Category Archives: Paper Bags

Wrapping it Up


Ever watch The Office, the long-running comedy on NBC? It’s a show about an ineffectual, uninspiring work environment that decreases morale and stifles productivity. Creativity rarely is a result.

Advertising Week is hosting its eighth annual event, Oct. 3 through Oct. 7 in New York City. It’s safe to say that uninspired and listless will not be attending. Leave your boring cubicle at home, please! Conferences and seminars will be held all over Manhattan featuring brand strategy, marketing to target demographics, and technological topics, among other subjects.

Speaking of which, I was watching a political pundit show the other day when someone mentioned that anyone can brand themselves in this day and mobile age. You don’t need an actual product because with social media, you are the brand. Sure. But it sort of reminded me of reality show hacks who manage to convince the public they are either experts or otherwise important. Many fade into the background after a while or become a running gag.

Or, American Idol contestants. Some go on to great success, but many crash and burn. That show has been around for 10 seasons already, but only the diehard fans will remember the runner ups or even the initial auditions. The winners who won and went on to notable careers did so because of not only talent, but consistency. The chameleons who changed every week? Do you even remember their names? The general public won’t.

As far as getting your name out there, even garbage can be advertised. Well, the process of hauling away the garbage. Bagster dumpsters, for example, proudly display the company’s name, despite it being a loaded bag of debris. Presumably, it’s so your neighbors can tell what company you are using when remodeling the upstairs bathroom and getting rid of trash.

One Other Note

I say time and time again that packaging is an integral part of branding. Without effective and inspiring packaging, how are customers looking forward to what product may be inside? How are they drawn to such a product in the first place? By chance? By magic?

No matter what, however, without a product the consumer wants, a nice wrapper is just that, an outside layer.

In addition to retail outlets and cosmetic boutiques, we have served all types of restaurants in our 60 years of existence. I can tell you confidently that most patrons don’t walk into a deli thinking about packaging. They want a nice sandwich, something good to eat for lunch. Paper take-out bags aren’t exactly mouth watering, the food is. But when packaging is not available? Woah, now that’s a problem the patron will remember.

Take a recent review on Hoboken is a mile square city across the Hudson from Manhattan. Any given day, you will see hoards of pedestrians on Washington Street, prime real estate for foot traffic. This particular reviewer called ahead for a lunch order and arrived to find his lunch in an unmarked box sitting on the counter. He needed a bag to take the meal home. Several restaurant staff had to search around for a take-out bag. Come on, that’s ridiculous. Forget customized packaging for a moment, but NO BAGS at all? This is a deli is not?

Fortunately someone found a carry-out bag in the back and the patron eventually enjoyed his meal. But his overall impression was not positive. Shoppers, especially in a pedestrian-friendly area such as Hoboken, need bags to carry purchases. Don’t give in to wasted opportunity. Wrap that sale up instead.

Monday Musings


The other day I was walking past a row of restaurants and noticed a pedestrian carrying a shoulder tote with the words “medium brown bag” printed in a plain sans serif on the front, in brown block lettering of course. “Did you see what that bag said,” I asked my friend, a resident of New York for the last twenty years.

“Medium brown bag?” he repeated. “I don’t know where that’s from.”


Look up “medium brown bag” on your friend, Google, and come up with 166 MILLION results, none of which may answer where the pedestrian had originally bought the bag.

Although many seasoned shoppers will recognize it as coming from the world famous Bloomingdales, many others will not have a clue and mistake it for a generic catchphrase. My friend, who routinely wears Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Perry Ellis slim-line suits, is not immune to shopping in Herald Square or wearing clothes by brand name designers. However, he still wouldn’t remember where the bag is from without the store name. Is that just him? I don’t think he is an anomaly. Most people have too much on their minds to remember items that don’t interest them.

And it’s not like the bag is new, having been around a few decades already. Designed by Massimo Vignelli, the Big Brown Bag first appeared in 1973, followed by the Little Brown Bag and Medium Brown Bag one year later. The shopping bag series is considered both iconic and a status symbol. Rob Pruitt’s sculpture of Andy Warhol, (on view at NYC’s Union Square through October 30) even features Warhol carrying a Medium Brown Bag.

Bloomingdales can afford to be cute and catchy as it has been in business for almost 140 years and still retains millions in customers. The bag didn’t even appear until after the store celebrated its 100th year in business. Small companies, especially start-ups, do not have that luxury. Small companies MUST make a name for themselves through consistent and recognizable branding, not hoping that a slogan takes off on its own without a company name attached. That means that packaging MUST promote the business first and foremost with appropriate imagery and company name.

