Eye of the beholder

Eye of the beholder - image for article by Greg Alder

I was gazing at a bottle of whisky recently (as is my wont). It’s a favourite whisky from a favourite distiller. It sells in the USA for about US$95 a bottle.

I love the whisky, but I hate the label. It’s a label that I feel would look at home on an industrial solvent or heavy-duty lubricant, but not on a high-end whisky.

Out of interest, I superimposed the label on a lubricant bottle. You can see the result below.

The container on the left is the lubricant that Amazon sells for US$59.68 a gallon (3.78 litres).

The label on the container on the right is from the whisky I admire. Its price equates to US$478.80 a gallon.


So, have I done the whisky a disservice by comparing the label to a lubricant’s? Or does the label do a disservice to the whisky in the bottle?

This experiment got me thinking more deeply. Or was it the whisky? Are there categories in which packaging design is inconsequential? Is there a price point at which packaging design starts to influence purchase decision?

My two cents worth? When it comes to low cost, commoditised products, packaging has a negligible influence on our purchase decision. Some of us buy a certain brand of toilet paper because it’s soft. Some of us buy a certain brand because it’s the cheapest and it gets the job done. We never put the pack of toilet paper on display. There’s no pride of ownership when it comes to toilet paper.

Let’s take a different category, perfume. Once bought, perfume bottles are rarely put on display. They sit in a cupboard or a drawer. And yet, packaging plays a vital role in our purchase decisions.

House of Sillage tiara

The perfume shown here is Tiara, from House of Sillage. Neiman Marcus currently sells a 75ml bottle for US$1,210. If a whisky, it would be US$12,100 a 750ml bottle. If a lubricant, US$60,984 a gallon.

How much are we paying for the packaging? Well, easier to ask how much we’re paying for the perfume inside. A few years ago, two renowned perfumers calculated that the average value of fragrance concentrate in a €100 bottle of perfume is between €1 – €1.50. Shocking? Perhaps. And yet we still buy that perfume. Why? Because we’ve fallen under its spell. We love the aroma. We admire the perfumer. We feel privileged in being able to afford it. And finally, we have fallen in love with the packaging.

Design is subjective. To a point. We all recognise good design. And no matter the product, there’s a point above which packaging enhances a product’s perceived value and below which it detracts.

If I line up a dozen $100 whiskies that you don’t know and I tell you the whiskies are similar in quality, and I ask you to choose one to purchase, you’ll likely select the one that looks like it costs $100 or more, not the one that looks like a lubricant (or a prisoner’s uniform, as shown here).

Beauty might be in the eye of the beholder – and we all have diverse tastes – but for products where pride of purchase and pride of ownership are factors, we can’t help but be influenced by good, or bad, packaging design.

Photo by Oscar Keys via Unsplash

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