Hyperbolic Package Design
(a potato sack and a couple of beer cans)

Marilyn “I wore a certain red dress to a party at the Beverly Hills Hotel. It was a beautiful dress. It cost a fortune. I got it at I. Magnin’s. It was a copy of a French original. But one lady columnist wrote that I was cheap and vulgar in it and I would have looked better in a potato sack.”

Marilyn Monroe interviewed by Pete Martin
Pete Martin Calls on Forty of the Most Fascinating and Controversial Celebrities of Hollywood and Broadway

In answer to the highlighted hyperbole above, Monroe’s agent, Johnny Hyde, “promptly went down to L.A.’s warehouse district, got a couple of sacks, and had some photos taken of her wearing one.” (via)

Ale This story is very similar to the story of how Jasper Johns came to create his cast bronze, “Ale Cans” sculpture, based on a crack that Willem DeKooning once made about art dealer, Leo Castelli …

“Somebody told me that Bill de Kooning said that you could give that son-of-a-bitch two beer cans and he could sell them. I thought, what a wonderful idea for a sculpture.”

Jasper Johns
As quoted in “Jasper Johns” by Richard Francis

It’s telling that, in both of these rather backhanded hyperbolic statements, the packaging represents the lowest imaginable thing. A potato sack. A couple of beer cans.

The idea of taking a hyberbolic statement and running with it (as Johnny Hyde and Jasper Johns did) accomplishes two things. It paradoxically proves the point and exposes the fallacy behind it. Burlap bags are not fashionable. Or are they? Beer cans are not fine art. Or are they?

I wonder if a similar rhetorical strategy could be used in package design?

For example, someone could say something like, “Acme Widgets could come packed in a pickle jar and they would still outsell their competitors!” A culturally-savy package designer might then design a category-disrupting “pickle jar pack” for widgets.

The package would still be the scapegoat of the story—(the lowly, loathsome pickle jar)—but the hero of the story would be Acme’s wonderful widgets whose virtues somehow win out despite everything.

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

Modular Wine Bottle Desk Lamp


“Built-in interlocking joints and partially biodegradable materials… The reusable carrying case transforms into an energy-efficient LED desk lamp, using your empty wine bottle as a stand.”

from Miniwiz


Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design


Shapeshifting Diet Pepsi Can


Pepsi has fattened up its diet “skinny” can with a redesign that aims, perhaps, to distance itself from a controversy that bubbled up earlier this year.

The Independent, September 14, 2011

But if Diet Pepsi’s “skinny” can embodied a negative “body image” message, then how are consumers to interpret such an abrupt change from tall, skinny cans to short, fat cans?

Now that soda cans are understood to be proxies for our own body shapes, this drastic change of shape surely carries with it a subliminal message about Yo-yo dieting and weight cycling. (Or, perhaps, height-cycling since both 250 ml cans above would actually weigh about the same.)

See also: Beverage Brand & Body Image

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

Wood Framed Bottles


“Framing the product” might be one definition of what a retail package is supposed to do—providing an appropriate and complementary setting, both to contain and to display a product.

Taking this metaphor literally, these bottles are circumscribed by a signifying wooden frame. While a glass bottle by itself could clearly do the job of containing, the frame draws additional attention, setting it apart from the other bottles on the shelf. Framing the bottle as if it were a work of art or a tromp l'oile representation of a bottle (rather than a real bottle).

The effect is minimal and modern, although some might argue that adding gratuitous elements to an otherwise functional container is not really modern… That a bottle alone is more minimal and that a signifying frame is retrograde and redundant. Like drawing a line around a building. Or UNDERLINING a word that is already in capital letters.

Still, these are not ornate frames, so they are modern and minimal in that sense.

1. DSquared2’s “He-Wood” (top, left) is a fragrance bottle. Most bottles with wooden frames seem to be fragrance bottles, the idea being to visually frame a olfactory product. (via)


2. With Camarc, Ltd.’s wooden box for James Martin’s—(shown at top, on right)—the idea is to visually frame a gustatory product.

Manufactured in a limited quantity and hand-assembled this wood gift box for JAMES MARTIN'S Fine and Rare 20 year old is made with a frame of solid pine and rigid cardboard.