Also, just because a particular image is well-known, does not mean the logo is well-liked. Burger King just announced that it is going through a major design overhaul, switching its focus from previous ad campaigns to ones more related to ingredients and food in general. Thank goodness. Yes, the fast-food chain will finally get rid of the creepy King character which showed up in ill-thought out television ads. In fact, the King was thought to be so creepy, it actually drove potential customers away.

Repurpose on Purpose


With the advent of large-scale recycling programs, recycling has been a regular way of life for decades. Although there are those who choose not to take part, the option is widespread. A recent study conducted by Moore Recycling Associates notes that more than 90% of the American population has access to recycling. Glass and bottles separated from paper and left curbside are sorted by commodity and used in the manufacturing of new products.

The fashion outlet Littleearth actually makes a business out of recycling products into “eco-fashion” – by taking seatbelts, hubcaps and license plates and turning them into belts, purses and wine caddies. (The company also offers fender plate bags featuring sports team logos, from baseball to hockey, football to basketball.)

Not only do many Americans recycle, but prefer to do business with companies that also do so, and not just on Earth Day (April 22) but every day of the year. Recently, the National Restaurant Association conducted a survey showing that three out of five consumers prefer to visit restaurants that recycle, including food packaging and on-site receptacles. This consumer mindset scales many industries. So drycleaners encourage the return of plastic hangers. Office supply stores set up drop-off bins for batteries, while grocery stores around the country display receptacles for the return of plastic bags. Even Ziplock sandwich bags can be dropped off for recycling in some locations.

Despite a disposable, mass-produced goods society, a good deal of consumers still like taking a product and reusing it several times before discarding, especially the packaging. Big brown empty boxes are reused for moving or storage, shirt boxes often are the perfect size for wrapping gifts. Some pizza boxes which tear into equal sections, forming plates for guests, are dual designed and a selling point for the eco-conscious. Shopping bags, whether paper or plastic, are constantly reused on a daily basis for a ton of different reasons. It’s hard to go through a day without seeing a shopping bag. One inventor, Akinori Ito of Japan, has found a way to turn plastic bags into crude oil.

Americans use billions and billions of bags annually. The average consumer takes home at least 600 grocery bags and as many as 1,200 bags annually, more for those who make two trips per week to the supermarket. What kind of bag is your establishment offering?

Packaging for the Whole Experience


Whole Foods Markets, founded in 1980 when natural food groceries were far and few between, has the specific purpose of offering unprocessed, healthy ingredients free of additives and preservatives. Would it make sense to bag those groceries in plastic, for a company striving to protect its community and the planet in general? The grocery chain actually banned plastic bags outright, back in 2008.

Does your business cater to an earth-minded market? How are your products packaged?

The Chanel store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago is a high-end boutique. There aren’t any no-frill products to be found here. In fact, even impulse buys will cost minimally $350. So the typography chosen to display products is of course, an elegant serif. If Chanel decided on a clunky, futuristic font or comic bubbles, would the image and the idea match? Even though knockoffs can be found on street corners, no one associates Chanel with the term “inexpensive” or cheap.

In addition, bags should always bear your company’s logo, image or name. Simply stamping your company’s initials on your shopping bags means little to anyone except the company owner. Unless your business is well established, well-known by most consumers, the initials alone don’t make much of an impact. If you took the time to choose a company name or product name, why shorten it or expect someone to decipher the anagram? The market will do that for you when the item or company in question is routinely recognized. (Take IBM or GE. Neither company became famous prior to its well-known initials today. Another example is Hewlett-Packard, a leading innovator when it comes to printers and computer products. No one called it HP until fairly recently.)

Also keep this in mind: many consumers don’t just bring bags back home and keep them hidden forever. Shopping bags are routinely used, for everyday tasks, to shop at other retail outlets and grocery chains, perhaps even your competitors. Not only is this serving a purpose for the consumer but for the original store, as bags with your company logo are a walking advertisement.

Good looking shopping bags are not a luxury, but a necessity, especially if that is what your retail establishment is offering to customers.

