In yesterday’s post (about trapezoidal toothpaste packaging) we included a design by Eduardo del Fraile which featured, what he called, “the silhouette of the toothpaste.” Shapes like this also have another name and that name is “nurdle.”
Illustrations of nurdles have been appearing on toothpaste packages for a long time: a single serving of toothpaste in its dispensed form.
Use of the nurdle became widespread when toothpastes transitioned from a white paste to colored gels back in the 1970s, said Allen Adamson, managing director of the New York office of Landor, a branding firm owned by WPP PLC. With the introduction of the red gel of Close-Up, the green gel of Aim and the multicolored gel of Aquafresh, showing nurdles in marketing and packaging became an important way of touting a brand’s distinctiveness.
“To me, a swipe of toothpaste works in the same way as a spoon in a bowl shown on a box of cereal,” Mr. Adamson said.
A picture of a nurdle is important because the oral care aisle is so crowded, said Burt Flickinger III, managing director of consultancy Strategic Resource Group, who adds that the word “nurdle” has been used for decades but who coined it is a mystery…
Trademark battles are common in the consumer-products industry, particularly now, according to Terri Seligman, a partner at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz who specializes in advertising disputes. “Companies are trying hard to preserve their market share,” she said. “Advertising is a battlefield and package design is a battlefield,” she said. “You fight where you can.”
And May the Best Nurdle Win
Wall Street Journal, July 30, 2010
The reason that nurdles became so newsworthy in 2010 was the litigation between Colgate-Palmolive and GlaxoSmithKline over their use of nurdles in package design for competing products.
In 2011 the two companies “reached a confidential settlement…”
A lawsuit over a blob of toothpaste has ended, cleanly. Colgate-Palmolive Co and GlaxoSmithKline Plc, two of the world’s biggest toothpaste makers, said they have reached a confidential settlement of litigation over who has the right to depict a “nurdle,” a wave-shaped toothpaste blob that sits atop a toothbrush head. A notice of the settlement was filed on Monday with the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where the companies had sued each other in July 2010. Colgate has sought a court order allowing it to use toothpaste packaging that superimposes the words “Triple Action”— suggesting cavity protection, fresh breath and whiter teeth — on a blue, white and green nurdle. Glaxo, which uses the “Triple Protection” phrase for its Aquafresh toothpaste, countersued, accusing Colgate of trying to “trade off the commercial magnetism” of its own packaging, including a red, white and blue nurdle.
Reuters, November 8, 2011
Although the trademark dispute was over the swash-like nurdles that Aquafresh has been favoring…
Meanwhile, Aquafresh has attempted to co-opt and popularize the concept and the term itself, going so far as to anthropomorphize it in animations. (See: Nurdle World)
While Aquafresh, in its court documents made it seemed like their nurdle was unique and proprietary —(Glaxo created the “highly distinctive” tricolored nurdle design over two decades ago, and has used it ever since.)— to me, it’s not so different from the 1960 “Stripe toothpaste” nurdle shown at the top of this post. (See also: Romney campaign logo)
I’m also interest in the mysterious origins of the term itself…
On her blog, Fritinancy, Nancy Friedman writes:
The word, of unknown origin but possibly related to nodule, was reportedly coined by the American Dental Association in the 1990s to educate the public about proper brushing technique. The word is spelled “nerdle” in an August 19, 1996, St. Louis Post-Dispatch article quoted in Double-Tongued Dictionary, but the spelling has since been standardized as “nurdle.”
But that can’t be correct, because the word “nurdle” was used in toothpaste advertising going back at least as far as 1968.
(to be continued…)