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BW Businessworld

Analysis: ‘How Deep Is Your Love?’

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Who among us has not spent time searching all over a pack for expiry date and date of manufacture, or been baffled by messages such as ‘store in a cool dry place’ (what’s a cool dry place in Mumbai?)! It struck me that though the conversation totally resonated with me, I had not so far ever taken these issues seriously. More interestingly, neither have consumers ever raised these as concerns across all pack researches I have ever done. The question is — why?
Let’s look at the issues that this conversation has raised:
  • Relevant and important information such as usage and storage, nature of deterioration, possible toxicity, is often not clearly stated on labels.
  • Important information is scattered on the pack with little attention to ease of location, logical ordering, or even making sure that it does not get erased or thrown away.
The underlying suggestion in the conversation is that the seller is interested in making the sale, but does not seem as interested in ensuring a safe and quality post-purchase experience.
Is this true?

Well, not when you buy durables where not only do you get a detailed user manual, the information is also clear and standardised across brands. But when you are buying a bottle of tomato ketchup, you get… almost nothing. Moreover, the information provided by FMCG companies is widely varied, almost whimsical in nature. Does this mean that durable companies care more for their customers than FMCG companies?

There are two issues when it comes to FMCG packs:
  • The space provided is a label on a tiny pack
  • The category is regarded as simple, and the consumer experienced — hence the culture of providing detailed instructions does not really exist
On a label the size of the palm of your hand (sometimes just the size of your thumb), there is hardly any room to pack all the information. Selling messages tend to get prominence and priority over usage messages. In many companies, this information falls in the realm of the ‘legal’, and change could mean lengthy internal and external approvals, causing delay for something not considered very important in leading to off-takes.

Ultimately, this turns into a blind spot for marketers, fixed by somebody long ago, which seems to work (meaning, nobody has questioned), and does not need to be revisited.

The problem lies not just with the sellers but with the consumers as well. It is a fact that consumers in the FMCG category do not actually read usage/ storage instructions on packs (though they are particular about expiry). Consumers hold on to usage/ storage beliefs that they do not even imagine could be wrong, hence do not think to check. So, they never get to know that ketchup needs refrigeration or that rosagullas in tins need to be consumed the same day. Did you ever wonder what “best before” really meant — and at precisely what point your product crossed over from the land of the living to the dead? The label is a blind spot for consumers as well. So, how does this cycle of apathy get broken? 
The Caveat Emptor principle suggests that it is not the seller’s job to inform, but the buyer’s job to find out all about a product before she buys it. But, with the pace of innovation today, consumers may not know what to check for, what pitfalls may exist in the complex products they consume.

A purchase is a consumer’s statement of trust in the company. Sellers have a duty to inform and caution their buyers.  Not doing so is a breach of trust. Instructions on the label form the buyer’s ‘user manual’, a set of critical instructions that deserve focus rather than peripheral vision. Once marketers look at their packs through the lens of the ‘user’ rather than ‘buyer’ they may displace some of the selling messages on the label in favour of critical post=purchase messages and give them more ‘prime’ space.

Consumers are not ever going to raise this as a serious issue. Making these changes is part of the concept of care for the consumers, ensuring that they have the best and safest of experience with the products. The question is: do companies care enough?   

The writer is director at Drshti Strategic Research Services

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 28-07-2014)