Box Vox

packaging as content

June 29, 2012

Bottle Fish: Before & After

These fish sculptures made from plastic bottles were apparently an officially-sanctioned part of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) that took place in Brazil last week. (via: Unconsumption) The artist who designed the installation remains somewhat of an internet mystery. While most of the reaction has been very positive…

The gorgeous fish glitter with reflection of the sun’s rays, juxtaposed against a beautiful backdrop of Rio’s mountains. Each sparkles with blue hues from the plastic, but are also illuminated at night, in warm blues and reds from LED and projected lights. The oversized installations welcome visitors to wander through and around their shimmering scales…

The beautiful sculptures can be enjoyed on the idyllic Botafogo Beach for the duration of the Rio +20 conference.

Gigantic Glowing Fish Sculptures Made From Recycled Bottles Rise From Rio Beach, Inhabit

… there was some dissenting opinion about the worthiness of this project. The breakdown of the glue-gunned bottle sculptures that occurred later in the week was part of a much harsher, contrasting critique by Kari Koch of the Portland Occupier:

This was a demonstration of how clever marketing and a pretty face can create lovely images that briefly cover the destruction of industry, but ultimately falls apart and leaves trash everywhere.

The water bottles are falling all over the beach and the bay at Botafogo Beach is wretched with pollutants and sewage.

The Green Economy wants us to think that our world can be preserved and sustained by continuing to create giant artifacts, plastic constructions, and endless growth. The truth is that we cannot continue to have endless growth. We cannot sustain our world and our lives by producing more and allowing corporate interests to buy off their pollution by owning a forest or by creating public art.

Instead of building fish, corporations need to clean up their messes, leave the public areas to the people who know how to protect them, and ultimately those corporations (and the plastic bottles they create) need to be dismantled.

The same system that created this mess cannot possibly understand how to build an alternative that sustains our world, our communities, and our lives.

This fish of Botafogo will soon be nothing more than plastic particles in trash bags…

Corporate Fish In A Wretched Bay — Report From Rio+20

Since the artist who created the sculptures is not known, it’s difficult to confirm whether Koch is correct in implying corporate sponsorship.

But there was another high-profile artwork at Rio+20 that also used “recycled” bottles which was sponsored in part by Coca-Cola…

(One more artwork, after the fold…) (more…)

June 28, 2012

One Fish Two Fish…


Three fish actually. These three caviar tubes designed by Identity Works for ICA remind me of some vintage advertising we once looked at in 2009. (see: Bottle Fish, Can Fish)

Such well designed packaging and so direct a way of communicating the essential fishiness of the product, makes me wonder why I never noticed before that there was something vaguely fish-like about the shape of a standard, toothpaste-style collapsible tube. (via: Sara Strand)

Another three seafood tubes from Ikea are less zoomorphic, more diagrammatic in their labeling. Similar to the cocktail-flavored toothpaste tubes that we looked at last year, there are implications to which way the fish is pointing.

To me, it would make sense to always have the fish facing in the direction of the cap. If there’s a fish on the other side, I would want to flop it so that it also faced towards the cap. With the black fish laying the eggs, however, I could see some justification for pointing that fish away from the cap so that its egg-laying end was more closely aligned to where the caviar would be emerging from the tube.

Ikea, for some reason, has chosen to do exactly the opposite of these things. But maybe I’m just being crabby. All in all it’s a very effective package design.

(One more thing about fish packaging, designed to remind us of real fish…) (more…)

June 27, 2012

Dirt and Packaging

On left: “Studio Dirt on a Bottle of Coke” sculpture by Felix von der Weppen; on right photo of found Mrs. Butterworth bottle from a blog post entitled “Mrs. Butterworth… You’re So Dirty.

Following up on yesterday’s suggestion that Coca-Cola (or other consumer packaged goods companies) might use trademark law to try and prevent unflattering images of their empty packaging being publicly exhibited… here are some more images that contradict the brand narrative.

Felix von der Weppen’s “Studio Dirt on a Bottle of Coke” is probably no less slanderous from Coca-Cola’s point of view than SodaStream’s public exhibit of discarded soda bottles. SodaStream’s message is arguably more of a threat to Coca-Cola’s bottom line, but if they were were to successfully make SodaStream “cease and desist” why wouldn’t they also view von der Weppen’s dirty Coke bottle as an affront to their brand equity?

It funny that we’re again pairing Coca-Cola and Mrs. Butterworth. (see: Molotov Branding) I happened to find the photo of a dusty Mrs. Butterworth bottle in a blog post about an abandoned farm house in northern Missouri. Since the title of that post was Mrs. Butterworth… You’re So Dirty, it just seemed to fit. And then I found another photo with a whole group of dusty Mrs. Butterworth bottles…

From Outhouse Man’s Flickr Photostream in Illinois: “Mrs butterworth bottles my mom has saved the glass ones since 1970”

Dusty packaging, of course, is not desirable for a brand. Grocers and supermarket clerks have traditionally made an effort to dust slower moving products precisely so they do not look old and shopworn. Are images like this bad for Mrs. Butterworth’s brand equity? Probably not, but if Pinnacle Foods thought so, could they use their Mrs. Butterworth trademark to prevent the publication of such photos?

See also: Messy Package Design

June 26, 2012

Coca-Cola® versus SodaStream™

A recent legal kerfuffle between Coca-Cola and SodaStream (a manufacturer of home soda making systems and concentrated flavors) might be sign of things to come.

