One casualty is people who can’t read two-point type (an affliction that extends far beyond the senior population). Total transparency typically requires more information. Marketing spin demands as much content and graphic hyperbole as possible. And all of this is supposed to be legible on labels that can only be so large due to physical constraints, and increasingly, environmental trends toward minimalizing packaging.
The author of fooducate.com summed up the labeling challenge succinctly: “Visionaries see a day where each ingredient of every product on a shelf can be connected directly to the farm, factory, and other stakeholders involved in its processing. Now, how do you fit all that information on a pack of gum?”
There’s no doubt that the product manufacturing industry has made positive strides in some areas the last few years. A reminder of where we were seven years ago helps frame the discussion. According to fooducate, “Oct 2008–Smart Choices launched an industry effort to promote a standardized benchmark for front of package consumer information. Initial supporters included General Mills, Con-Agra, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Unilever…Summer 2009–Smart Choices launched formally with several hundreds of products labeled with the green check mark. Froot Loops became the poster child for everything wrong with an industry backed nutrition rating system.”
Today, relatively few people would claim Froot Loops as “nutritional.” But, the overall challenge remains: How to present product packaging in its best light while maintaining complete and truthful disclosure in a legible format. Following are frontline recommendations:
1. Use free technology to tackle teeny type. Through the label and elsewhere when possible, direct shoppers to empower their technology to help readability on the spot. There are now multiple free Android and iPhone apps that enable transforming your smartphone camera into a convenient magnifying glass. (I tested this out using my Android phone and easily was able to read even the tiniest type on a prescription bottle – no small feat.)
2. Revisit labeling to clarify exactly what needs to be stated on the label, and what can be “referred” to a larger-format, including a webpage designated by a URL or QR code, and a phone number. If possible, a hard-copy handout could also be provided to retailers for distribution upon customer request along with a small point-of-purchase sign alerting them to the handouts (for the digitally non-savvy). If circumstances and the point-of-purchase environment permit, actually post proximate to the product a highly readable print piece explaining all the pertinent information that’s difficult to read on the product itself. Obviously, this becomes less important for those buying online, where links to additional information can easily be included.
3. Emphasize function over form when it comes to label disclosure language. In an effort to be graphically impactful, content legibility – already compromised by overstuffing content in a small area – can be further impaired by being artistic instead of pragmatic. For example, using high-contrast dark type on a light background is typically superior.
4. Be totally truthful. This should be a given, but if corporate culture proves anything, it’s that marketers typically will stretch boundaries of the truth as far as possible in favor of superlatives. As consumers become more savvy, social media influence becomes more pervasive (and immediate, just ask Samsung), and lawyers see opportunities to file class-action lawsuits for “false claims,” the truth becomes good business, as well as the right way to go.
5. Be extremely careful about the words and images included on a label. Such words as “natural” and “all natural” are the subject of higher scrutiny and efforts to pin down their definition. Words or symbols connoting health claims must be bullet-proof. For example, if something is labeled “heart healthy,” there had better be ample justification for the term along with documentation. Also, certification seals can be tricky if their veracity or reputation can be called into question.
6. Proofread. It’s amazing how often label content contains misspellings, dosage mis-statements or grammar gaffes. As I’ve preached before, a prospective product buyer easily can be put off by these types of mistakes, to the point of choosing a competitor’s brand. (I’ve done it myself, more than once.) Besides the inexcusable, inherent sloppiness of an incorrect label, it sends a message questioning quality control over the entire product. The obvious connection for a consumer is to ask, “If the label isn’t right, how can I be sure the product is?” As far as dosage mis-statements, you don’t want buyers to think you’re offering milligrams when it should be micrograms or vice versa. Check and recheck spelling, grammar and ingredients on every product.
Mark Lusky is a marketing communications professional who has worked with Lightning Labels, an all-digital custom label printer in Denver, CO, USA, since 2008. Find Lightning Labels on Facebook for special offers and label printing news.