Sunday, 6 June 2010

Packaging Psychology

Looking through some of my earlier posts on this blog, I found a comment in ‘Post’ that reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend a couple of weeks ago: is there a perception that better items are those that are wrapped in plastic?

Picture our friends’ small back garden, half paved, half gravel, predominantly taken up by a trampoline, several small children, and a barbecue. All the men are customarily gathered around the wild fires said barbecue, talking man talk, and gradually turning small hunks of meat into charcoaled burgers.

‘These are only cheap burgers,’ announces Bron’s best mate, P. ‘You can tell from the box,’ he says, nodding towards the discarded packaging at his feet.

Hmm, I think. Looks like a pretty good box to me. Paper, no plastic wrapping in sight, though I suppose that may have already made its way to the bin.

Despite my normal reticence when it comes to discussing plastic with friends, I can’t resist this particular opportunity.

‘What kind of packaging would you say expensive burgers come in then?’ I ask.

‘Well, the design of the box,’ he tells me. ‘The graphics, the colours. Plus the burgers would be in a plastic tray or something inside. These were just in the box as they are.’

So more packaging - and plastic packaging - equals better food? That is, assuming that more expensive also equals better. How did we come to have this mindset? Advertising, marketing; we’re right back to the debate about consumer society, how businesses manipulate us, and how we fall for it. Every day.

How can we break this vicious circle? I wonder. I see two possibilities:

1. The power of the individual. Those who are clued in, like you and me, try not to buy into it. If enough of us do it, eventually companies will notice demand for their products are falling. And teach our children the better path. The problem with this is that it’s a very long, very hard road, and I worry that any changes it effects will be too late to make a difference in terms of sustainable living – will resources hit crisis point first?

2. A change of heart by those who hold the top of the strings. In recent years, lots of companies have clued into the fact that consumers respond well to green credentials, so these are used more and more in advertising today. If these credentials are genuine, great. But how often do we get to see the whole picture? Of course, it is a start, but what I’d really like to see happen is for every business, and the government to boot, to stop telling us we need to buy their products in the first place, and why theirs is the best thing since sliced bread. Well, I can dream, can’t I?

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