The wood frame also serves as display case for Point Of Sale. A magnetic system in the wood frame holds the bottle in place.


(Other wood framed bottles, after the fold…)

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Four more things about the Swedish toothpaste brand, Vademecum, whose “toothpaste key” commercial we featured on Wednesday…

1938-MickeyVidamecum 1. Photo above shows their use of an actor in an anthropomorphic packaging costume in a 1930 advertising campaign. via (See also: Hy-Jen Toothpaste)

2. In 1938 Mickey Mouse also promoted Vademecum. Here he is holding a tube of Vademecum toothpaste, saying something in Swedish about the product to Minnie Mouse. Note: logo is up-side-down. (Swedish comic strip panel via: The Daily War Drum)

(Two more things, after the fold…)

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Mixing Toothpaste Brands


Steve Vigneau’s 2008 experiment in which he combined expired sample tubes of competing toothpaste brands, Colgate & Crest…

Reminiscent of Ciprian Muresan’s video “Choose(in which his son pours equal parts of Coke & Pepsi into one glass and then drinks it) — Vigneau’s project also combines competing products in an inseparable mixture. 

“I stirred it all together, found that a spoon will almost stand up in it, then put some on my toothbrush and brushed my teeth with it.”

Here, however, the colorful bowl of toothpaste trumps any corporate rivalry between Colgate and Crest. It’s more like a lesson in subtractive color theory using admixtures of artificial coloring.


How does it all taste when they’re mixed together? [Colgate Total Advanced Fresh Gel and 10 different varieties of Crest]

“This multi-sample toothpaste concoction didn’t taste bad, but was overwhelmingly mint backed by a few other unidentifiable herbs.”

(A couple more photos, after the fold…)

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4 Toothpaste Keys

And speaking of toothpaste tubes and human endeavor

VintageVademecum This Vademecum Toothpaste commerical (#1) about Svend Vademecum III, his research and subsequent discovery is rather relevant. (Note: You have to follow the link to YouTube to actually watch this video. It’s not the embeddable kind.)

The take away from seeing this vintage commercial is that there have been earlier attempts to address the shortcomings of the toothpaste tube. The Vademecum commercial looks to me like it’s from the 1960’s, but a similar “compression key” also appears in this 1909 ad (#2) for Dr Sheffield’s Crême Dentifrice (via)


There was also a sterling silver Tiffany’s toothpaste tube key (#3)


Which raises the question: How many dollars should one pay for a tool that saves pennies? Although, as suggested by Daniel’s comment from the previous post — (about fugality “…to the point of pathology”) — consumer purchases are sometimes compulsive — more subject to psychoanalysis than to cost/benefit analysis. (See also: Dooby Brain)

(Our 4th and final toothpaste key, after the fold…)

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Toothpaste Tube Squeezers & Human Endeavor


EZTubeSqueezer At Eastpack this Summer we met Ray Liberatore who showed us the “EZ Squeeze Tube.” Having recently broached the subject of consumers actually cutting open their toothpaste tubes (in order to get what they paid for) now seems like a good a time to take a look at Liberatore’s package-improving product.

Tube squeezers are one of those inventions that point up the inadequacy of a certain kind package. Up until the invention of the can opener, cans were being opened with knives and rocks. (See: Early Can Opener Patents)

The toothpaste tube has provided a similar inspiration for human endeavor. Consider the range of patented ideas shown above, invented between 1919 and 2010.

Although they make a reusable consumer product (inset above right) Liberatore’s real innovation is in proposing that such a device should not just be a packaging accessory, but an integral part of the package. Not such an outlandish proposal considering how adverse many consumers are to wasting even a small amount of something they’ve purchased. What’s more frustrating than a package with inaccessible contents?

(More patent illustrations of toothpaste tube squeezers, after the fold…)

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Cutting Open Toothpaste Tubes


While researching the previous post, I happened to see this photo on CopyRanter which reminded me of those earlier toothpaste tube dissections we admired in 2009.

I was wondering how this tube was cut apart so cleanly when I found the photos below, clearly showing that it is by freezing a tube of toothpaste, that this is acomplished.

