Monday, December 15, 2008

buying in

A very interesting article over on The Dieline, a blog focusing on product and package design. And method is included in the discussion:

"Journalist, Rob Walker writes the weekly “Consumed” column for the NY Times Magazine. Equally adept at addressing both the business and cultural aspects of his subject, Walker’s well-reasoned column has emerged as an unusually clear window on the murky world of branding.

His book, “Buying In, The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are” came out this past Summer.

box vox: One of the companies you write about in your book is Method. You make the case that buying one of their cleaning products is not a strictly rational decision, since so much of their product appeal is based on how cool the packaging looks, rather than how well the product works. Because of their packaging, Method seems to have inspired one of those impromptu brand communities that you discuss elsewhere in your book. Their products are regularly celebrated in package design blogs like The Dieline and I know of at least one designer’s blog (Nathan Aaron’s “Method Lust” site) that is devoted to nothing else. Of course, package designers may have their own self-serving reasons for loving Method, but they don’t seem to be the only ones who are buying Method because of its decorator packaging. Is it possible that Method has built a business entirely on a demographic of aesthetes who want every detail of their lives to reflect their own overarching good taste?

Rob Walker: It was actually one of the founders of Method who told me that their customer feedback indicated that people who bought Method products were often surprised that they worked — that is, they were attracted to the packaging for whatever reason, but had some kind of suspicion that there would be some kind of tradeoff of function for form. I thought that was pretty interesting, that people would buy a household cleaner, of all things, on that basis. It’s not like dish liquid is a good candidate for the “conspicuous consumption” theory of consumer behavior.

So I think it’s pretty clear that design was a major part of what has built Method’s business. BUT ... I’m not sure that I’d go quite so far as to say they’d built their business totally on the aesthete demo. That that demo was not crucial.

Here’s what I mean. One of the things that most interests me about Method is that they have an eco-friendly or “green” story to tell—their products are (they say) made without many of the toxic ingredients common to household cleaning products. But they chose not to make that their main selling point, their main way of differentiating themselves at the shelf level. They went with the “good design” strategy instead. They don’t hide the other, eco-ish story, they just skipped the traditional strategy of, you know, putting a tree on the bottle or whatever.

And I think this strategy worked well at a time when the broad idea of “good design” was much in the air. I think there were plenty of consumers who had been in essence conditioned by a variety of cultural forces (many of them commercial) to pay attention to the idea of “good design.” And Method offered both a kind of novelty at the shelf, and an easy way into that broad idea.

I’m generalizing wildly. But still. I think it was both a clever strategy and, on some level, an admirable one. I think it’s clever because the truth is the eco/green thing is really easy to knock off—especially in symbolic/design terms. (Just add a tree to your package and you’re ... green ... ish.) Many consumers don’t want to “do their homework” about such issues, so devious design/packaging strategies can work. And Method, as far as I can tell, had the right facts to back up their eco claims for anybody who did do their homework.

So I think that’s clever because really striking visual design is actually harder to knock off, if it’s done right. Copycats look like copycats, and it can actually strengthen the position of “the original.”

And I think it’s admirable in the sense that there was something going on behind the “good design.” (I am not particularly impressed by the argument that buying “good design” is its own reward, which is in effect what many observers seem to believe.) There was something ethical (for lack of a better term) about the product—but they aimed for an audience larger than the one that is overtly tuned in to such issues. And it would appear that they have attained such an audience. For now!"


Oh! I didn't even realize I was in the article! Yo, too cool! Head on over to The Dieline and read the rest!

You can also read Rob Walker's original Consumed article, from 2004 (Whew! Did they have computers back then?!) which was previously posted here on method lust.


josh said...

everytime i go to borders, i look through the design books (logo, brochure, package, etc) and sure enough method is almost ALWAYS mentioned in the package design books.

Anonymous said...

Method Christmas stuff (candles, ornaments, aroma sticks) are on CLEARANCE at Target! Stock up or miss out!

josh said...

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! as soon as i read this comment, i ran out to two targets. literally.

the one had whiped out EVERYTHING except the aroma rings. so i quick snagged a pear one for my car :D

the second, had almost everything on the main aisle still. everything was clearanced except the hand wash, dish soap, and surface sprays :<

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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