• Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.


Perception Problem

Products play into and reinforce problematic preconceptions.

February 23, 2015

It's cold season here in Backboro.  It;s cold, even for February.  And it's stayed cold pretty much all month.  And so people have colds (go figure!).

After a couple weeks of coughing and hacking, even Frau R. starts chugging symptomatic relief.  Her preferred product (which comes at both proprietary and generic price points) comes in blue bottles, and contains ingredients to relieve aches, congestion, coughing and runny nose.  It seems to work pretty well for about four hours at a shot.

Being of the frugal persuasion, meine Frau looks for the generic product first.  But since so many people around here have been having so many colds for so many weeks, sometimes the generic product is out of stock and she has to buy the name brand.  Thus, recently I've had occasion to open bottles of both; I noticed a small but potentially indicative difference between the two packages.

The generic product has a shrink-wrap seal around the adult-proof cap, which has its own anti-tampering feature (a ring of plastic that breaks off when you first remove it).  Then, under the cap, there's a plastic foil seal across the bottle opening.  Three separate assurances that no mad bomber has tampered with your medication since it left the factory in Asia.

The name brand product has a tamper-resistant cap similar to the generic, but no external shrink wrap and no internal foil seal.  A fully adequate detector against tampering, but only one such.

I can only think that the designers of the generic product add two extraneous levels of "safety" in an attempt to boost consumer perception of the quality of their product, while the designers of the proprietary stuff feel no such compulsion since they're able to rely on the halo effect of TV advertising and a higher price point.

What concerns me is the correlation of extraneous packaging (wasted energy and material) with perceived quality.  This instance is just the tip of the tip of the iceberg, but the pattern it implies is one more sign of how skewed and long-term-counterproductive much of what we all "think" (without thinking) really is.


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