Packaging: The art of giving you less than you think

The Quaker Oats people are giving their logo a makeover. “Larry” the Quaker is a little less heavy and a little more youthful. The marketers have figured they’ll sell more boxes of their cereals if they create a subtle impression of vigor.

To mere mortals, this may seem like a minor move, but marketers are much smarter than the pigeons — us — who buy their products.

Packaging experts understand that our lying eyes will make them money.

Of late, taller and thinner is the key to this. My colleague, Julia Schrenkler, and I noticed this recently on our daily popcorn run. The popcorn box is as tall as it used to be, but now it’s thinner in order to disguise the fact that for the same money, you’re getting less. McDonald’s did the same thing with soft drink cups.

If you’ve bought cereal lately, you’ve probably noticed you get a pretty tall box filled half-full of cereal.

In the last few months, I’ve been conducting an experiment with shaving cream. Gillette, for example, makes Comfort Advantage shaving cream and markets it in a very tall can, where it competes on the shelves with a few, cheaper short-and fat cans.

I noticed, however, that the cans seem to stop actually dispensing product fairly quickly, so I put it to the test.

Here’s a full can


As you can see, it weighs 11.6 ounces.

This can — I’ve experimented with four so far — is empty, or at least it stopped dispensing shaving cream a week ago.


The can weighs 4.3 ounces. I used, then, 7.3 ounces. In truth, the normal person would’ve thrown this away a week ago, but I stood for the 5 or 10 minutes it took for the remaining shaving cream to drip out after the pressure in the can disappeared. I’m cheap that way.

But let’s go with the 7.3 ounces, and note what the company’s packaging says you’re buying: 8.4 ounces. So you’ve paid for 8.4 ounces of shaving cream, you actually get 7.3 ounces. Simply brilliant, and that’s how creative packaging can increase a margin by 13.1%.