Slow Moving Consumer Goods

It started, as no good story should, with a box of matches. Anyway, there was a competition on the back - pretty good holiday up for grabs. My other half read out the details... only to find that the entry date had passed three years before.

We've still got those matches. As a non-smoking, not into candles household with a fully functioning ignition on the gas hob, they'll probably still be going strong in five years time. (I couldn't find them so no photo. We only buy more matches when we misplace that particular box.)

This morning, it happened again. Packaging so out of date that it was like a tiny time capsule had emerged from under the sink.

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A quick fix on the back gate had involved a dusting of WD-40. I knew we had some - who doesn't? But it was a shock to see a fresh-faced Handy Andy, formerly of TV decorating show Changing Rooms staring back at me.

This particular can was acquired sometime around 2005 when a door hinge was squeaking. It's since been used little enough that it's still 98% full. The tin itself is rusted, which adds a nice hint of irony. Even two years ago, people were marveling over this archaic wonder.

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I can't imagine what the marketing manager that approved the 40ml free was thinking. There's not really an alternative brand that normal people would buy for their corroding metalwork. WD-40 has the market covered. They've simply pushed many repeat purchases back by another decade or so. (Hmm... wonder if sales have dropped thanks to that mere 40ml?)

If you're a heavy user (plumber, carpenter - how much WD-40 can anyone use?), then you wouldn't give a toss about Handy Andy and his handy tips, so this is clearly aimed at people like me. People that sometimes have a squeaky door (hence the tips for using more of the stuff). People that would be surprised to buy a second or third bottle of WD-40 in their lifetime.

How many brands have to ensure that their packaging - literally, one single item of packaging - might have to last five or 10 years, or even longer?

A quick cupboard inventory showed up a few other examples (none of them, thankfully, as old as Handy Andy there) - but: Angostura Bitters (never changed its packaging I believe), Colman's mustard powder, Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, Tabasco, Lyles Golden Syrup. Most of these stick around for merely a couple of years - but even then, for most, the packaging has subject to tiny tweaks over years. So a bottle that's been sitting around a while looks essentially similar to a brand new one.

How on earth does a brand form consumer insights, when it's bought once a decade, or less?