Saturday, November 20, 2010

Evolution of the Stick Deodorant Package

The most cost-effective container for something is a cylinder whose height is twice the diameter of its base. You learn about this in first semester calculus class -- it's a classic "max/min" problem. Ask any engineer or engineering student. You can maximize the volume for a given surface, or minimize the surface of a given volume.

Indeed, for many years, the cans and bottles used to package products were designed to have roughly those dimensions in order to minimize packaging costs.

But at some point, marketing people took over the design of product packaging. They had results from research that showed how sales correlate with how a product looks on the shelf (and where it's placed, but that's another matter). They first changed labels (colors, fonts and images) to make the product more appealing.

Eventually packaging technology improved. Cans and bottles could be made cheaper and in a greater variety of shapes. Marketing folks realized they could make more money by putting less product in a package while keeping its appearance the same. Perhaps they sold it for 30% less than before, whereas they were selling 50% less product. Thus, products such as stick deodorant appear in shallow packages in which the base is a skinny oval instead of a circle. But they're just as tall and wide as before. They trick consumers into thinking that they're getting the same amount as before when in fact they're getting a lot less.

This practice annoys me for a four reasons:
  1. It's a waste of packaging material. The plastics that packages are made from come from oil. I want oil to be used for gasoline and home heating oil -- things I can actually use -- not something disposable that's designed to trick me.
  2. I resent being tricked. I'm not tricked by this, but I resent the attempt, nonetheless.
  3. It's a waste of product. Every time you get near the end of a stick of deodorant, you leave behind some inaccessible portion. This happens more frequently when the package has less inside it.
  4. The energy used to make the excess plastic is wasted.
  5. The damn things are unstable. Once you've used more than half of a stick deodorant, the container becomes perilously top-heavy. Merely opening the medicine cabinet door suddenly can generate enough suction to cause one of these partly-filled things to topple off the shelf and crash onto a pair of eyeglasses near the sink. Who needs that? Not me.

I'm generally opposed to government interference and excessive legislation. But if a government can tax the gasoline I buy so that I can drive to work and be productive, it should also tax the oil that's used for making plastic. They probably do tax it, but apparently it's not enough. The tax should be so painful that packaging companies will need to revert back to sensibly-shaped cans and bottles. I would even welcome a government specification on the dimensions of cans and bottles. Anything not meeting the specification would be illegal if sold in the USA.


Magical Mystical Teacher said...

Cynic that I am, I say that if the government taxed the plastics guys, they'd just pass the tax on to the consumers in the form of higher product prices. Thus, we'd feel the pain, not the plastics guys. In short, you're screwed, dude!

Square Peg Guy said...

Yes MMT, I'm sure you're right. That's why I think it's important to legislate standards for packaging.

Thanks for commenting!