Falsely Green


There is a big difference between admiring an ad and believing its message. There is a big chasm between rhetoric and reality and you can bet your bottom line that your clients know that difference. Boasting about excellent customer service, then leaving a caller on hold for three hours? That’s not going to get anyone to take your claims seriously. Or for another example, say you own a plumbing or electrical firm, and promise “same day service or its free”. Then proceed to break that promise by finding excuses not to honor the pledge? Your company will either become a laughingstock or resented, perhaps used as a last resort when the other, more reputable plumbers are busy.

Same goes for making earth-friendly promises, then reneging or acting hypocritical with operational procedures or practices. Claiming to be eco-conscious and then packing items in multiple layers of non-biodegradable bags just doesn’t cut it.

More than ever, consumers are looking for products from companies that are going green. But just claiming to be green is a huge turnoff and can actually create a backlash, sending companies into the red. The results of this year’s Cone Green Gap Trend Tracker show that 71% of American consumers will stop buying a product if the environmental claims turn out to be false. In addition, a third of these consumers will outright boycott the company if a product does not live up to its eco-friendly claim.

This means if a coffee company claims its bags are “100% compostable” then the packaging has to be fully biodegradable, not partially. (SunChips launched a 100% plant-based biodegradable packaging. After consumers in the hundreds of thousands complained about the bag noise, Frito-Lay pulled the design. Companies that go with 100% compostable paper bags do not see such consumer outrage, or 44,000 Facebook friends setting up a page just to complain.)

Also, it doesn’t do your company any favors to imply endorsement by an environmental group. The most egregious, however, is to create a fake endorsement by an unverified third party. Similar to diploma mills, fake eco-labels are meaningless, and handed out left and right at whim. Some have even claimed that a product helps “fight global warming” which is a rather ridiculous assertion that can’t be verified.

Maybe a company can get away with such claims in the short term. Selling products to a number of strangers might be one way to make sales. Is it possible to continue building such a business? To retain the customer base, the consumers must have trust in your product and your company. Environmentally friendly packaging that is not friendly to the consumer is not going to impress too many customers.

Trying to ride the green buzz just for buzz sake is not going to fly either. More than half of your clients will be naturally skeptical to green claims. Don’t tarnish your reputation with false claims. If you want to go green, go green and mean it.

Paper or Plastic?


No one walks into a convenience store expecting a candy bar to be placed in an engraved Euro tote with corded top handles. Instead, customers pretty much expect to take home that chocolate in a thin plastic bag. The cost of anything more would drive up the price of a simple snack. That would enrage possibly anyone walking in. Shop in an upscale, organic grocery store and receive a sheer plastic bag at purchase? That’s an instant turn off. Where are the brown paper bags? Where is the quality? Retailers catering specifically to eco-friendly consumers will alienate the client base. Would a new customer want to return to such a store again?

The right material makes all the difference. Showing that you know the customer is by showing you care about his or her values. Also, the psychology behind packaging cannot be understated. How customers see the packaging is how they see your product.

Try this. Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, conducted an experiment in the cafeteria of MIT. Students were served a free cup of coffee after answering a few quick questions. Along with the usual condiments, (milk, half-and-half, sugar), several unusual condiments were also on display. No one would ever associate paprika and cloves with coffee, yet there they sat. On some days, all of the condiments were presented on fancy serving trays. On other days, the same condiments were haphazardly stacked in a bunch of Styrofoam cups.

No student ever chose those oddball ingredients to pour in their coffee. Not surprising, since who enjoys a little paprika with their coffee? However, when asked how much they enjoyed the brew, students were much more positive about the taste…..on days when odd condiments were placed on upscale trays. Guess what happened on days when weird condiments were placed in Styrofoam cups, thrown in like an afterthought? Students were less enthusiastic about the coffee and even less interested in recommending the drink to their friends. Even though no one poured the paprika!

Lesson? Packaging is not just important in terms of convenience for the retail outlet, or the products sold, but how customers see those products, and what these customers come to expect.

In 2008, Barneys New York fashion retailer won a design award for its Dallas store. Barneys is well known for being a premium option. So how does the store present its clothes? As if the sales floor was an art gallery and every item was a curated piece. Another example: Williams-Sonoma consistently has its stores strategically designed and lit as if visitors are not in a store but in a “dream home.” Would it make sense to send customers away with their high-end kitchen purchases without a shopping bag? Of course not. The store offers large reusable totes with matching handles, its logo prominently displayed.

Some products are meant to be showcased. What kind of impression does it make when bagged inappropriately? That the item is next to worthless? Maybe some consumers won’t notice or care, but are you willing to take that chance?

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