The rant: Why ‘wackaging’ just isn’t clever

The rant: Why ‘wackaging’ just isn’t clever

By Andrew Webb

Why do marketeers think it’s a good idea for their products to talk to us as though we’re children sitting in front of an old episode of Rainbow? Is the assumption of intelligence too much to hope for?

I was accosted by a Sicilian in Tesco the other day. “I’m new,” proclaimed the bottle of La Piazza red wine from the famous Italian island, via a bright blue speech bubble poking out of the shelf into my face. The bottle itself featured an elegant drawing of a piazza, evocative of lovers sitting by a fountain, olive groves and plump grapes growing under the hot Mediterranean sun. But the effect was ruined by the eye-parp of the accompanying signage.


This retail gimmick has a name: wackaging (wacky packaging, geddit?). Innocent Smoothies, launched in 1999, were among the first to market with chirpy, first-person on-pack language along the lines of “Keep me in the fridge,” and these days lots of brands are at it, from snack manufacturers to ready meal makers. In 2006, jars of one mayonnaise brand featured this storage tip: “Once you dig in, keep me cold for three months… but not too cold – I don’t want to freeze!” Aaaarrgh! Stop the world, I want to get off. What happened to proper on-pack instructions?

Shops and brands no doubt think this chatty, friendly approach is appealing to their customers. Well, not to me it’s not. It’s immature, patronising gobbledegook. And now it’s extending beyond the food aisles. I bought some kitchen granite worktop cleaner the other day. The bottle read: “Give your granite some TLC… Don’t be alarmed if you find yourself buying a garden’s worth of marble statues just so you have more reasons to clean. It happens.” Does it? Does it really? I think not. Sorry, but one bottle of granite cleaner is not going to inspire me to turn my garden into the Temple of Athena.

Maybe I’m just getting old. The writer Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, once said, “Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re 15 and 35 is new and exciting and revolutionary. Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.” Perhaps it’s as simple as that, but I’m finding more and more things about modern life just plain daft.

My worry is that there’s worse still to come. If you’re the sort of person who frequents websites devoted to the food packaging industry (what, you’re not?), you’ll know that various companies are experimenting with technologies that allow packaging to talk to you. Yes, actually talk to you, either to your phone or a dedicated handheld shopping device. Of course, they say this is tailored for visually impaired people or the elderly, and I’m sure it will be – until the world’s marketing agencies get hold of it. Shudder. I don’t want to be jollied along, thank you. I want to know what a product’s ingredients are, how to store it – and that’s all. Is that really too much to ask?

Does Andrew’s opinion of modern-day marketing annoy you? Or do you agree? Tell us in the comments.

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