Product vs packaging.
Is the packaging simply something to be taken at face-value, or is it a symbol of something more important? Something more “make-or-break”.
These are the thoughts rushing through my head as I debate one of the most pressing issues in Trump’s America—Namely, Trident v Orbit gum. Or maybe I just have too much free time on my hands…
As a kid in 1980s suburban New Jersey, Trident had always been in my blood. Or maybe that was just metabolized sorbitol.
At any rate, my mom loved it. The cinnamon kind. The flavor never seemed to dissipate, a fact that she often impressed upon me. Trident was the best gum because the flavor was the longest lasting. Simple math, really. A ratio of flavor intensity (‘x’ axis) over time (‘y’ axis).
Through her, Trident had become my breath-freshening agent of choice. Occasionally, I’d dabble in Altoids, sometimes I’d be naughty and sugar it up with some Doublemint or Juicy Fruit, but I’d always been a Trident man at heart.
As an adult, I’d usually buy Original or Wintergreen or perhaps the Minty Sweet Twist, if I was bored. Since my career has always featured some sort of role that demanded face-to-face interaction with clients, partners or investors, skunky breath is obviously a big no-no. Verboten. Not a good look.
Not surprisingly, I always have a pack of gum in my pocket. For years it was Trident. But now… I’ve divorced them. It’s over between us. We’ve consciously uncoupled, to use the parlance of our times. I’ve switched to Orbit: The gum of the 21st century*.
Why? Did Trident change the recipe? (Not sure, really. Don’t care, frankly.) Did Orbit simply emerge from the gates of the new millenium with some mind-blowing product that boasted even longer-lasting flavor?
No, no, and no.
As far as I can tell, Trident tastes the same today as it always has and the flavor still lasts longer than most other options.
While Orbit was marketed in the early 2000s as the gum for a new generation not afraid of a little loose language, it was relatively gimmick-less compared to some of the others that followed shortly thereafter (I’m looking at you Ice Cubes.)
Orbit was OK. Still is. Great? Meh. It’s fine.
So why the switch? Why abandon my heritage, my sorbitol bloodline, my youth?
One word. “Packaging.”
Now, let’s be clear. Trident has never excelled in this area. In the product vs packaging debate, they always want all-in on product.
It used to be 18 sticks wrapped in foil and covered in paper. After a few days bouncing around in a busy pocket, one of the two ends would invariably split leading some renegade pieces to make a run for it into the nooks and crannies before being mangled by my keys.
But it was all good. Pinch the foil at the end, fold it up, press it down. Water-tight? Negatory. But good enough? Sure.
Then ten-ish years ago, they evolved the packaging. Still looked the same, but now the foil was merely a ruse. It was a paper pack enveloping a meek foil-esque liner with a 2mm tab to keep it closed. If, of course, you could even get it open,.
Now, time itself had become the enemy of this gum (whose biggest claim to fame was its stamina, mind you). Within hours the flap would open, and I’d have a pocketful of lint-y gum (or MintyLintTM depending on your perspective).
This new packaging was so bad, in fact, that I felt forced to take it to the streets. Or to the tweets, at least…
As you can see in their response, I wasn’t the only “disgrunt”. But were they just placating me? Throwing me a virtual Milkbone to keep me from yapping? Unfortunately not, I’m afraid…
Shortly thereafter, they did in fact revise the packaging. And the newest packaging, you ask? Even worse!
Not only has the piece count dropped from 18 to 14 sticks (yes, I know Orbit is also 14 sticks), but the new packaging might as well be non-existent. We’re essentially looking at a front 7-pack [very] lightly glued to a back 7-pack that fold into each other with Trident’s patented 2mm tab keeping the band together. This thing never stood a chance.
I had enough. I jumped ship, and Benedict Arnold’ed over to Team Orbit. Far better packaging. Not rocket-science here. There’s nothing brilliant about this pack. It just gets the job done. Gum in pack; not in pocket. Lasts just long enough before I run out.
And the gum? As I said, “Meh. It’s fine.”
So. Product vs packaging? When it comes to gum: Packaging, natch.
Gum is a commodity. It’s not an iPhone. Would I become an Android guy if Apple suddenly hires the Trident Package People? Maybe not, but could there be some seemingly insignificant detail that they could alter in the future that may yield a similar defection? I sure hope not. Although, the glass back to the iPhone 11 sure seems dumb. You’re telling me that I now have two screens to crack instead of just the one? Ugh.
Brands, don’t be dumb. Sweat the small stuff. These things add up. Sometimes enough to tip the scales the other way. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you have the better product if your competition is “good enough” and has a critical attribute in its favor.
In the great product vs packaging debate, don’t be Trident!
And Trident, if you’re listening… there’s still time to win me back. Don’t be dumb. Sweat the small stuff. Fix the packaging.
In researching this article, I came to realize that low and behold, Orbit gum (owned by Wrigley/Mars) has been around since 1899. That’s not a type-o.
It had a long history of falling in and out of production before finally remerging in 2001 after a ~20 year hiatus during my formative gum-chewing years.
Trident (owned by Cadbury/Mondelez) didn’t hit shelves until 1964.
And no, “The gum of the 21st Century” was never Orbit’s slogan.