I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
Who hasn’t struggled to open a CD or DVD case and released a few cuss words along the way? A writer for The Times of London has described this menace as “the crucible of wrap rage.”
We all love those boxed products with a little semicircular dotted line at the top of one side; it says “To open push here.” Push all you like but it just mangles the box. Are you listening Kraft Dinner?
How about the hard plastic clamshell package that contains a pair of scissors to replace the ones you broke opening a hard plastic clamshell package? Teeth and finger nails are just not up to the task of opening most packaging; a more robust implement is called for. Sometimes, you need something with the power of the jaws-of-life to free your purchase from its vault.
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Packaging that Tortures the Soul and Harms the Body
Surely, the folks who designed the blister pack must have had a sadistic turn of mind. Or, was it the result of some sort of malevolent contest whose winner was the one who came up with the most annoying packaging?
Upon reflection, perhaps the blister pack came in second to the clamshell whose sides are fused together under what must be something like 20 tonnes of pressure. Hospital emergency rooms are kept busy closing up the wounds of people who have tried to hack their way into these accursed plastic bubbles with razor blades, knives, and other dangerously sharp objects.
Mackenzie Carpenter, writing for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, notes that “According to 2001 Census Bureau data, people suffered more than twice as many injuries related to household packaging and containers than from skateboards or swimming pools (although those numbers include injuries that involve dropping a package on a foot).”
In the U.K., according to CBS’s The Early Show, “In just one year 67,000 people got injuries ranging from cut fingers to sprained wrists just wrestling with wrapping.”
Packaging Challenges the Elderly
The glass jar with the screw top is another challenge set by packagers.
Yours magazine is aimed at the over-50 crowd in the U.K. A poll of 2,000 of its readers in 2004 found that 99 percent of them found packaging had become harder to open in the previous decade.
A frequent bugbear of the older set is glass jars; opening one of these with arthritic hands in next to impossible. Even able-bodied, muscular types have trouble with that half-consumed jar of salsa that’s been sitting in the fridge for a couple of weeks. The tomato sauce gathers around the lid and welds it shut.
Fortunately companies such as Arthritis Supplies, Seniors Superstores, and others have come to the rescue with products that defeat the evil machinations of packaging designers.
Awards for Bad Packaging
The kind of prize nobody wants is handed to the worst example of packaging.
In 2006, Consumer Reports decided it was time to do something about impenetrable packaging and handed out Oyster Awards to the worst examples of product wrapping.
The envelope please: and the winner is (or should that be the loser?) the Uniden Digital Cordless Phone set. This came in a nearly indestructible hard plastic clamshell pack that took nine minutes and 22 seconds to open. Box cutters and razor blades were needed to release the phone from its plastic prison.
The American Idol Barbie took even longer, 15 minutes and 10 seconds to pry away from her incarceration on a cardboard backing. She was shackled by 15 wires around her arms, legs, and torso. One wag suggested not untying her and re-branding the toy Bondage Barbie.
The following year The Oral-B Sonic Complete Toothbrush Kit got top honours. The Chatham Journal in North Carolina reports that “The toothbrush is housed in a sealed, hard-plastic clamshell package and has such a tight fit between the plastic skin and cardboard that it was all but impossible to open with scissors. When the tester finally succeeded in opening the packaging her work table was littered with sharp plastic shards.”
As of 2017, Consumer Reports stopped its campaign for better packaging; they probably called the decision a wrap.
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Shoplifters to Blame for Lousy Packaging
One of the major reasons packaging is bullet-proof bulky is to foil the five-finger discounters.
Mary Ann Falkman is the editor-in-chief of Packaging Digest. She is quoted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as saying “Organized retail theft is a huge, multi-billion dollar problem, and unless someone can invent a pilfer-proof package, manufacturers are not going to change.”
The U.S. National Association for Shoplifting Prevention says that:
- “More than $13 billion worth of goods are stolen from retailers each year. That’s more than $35 million per day;
- “There are approximately 27 million shoplifters (or 1 in 11 people) in our nation today. More than 10 million people have been caught shoplifting in the last five years;
- “Men and women shoplift about equally as often;
- “Approximately 25 percent of shoplifters are kids, 75 percent are adults. 55 percent of adult shoplifters say they started shoplifting in their teens.”
As the central character in the Pogo comic strip observed “We have seen the enemy and he is us.”
When I was a child, my mother would take us to the grocery store where there was a bacon slicer (That's one below described as an antique! Guess that makes me one too). It was a large red, hand-operated device with a cutting wheel. A slab of bacon was secured to a platform and was eased forward to the cutting wheel according to how thick you wanted your rashers to be. The cut bacon would fall onto butcher’s paper that was tied up with string. Every grocery store had a hand-written notice beside the machine that read “Mothers. Don’t sit your children near the bacon slicer as we’re getting a little behind in our orders.” Humour was simpler in those days.
According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation program Marketplace “91% of Canadians have experienced wrap rage.”
- “Today’s Packages Can Be Murder to Open.” Mackenzie Carpenter, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 5, 2006.
- “2007 Oyster Awards: Consumer Reports Adds Inductees to Their Hard-to-open Packaging Hall of Shame.” Chatham Journal, February 24, 2007.
- “ ‘Wrap Rage’ Out of Hand?” Tracy Smith, CBS News, March 25, 2004.
- “Shoplifting Statistics.” National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, undated.
- “Wrap Rage Awards.” CBC Marketplace, January 10, 2014.
© 2016 Rupert Taylor