Truth in Marketing
Package graphics should earn consumer trust, not squander it
By Robert Mcmath
Gorton’s of Gloucester, Mass., makes very good seafood, and according to the copy on the package, the company has done so since 1849. While I am certainly no connoisseur of fish products, I am often enticed to purchase some of the Gorton seafood meals, and from a taste point of view, I seldom find fault.
But why, oh why, do they package their products with misleading product photography?  
Case in point: their Garlic and Herb Crunchy Breaded Fish Fillets, now available with “0 grams of trans fat”. This new version is apparently even healthier than the old, which contained the artery-clogging trans fat—the U.S. government’s newest “public enemy #1” in food marketing. Manufacturers, for the most part, are reformulating their products to remove any vestige of trans fat acids from the foods they prepare. In many cases, it isn’t easy to accomplish the task and still retain a palatable eating experience for the consumer.
Gorton’s has done well, taste wise, with the new trans-fat-free garlic and herb fillets. But after buying into the attractive full-color photography on the box, which does a nice job to incorporate appetite appeal into the product, consumers are likely to be disappointed when they open the package.
The fillets are found bunched up, unwrapped, in the bottom half of the package. Not only do the frozen fillets look unappetizing, they also immediately give you the feeling of being cheated.
When you compare the size of the actual fillets with those depicted in the photograph on the package’s front panel, you get the feeling you have received “less than full measure”. The fact that the box is only half full reinforces that impression.
I assessed the fillets featured in the product shots and found them to be approximately two inches wide by six inches long; they measure about one inch thick, counting the breading. Two of these generous fillets are listed as the suggested serving size on the box. From that, most consumers would expect a generous meal out of their purchase.
But the actual product fails to live up to expectations shaped by the generously proportioned food photography and even the oversized packaging itself.
It has long been my “soap box” stand to decry the practice of delivering less than what the typical consumer might expect from your packaging.
A prominent example of the practice gone wrong comes from the Campbell Soup Co., which took heat for the misperceptions they created when they shot a commercial and put marbles in the bottom of a bowl of soup to force vegetables to the top. And while the Gorton’s example is a bit different, there is no question that they are entering risky marketing territory.
Some food marketers seek to make their packages as big as they can to reinforce the illusion that more product is contained within. But in these days of consumer mistrust, brands are treading on thin ice with product photography or illustrations that have the potential to extinguish what consumer trust remains. BP
The author, Robert McMath, has been a marketing consultant for more than 30 years. Through  NewProductWorks, he has advised major companies. He is the author of What Were They Thinking, a book chronicling the whys of product successes and failures. Contact him at 607.582.6125 or Visit