Categories: BrandingCase StudiesLaura

The Pitfalls of Misdirected Packaging

Never overlook the power and importance of packaging. It is
the last chance for a consumer to say yes or no to your brand. You may have
done an excellent job with your brand name, PR, word-of-mouth and advertising,
but if that last piece of the puzzle (the package) doesn’t fit into the
consumer’s mind, you are out of luck. No sale.


Strong brands in leadership positions should also not
overlook the power of packaging. Too often instead of reinforcing its core strength
a leader tries to use its package to extend its brand.


Big mistake. This is type of misdirected message is confusing
to consumers who after hearing about a brand, reading about a brand and growing
accustomed to a brand are perplexed by the change of message.


When consumers get to the shelf, the package should simply,
clearly and emphatically reinforce what the brand stands for in the mind. Not
doing this is tantamount to brand treason.


Nothing exemplifies this better than Cheerios. And no case
of packaging misdirection infuriates me more. The entire Cheerios package is
completely contradictory to what the brand is all about.


What is Cheerios?


If you have kids, know people who have kids or were ever a
kid yourself then it is clear, Cheerios are a kid’s first food.


Cheerios represent simple, wholesome goodness that parents
feel proud to serve as their child’s first solid food. Babies happily gobble them
up by the fistful. No parent would dare leave the house without a Ziploc bag
filled with them.


Until they experience crap like Coco Puffs Kids usually love
Cheerios. But once kids go Coco, it’s hard to get them back. Which is why
parents usually cling to the goodness and innocence of Cheerios as long as they


I don’t have the numbers, but I would imagine that the
majority of heavy Cheerios buyers have children under 8 years old.


Yet when you take a look at the package there is no
indication that a kid has ever had one. The entire package is devoted to
telling you how Cheerios can lower cholesterol.


Kids don’t even get tested for cholesterol. Parents want
their kids to eat healthy with lots of whole grains but cholesterol isn’t the issue, sugar is. I know our kids are getting fat, come on. Nobody is thinking how to lower their kindergartners cholesterol.

Yet in huge letters on the box, right under the Cheerios name,
the Cheerios brand message is:

“helps lower cholesterol”

What!?! Have you gone cuckoo
over at Cheerios?


First-time parents have been told for generations to feed
Cheerios to their babies, yet these moms get to the shelf, they find a box that
says: “Helps lower cholesterol, 10% in one month.” Any exhausted mother would
shake her head and say, huh. This sounds like grub for grandma not a baby. I’m
not buying that!


If Cheerios are good for babies, they are good for adults. I
get that. And I have been known to eat many handfuls of Cheerios out of my kids
bowls and Ziploc bags over the years. But Cheerios is not an adult food,
Cheerios is a kid food. Thinking otherwise is foolish. Saying so in big letters
on the box is foolish. Ignoring your biggest and best fans is foolish.


Not to mention if you really wanted to lower cholesterol
there are much better ways of doing it than by eating Cheerios. Cholesterol is
not and will never be the main selling point of Cheerios.


The arrogance of leadership is that what you have is often
overlooked for what you don’t have and mistakenly think you can get. We got the
kids, let’s get the adults. We got the women, let’s get the men. We got the high-end,
let’s get the low-end. We got the regular market, let’s get the diet market.


Never overlook your position in the mind. And always
reinforce it right there in on the box. Consumers like husbands, aren’t stupid,
but a big reminder on the box and a hit over the head doesn’t hurt.

Laura Ries :

View Comments (4)

  • I would add the Gatorade repackaging to this list of biggest mistakes. The entire G2 movement for Gatorade has caused nothing but confusion, splintered the market, and caused people to hesitate at the moment of buying decision.
    Thank you for putting into words the frustration felt by so many knowledgeable marketing people overruled by bone-head executive decisions.

  • In May the FDA blasted Cheerios for the health clainms they were making. This was a blessing in disguise. General Mills should drop the heart and go back to the bee.
    It is much easier for leaders to make mistakes and get away with it, for a while. Let's hope others don't follow the path of Cheerios and take them down the wrong path as well. The world of branding is such a mess! Great post.

  • Yeah I agree with Erik (1st comment) that said that the world of branding is such a mess..I totally agree...I mean it's not only Cheerios...I mean I'm from Europe...and well same applies here...I mean the manufacturers are claiming such nonsense ...I mean lower your bad cholesterol with Cheerios...it doesn't even sound serious...I'm just waiting for the day when they start printing messages..like Cheerios will prolonge your life by 20-30 years...I mean they are already allowed to put out such nonsense claims, so why stop here (being a bit sarcastic)...