by Mona Doyle
“Small” heads toward the big-time as line extensions feature packaging designed for the shrinking size of American households.
Target has hopped aboard the small-size bandwagon with a recent mass mailing showcasing the “smart bottle” of its stylish Method laundry detergent. Eye-catching bottles of Method brand dish detergent have been on Target’s shelves for some time, but this package is an interesting line extension.
It wasn’t so many years ago that soap and detergent manufacturers tried making their large, bulky packages smaller, and the contents concentrated, before giving up on that route and instead working on making their packages larger (but easier to carry) than ever. The Target direct-mail piece for the smaller Method brand laundry detergent bottle appeals to “with-it” consumers who really appreciate convenience and great design and whimsical package copy about “your washer’s feelings” and pre-treating laundry stains by dabbing with Method and “thinking loving thoughts.” In spite of long-standing habits that make it hard to believe that clothes will come clean with a small quantity of detergent, the Target approach has credibility and wide appeal. Imagine a package of an everyday product considered important enough to deserve a store mailing all its own!
Small is big
Small is clearly headed toward the big-time. Kraft has introduced 100-calorie packets of Oreos and Wheat Thins and is in the process of downwardly re-sizing some of its single serving packages. In what may be a first formal response to the importance of “small” by a major U.S. food chain, a Safeway officer has said the chain will pay more attention to small sizes in the center store because of the growing proportion of single-person households. “We need to make sure we recognize that consumer,” the official reports.
That’s a long overdue acknowledgement. The supermarket industry has been out of synch with the shrinking size of American households. While club stores do a great job of courting large households, chains like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods do a much better job than traditional supermarkets of courting small ones. Rather than responding to what the changing market wants and needs, many traditional supermarkets focus on large households because large-household shoppers spend more money.
Another reason for their current popularity is the fact that small sizes have quality and nostalgia appeal. Before everything was upsized, people ate and drank less. Long before everything was upsized, Pepsi marketed larger sizes than Coke with commercials and ads proclaiming that Pepsi bottles had “twelve full ounces—that’s a lot.” Pepsi’s attempt to overcome the tried and true saying that “good things come in small packages” proved less than successful when many consumers reasoned that Coke was (must be) better quality since it came in a smaller size that cost as much as the larger-sized Pepsi.
Today, upsizing has turned twelve ounces into a relatively small size, but small bottles and cans are finding their way back to the shelves—and moving from shelves into shopping carts in spite of high unit prices. We recently interviewed shoppers in upscale prepared food stores that are planning to expand, and we learned that some customers feared that quality would go down as the store size went up. One consumer told us that “bigger isn’t better, because there’s more to go wrong and it’s harder to manage.” Hmm…that’s certainly contrary to American thinking!
What’s not to love?
The Target mailing isn’t just about size. It’s also about design coolness, lifestyle fit, and good taste. “With-it” consumers go for “with-it” packaging like they go for “with-it” fashion. Target is showcasing the Method package in much the same way it showcases its designer brands like Isaac Mizrahi. In its promotions, Target describes the Method laundry detergent package as “3x smaller, 3x lighter, and 3x less bulky to store as well as 3x easier to use. The self-measuring cap on the little squeeze bottle lets you just squeeze and pour. It’s easy on the environment, too. What’s not to love?”
That’s no small question.
The author, Mona Doyle, is CEO of The Consumer Network Inc. Her forte is marketing and packaging research and strategy development.
Contact Mona at 215.235.2400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.