Strategies & Insights


Posted: August 6, 2008

This Wal-Mart and Costco one-gallon jug has caused a little backlash in stores and on consumer blogs. The rectangular block design improves efficiencies in several ways, from eliminating crates to shipping more gallons per truck. However, some consumers find it difficult to pour.

Is design change resistance from consumers to be expected? After all, the most common current gallon milk jug is not an ergonomic triumph. How can Wal-Mart or Costco do a better job of promoting this new design?

Simon Gainey, president, Competitive Innovation, Media, PA
Put consumers in a position where you are asking them to compromise performance with something you use day-in and day-out will always generate consumer noise. The question really is: Are consumers resistant because it requires new handling and pouring behaviors or is it simply impossible to use easily and cleanly at 6 a.m.? When new handling behavior is learned, the noise will dissipate. But poor performance can drive consumers away if they are in a position of choice. I do find it hard to believe that there were not good viable design choices that could have easily enabled performance without a compromise.

Martin Short, managing partner of Swerve Inc, New York City
To develop a new package and ignore consumers is at best a wasted opportunity. Addressing the manufacturing and distribution efficiencies of a package are important considerations, but unless significant cost savings are passed on to the customer or environmental benefits are obvious, of what benefit is this to the shopper standing in the aisle deciding which brand to trust? Even the inclusion of a pull up spout or an internal molded baffle into the redesign might have greatly reduced the amount of milk spilt when poured. To have created a complete efficient package that would work successfully in consumers' homes would have made both operational and marketing sense. Imagine the PR and loyalty value if all these discussions and press had been in praise of this package's understanding of shoppers' needs.

Ronald deVlam, partner, Webb Scarlett deVlam, Chicago, IL
From a consumer perspective, the new milk jug fails on two key touch points-visually (utilitarian shape) and functionally (it spills when you pour). Both attributes, in my humble opinion, are not mutually exclusive. The objective of designing a beautiful container that is a joy to pour is attainable-even when strict technical criteria such as pallet efficiencies and wall thickness/material weight are put at the front of the queue. Milk is the ultimate commoditized category: and this jug plays directly into those conventions; so why the blocky appearance? Why the handle there, where it is furthest away from the center of gravity? Why the difficult to open closure that spills when you try and pour? And why should these be the paradigms of a commoditized category? I would advise Costco and Wal-Mart to rethink the strategy about being another milk jug in the world of bad milk jugs: differentiate, upgrade, and add benefits that consumers appreciate. Delight their brand experience so that they become loyal.

Randy Ludacer, partner, Beach Packaging Design, New York City
Every package designer is also a consumer. I have no personal experience with this package, so I don't know whether I, as a consumer, would have a problem with the milk gallon block. But if consumers are finding it annoying, then that's a huge problem. Personally, I've had a similar annoyance with some 1-liter PET mouthwash bottles that are so thin and squeezable that just setting them down open can result in an unexpected geyser of mouthwash. Energy saving efficiencies are important, but the package still has to work well.

Aniko Hill, principal and creative director, The Kitchen Collaborative, Burbank, CA
Humans by nature are creatures of habit, so it's not surprising that significant design changes can come with resistance. I think the key to this kind of dramatic design change is messaging, which as far as I can tell is missing completely from this design. The first read on this package should be about the environmental benefits. Some kind of logo-seal touting the design as a "New Eco-Friendly Jug" would be a start. Messaging could be reinforced by in-store shelf talkers or similar vehicles to get consumers' attention before they make the purchase. If consumers understood the efficiencies of the block design, they may be more receptive and understand that there is a benefit there and accept the trade-off. In fact, it would make then active participants in the retailers' efficiency goals. Besides, what's a little spilled milk compared to a huge carbon footprint?

Leslie Tucker, principal, IQ Design Group Inc., New York City
Marketing savvy usually suggests that any noticeable change needs to be promoted as benefitting the consumer versus the manufacturer, retailer, or planet. But if this is the way it's going to be-that consumers will be inconvenienced for the rest of time-then one promotional idea could be to play up the problem versus praying consumers won't notice. Remember those groundbreaking Dolye Dane Bernbach Volkswagen ads from 1959-60? VW's "Think small" campaign of the past could be recycled as the Wal-Mart/CostCo "Think square" promotional campaign for the future. Transform those unpopular, inefficient, ergonomically challenged square jugs into pop culture icons! Help consumers to laugh over their spilled milk, and just maybe they'll be more forgiving.