Speaking to Idiots.

By Joe Duffy Dec 12, 2011

Why is it that so many purveyors of packaged goods around the globe speak to people as if they were idiots?

I have numerous theories about why this is; and am certain there is no one simple answer. However, I suspect that many of the reasons have to do with the fact that too often, package design is created by “committee.” As a result, the package becomes a presentation of mixed contributions and collected messages. 

While this video on package design at Apple and Microsoft has been around for a while, it’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about. (Link to the right.)

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that there are many inputs necessary to get a great product to market, drive business and build brands. However, in the end, I believe that the responsibility for package design should rest with designers. I also believe that one of the most difficult design challenges that exists for nearly every packaging program I’ve seen is a
job of editing.

Today, more than any other time in history, marketers are communicating to extraordinarily smart audiences. The next wave of spending power has been raised learning to figure out things on their own, adopting technology as a “sixth sense,” surfing the web for anything they might have a question about, participating in conversations and sharing opinions on numerous platforms. These people are smart, intuitive and constantly seeking ways to connect. Choice isn’t their problem; they have plenty of choice. They’re looking for things that stand out with simplicity, clarity and style. They reward those brands that realize this and act accordingly. What they seek in packaging is no exception—they are attracted to those that treat them as the intelligent human beings they really are and make sense as something that will fit into their cluttered and busy lives. Package design matters, even in the commodity categories.

Think about how other media have evolved. USA Today paved the way with bullet point-length messaging and Twitter has pushed us to limit ourselves to 140 characters. Period. The graphical user interface they interact with has evolved with technology to be visually simple, bold and intuitive. The old rule of thumb in advertising was that people couldn’t digest more than seven words on an outdoor billboard as they were driving by at 55 mph. I promise you today’s shoppers push that speed limit constantly! The idea of bold packaging must acknowledge today’s pace of living.


So why is it then that marketers continue to try to tell people everything about their brand and the product—attributes, benefits and a step-by-step tutorial on usage—on the front of a package? Does anyone really believe that the words “NEW” or “IMPROVED” have any viable impact among today’s shopping public when the number of new products we see on a weekly basis has multiple zeros behind it?

Shouldn’t the first job be to get noticed amidst everything that’s screaming for their attention from the store shelf? Isn’t the goal to say “I’m different, in a way that’s right for you,” “I understand you and your life and your style”? Isn’t the smart solution one that considers the whole marketing communications mix? Considering what information is appropriate for whom and where and parsing it out accordingly?


We’re seeing more intelligent packaging these days and it’s coming from large and small players alike. We’re seeing and hearing from many major brands that are seeking the rewards that come with great design. Consider the master of this—Apple—and the phenomenal marketplace results they’ve witnessed.


Packaging has merely seconds amidst thousands of other choices to make its mark. In some cases it serves as an accessory or a long-term container, long after it leaves the store shelf. These are just a couple key considerations to ponder as your evaluate the role of your package in the broader marketing mix. Packaging lives along side a website, point-of-sale communications, advertising, or more. People today need less information in general and that they communicate visually more readily. The opportunity is to change your category paradigms; because the world has changed. Those who acknowledge the new bar of intelligence are those that will win in the future. What a pleasure to be able to take off the handcuffs of having to say everything to everyone on every panel of every package!

What others think:

  • Oooh, those are all so gorgeous! Once I use up my bonrig commercial wrapping paper, it's all brown and white kraft paper for me! Love the pretty ribbons, twine, and yarn... definitely re-pinning some of those!! This year our color scheme was pink and red, but our house has a lot of grey so red/white/grey would be pretty, too! 

    Dedi Oct 6, 2013 — 12:32 am

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    Nurgul Oct 9, 2013 — 2:37 am

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