Packaging: A Conspiracy Among Dentists?

Regardless of what I buy lately, getting inside the package to the actual product is like breaking into Fort Knox. I recently purchased a pair of carbon fiber trekking poles from Costco. They were encased in plastic sturdy enough to survive wind, hail, sleet, snow and a 500-pound gorilla. But since I had no plans to take the poles with me while still inside the packaging, what was the point?

Regardless of what I buy lately, getting inside the package to the actual product is like breaking into Fort Knox.

I recently purchased a pair of carbon fiber trekking poles from Costco. They were encased in the plastic sturdy enough to survive wind, hail, sleet, snow and a 500-pound gorilla. But since I had no plans to take the poles with me while still inside the packaging, what was the point?

It honestly took me about five minutes to get to the actual poles because it required heavy-duty shears (buried inside our gardening shed), and all of my strength just to cut through the plastic shell. I nearly damaged the poles (not to mention my fingernails) while trying to pry the clam shell pieces a part. Who designs this stuff? And more importantly, why?

These same plastic clamshells are used to encase all sorts of products, equally protected from the hazards of the modern world. I was in an airport a while ago, wasting time between flights by browsing products at the smart phone accessories counter, and every single item was hanging in one of these plastic prisons.

It would be logical to assume that the plastic protects the product from being damaged during shipment, but did that industrial designer ever give one moment’s consideration to the consumer and how they’re going to access the product post-purchase? Who among us travels with scissors or knives (especially in an airport)? And that’s when my conspiracy theory started.

Have you ever gone “old school” and purchased a music CD? Forget trying to listen to the CD in your car on the way home, as there is simply no way to rip open the package—period. The plastic wrap is on so tight there’s nothing to use as leverage to start the “cutting” process.

I’ve tried using my car key, a small screwdriver designed for sunglasses screws, a pen, a sharp stick and, of course, the final resort—my teeth (sorry Dr. Pelfini!). And even then, I’ve repeatedly broken/damaged the CD case while trying to get it open, so it can’t be re-used for storage.

I’ve used my teeth to try and rip open small packages of nuts on the airplane (those little “slits” are a joke for fingers), and am often rewarded with the bag slicing open, but my 10 precious peanuts are scattered across the laps of my seat mates.

I know I’m not alone in this practice: I’ve watched a guy rip off the paper that encases a straw with his teeth and then spit out the torn off end, and a Mom open the plastic bag covering a toy from a fast-food joint with her teeth while her toddler had a melt down.

But it was a recent jar of peanut butter that stopped me cold. After unscrewing the lid, the paper covering that came between me and my craving didn’t have one obvious way to peel it off other than stabbing at it with a sharp knife. While I was lucky enough to be in my own kitchen at the time, I thought about all those kids out there trying to make their first sandwiches, weeping in frustration.

Since packaging is one of the “Five P’s of Marketing,” I’d like to suggest to marketers everywhere that they re-examine their current packaging from a consumer point of view. If opening your product requires knives, scissors and the strength of 10-men, you may want to take a step back and rethink your packaging options.