Beach Packaging Design
Archives for September 2008
I guess it’s natural, when we encounter something we’re not familiar with, to assume that it’s something new. So it was with me, when my kids were very young and they wanted to get those Japanese Ramune soda bottles with the marble stoppers, that I had assumed that these bottles were a new new-fangled type of packaging from Japan. (An interactive packaging gimmick meant to appeal to kids.)
These photos from eBay of an antique bottle (dug up on the banks of the Indian River in Fort Pierce, Florida) made me realize, I had this all wrong.
There were a number of patents by Codd and others involving bottles with integral ball stoppers. (See Bottlebook.com)
Codd-neck bottles with a glass “marble”—(and a special chamber to prevent the marble from blocking the neck when pouring)—became the standard.
Old Codd-neck bottles are fairly rare, in part because for over 100 years, children have been breaking them open to obtain the marbles. (To this day, people will go to great lengths to get at those marbles!) As a result bottle collectors must pay a bit more to obtain an antique bottle like the one found in Florida.
(More photos and codswallup, after the jump…)
Which set me to thinking about how candy is so often shaped like pills and capsules. Why do we conflate candy and medicine?
To help parents persuade children to take their medicine, manufacturers have (for a long time) added sugar to it, making it more palatable and candy-like. As Mary Poppins sang, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”
Pretend doctor kits from the fifties, in addition to plastic stethoscopes, frequently featured bottles of candy “play medicine” like this vintage “Country Doctor” kit from Ebay.
When my youngest brother was still a toddler—before the introduction of child-resistant caps—he helped himself to a bottle of children’s chewable, orange-flavored Bayer aspirin. Luckily, our quick-thinking baby-sitter discovered him and (with her finger down his throat) helped him to throw it all up into the toilet.
That close call must have been sometime in the early to mid-1960s. In 1970 our US congress passed the “Poisons Prevention Packaging Act” (PPPA) which requires that products, potentially harmful to children, be packaged in a child resistant manner.
Interesting, the term child resistant. Like a lot of people, I’ve been calling those caps “child-proof” and therein lies one of the reasons why child-resistant caps have turned out not to be the life-saving safety measure they were intended to be.
In an article from the 1984 issue of American Economic Review, “The Lulling Effect: The Impact of Child-Resistant Packaging on Aspirin and Analgesic Ingestions,” economist, Kip Viscusi  cites an unfortunate, unforeseen effect of the PPPA regulations in leading consumers to overestimate a package’s safety. In a 2007 interview, Viscusi had this to say about safety caps:
In the case of safety caps… there were mandatory safety cap requirements on aspirin and other potentially dangerous products that children might try to get into. So what happened? Because parents thought the safety caps made them risk-free — in fact, they were first called “childproof” caps by the Consumer Product Safety Commission — people started leaving the bottles around in the open rather than storing them, giving kids greater access. In some cases, people left the caps off altogether because they were so hard to grapple with every time you wanted to open the bottle.
Spring 2007, Region Focus
(Region Focus is the quarterly magazine of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond)
A 2005 CBS News feature (link to video clip here) showed how easy it was for children to open a
wide range of supposedly child-resistant packaging. Calling this type
of cap “child-proof,” is the sort of misnomer that may mislead parents
into dropping their guard.
Are we underestimating our children’s ability to open tricky packaging, if we trust child-resistant caps? Part of the problem is that candy and pharmaceuticals have been so historically intertwined  that children naturally tend to confuse the two.
(More after the jump…)
Up until around 10th grade, I used to live in various parts of Florida. I therefore grew up with the story of Ponce De Leon and his futile quest for the Fountain of Youth. So when I saw this bottle of “Florida Water” (on the shelf at my local Rite Aid pharmacy), its references to Spanish explorers & Floridian history seemed vaguely familiar.
As I recall, most of the naturally-occurring water sources that I tasted while living in Florida, tasted like sulfur-water and—(judging by my current, non-youthful appearance)—those waters (apparently) must not have been the fountain of youth. Not that you’re supposed to drink this type of “Florida Water” I don’t think.  Although it does have an appetizingly citrus-like smell…
According to the company’s web site, the label was designed “by the famous French Designer, Du Maurier” and introduced to America in 1808.
The French designer they’re referring to, is actually George Du Maurier, French-born British author and cartoonist. Best known, perhaps, for writing Trilby, the novel that introduced the character, Svengali to the world. “Trilby” was the heroine of the story—the one who Svengali  hypnotizes and manipulates. The book was so wildly popular during Victorian times that a number of products were named after its heroine. Everything from brands of soap & toothpaste to trilby hats. There is even a town named Trilby in Florida —(Trilby, Florida is a little to the west of Orlando).
Aside from Du Maurier’s “Florida Water” label which has been in use since 1808, he was also known to have created the artwork for at least one bottled water that you are actually supposed to drink.
