Why Use Packaging to Encourage Mistaken Identity?

August 1, 2005
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Why Use Packaging to Encourage Mistaken Identity?
By Robert McMath
I wonder if executives at the Keebler Foods Company believe children have gotten smarter these days. That is, are they “smarter” today than when Colgate-Palmolive introduced a new dish detergent in a milk-carton-inspired package?
This does go back some years—probably to the late ‘70s or early ‘80s—when Colgate decided to make its new Crystal detergent distinctive by putting it in a package that looked like a milk carton. The brand’s carton was virtually identical to the traditional milk carton, except that it featured a flat top instead of the gabled top we associate with the normal milk package.
The uproar that ensued from Colgate’s “milk-like” detergent package is easy to predict in hindsight. Everyone from parent/teacher associations to legislators felt that children crawling around the kitchen floor and opening cabinet doors would confuse the detergent package with the cartons that poured out their milk at the table. The fear was that kids would try to consume the contents of the detergent box, thinking it was milk.
Colgate sought to salvage its concept with various modifications of both the product and the package. Executives were obviously more than a little concerned about the damage to Colgate’s reputation from bad publicity that followed Crystal’s introduction. Eventually, though, the company pulled the product off the market—even after testing a new package concept that was entirely different from the initial milk-like carton.
Fast-forward to the present day and Keebler’s use of the Scooby-Doo cartoon dog character for the introduction of its Baked Graham Cracker Sticks, which are in the shape of a dog-bone biscuit. The argument can be made that the use of cartoon characters in attracting interest in new children’s products is often effective. And it’s clear that the snack isn’t likely to harm pets if children mistakenly indulge them in these Scooby snacks.
But, what if young children confuse the dog-biscuit-shaped graham crackers with the actual dog treats they resemble? How will small children, who cannot read, differentiate the Scooby-Doo crackers (packaged in a carton bearing the trusted cartoon icon) from the dog biscuits they may find around the floor, or in cabinets where regular dog food and treats are kept?
Another case of packaging potentially inviting mistaken identity? As Scooby would say—“Rabsolutely!” BP
The author, Robert McMath, has been a marketing consultant for more than 30 years. Through  NewProductWorks, he has advised major companies. He is the author of What Were They Thinking, a book chronicling the whys of product successes and failures. Contact him at 607.582.6125 or rmcmath@cs.com. Visit www.NewProductWorks.com

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