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Not Glad: the danger of brand makeovers

Business

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Is iconic food storage company Glad responsible for this year’s version of “iSnack 2.0”?

The company, which has famously sold plastic cling wrap since 1966, is “reviewing” its new packaging after a devastating backlash from customers.

It had been boasting on its website that its Glad Wrap product is now “the best-ever”, with “a 1.5x tighter seal for long-lasting freshness” and packaging changes to make it “even easier and safer to dispense”.

But consumers seem to disagree, with Glad’s social media pages flooded with complaints.

“I hate how you have changed the cutting edge to the top of the cling wrap and am never buying this product again,” wrote one Facebook respondent.

It went on and on. “My new 60m box of glad wrap has the cutter bar on the wrong side, found out the hard way when I cut my hand opening it up,” bemoaned one customer; another said they were “not happy about the new cutting position on the glad wrap roll, will be the last time I buy glad wrap, it doesn’t even make sense to have to this way!!!”

Yet another chipped in: “It’s infuriating trying to use a different cutter. And why should I? There are plenty of other quality products out there.”

Glad Australia's Facebook page is full of complaints about the new packaging.

Glad Australia’s Facebook page is full of complaints about the new packaging.

That observation would be enough to send shivers down the spine of any marketer; a popular Facebook refrain has been to point out that Homebrand products have retained the traditional approach, whereby the metal cutting strip remains on the underside of the box.

“Who are the knuckleheads who decided to change the design of the dispenser?” wrote yet another complainant. “Haven’t they heard of ‘if your (sic) on a good thing, stick to it’?”

And there’s the rub. Professor Larry Lockshin, head of UniSA’s marketing school, explains the psychological process of buying products is not tolerant of sudden change.

“For most people shopping is not all that important in their lives; as a human process, we learn and then we internalise it and don’t really think much about it,” he said.

“Whether it’s going shopping with your mother or when you get your own apartment and start buying stuff, you basically learn it and that part of our mental system becomes almost autonomous.”

So when the packaging changes and the mental cue you’ve been using is no longer there” you literally do not see your product”.

“The red light starts flashing: ‘Error, error, error’!” explained Lockshin.

“People don’t think about it at all but when it changes it upsets this whole internal process system.”

He says it’s “extremely rare for any packaging change to have a positive effect in the short term”.

“Almost any packaging change results in an at least a small – or sometimes large – downturn…(so) if you’re going to make a major change to it do it over a period of time and incrementally.”

Modern marketing history is littered with famous repackaging fails: New Coke was quickly withdrawn, as was iSnack 2.0 when it emerged Australian consumers were no longer happy little Vegemites. American fruit drink Tropicana’s 2009 redesign was pulled after less than two months and a 20 per cent drop in sales. Which might beg the question why such companies embark on such makeovers to begin with?

According to Lockshin, it can be a “multitude of things”.

“Sometimes it’s generated because you’ve got a new brand manager who wants to make a point to prove they know what’s going on, sometimes sales are going down and they’re looking for something to increase them (or) it can be in response to competitors,” he said.

“It’s usually a combination of: ‘We look old-fashioned, the world has changed and sales are stagnant’.”

In a statement posted on the company’s website after inquiries from InDaily, Glad says its packaging changes – “a stronger box, 50 per cent better cling, a tighter seal, easy roll, easier opening and a relocated cutter bar” — were made in response to customer feedback, “with the intention of improving the value and usage experience”.

“Before making these changes, Glad completed rigorous and extensive in-home research in Australia.  The results were overwhelmingly positive favouring the changes including the movement of the cutter bar to the lid, with the safety aspect of this front of mind. In fact, more than 60 per cent of those Australians who participated in the research preferred the improved product overall.”

Lockshin agrees that market research can be misleading: “When you ask people in isolation quite often they do like new packaging better.”

But in a shopping environment, “the average time a person spends in front of a category is, like, 12 seconds … there’s not a lot of cognitive processing”.

“Humans apply autonomous – rather than cognitive – decision-making to everyday decisions because they’re not that important,” Lockshin explained.

“If you’re going to test how well a packaging change is going to work in a shopping environment you have to simulate that kind of decision-making, and that’s not how the testing goes.”

Matt Levey, from consumer watchdog Choice, agrees that consumers become “very attached to some brands, especially products that are part of their everyday lives”.

“It seems this particular change has backfired – it will be interesting to see whether the company holds its ground,” he said.

It seems unlikely. The company’s statement goes on to admit that, in light of the subsequent response, “we are actively listening to our loyal customer base, taking the current feedback concerning the new cutter bar location very seriously and this is currently under review”.

If this remark from a “loyal customer” on Twitter is indicative of the “current feedback”, “review” could be code for “recall”: “Did Glad even TRY their new cutter-on-the-top before imposing it on us? Best marketing decision since New Coke and iSnack 2.0 #uppercut”

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