Despite the trumpeting angels upon its arrival, my thesis topic did not fall from the sky. Most do not. I decided to study packaging and store brands because these things are somehow personal to me. When I was young, the assumption about store brand products seemed to be that they were inferior to national brands, and that purchasing them meant you could not afford the quality and class the national brands had to offer. I don’t know how many dusty old Faux-reos I had to choke down in my youth, but there were plenty. Of course, when you grow up poor this is something you eventually come to terms with.
The issue here is that my perspective was a bit biased. I would see other families “indulging” in all the fancy name branded goods I wished my family could afford, when in truth their purchases possibly had nothing to do with cost at all. Here I am now at 28 years old, and I almost always prefer store brand mac and cheese over Kraft. And despite my personal preferences in package design and the presentation of these products, I find myself preferring “plainly” packaged goods that suit my needs (and often happen to be store brand) to the colorful, painstakingly prepared designs of some national brand goods in the same categories. I cannot help but note that the appearances of these products has a great deal to do with whether or not I purchase them.
Truthfully, this is probably the first kind of design I had ever seen. My awareness of our economic position and my inclination to be creative led me to become very connected to all of this. “Why can’t the food we can afford to eat look as nice as the food they eat?” “Why are these colorful boxes of cereal more expensive than these plain ones?” I held all of these questions in my head for a long time because I had no idea how to answer them (or if they could be answered.) And yeah, a lot of my observations involved food. I was a scrawny, bottomless pit of a kid who seldom knew whence my next meal would come. This also explains why I developed such a fascination for restaurant branding and environmental design. But that is another project.
So, I am rambling. Hmmm… Oh, right. Personal hygiene products. How did I come to center this study on this particular product area?
I mentioned earlier that I (and countless others) have developed a fondness for some particular store brand product lines. For instance, I cannot – absolutely CANNOT – leave a Target store without purchasing an Archer Farms grocery product. I find their packages to present a warm, friendly, respectful-of-nature persona that I find very difficult to resist. I rarely find an Archer Farms product I dislike, and the brand provides such a variety of flavors and combinations and ingredients across all of its products, I always seem to find something new.
On the other hand, I also almost always leave Walmart with a Great Value brand item. However, I find the packaging of these products to be less than beautiful (but completely effective. All you have to do is look for white and you’ve found the cheapest item on the shelf. Clever, clever.) Why do I purchase these
ugly things? Well, they taste great, they generally fill whatever need I have just as well (and in some cases, better) than some other product I could buy, and they are incredibly cheap. I mean, digging-change-out-of-the-couch cheap.
I can purchase these products because I trust them. I can read the labels, I can look at the insides, and I can taste the difference if it comes to that. On some inner level I can stretch my imagination wide enough to allow Great Value Unsalted Butter and Land-O-Lakes Unsalted Butter to mean the same thing. This is personally true for a fairly large database of products and brands – motor oil, dress socks, bread, eggs, frozen french fries, notebook paper. There is a very long list of things that I really don’t care to “shop around” for, in general. However, my research and my self analysis show that personal hygiene is one area where people are not as willing to compromise.
What is the difference between Up&Up (Target’s store brand) aspirin and Bayer brand aspirin? I seriously don’t know. That is the next phase of my research, which so far indicates that people don’t want to scrub their bodies or wash their face or clean their teeth with products that don’t seem to have a long history of quality and value, or aren’t their particular variety, or don’t smell the same as what they’ve been using since puberty. Let’s join hands and pray that this implicates the elimination of the Research on Making Cheap Axe Body Spray (or RoMCABS) program. Have you smelled that stuff? Yikes.
I mean, seriously. It’s like rubbing alcohol mixed with teriyaki sauce and Imposter CK Be.
What are your thoughts on this? Store brand personal hygiene products, not Axe in particular. Leave me your comments and questions below.
*I will talk quite a bit about how package design plays an enormous role in the purchases we make. This kind of thing is obvious to most people now, and has been studied in a countless number of ways. Seriously, I have a cabinet full of crap I bought because it was pretty.