(More pictures, after the jump…)
Further to the anthropomorphic packaging mascots of last week are these anthropomorphic milk bottles from the Milk Bottle of the Week site. Illustrations of live milk bottles, whose raison d’être is apparently to remind consumers to return milk bottles to milkman.
I haven't seen milk delivered by a milkman since I was a kid, but It appears they still do it that way in some parts of the UK.
Sort of an implied paradox: a milk bottle crying spilt milk tears.
(A happier anthropomorphic milk bottle mascot, after the jump…)
Anything & Whatever  drinks have been around for a little over a year in Singapore, but the first I ever saw of them, was here in the U.S. at the offices of New York-based distributor Nuvo.
As it was explained to me, it’s a cultural phenomenon in Singapore to hold business meetings at lunch that are so engrossing, that—when the waitress interrupts to take an order—some will just dismiss her with, “Just bring me anything” or “I’ll have whatever.” These beverages, therefore, come in cans that do not specify what the flavor is—although they come in a variety of different flavors. (The ingredients, however, are listed in the usual manner.)
A new trend of products in mysterious surprise packaging? Is there a market in this country for a surprise beverage? There were those Harry Potter “Bernie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans” where you got an assortment of flavors—including at least one bad flavor just to keep things interesting. (See: Five Formerly Fictional Products)
This summer, JJ Abrams—(creator of TV show “Lost”)—at a TED Conference (Technology, Entertainment, Design), spoke about the $15 dollar “Magic Mystery Box” (above) that his grandfather got him at a NYC magic shop—that he has never opened. 
I also found a web site that specializes in selling so-called “mystery products.”
The brand-dilution of the whole surprise package concept? The packaging for this product line, by the way, looks as if it might have been designed by this man…
(Mystery man, music and footnoted digressions, after the jump…)
Back in August I found the tetra brick (on left) near the deli and was attracted to its scimitar-like typography. (It’s true. I pick up trash in the street and keep it on my desk until I have time to write about it.) Box Vox recently touched on canned tea, so it’s only fair that we give equal time to “bottled tea” which is pretty much what “Teh Botol” translates to. Sosro’s corporate narrative includes the story of how their tea came to be bottled in the first place.
The Sosro brand, a well known tea brand in Indonesia, is taken from the Sosrodjojo family name, the owners of the company. They started the business of marketing jasmine tea based in Slawi, a small town in Central Java province, in 1940. The first brand was called Cap Botol (or the bottle sign).
In 1965 the Cap Botol jasmine tea was first introduced to Jakarta by promoting the product with… [free samples]. During the free tasting promotion, the jasmine tea was brewed on the spot, but the time required for brewing was too long for some of their more impatient customers. To overcome this problem, the promotion staff brewed the tea in the office before going to the promotion location and poured the ready-to-consume jasmine tea into big pots and pans. However, this technique did not solve the problem; the tea in large pots and pans spilled over on the way before they reached the location.
Another solution was found by placing the brewed jasmine tea in clean used glass bottles, which were normally used for packing soda, soy sauce and other products. It was successful and gave birth of the teh botol (or tea in a bottle) brand name in 1969. The official name was Teh Botol Sosro.
So even though the name of the product means “bottled tea” it has come to be sold in tetra bricks—with a picture of the original bottle package. An understandable reason for a cross-referential package.
But another question still remains. Why was Sosro’s original loose tea product—(sold in a box since 1940)—given the brand name of “Cap Botol”—The Bottle Sign ?
(See package photos, after the jump…)
Tea Forté from designer Peter Hewitt. A pleasing combination of geometric and organic: tall polyhedral infuser packs, each with a disarmingly natural-looking leaf/sprout tag. Although the tall pyramidal shape is not a “close packing” polyhedron, the individual tea-bag/infusers do pack together in a variety of sculpturally intriguing ways.
A couple weekends ago, the dog and I were standing by the utility pole out in front of the house. I was just standing there. He was doing a bit more. I saw a discarded plastic bottle whose label (below-left) featured a cartoon illustration of a bottle with a smiling face. I picked it up for closer examination. “Big Burst” from American Beverage Corp. I peeled off the label and—(once the dog was finished)—tossed the bottle into the recycling can. Couple days later, I saw another discarded Big Burst bottle across the street and deduced that the deli on the corner must sell ’em. That’s where I bought the orange-flavored bottle (below-center) and where I also found this Big Burst carton (below-right).
Anthropomorphic cartoon-product mascots used to be pretty prevalent and a lot of them are still around. Usually they are a food-come-to-life sort of thing. But product mascots in which the character is the product’s package “come to life” are little more unusual. Sort of like Droste effect packaging meets Fantasia. Or maybe it’s just the inverse of our recent tendency to think of ourselves and other people as packages. (See: Who’s That Brand?) People are packages and packages are people.
Looking into the mysterious “Big Burst” bottle, I stumbled upon several other examples from the same company. American Beverage Corporation also makes “Little Hug” and “Teenie”—both of which feature anthropomorphic bottle illustrations. How many other package mascots are out there?
