Wednesday, September 05, 2007

All About the Package
A study has found some small proof of what parents have known for years: that children prefer foods branded McDonald's over foods in unprinted containers. Researchers asked children which tastes better, fries, carrots or milk in a McDonald's wrapper or the same foods in everyday, non-corporate garb. They answered McDonald's, as reported in today's New York Times.*

I could have told somebody that. Growing up, I saw it happen in my family. But my anecdotes aren't scientific, double-blind investigations, so it's interesting to see this behavior supported by some statistics.

The article taps into my recent thinking about this whole food-packaging issue. Urged on by all the "green living" info available online, I'm considering an experiment to see if I can go a week only eating grocery store-available foods packaged as simply as possible, with minimal marketing ink used in helping them jump off the shelves. I thought it might be difficult.

But once I took a look at my weekly diet, I found I would have to make such small changes, it might not be worth it. From bananas, wrapped in nature's best natural marketing wrapper, through free-range chicken, olive oil, fresh vegetables et al, my usual food intake requires little coaxing from Madison Avenue.

I would allow "coelacanth packages" - like egg cartons, which have been around since the dawn of human time, are absolutely necessary, and can be easily retro-fitted* with pipe cleaners, goggle eyes and multicolored paints to resemble caterpillars. I would have to give up peeled baby carrots though, in favor of the less-processed, straight out of the ground kind.

So I continue to work out the bugs in the experiment idea. But leave it to marketing guru Seth Godin to expand our thinking about wrappers in a still-relevant Fast Company essay from March 2001 that begins "That wedding dress is the wrapper on your wedding day." Seth's words have stuck in my brain over the years, as he analyzes our need for packages, boxes or bags:
"At the same time that we're abandoning some traditional wrappers, some businesses are becoming ever more obsessed with the wrapper. They understand that their businesses are really about wrappers, and so they offer their T-shirts, their soaps, their teas -- even their computer workstations -- in wrappers and packages that satisfy our inner need for beauty."
As further proof of the article's relevance, it seems that even in 2007 we'll gladly pay for the same cookies over and over, as evidenced in The Consumerist article "Like Those 100 Calorie Packs? You're Paying Twice As Much."
*But not reported there first - CNN scooped the Times in early August, and Pronet Advertising posted an August 7 commentary on the study.

**Just find a bunch of kindergarteners and you've recycled, for a short time at least, months worth of trash; oatmeal boxes can become pigs this way too.

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