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Packaging: Taking Advantage of Consumer Confusion

Grocery day is kind of an all day endeavor in our “household”. Jeremy and I wake up early, get dressed and prepare for the 12-block trek through the Tenderloin to the Civic Center Bart Station. We attempt to steer our “old lady cart” away from poop ridden sidewalks, smelly bums, and poor tourists that find themselves lost, clinging to their maps and unable to get their bearings.

Once we make our way to civic center, we take the 45 minute bart ride out to pleasant hill, walk another quarter mile to to the car (parked at his mother’s) and we drive to Foodmax.

Why so much trouble for groceries you ask? Two things: We save over $100 a month buying from Foodmax, a discount grocery store,  instead of Safeway and it gives us a chance to see his family and run the car. Technically that was three things.

While walking down the cereal isle, I picked up a box of what I thought was Apple Jacks, but when I looked at it again, it said “Apple Rings”. I had just experienced a careful marketing technique called consumer confusion through similarity.

It’s the oldest trick in the book! They are essentially creating legal knock offs that look just like the name brand (in my case, Kellogg’s Apple Jack’s cereal) and they often cost much less, making it easy for “penny pinchers” to go with the off brand.

How does this happen? A few things factor in:

Design: The off brand competitors are usually copy-cats. They copy very closely the name brands colors, the layout, and even how they show the cereal. In package design, one of the major components in successful sales is the design. How does it look on the shelf next to it’s competitor brands? If everything blends in, the consumer is more likely to walk past your product for something that stands out. If both Kellogg’s apple jacks and FoodMax’s “sunny select” Apple rings boxes look very similar, the consumer may pass over it all together OR, may choose the off brand by mistake.

A note about colors and swaying from the norm. It is true that we do look for certain colors when buying items. We look for red when buying canned tomatoes, and we look for green when purchasing peas. If all of a sudden the peas can was bright blue, it would most certainly stand out, but it might also turn off the consumer because it goes against the norm.

Proximity: Don’t think it’s a coincidence that the generic and name brand are put side by side. They want you to make that split second mistake, by grabbing what LOOKED like your raisin bran, notice it or not, and just keep walking.

Name: I found it interesting how some names like “raisin bran” could be copied because raisin bran is the actual name of the cereal, not something clever that Kellogg’s came up with. On the flip side, I get a kick out of how the fictitious names like “Cheerios” were then aligned with the off brand as “tasteeos”. It makes you think twice about the brand of your product. Mike’s cola is a lot less memorable than Coca cola.

Mascot: Most kid targeted cereals have at least one mascot that helps sell the cereal. Some mascots even have their own tv shows for example, Flintstones are connected to fruity pebbles and coco pebbles. Sometimes the mascots are even copied, with just enough differences to not get sued.

I was pleasantly surprised to find something refreshing in the world of cereal box design. First, I came across Mom’s Best Naturals Brand. Yes, it’s an off brand, but more importantly, it breaks away from the norm into its own style. It is very obviously meant for adults, but still it has a very modern, yet organic look about it. It shows the cereal, but in a contained “window” rather than having the cereal exploding all over the box or in a super sized  bowl or on a spoon.

Second came this “Krave” cereal by Kellogg’s. What immediately caught my eye was the embossing and spot varnish. Now there’s an expensively made cereal box (in comparison to the usual printing method). It’s not at all new technology, but it’s just a little textural detail that really makes it stand out as something extra special. The cereal may taste like dog food for all I know, but because the design of the box (and the printing techniques) I’d be willing to at least put it in my cart and marvel at it for a while.

Who wins out?

The frugal type may definitely choose the off brand to save 60 cents. Their logic is “it’s the same thing, made with the same ingredients, just cheaper”. After a while those 60 cents add up.

But a mother with a 5-year-old knows that you can’t pull one over on your child. He immediately knows that something is wrong when he doesn’t see that cute little leprechaun on his lucky charms box and will scream bloody murder until he gets the right one. That’s called brand loyalty, and they get you when you’re young. The mother has no choice but to appease her screaming 5-year-old and get the name brand cereal.

There’s also something to say about brand legacy and consumer confidence in your brand. I trust that Kellogg’s makes good cereal because they’ve been around for a long time and I’m familiar with the name. I grew up watching the commercials and I may have even had one or two of their cereals. By this logic, most if not all their cereals are probably good.

I also grew up with a stigma that off brands weren’t as good. I hated Safeway select colas, and I refused to eat off brand cereals. I was convinced in my head that they didn’t taste as good. My mother would roll her eyes and sigh as she placed the REAL pop tarts in the cart, leaving the cheaper off brand on the shelf.

Whichever side of the fence you’re on, Name brand or “who gives a hoot” it’s just good to be aware of why you choose the things you do and to never let yourself get duped because of consumer confusion.

1 Comment
  • Very interesting post. This is definitely a marketing techniqur that I have noticed for a while. My family and I, however, opt for the generic brand either way since it’s cheaper and they virtually taste the same.

    30 May, 2012 at 2:41 pm