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The legend of Jimmi; an ode to cosmetics

Last month in this space, you learned a bit about how some of us view package design, another way of saying, the “cosmetics” of packaging: how great printing or decorating of a container can attract customers.

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Interestingly, one of the first readers of that column was Ann Abrams Nadel, the daughter of Bernie Abrams, the Eastern Editor of Packaging Digest, who was cited for his long association with package designers in the East, especially New York.

She e-mailed me a congratulatory note for recognizing Bernie’s skill in writing about package design. However, she scolded me about her having to re-evaluate her understanding of other claims her father had made that might now be confirmed!

This month, from the front cover photo and its related story, we begin an odyssey into new territory, one that probably won’t end any time soon. In the cover story, we begin to report on some interesting ways that the Internet has begun to affect the business of packaging. The cover picture indicates a product that was exclusively created for “Rebekah” or another female customer of reflect.com, the subject of Jim Butschli’s feature story about e-commerce in cosmetics, but there’s more to that story than meets the eye.

To get this story, Jim had to, as we say in the journalism business, go “undercover.” That means a certain amount of deception, though not to the degree TV reporters who lied to become employees of an East Coast supermarket chain in order to report on its unsanitary practices in the handling of fresh meat.

Jim first tried to create an order for his wife—to complete what the Web site calls a “beauty profile” that would be complementary to her colors. Perhaps nervousness took over, because his attempt to place an order didn’t work out. Later, another editor tried to do much the same, and, unfortunately, had the same unsuccessful result.

As deadlines approached, Jim tried again. Creatively and in the interests of determination, Jim took on a new persona, “Jimmi,” and he was successful in placing an order. Just so you know, that’s pronounced “jheemy” in the fashion-conscious world of our offices in downtown Chicago.

For better or for worse, our Features Editor had his initiation into Internet ordering of beauty supplies. That order, incidentally, is about as close as Packaging World got toward a true packaging examination of Internet beauty sites. The people of reflect.com decided not to share specific details about the containers and dispensing devices the firm offers to consumers.

Given that the company is heavily financed by Procter & Gamble, that stance is anything but surprising. Packaging materials and/or vendors have never been details we expect from P&G—except when there are environmental packaging points to cash in—such as during the days of Tom Rattray.

So PW was kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place: We had an interesting story about e-commerce, but without the normal packaging details that our readers have come to expect. We wrestle with this dilemma occasionally, and usually we decide that no details means no story–unless the story is so important that the details of the packaging become the tail that wags the dog.

Recognizing how timely the topic of e-commerce is today, we decided that a story on the process—especially the consumer-selected packaging—is more vital than the details of the individual components.

Since the uniqueness of the Reflect.com story is that packaging choices are dictated by its customers, the feature is listed under the Marketscope department. Normally PW’s Marketscope articles detail how retailers and wholesalers influence packaging decisions. With this story, we see these middlemen have largely disappeared in its direct Internet marketing.

The absence of these companies and individuals—these levels of marketing—make up one of the major differences between the marketing plans of “dot-com” companies and traditional retail marketers. As one executive of a new Internet-related business told me recently, “If these people and companies provide real value in the supply chain, they’ll continue to be important. If they can’t demonstrate their value, they’ll be bypassed.”

Some members of the packaging community are right to be concerned about their futures. But that Web executive was correct; alternative marketing can bypass certain traditional marketing steps and their attendant costs. Club stores began to do that in a big way in the last decade.

In the future, Jim (or “jimmi”) and other PW editors will continue to explore packaging-related changes that cyber marketers are making, from distribution packaging, labeling, custom packaging to shipping.

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