(More packaging mascots, after the jump…)
“Sarah Palin is the whole package. There couldn't be a better vice presidential pick.”
President of the Susan B. Anthony List (a “pro-life” group)
Not Buying It
“Sarah Palin—The Package Looks Better But The Poison Will Make You Just As Sick”
–A headline from the Down With Tyranny blog
For some time now, we’ve thought of presidential politics in terms of packaging. (See The Selling of the President 1968) A shocking and ironic idea in 1968—that a political candidate would be packaged like a product—but, business-as-usual by 2008. Decades ago voters had to be persuaded to trust a candidate. Today we just call that “buying in.”
So it comes as no surprise to us when news reports, editorial columns, and the politicians, themselves speak of Governor Palin as a package—although McCain’s selection of Palin as his running mate has also been called a surprise package. The Republican Party’s presentation of the Governor of Alaska to the rest of the country was really more of a product launch than an introduction.
Politicians and political candidates are not the only type of metaphorical packaging in politics. The legislation they pass or vote down—veto or sign into law—is also a package. Hence, the Alaska headline: “Governor Palin signs energy package.” Or America’s favorite: the “Economic Stimulus Package”
Speaking of which, my favorite quote about Bush’s “Economic Stimulus Package” is from Barbara Ehrenreich:
“With all the talk about how to stimulate it, you’d think that the economy is a giant sex organ. Ben Bernanke may not employ this imagery, but the immediate challenge—and the issue bound to replace Iraq and immigration in the presidential race—is how best to get the economy engorged and throbbing again.”
from This Land is Their Land
(Which brings us to certain other meanings of the word package.) I didn’t watch much of the Republican convention, but I caught some of Palin’s speech, and my ears pricked up when I heard how she described her husband.
“He’s a lifelong commercial fisherman … a production operator in the oil fields of Alaska’s North Slope … a proud member of the United Steel Workers’ Union … and world champion snow machine racer. Throw in his Yup’ik Eskimo ancestry, and it all makes for quite a package.”
–Sarah Palin in her Republican convention speech
That Palin—herself “a package”—should also describe her husband as “a package,” shows that it’s not just politicians who get metaphorically compared to packages. I’d say, it’s become quite the cultural norm to compare ones self and ones loved ones to inanimate product packages. But why has packaging become the metaphor-du-jour? The dehumanizing effects of “personal branding” in a free and unfettered market?
According to writer, Lucus Conley, personal branding is…
“… conceptualizing an individual as a product on a shelf and strategizing how best to market that product to the world. But personal branding isn’t a theoretical exercise —it’s a symptom of a chronic cultural disorder resulting from society’s prolonged overexposure to branding.”
Obsessive Branding Disorder
If it’s cultural disease, it’s one we all now share and have learned to live with. Still, the idea of “packaging” a potentially succeeding president as “Pitbull with Lipstick Brand” or “Socially-Conservative Hockey-Mom Brand” perhaps trivializes the gravity of our choice. If we accept that these candidates are like products on the shelf, then maybe we feel like it’s no big deal whether we reach for a political Coke or political Pepsi when we’re in the voting booth.
Certainly the Republicans are not the only ones packaging their message. Obama’s campaign has enjoyed great success in making the Democrats the “Change Brand.” So much so, that now John McCain’s campaign is engaging in a kind of trademark infringement. The recent switch in republican strategy from “Experienced War Hero Brand” to “Maverick Change Brand” is a little like some abusive, cheating husband pleading with his wife as she leaves him, “Baby, I can change!”
I’m a little worried that, with all this deceptive-labeling of the “new-and-improved Republican Change Brand” there is a likelihood of confusion for political consumers.
I’m hoping all you younger political consumers will show up in droves at the polls. If you’ve never voted before, let this election be your first presidential purchase. (And if you haven’t already, please don’t forget to pick up your local voter registration package before next month’s deadline!)
Beach Packaging Design
In college, I remember hearing about a “correspondence art” project by Bruce Helander in which he sent a series of letters, each decorated with pasted pictures of the “Mona Lisa” to a friend on the west coast.
Mailed on a regular basis from the east coast, the first letters were fully addressed, but in gradual stages he began abbreviating and omitting crucial bits of address information, until eventually a letter with nothing more than a picture of the Mona Lisa was actually delivered to his friend by the post office.
I’m guessing this must have been before widespread use of optical character recognition at the US postal service—when it was still possible (through dogged repetition and persistence) to train a series of unknown postal workers to associate a picture of the Mona Lisa with a specific destination.
The recent recent changes in Gatorade’s labeling, reminds me of Helander’s project. First the brand’s logotype is front and center and locked up with a lightning bolt. Then it gets a bit smaller, steps aside and lets the lightning bolt take center stage.
Are consumers like postal employees? If Gatorade takes the next logical step and removes the logo altogether, will consumers still recognize the brand? Could shoppers be trained to understand that a bottle, addressed only with a lightning bolt, meant Gatorade?
(Compare with old Gatorade logo lockup, after the jump…)