed at the rest of the world than pull the covers back over my head and pretend I didn’t see what I saw.

    As a consequence, I will be much better prepared for the zombie apocalypse, while those in ignorant bliss will just be zombie chow.

  17. Just wanted to give you a quick note, Les. Here in Texas we can still buy Coke in glass bottles. Not sure is it is nationwide or not.

  18. I’ve got that very package of spaghetti sitting on my counter. I didn’t pay attention to the “New Look Coming Soon!” blurb in the store, but when I finally read it at home, I thought, “Wait, what?” with a WTF expression on my face.

  19. A few thoughts…as a person with a lot of experience in several aspects of retail/grocery/food work, and as a shopper who is much more vigilant than most about the products I consume and the companies I support…

    I find random packaging changes to be a bit annoying at times, but also a bit refreshing at times, depending on the product and my own perception of the usefulness and attractiveness of the packaging…if it’s not a big change, why waste the money unless it helps the customer, and if it is a big change, lots of people might not like it or might be confused by the different appearance. But hey, it’s not my company, so I don’t usually get persnickety about it-sometimes I even like it.

    I DO get REALLY annoyed when a company decides to completely redesign their packaging to something “new” and “modern” and time it to coincide with a major price jump, or when the new packaging is some kind of “modernized” thing that increases the amount of packaging and/or raises the price just for novelty or imagained “convenience”. It often bugs me enough to switch brands, if there are other quality options. Not that any companies seem to care about that, unless it’s a “New Coke” level of disaster.

    This isn’t just knee-jerk “get off my lawn” bellyaching, either. I’m a logical and demanding shopper who keeps a vigilant eye out for product quality and value for my money. I have to be this way- I have a very limited shopping budget, but I refuse to live on crap and scraps just because I’m not rich. If prices have to go up, they go up… but spending up to millions of dollars on a complete redesign just to be unnecessarily trendy, or to try and keep my mind off of price hikes is just plain wasteful and insulting. If it makes them money, more power to them, but I share the skepticism of some here…except in rare huge successes (and huge bombs), it’s not really totally possible to tell exactly how much a package helps drive sales. Guesses and rough estimates are as close as it gets. I think that advertising companies, graphic designers, and others in related fields are the only ones getting much out of the deal, at an unnecessary expense to the customer. No offense Brooks- I know you have to earn a living and I may be a bit myopic here, but I do resent paying so much as an extra nickel, whether it goes to you or not, every time some one-trick executive thinks his company’s product needs to get hip to the times(which seems to happen a lot more often that the times actually change). Again, occasional redesigns ARE a good thing, for a lot of people, and I have absolutely nothing against people who work hard to promote a product…but it seems so damned overboard sometimes. Having worked a lot in retail probably doesn’t really help temper my perspective much, since it helps me spot price-hike hiding tactics, expensive ad campaigns, wasteful, expensive, (or even deceitful)packaging, etc, that most shoppers would probably never notice or care about if they did.

    As long as we’re on the general subject, I’m also going to use this opportunity to get a little political and point out a basic, general hypocrisy that is rampant in the business world. I don’t really care if every product changes it’s brand colors and packaging twice a year, as long as they do it cheaply…and I see brands, especially anything marketed largely to the young, change almost that often…

    …but I can still remember how many large companies (and their attendant hyper-conservative fellators) complained(threw a fit for a while, actually, until it was clear that most of the public thought they were being jerk-offs) about requiring basic nutrition labels on food packaging. That one packaging rule didn’t cost anywhere near as much, not even a small fraction as much as a whole package redesign, yet there were business owners and republicans claiming the increased packaging costs would drive people out of business! In fact, they are still at it…one quick google, and there was another conservative douchebag claiming that requiring any kind of nutrition label requirement on beer could severely hurt micro-breweries, even drive them out of business! Yep- apparently, the same people who drink beer that already costs as much as $2.00 for a twelve-ounce bottle and who are largely high-end, somewhat health-conscious consumers already, are going to be priced out by a requirement that most likely won’t even cost a penny per bottle over time. It would probably help reduce my bile on such subjects if business owners, executives, and political conservatives at least TRIED to act consistently. Almost EVERY company redesigns it’s packaging once in a while for advertising reasons that end up costing their existing customers money, but if the public ever dares to ask for something, even something as cheap, basic, and logical as simple nutrition facts, it’s crybaby pouty-pout time. Don’t think-Just CONSUME!!!

    I know this is getting long, but there is one last thing I’d like to point out, mostly in favor of this particular redesign. Barilla has a few different styles of pasta, and so far, all of them have been packaged in the same colors with very similar box designs. The one pictured is not the most common standard pasta, but the Whole Grain variety which has somewhat more fiber than the regular variety and usually costs anywhere from 20-50% more as well. The only difference in the packaging was a little beige ribbon in the corner that says “whole grain”, “higher fiber”, etc, on it- but the price and pasta appearance were significantly different. They are simply following what other brands have done, and differentiating a bit more between their own product varieties.
    The funny part to me is that most other major-brand and most generic pasta I have seen comes in red boxes or bags and Barilla always had the “stand-out” package. Now, one of their newest, health-conscious products is going to look a whole lot like all the others, instead of their own recognizable brand. I hope it works out for them, but it seems to me that it could go either way. Even funnier, the new package looks almost exactly like the package for the Vons/Safeway store brand whole-grain pasta available here in California(but I think they are phasing in a redesign as well!). I’m probably reading too much into it, but it could be a sad statement on the economy if the world’s leading brands are having to copy the generics to fish for new customers!

  20. Considering the wars and disasters this thread has got some real distance….oh well

    Barilla is a 4th generation family business. This could be something real simple. The grand daughter opened a graphics design company and grampa wants to give her a life time of money without all that estate tax bullshit, or grampa is going to try to manipulate another family member and this is how he setting it up. I came from money and can tell you the manipulation sago shit never stops with these rich fuckers. They usually are not happy until they own your soul.

  21. My guess is that they have what they feel is a good reason for doing a redesign.

    As someone who buys pasta rather regularly, I can testify that if you’re loyal to a particular brand, you quickly learn to recognize that brand from it’s packaging.

    So the people who regularly buy Barilla brand might find themselves a little confused when they look around for their brand and don’t see anything looking like it.

    The majority of people buying dried pasta probably don’t care about the brand, the color of the box, or whether the box instructs them about an upcoming change in packaging. But people who are, for some reason or another, loyal to a brand might be interested in knowing that next time they go to the store, their search criteria might have to change.

  22. The average grocery buyer makes the average grocery worker wonder how it is that they even managed to get from their house to the store that day. Aside from that, corporations are infamous for waste. They often have thousands of useless “managers” who are doing nothing but sucking up profit margins. And, of course, they have to constantly prove to their bosses that they are important to the company. What better way to do that than pushing these package redesigns.

  23. Any time a company changes their product, they are required to change the packaging. On foods, you’ll notice, “New look, same great taste”. The taste may be the same, but something has changed.

    The purpose of advertising the new package is so consumers know about the change and aren’t less likely to buy their product. The example above, the box is changing from blue to red, which, at a glance, many people would think is a different product or different flavor of the product.

  24. Generally, when companies redesign the appearance of their product packaging, they mainly want to be sure returning customers don’t overlook the product due to the new look. Many shoppers are used to the visual cues of the product they usually buy. When the package has changed, marketing specialists want to be sure it’s clearly visible to the customer that this is the same product in a new style of box.

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