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Thursday, Jul 08, 2004

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Industry & Economy - Packaging


Gaining the advantage

Sangita Joshi

Packaging that makes it convenient for consumers to handle the product and re-use it can give the brand an edge, says Sangita Joshi.

(This is the concluding part of the article on packaging, the first of which was carried in the previous week's edition of Catalyst. The author says that there is more to packaging than protection, longer shelf life and security.)

ENHANCING the product is really the latest use of packaging, but perhaps the most important in giving a company's offering an edge over competitors. This again could be looked at in three different areas:

Upgrading usability

This is all about enhanced convenience in use for customers. And this is where we see really clever little ideas. Remember those old days of struggling with a can opener (I always cut my finger), and how all that trauma evaporated with the easy lift tabs seen in cheese/corn and other cans. Of course, most marketers charged extra for the easy pack, which I think is why it's not doing all that well (or is it?) but I for one was always ready to pay extra to avoid massacre in the kitchen! My all-time favourite is the innovative one on Parachute coconut oil — my grandmom used that brand for years — and it was my unenviable duty to oil her hair. I remember the struggle I'd have to undergo in the cold Delhi winter to get the oil out into my hands, soak the pack repeatedly in warm water ... And then one fine day, Marico came out with this wide-mouthed jar with a lid which had a hole with a cap, so in summers you poured out the oil from the hole, and in winters you just opened the wider cap and scooped some oil out! Marico supported it with some clever outdoor advertising too. I wonder what happened to that idea. Having shifted to the South, and since my grandmother passed away, I've never interacted with that product.

The spouts on liquid products such as oils and lubricants and juices are similar examples. More dispensing devices are the flip-open tops found in candy (say Tic Tac mint) which allow only one out at a time, or the nozzle in a Dabur Lemoneez, or a Smirnoff Vodka bottle, which allows you to extract either drops or a stream, depending on however much you want. Some more products which have made life much easier are the re-sealable bhujia packets; similarly wet wipes (a mother's delight). Talking of motherhood, I always bless Tetra Pak whenever I travel — as I can now take/ buy milk for my kid in cartons — which saves one the bother of boiling, cooling and what have you. Toothpaste dispensers, though never very popular in India, and liquid soap pumps also make dispensing so much neater. I also like the stand-up inverted bottles which one sometimes sees in shampoos and creams, which basically ensure the viscous liquid flowing out easily without wastage (no more mixing with water and shaking to extract the last bit) and also look elegant while saving space. Single-use serving in sachets for shampoo, and pouches for wine (a la Goa) are well known all over.

Toys which require interaction and experiencing (such as Mattel's See and Say and Fisher Price's Magna Doodle) have packaging which allows customers to touch and feel and use.

The other use which packaging finds is in the empty containers — in fact for long, containers, whether they are PET or glass jars have been used as promo premia in categories such as tea and detergent, but housewives use jam jars, cheese boxes and the like for storing their spices and refrigerator leftovers (I can see the Tupperware enthusiasts shuddering) — my own kitchen sports a motley assortment of the same — and my daughter's toy room has a large collection of shoe boxes — as each time we buy shoes, we use the box as her container for a set of blocks/ kitchen toys/ art material! I also use those small Jet Airways Bisleri bottles to keep water in my purse — really handy!

Repositioning/increase or change in consumption habits

One story I really like about packaging helping a company reposition a product is the one about Yoplait's Go Gurt. By the '90s, many brands of yogurt had come into the US market. Most consumers were indifferent to brands — but they used yogurt as a nutritious, healthy, economical yet time-saving lunch that tasted good and didn't require preparation or cleaning up. Most marketers however felt that growth in the yogurt market was petering out. But Yoplait changed the whole paradigm by tapping the kids' market. Kids need nutritious food, and research showed that what they want in packs is great taste, convenience and fun. Traditional yogurt took one hand to hold the spoon and one to hold the carton, and a carton wasn't cool! Go Gurt put the yogurt in a nine-inch long, foil-embossed squeeze tube (like our Chocki/ Chocosticks). Of course, the creaminess of the product was adjusted to make it just right for on-the-go eating and new flavours such as Strawberry Splash and Watermelon Meltdown were introduced. It was accompanied by new ads aimed at kids, aired on kids' channels. The tagline was `Hey, lose that spoon'! Extensive sampling was undertaken — kids on skateboards passed out samples from backpacks at parks, games and festivals. And the result — Go Gurt racked up $100 million in sales in the first year!

Our own Parle Frooti tried a similar exercise when it changed packaging to the longer slim pack for its Yo Frooti targeted at teenagers (so no straw), helped along by the famous Digen Verma campaign. The pack was larger too, so that a single purchase would give greater revenues, just like the change from 200 ml to 300 ml bottles for carbonated beverages. We all know how toothpaste manufacturers increased the diameter of the nozzle, thus increasing consumption of paste, all adding up to higher revenues. One study says that using a larger pack increases product usage between seven and 43 per cent!

Combipacks of products, whether it is Diwali gift hampers, collectors' items' anthologies, or three-in-one packs, all work towards increasing sales through better customer value via packaging, sometimes allied to a price advantage. That brings us to the third area of enhancement that packaging can serve:

Promotional use

The argument here is that packaging in any case is an expense, so why not turn it into an add-on. The printed games/ cut-outs on the Kellogg's Chocos packs (an idea initiated years ago by Cadbury's Bournvita with its games and puzzles) exemplify this theory. Packages or parts of them are vital in their role as proof of purchase for any redemption-related premium offer where collectibility is to be emphasised. Most of us have done it with Maggi noodles (for entry into their club) and our children are doing it now with Walls ice-cream wrappers for Pokemon merchandise or `Max cum Jadoo' offers. Gift-giving is another place where packaging becomes really important, so all toy makers believe `big is beautiful' for their packaging (even if the toy inside is small).

While on the subject of packaging, one has to mention some factors which have a big bearing. The first is technology. From newer material to newer processes in forming/printing, this is one macro-economic factor which has really driven packaging. Tetra Pak and India's own Essel are well-known companies which made fortunes in the area of packaging.

The other is the impact on environment. With a shift from plastic to natural material, a lot of packaging has gone green. So we see far greater use of recycled paper/ jute, which may be more expensive but is friendlier overall. Even size is important. P&G redesigned the dimensions of packaging for Tide to make it smaller, thus saving material and energy used in manufacturing — it even advertised this change, showing that it was a socially responsible marketer.

Similarly, designers of packaging must always keep in mind ethical issues such as information on labels (food and pharmaceutical industries). Another thing is that a package cannot work in isolation - it has to be integrated not only with the rest of the product's communication elements, but also with the environment. For example, shelf height in traditional retailers in India being by and large a standard 12 inches, most packs cannot exceed 9 inches. Anything beyond that, and your product doesn't find itself displayed on shelves, but stacked away in odd places - most undesirable!

Last, but not the least, there is the question of economics. Better packaging more often than not implies higher costs. It's always a balancing act between benefit and cost, so we have ideas like `refill boxes (or pouches) seen in oil/ liquid soap or similar categories which save costs the second time around. Of course, packaging very often saves costs, especially when it prevents spoilage in transit (the shaver display devices being a prime case in point).

All in all, what looks simple has many layers, and mega dollars (and rupees) are spent over decisions relating to packaging. As with any marketing aspect, sometimes a change in packaging becomes a big hit, and sometimes packaging leads to mega losses (remember chocolates?). And talking of chocolates and packaging, I just wish somebody would invent a package that keeps chocolates from melting in the heat. Ideas, anyone?

(The author is a Bangalore-based marketing professional.)

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