September 23, 2018

Plasti-Pack, by Brendon Marks

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I predict that you will never see a utility knife for sale in one of those clear plastic, form fitting, clamshell packages, because if you don’t own a utility knife you can’t get the package open. And if you own a utility knife, you don’t need another one. Other tools can be used to open these packages, but if you don’t own a utility knife, the chances are you won’t own a chain saw or axe either.

This ingenious package design encloses a purchase item between two pieces of plastic like a sandwich. This clear, hard plastic shell is either form-fitted around the object or has little buttons that prevent shifting of the contents between the two halves. Said buttons also provide an extra measure of security since they have roughly the same holding-power as the titanium rivets used to construct the space shuttle fuel tanks.

These packages are truly multi-functional. They provide a convenient method to display a wide array of odd-shaped items by making them consistent in size and shape. Additional functionality is added by punching a hole near the top of the package so that it can be hung on a hook. The clear plastic allows the consumer to see what’s in the package, but since it’s impenetrable, prevents the same consumer from determining that the item really won’t work (or fit) as expected. It also prevents nefarious consumers from absconding with the contents, because the effort that is required to open the package would surely not go unnoticed. Even in hardware and home improvement stores where any number of tools and sharp objects are close at hand, and tool demonstrations are commonplace, attacking one of these packages with a cordless reciprocating saw is bound to attract attention.

Assume for the moment that you are somehow successful in breaching the outer wall where the two pieces of plastic are both hermetically sealed and space age bonded. You will be faced with a formidable number of sharp edges all of which are fully capable of substituting for your favorite carving knife next Thanksgiving or rendering the unsuspecting consumer one or two fingers short of a full set. This makes getting past the aforementioned buttons even more difficult.

Returns are also discouraged because most people are reluctant to return an object in those cases where the packaging appears to have been run over by a lawn mower or is covered with dried blood. The marketing department relies heavily on this consumer guilt factor. They even have a slogan for it: ‘No re-package, no return.’

In a small number of isolated cases, the packaging is purposely designed to be so difficult to open that small parts are lost or broken during the process of gaining access to the product. Sometimes this idea is taken to the extreme, and some parts are purposely left out the package relying on the fact that most consumers would assume they were lost in the eruption of parts when the package exploded. In certain companies, the entire yearly budget of the spare parts department hinges on the successful application of these two principles.

So the next time you think about buying a new doorknob or some handy kitchen gadget, make sure you already have access to a good, sharp utility knife and a big box of Band-Aids.

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