Exposure to illness, whether personally or through a loved one, often inspires people to want to do something. You get a new angle into issues that otherwise pass you by. Once I had come to terms with the diagnosis that I had inflammatory arthritis in my mid-thirties and settled into the day-to-day normality of the condition, one of my initial reactions was: Gosh, this is what it must be like to be 90 years old. People should know there are really easy things that can be done to make life easier for old people.
Life with all over stiff, painful joints can be really hard. Certain packaging opening manoeuvres are impossible due to the strength or dexterity required. Like people twice my age I imagine, I have weighed up the pros and cons of making a cup of tea; the comfort of a nice hot drink versus the discomfort of lifting, filling up and pouring a kettle. Or stood there screaming at the designers of a carton of orange juice as I wonder if the plucky duo of my tendonitis-ridden thumb and underpowered forefinger will win the battle to crack open the seal on a miniscule cap.
I felt inspired to learn more about what consumer brands are doing with packaging to cater for the growing ageing population. Surely the power of the grey pound is beginning to influence? Surely brands want all customers to be able to access their products and find the experience so easy that they flood back in their droves to do it again?
One of the clients of our PR agency is MMR Research Worldwide which works with some of the world’s largest food, drink, personal and household care brands on consumer insight and packaging innovation. When I asked their packaging expert about this, I expected to hear how packaging for the elderly and infirm was the next big thing. I was to be disappointed. Apparently, with such huge investments in the manufacturing process alone required to execute packaging changes, a guaranteed uplift in product sales needs to be demonstrated first. It is hard to persuade brand owners to take bold steps and part with millions. The result is a lot of inertia. No one wants to be the first mover. It’s too much of a risk. The exception is brands with products that have volumes guaranteed by long term loyalty. Heinz canned soups have ring pulls for example, but none of its competitors can afford them.
It seems I’m not alone in wondering if “openability”, as it’s called in the trade, is somewhere on the big brands’ radar. Packaging News is featuring the topic in its next issue and as a “consumer contributor” to the article, I got somewhere, in my own small way, to championing this cause. Not just on behalf of the little old dear spending her pension, but for the thousands of economically active consumers shopping for expensive families, who are also struggling to get into packaging.
Poor openability is an unwelcome reminder of what I can’t do. It is humiliating. I go from feeling like a capable, healthy woman to someone with severe palsy. Why should anyone care? Because I am prepared to pay for products that don’t make me feel like this.
When brands spend so much on research to fine tune products and packaging to reposition a brand from one positive attribute to another, they are ignoring swathes of consumers who have long since written off their product or are screaming in anger at it. I’m pretty sure I am not alone in making everyday product choices based on ease of openability, or in avoiding products that I’ve subconsciously deemed as just too difficult.
Clare Dumbreck is the co-founder of Propel Technology, a PR agency specialising in technology and motorsport. She originally posted this article on her own blog at the Blogspot site: propelclaire.blogspot.co.uk
She is also quoted in PN’s Consumer IQ feature, Open Questions, which examines the issue of openability.