Selling with the Wrong Image

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Packaging experts are fond of saying, "The package will get you there, and the taste will keep you there." In June 1990, one of the two prettiest packages of bottled water ever to hit the American market from overseas was introduced at a trade show in Chicago. The cobalt blue glass bottles of water from Wales set a new pinnacle for the packaging of bottled water. But close behind was JadeEssence, "A Low Sodium Sparkling Water" that came in a tapered green glass bottle with a black label, using purple, black, and turquoise as the graphic colors. The shape of the bottle made it stand out from anything else in the packaged-water category. The label design was simple and its simplicity made people look further, perhaps even pick it up and read the back label.

The back label told a story of "the Imperial Water of China." Chinese emperors learned of this remarkable water source "where the village near the source was overflowing with life and laughter. It was believed that children were happier, people lived longer, and harvests were abundant every year." So the emperor had it shipped in to the Imperial City. Now, said the label, "you too will enjoy the timeless water of JadeEssence."

Anyone traveling in China, Mexico, Egypt, or any foreign country with looser sanitary practices than America is not advised to drink the water. Except, perhaps, bottled water. During a business visit to China in 1990, my group drank the local Beijing Beer instead of the water or soft drinks, most of which we found too sweet. The beer was mild, pleasant tasting, and left no ill effects, even "when having more than one!"

Chinese water may have had an image problem from the start. But it is very difficult to sell an image that doesn't already exist in the minds of your intended customers. In this instance, the package may make you stop and take a look, but it may not inspire a purchase if the consumer has the wrong image of what may be inside. The most beautiful package cannot change the minds of consumers who question the safety of its contents. It may be possible to sell beautiful bottles of "jade-like clarity" water to a lot of would-be "little emperors." But you must reach mainstream Americans to keep a product on retail shelves and turn a profit at food markets.

JadeEssence may still be selling in some parts of the U.S., but we have never seen it at another trade show or in our travels around the country. It never became the Asian "Perrier" because the package never answered an insurmountable question in the mind of customers.

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