In a recent article in Marketing Week, Alain de Botton wrote an article about how ‘being loud and blatant’ when it comes to food packaging ‘is not the only way to get consumers to listen’.

Using cereal packaging as an example, he discusses how this portable miniature billboard we retrieve from the cupboard every morning usually has a design that reeks of desperation – trying to win over our attention and secure our loyalty by the time the plastic inner is empty.

All at once, cereal packaging is eager express that its contents offers instant, long-lasting energy and that this cereal is a result of nature’s finest influences through graphics consisting of idyllic blue skies, heavenly bursts of sunshine and golden strands of wheat in fields filled with the stuff. And if you were in any doubt that this cereal is good for you, nutritional information is given pride of place.

It doesn’t take any sort of genius to recognize that most breakfast packaging is not subtle. As Alain de Botton writes: ‘With all this competition around, the cereal box wants to cut through and make us listen to what it has to say. And to do this it shouts.’

But why is this a problem? Surely the loudest voice in the room is the one people listen to?

Or is it?

He adds:

‘Too often, selling has become confused with pestering. Advertising annoys, it turns up at awkward times and in places where it is not wanted…The problem isn’t selling as such. It is trying to sell to the wrong person at the wrong time. Badgering has two characteristics: randomness and untimeliness.’

At the heart of this issue is the trust relationship between the consumer and the seller. Yet trust can only really happen when the seller takes the position that each profit they receive from the consumer should only ever be in exchange for a product that makes ‘a valuable contribution to the customer’s life’.

Instead of just shouting out the messages we believe people want to hear, we should be working at getting better in our understanding of the needs of those we are addressing.

In short, effective packaging design shouldn’t be about shouting messages we think the customer wants to hear and tricking them into a purchase. Instead, it should be about providing answers to the every day questions and concerns of the consumer.

Get this right and you’ll be surprised how far away a whisper can be heard.

Photo credit: Melissa Askew