Frozen tooth paste dissected

The motivation for cutting up toothpaste tubes appears to be intellectual curiosity. (About the stripes.) But consumers are cutting up toothpaste tubes for other reasons, as well.


While manufacturers have stealthily shrunk packaging capacity, many consumers, desperate to get everything they can out of the package, have resorted to scissors.


Addressing the need to get every bit of the toothpaste out of the tube, Guo Lili proposes adding a nick (for tearing) to the base of a conventional toothpaste tube — giving the package a sort of Achilles heel.

In contrast to the simplicity of this design, consider the complexity of Crest’s “Neat Squeeze” container below, invented in 1989 by Van Coney.

(Neat Squeeze, after the fold…)

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Don Poynter’s Cocktail in a Toothpaste Tube

WhiskeytoothpasteScotch whiskey flavored toothpaste tube and carton via Whiskey Wednesday

PoynterAds A follow up to our 2009 post about cosmonauts with vodka in toothpaste tubes… I figured it was high time we brushed up on the subject of six proof toothpaste.

I like the argyle-patterned branding of these 1950s alcoholic-beverage flavored toothpastes from Poynter Products. I also like the cross-category referencing of sideways bottles on the box and the tube. (Note how the bottle silhouettes are pointing in the opposite direction from the business end of the toothpaste tube.)

Invented by founder Don Poynter, these novelty toothpastes really did contain a small amount of their corresponding flavors. (Scotch, Bourbon, Rye…)

Examples of Poynter’s advertising for these products appear on the right. (Top right photo from Michael Dietsch’s Flickr Photostream; lower right photo from DigitalObjectsArchivist)

RyeToothPastePhoto of 1954 Rye whiskey flavored toothpaste tube and carton (via: Etsy)

These products enjoyed a brief but heady run for their novelty and amusement value. Poynter appeared on “What’s My Line?” in 1956.

LifeMagazinePhotoPhoto by Wallace Kirkland from Life Magazine, 1955

Soon there there were jokes about the product appearing in print…

An extensive test of a new whiskey-flavored toothpaste was made, comparing it with a control group using a similar formula, but without the whiskey-flavored ingredient. Researchers found that those using the whiskey-flavored toothpaste brushed their teeth after each meal, including lunch at work, — and — as many as fourteen other times during the day. The results showed that these people — using the special whiskey-flavored toothpaste — had twenty-one percent more cavities but they couldn’t care less!

Pit & Quarry, Volume 57, 1965

But as outlandish as the product concept was, Poynter was really not the first to think of it. Joan Blondell’s 1935 film “Traveling Saleslady” had posited exactly this sort of product line.

JoanBlondellStillStill from “Traveling Saleslady” — (I’m guessing that’s a tube of “Cocktail Toothpaste” in her hand)

The latest in the Warner Brothers series of commercial comedies tells how Joan Blondell combines her charm with Hugh Herbert’s inventive genius and wrecks the toothpaste market. Being no admirer of the orthodox dentifrice flavors, this reporter considered that both Mr. Herbert and Miss Blondell deserved to succeed with their Cocktail Toothpaste. A whisky flavor for a morning pick-me-up, a Martini flavor for the hour before dinner, and a champagne flavor at bedtime ought to help the disposition as well as the teeth. Miss Blondell thought so too, and so did her clientele. The big out-of-town buyers were, in fact, so delighted with the new product that they bought it on its own merits, and did not lose their tempers when Miss Blondell declined their invitations to dinner.

Andre Sennwald, 1935 NY Times Movie Review

Again, publicity about this movie mostly played the product concept for laughs, little suspecting that in two decades the market would (for a time) embrace the concept.

Cocktail Toothpaste: For years and years, starting way back around 1929, we have advocated the use of various cocktail, cordial and wine flavors in tooth paste. It remained for First National Pictures to recognize the value of this contribution to the marvels of merchandising and to make use of it in a movie, “Traveling Salesladies.” Many of those who have seen this picture and who are no admirers of the orthodox tooth paste flavors have commented very favorably upon the Cocktail Tooth paste which the entrepreneurs of this cinema market throughout the country.

Drug and Cosmetic Industry, Volume 36, 1935

(Some competing cocktail-flavored toothpastes, after the fold)

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