Good marketing for bad products?

I’ve been taking an interest in design and marketing lately, and have been reading a lot of blogs and books about them. They emphasize the importance of good design and a good marketing program to sell the product. But by design, they generally do not mean the product design, but more often are talking about the packaging design. The aesthetics of the products – how the product looks and how the packaging looks. For example, I recently came across Ugly Mug Coffee, courtesy of TheDieline by way of good old brother in law via facebook. I love the packaging, the website is really nice, and I want to buy some of their coffee. I will buy some of their coffee. Is the coffee any good? I have no idea, but they’ve sold me by their packaging design and web site (marketing).

I came across this book about Dyson vacuum cleaners. Admittedly I haven’t read the book, and probably never will, but when I saw it I started thinking that maybe good package design and marketing sometimes compensate for a crappy product. The Dyson has succeeded by marketing it’s see-through “cyclone air-path design,” bagless, “270 air watts of suction” and flashy yellow and purple colors. Does anybody have any concept of how much vacuum an air-watt is, anyway? And it has succeeded; it’s in every Bed Bath & Beyond in the US, for starters, and numerous other department stores as well. But in shopping for a vacuum myself (with my wife), I’ve found that the Dyson is an inferior product to the comparably priced Oreck. It’s heavier (24lbs vs 9lbs), it’s less maneuverable, the service that comes with it is non-existent (will Bed Bath & Beyond service your vacuum for the next 10 years?), and not as powerful (meaning it doesn’t suck as much, according to Oreck…I gotta verify this). And there’s a reason that vacuums have bags (other than the recurring profits that the company gets): they are easier to dispose of and maintain.

So in this case, I see a company succeeding by good packaging design (oooh, look at the vortex tubes…270 air-watts) and good marketing but with a merely average product. I’m not suggesting this is right or wrong…I guess that’s just business. Caveat emptor, right? A really killer combo is good design/marketing with a good product. The obvious choice here is Apple, but there are countless others.

So the question is: Is good marketing and package design an excuse for poor product design?

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1 Comment

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One response to “Good marketing for bad products?

  1. Peter

    I’d argue that Dyson succeeds by more than “good packaging design.” Dyson is a company that stands for something: “there’s a better way to make a vacumn and we’re brave enough to think differently to get there.” I’ve never used a Dyson personally so I can’t speak to their quality, but they tell the story of their brand through their product.

    If you take the Nike logos of a pair of shoes, it’s just a pair of average shoes. The Nike brand is a thing (for lack of a better word). But if you take the Apple logo off a Mac, it’s still an Apple product with the same value. The story of the Apple brand is told through its products. It’s hard to think of other companies like this, though Sony would have been on in their time.

    So no, package design is not an excuse for a poor product. Packaging is meant to be part of the experience, it’s part of the story.

    We need to talk about this kind of stuff in person sometime, much more to say 🙂

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