Consumerism consumes another

In today’s consumption driven society it has become custom to buy products not for what they are, but for what they mean, causing so their role to extend far further in our lives than their original function. This notion of wanting more from products has brought about a search amongst consumers for an authenticity in their purchases; something that well-known brands have recognised and responded to. One outlet that can able an authentic image to be illustrated is through packaging design, which acts as an extension in our incentive to consume. Packaging is the first point of contact for the customer where imagery and design have only a few seconds to make an impact. Manufacturers have identified the alluring qualities that characterise authenticity and why people are drawn to it, for instance a particular desire towards the genuine and the real, along with something that is proven and has a weight of history behind it. Many brands have focussed this through their packaging, utilising two types of techniques: time and location, which has become a very typical visual occurrence seen when out shopping. The use of time refers to the past, nostalgia and traditions, manifesting itself in the form of retro and vintage. The use of location is concerned with place, taking specific values and styles of design associated with a certain region or country. To support my argument I will compare and contrast several products’ packaging that utilises these two techniques, where I will be examining how they approach an authentic look and evaluating how successful each one is.

The first way in which the packaging of products can be imparted with authenticity is by the use of location. Locating a product in place, and thus instilling a sense of history and origin, boosts the product in a way that cannot be replicated by other similar companies as it can claim to give special properties from such location that can be found nowhere else. Lewis and Bridger sum up this idea well “Tap water drawn from an anonymous reservoir is a rootless commodity that attracts no premium” (Lewis, Bridger: 2001: 40) With the rise of the new consumer being ever more so questioning about what they are buying, they have become more involved in the process of production and informed about its source. This principle is particularly relevant to food as more consumers are desiring produce that is linked to a particular place, which can indicate authenticity. One way in which people do this is by careful scrutiny of the packaging and its labels. A very fitting example can be found evident in a product from Waitrose supermarket under the name of ‘Marcos Sarta de Chorizo Iberico’ which will expand on this idea further. This product is over twice the price of any other chorizo stocked by Waitrose largely down to the fact that it is made from the premium Spanish Iberian pig as well as being manufactured and packed in Spain, its country of origin, and then sold to the UK. As seen in Figure 1, the colour scheme is noticeably very plain, limited to a white background highlighted with red text, with no addition of photography or graphics. All these elements have been combined to imitate the style of a traditional and moreover local delicatessen, typical of Spain. The fact that the packaging is very functional and less visually appealing than other common supermarket products is an intentional design to direct sole focus on the produce. This is exactly like how it would appear in a delicatessen, as their objective is centred around quality and the food itself. By staying true to this traditional style of design the packaging and also the produce has more potential to be perceived as authentic. Furthermore the style of the red typography simulates a printed, hand stamped look that is slightly blurred and indistinct in areas as if it has just been wrapped up and packaged by the hand of an employee. Figure 2 shows the logo for a traditional Spanish restaurant in London that has similarly employed this technique to convey a handmade, humanised touch which promotes an air of authenticity as people can relate to it. The way the product communicates its details to the consumer through the text is also very authentic, being entirely in Spanish, which is just what we would expect to see on packaging in a real shop in Spain. This can be seen in figure 3 where translations are provided below each area of text in Spanish. This technique adds to the whole experience, set up to make the viewer feel like they are involved in the culture and its trappings, resulting in the idea that they are buying something authentic.

Emphasis on the idea of artisan is also drawn upon in the packaging, most noticeable in the description, “100% Artesano” (Marcos de Chorizo Iberico (2013): packaging) The connotations of this word largely speak of the traditional and handmade, implying that the produce was made in a traditional way – in this case produced in a local area of Spain with no modern or foreign alterations. The handmade qualities also help to build upon creating an authentic image as it is exposed to signify something more real and tangible, which consumers are more likely to trust. This idea is supported by Noble’s comment that “the more virtual our lives get the more we hunger after something genuine” (Noble, 2013: online) which particularly refers to how there is a desire to revisit more traditional values such as an appreciation for things handcrafted; something we believe to carry the utmost authenticity. Another subtle use of location expressed through the packaging is by the repeated mentioning of ‘iberico’ (the Iberian pig), which is unique to Spain, and is rare and special, fed entirely on acorns. This provides a very strong sense of place and drills into the consumer an awareness that the product possesses authenticity by making it known that the meat cannot be replicated anywhere else.

The second way in which packaging can serve as a marker for authenticity is through the use of time. Brands do this through their packaging by trying to capture the feel of the past; taking the style of an older period and imitating its design. The result of this is a nostalgia-inducing effect, creating an emotional connection to the product which is taken on particularly by older generations. However, this is equally done so by younger consumers who are becoming increasingly taken with the appeal of vintage, as today it could be argued that a person does not have to have lived through a particular period in time in order to feel nostalgic for it.

A brand that embodies this is ‘Soap and Glory’ – a bath, beauty and body care line that is notorious for its retro 1950’s Hollywood-glamour style packaging. Its recurring statement aesthetic consists of pink and cream colours, collaged with black and white images of bombshell women, and quirky puns to title the products. Figure 5 is typical of this, featuring typography referencing the 1950’s and 60’s and the image of a domestic scene where a retro styled woman of the aforementioned era is washing her hair. The enthusiastic phrases such as “having a bad hair day?” (Soap and Glory (2010) in…..: packaging) also actively address the consumer owing to the striking punctuation. Figure 6 shows an example of where this look might have been inspired from. These whimsical visuals and copy immediately infuse the product with personality and attitude, but are also nostalgically reminiscent of a time when housewives spent a lot of time on their looks (or were presented as doing) and channelled these characteristics through them. Nostalgia – also defined as a romanticising of the past, is something that people often identify with authenticity, because there is memory attached and we trust it, or at least more so than the present. These domestic visuals could signal a certain longing or idealisation for that time, in contrast to the modern day where the typical housewife has less time for keeping up appearances. The way the packaging uses the strategy of adding memory to the products, thus evokes an emotional connection towards them, and in doing so adds value in terms of authenticity. By appearing to be more real to the consumer it helps to relive or exhibit a taste of that era through the product. The packaging’s imagery of pin-up girls is very much a glorification of ‘the good old days’, suggesting that the company believes in these traditions and values and is aiming to instil them in the product. The theme of domesticity and housewives suggests the idea of things carried out properly and right; this in itself evokes authenticity but also links to the idea of washing and cleaning which is the intent of the entire product line. These ideas are evident in some of the product titles ‘the righteous butter’ and ‘wash your hands of it’. In contrast to the ‘Marcos’ brand ‘Soap and Glory’ tries to show a sense of authenticity differently by taking elements of a past era and adding a modern twist rather than recreating it exactly

February 6, 2018


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