Stay Tuned/Latest News In Kid-Packaging

From Eccentric Flower


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Latest News In Kid-Packaging
19 July 1998

Today I gave in and bought an asteroid.

It was a chocolate asteroid, mind you, a Nestlé tie-in to the film Armageddon, which I'm told is a waste of my time, so I haven't wasted my time on it yet. (Under the principle of seeing a bouncy movie to prepare me for a heart-wrenching one, I instead saw The Mask of Zorro, to prepare myself for Saving Private Ryan ... but I digress.)

Anyway, the little box - which cost $1.19, a ripoff for just under two ounces of candy - contains a "SMASHABLE Milk Chocolate Asteroid With INTENSE Meteorite Candy Inside!" Yup, it's a hollow chocolate ball with little red-and-purple tart candies inside. When the Stay Tuned staff opened the chocolate ball, which wasn't easy - we had to take the box's advice and smash the thing in a bowl - we looked at the candies and said in unison, "They're Nerds!" Yes, they are completely like Nerds, except that Nerds is a candy made by another company (I want to say Sunline Brands, but don't quote me on that), so of course they can't possibly be. ([2007:] But they were. See below.)

Of course, Nestlé can't put a toy of some kind indside the chocolate ball. They tried that once already - with a Kinder Egg-like candy - Nestle Magic - which they felt inclined to recall because the toy inside was a choking hazard for very small children, even though the candy was clearly marked as unsuitable for under-3s ... sounds to me like parents being negligent, not the company, but what the hey. The point is, the only way you could choke on these little Nerdlike things is if you emptied the entire contents into your throat at once, and maybe not even then.

Anyway - the chocolate was Nestlé-quality, which is to say, better than Hershey and not as good as nearly anything else - and the candies inside tasted like, well, Nerds. I didn't buy it for the candy (although of course we couldn't let it go to waste). I bought it for the packaging.

Kid-packaging is an art form of its own, and every so often I go on a buying spree to see what's being hawked to the wee ones. It's been observed that I'm rather childlike myself, and it's true that I'm perversely attracted to the garish, so I won't deny it. In this case, the box has Armageddon graphics on the outside, and a funny set of diagonal perforations, so that when you press and lift in the right place ("Start Lift Off Here," it says) it tears off into a sort of hinged lid. The inside of the box is black, printed with white nebulae and stars. The chocolate ball itself has a yellow-and-red foil wrapper meant to make it look like a flaming ball of magma.

Tres cool, yes? You can't deny that kid-packaging has a certain charm.

Kid-packaging doesn't just mean the package is overdesigned. Adult packaging can be overdesigned too, but with adult packages, "overdesigned" generally means overly minimalist, whereas with kid packages "overdesigned" generally means that every inch of the box is jam-packed with something to look at.

Contrast, for example, Kellogg's Smart Start and Post Oreo O's. Smart Start has a glossy white box. The name of the cereal is shown in block letters, in black and red. (The A's are two different shapes, and each is the wrong color from the rest of the word - is there a point to this?) It has this weird little "Carpe Diem - Seize The Day" logo in one corner (is there a point to that?)

Other than a descriptive phrase - "sweetened multigrain flakes and crunchy rice and oat clusters cereal" - there is no copy on four sides of this box at all. The cereal is shown in a trendy glass bowl with "Smart Start" etched on the rim, in front of an also-trendy glass pitcher of milk, almost blue-screened into haziness. The back has a spoonful of cereal and a thin, bare column of copy - most of the back is white space. Only the side of the box with the nutrition facts looks cluttered - but the rest looks almost barren by contrast.

There is not a single inch of the Oreo O's box which doesn't shout at the viewer. Even the top and bottom, which have only the Oreo O's logo itself, are loud because the logo itself is loud - the Oreo cookie logo plus a really huge O in the same colors (white, outlined in dark blue, then in light blue). The cereal - "enlarged to show texture" - is practically leaping out of the bowl, with milk splashing all over the place. (The cereal itself is dark rings the color of Oreo cookies, with visible white clumps of crystalized sugar frosting speckled all over them.)

The back panel is full of ridiculous facts, meant to spoof a scientific chart of the areas of the brain ("Visual Vortex: The mere sight of tempting Oreo O's can often create a hypnotic effect, causing the subject's eyes to grow as round as the Oreo O's themselves!") The side panel features stupid and/or disgusting things to do with the cereal, in keeping with the trend in kid's cereal to sell it as a snack food and entertainment as well. ("Stealth String: When you need a private stash, string some Oreo O's together and hide 'em around your neck for a sneaky snack!" Ewwww.)

Although the grown-up cereal has less total fat, more whole grains, and in general is better for you, it's worth noting that sugar is the second ingredient in both cereals. There's one side of a cereal package that always tells the truth.

Actually, kid-packaging doesn't have to involve the package at all. The packages for Mott's Fruitsations applesauces don't look substantially different from their normal apple sauce, but are undeniably meant for kids - the lettering style and the ads are clues, but the big clue is that the applesauce is funny colors - the blackberry-flavored applesauce is dyed an improbable purple, the strawberry-flavored is bright red, and the "tropical blend" (passionfruit and pineapple) is a weird yellow-orange color.

And then there's the special packaging designed to tie in with that justifiably popular kid's show "Blue's Clues." Guess what color that applesauce is.

In general, when something is a loud color, or features pictorial designs where none belong, it's meant for kids - which makes me wonder sometimes - do marketers think that adults have no sense of whimsy whatsoever?

Johnson & Johnson makes two varieties of antibiotic Band-Aids - one comes in a plain gold-colored box and is the same vaguely "flesh-colored" perforated plastic as ever. The other kind comes in a bright blue box, and the strips are either neon blue or neon green. Which kind would you rather wear? If you're going to wear a stupid-looking plastic strip in a color which doesn't even match "flesh tone" on most Caucasians, you might as well wear a bright blue one and have a little fun with it - you cut your finger, you might as well have a giggle. But the "Xtreme Colors" are being marketed to kids only.

Which isn't to say you can't go buy them!

While I'm on the subject of bandages, I should note that Band-Aid is actually the most conservative in the kid market. Competitor Curad just introduced three types of "Wild Styles" bandages - one comes in neon pink and green colors, another features cute imprinted designs (flowers, sports equipment, et cetera) "designed by kids for kids" ... and the third features designs like spiderwebs and eyeballs printed on a transparent strip, ideally to look like the designs have been tattooed on once the strip's applied.

3M, entering the market with their Nexcare line, takes this idea one better - their patch-style diecut bandages hide the pad below the tattoo design, with the adhesive part transparent, and actually manage to look something like a temporary tattoo when applied.

It may strike you as silly - and it is - but I've seen enough adults wearing temporary tattoos to think that maybe 3M's missing an opportunity here. These are no sillier in concept than temporary tattoos themselves, and useful besides. After all, everyone gets cuts and scrapes.

In short, who are these marketers to tell us that adults aren't allowed to be kids every now and then?


I didn't realize at the time that Nestlé owned the "Wonka" brands at the time, but a current source says they bought them in 1988. So they actually were Nerds. The confusion with Sunline is understandable - Sunline (best known candy: SweeTarts) was bought by Nestlé and the Sunline brands were moved over to the Wonka identity.

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