Last week my boss and I were sitting in a conference room when he spied a pack of gum that someone had left on the table.
“Hey, Len! You want some gum?”
“Well, that depends,” I said. “What flavor is it?”
“Five? What the heck does that mean?”
“Beats me, but that’s what it says!”
The whole thing was so odd, I took this picture of the package for posterity:
Anyway, after looking at the box again, my boss revised his assessment.
It was definitely sugarfree gum; the package specifically stated it.
The flavor, however, was still anybody’s guess because the only other writing on the outside of the entire package was this tiny note on the backside, in the obligatory 1-point font, of course:
ALLERGY INFORMATION: CONTAINS SOY LECITHIN. PHENYLKETONURICS: CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE. QUESTIONS? COMMENTS? CALL 1-800-974-4539.
“Maybe it’s soy flavored,” my boss joked.
“Funny. Let’s just call the number and ask what flavor ‘five’ is.”
“Are you kidding? They’ll think we’re idiots.”
“Look: If ‘five’ is the wrong answer, then the flavor must be ‘RPM’ — I think.”
“RPM?” I asked, “What do you think that might stand for?”
Who really knew? There were no other clues on the outside of the box to help us out.
Maybe “RPM” stood for raspberry pomegranate marmalade.
Regardless, I had just feasted on a peperoni pizza, so I figured I’d be the guinea pig and try a stick.
After stuffing a piece in my mouth, the mystery gum revealed itself to be … spearmint. At least I’m pretty sure that’s what it was. Then again, maybe it was peppermint.
Whatever flavor it was, it was quite good.
A few minutes later the gum’s owner came into the room and set us straight; we were chewing “5” gum, which happens to be made by Wrigley’s.
He also showed us the official flavor of the gum we were happily smacking on: “A relaxing mint flavor.” Wrigley’s put that critical piece of product information on the inside of the box — and very inconspicuously at that. I know.
The guy also told us that “5” gum comes in all kinds of other mysterious flavors. Some sound fairly appealing like Rain, Lush, and Zing. The rest, however, leave me scratching my head: Cobalt, Flare, Elixir, Solstice, React (red), React (blue), Prism, Vortex, and Swerve.
The one thing they all have in common is their names are so lame that they do nothing to tell us poor consumers what they really taste like.
I know if I was selling a product I’d want to package it so that there was no ambiguity whatsoever. But that’s just me; I didn’t take any of those fancy pancy marketing classes in college.
These stealth flavors, as I like to call them, have been around for awhile. For more than a decade now, Vitaminwater has had their own line of funky flavors with mysterious monickers like: defense, attention, focus, spark, revive, rise, glow, drive and XXX.
Then again, at least Vitaminwater provides plain-English translations on their labels directly below the stealth flavors, albeit in less prominent print. That allows clueless consumers like me to recognize, for example, that “focus” is actually kiwi-strawberry.
As for “XXX” Vitaminwater, it’s not what some of you with active imaginations out there might be thinking; the label says it tastes like acai-blueberry-pomegranate.
I have a little advice for Wrigley’s marketing department: your packaging paradigm is patently pathetic.
Yes, paint manufacturers can get away with naming their hues Midnight Madness and Summer Wheat Field — but you guys are selling gum.
I mean, what’s wrong with a little product clarity? Is that too much to ask?
At least with names like JuicyFruit and DoubleMint, us consumers can make an educated guess about what your products taste like.
But “Cobalt”? Really? That’s a metallic element, isn’t it?
I bet the FDA and EPA banned cobalt years ago.
Besides, who in their right mind even buys cobalt-flavored gum when they could just as easily chew on a small ball of aluminum foil?
Do the marketing guys on the thirty-third floor even care about the folks they’re selling to anymore?
Or is this all one big joke to them?
I’m just askin’.
Photo Credit (RPM gum): Len Penzo; Photo Credit (React; 5 collage): Richmond96
The Griper says
from the names i see for flavors it sounds as if they are targeting a particular focus group, the enviromentally conscious folks or as we, in the back hills call them, Obama folks. 🙂
Len Penzo says
Are you trying to get me in trouble, Griper? 😉
Kurt @ Money Counselor says
Len, you gotta get up to speed with this unfolding step in the evolution of capitalism. Why go through all the bother of being a genuine human being when you can ‘self-brand’ and endeavor to convince the world that you’re whatever you want the world to think you are. These flavors and the styling are about self-branding. “Oh, you chew Elixir. I see, hmmm.’ The foremost and most successful example of the proliferation of self-branding is of course Facebook–or, as I like to call it, Fakebook. This is where I think Fakebook’s business model may ultimately disintegrate: Will advertisers value Fakebook gleaned data not about what its users really are but rather what its users want the world to think they are?
Len Penzo says
Terrific analysis, Kurt.
Based upon Facebook’s still-depressed stock price, it seems a lot of folks agree with you.
By the way, other than “Solstice,” I think “Elixir” is the lamest flavor name of the bunch. I had no idea it was “berry” until I looked it up. And just to confuse things even more, in Europe, “Elixir” is called something entirely different: “Flood.”
Very funny but sadly true
I just buy polar ice gum but even that isn’t really a flavor. I stick with what I know because I don’t want to buy 1 pack for $1.50 and get 3 package for $2.
Len Penzo says
Okay … You lost me there, Lance.
Bret @ Hope to Prosper says
This is Wrigley’s way of selling a pack of gum that used to cost a quarter for a buck. It’s quite brilliant if you ask me. Sobe was the first brand I can recall that used this naming scheme.
Len Penzo says
Too funny, Bret! 🙂
I’ve noticed this in shampoo scents as well. What is ‘active sport’ scent? or ‘refresh’? The good thing with shampoo is that you can open the bottle and smell it at the store!
Len Penzo says
My deodorant is the same way. Awhile back the Honeybee brought home Old Spice “Pure Sport” scent for me.
I even questioned her selection at the time because, if you ask me, the last thing I would ever buy is an underarm deodorant that smells like “Pure Sport.”
I’ll tell ya what: Whoever it is should be fired. I think we’ve all been around enough gyms and/or ball fields to know what that smells like. Am I right?
(In reality, the deodorant scent is quite unremarkable — thank God.)
Anyway, now she buys me Old Spice “Fresh” scent. If you’re going to name a deodorant, that’s more like it.
(For the record, it smells better too.)
Len Penzo says
I wouldn’t think a gum that tasted like water would be very appealing.
Pineview Style says
Maybe they’ll create a vomit flavored gum and call it something like “Rave” and get people excited about chewing it!
I used to like the smell of standard Febreze. Now, whenever I decide I need a bottle, I walk into the ailse, stare bewildered at the 40 varieties, shrug, and walk away in a huff empty-handed. What the heck is “Linen and Sky” scent? …I hope it’s clean linen. Why do I want my carpet to smell like linen anyway? If my drapes smell like the sky… Well, the sky doesn’t really have a smell, does it? Ozone maybe?
Well, since you wanted to know what the creators were thinking, they explain it all right here:
They happen to be doing quite well right now, so maybe the marketing guys on the thirty-third floor know what they are doing and care about the folks they’e selling to after all.