SodaStream has been using displays of discarded soda bottles as way of dramatizing their own ecologically smaller footprint. The displays contain the discarded bottles of various brands, Cola-Cola as well as Pepsi, but it was Coke that took the bait.

The display at the Oliver Tambo Airport in Johannesburg angered Coca-Cola South Africa. A lawyer on behalf of the company sent a letter to SodaStream demanding that it “cease and desist” the display, contending that it was slanderous, and that Coca-Cola has copyright to its brand, logo, and beverage bottles.

Bottle battle between SodaStream and Coca-Cola escalates
Packaging Digest, June 22, 2012

SodaStream’s position is, “You sold the product, and the sale terminates these rights. Besides, we collected the bottles from the garbage. If the cans in the garbage are yours, go and collect them from all over the world.”

As consumers we still assume that, by purchasing a product we then own the object. Yes, digital products have muddied the water a bit. (You own the CD but not the music on it.) What Coca-Cola is doing is a little different: using their trademark right to try and prevent their empty packaging from being displayed in an unflattering light. But it’s just the latest manifestation of trend that’s been building for a while now.

A case now heading to the Supreme Court, “Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.” also involves a new broader interpretation of trademark and product ownership.

We are working to defend a long-standing principle known as the “First-Sale Doctrine.” This common-sense rule gives us the right to sell most property we own, but big businesses have been trying to chip away at out our rights in the courts. If the Supreme Court supports the lower court’s decision, we won’t really “own” anything if any part of it was made in a different country. And practically anything you own — from your iPod to your house — could have been made abroad, in whole or in part.


Similar to the old joke about renting (rather than buying) beer, there seems to be an increasing legal momentum for the idea that we may not fully possess our possessions. Trademark law may turn out to be promising tool for companies that would like to exert more control over their products after they are ostensibly “sold.”

As for Coke versus SodaStream it’s important to note that it’s a dispute between two business entities with competing interests. Since corporations are not people, it’s not as if Coke is depriving people of their right to do as they please with their empty Coke bottles. At least, not yet.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see more examples of this type of corporate push back against unauthorized uses of trademark packaging. I’ve speculated before about how often brand-name products are mentioned in negative news stories —“Baby found in Timberland Box”— but figured there wasn’t much a company could do about it. That may be changing. Corporations are getting more powerful. If a sleeping giant can be roused to anger by a relatively small company like SodaStream, there may come a time when an artist like Paul McCarthy, who has exhibited filthy and unappetizing name brand products, will be sued for slander.

June 25, 2012

Winogradsky Branding Refresh

An unexpected follow up to our earlier post about a Mrs. Butterworth bottle.

Here we have another unforeseen use for this trademark container: as a Winogradsky column. (via: The Theatre Zoo)

“…a simple device for culturing a large diversity of microorganisms. Invented by Sergei Winogradsky.”

A lot of Winogradsky columns are made from empty bottles.

The column is constructed in a tall clear glass or plastic container.  Tall wide mouth bottles are probably best, but 2 L soda bottles are easy to obtain in large numbers and will serve the purpose.  Virtually any roughly cylindrical container will serve, even vessels as diverse as olive jars, wine bottles and twenty-liter carboys.


Looked at another way, this is an unauthorized branding refresh, similar to the Coca-Cola Dead Sea redesign we posted earlier this month. As with any redesigned packaging, we need to see before and after pictures—the food package as it appeared when sold and then again after becoming a mud-filled ecosystem.

(The Mrs. Butterworth bottle is easy to recognize, but I had to do some digging to identify some of the other brands.)

Ray Wigger’s Winogradsy dry roasted peanut jar on the right appears to be the same container as the Wegman’s dry roasted peanuts jar on the left.

…as overtly elegant and stylish as my converted peanut jar is… many other types of capped containers work, too. I’ve experimented, both in the lab and in my rather labbish home, with mayonnaise jars, graduated cylinders, and even plastic mustard dispensers. The main requirement for all is that their surfaces are transparent, unobscured with labels, and not tinted. After all, you want a clear view of the ecosystem as it develops.

Ray Wigger’s Natural History Newsletter, March 2006

(2 More branded Winogradsky columns, after the fold…) (more…)

June 22, 2012

Hexagonal Chocolate Packaging

It’s been too long since we’ve featured some polyhedral structural packaging. Christina Sicoli’s hexagonal “Hatch” structure made me curious if I could find any other interesting examples of hexagonal-shaped packages for chocolate. Here we have three, each designed by a different designer. (Or designers.)

(More photos of all three, after the fold…) (more…)

June 21, 2012

LiquiGlide Mustard

The videos of the Varanasi Research Group’s proposed LiquiGlide™ coating for condiment bottles and jars have been widely viewed for the past month or so. Mostly it’s the video of ketchup rapidly pouring that you see on other package design blogs. So just to be different we’re going with the mustard here.

Condiments may sound like a narrow focus for a group of MIT engineers, but not when you consider the impact it could have on food waste and the packaging industry. “It’s funny: Everyone is always like, ‘Why bottles? What’s the big deal?’ But then you tell them the market for bottles—just the sauces alone is a $17 billion market,” Smith [MIT PhD candidate Dave Smith] says. “And if all those bottles had our coating, we estimate that we could save about one million tons of food from being thrown out every year.”

…One of the most significant challenges his team faced was making sure the coating was food safe, meaning his team could only work with materials the FDA had approved. “We had a limited amount of materials to pick from,” Smith says. “I can’t say what they are, but we’ve patented the hell out of it.”

Fast Company

Solving this problem, particularly with mustard, might have saved Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Toby” from a viscous beating by Robert DeNiro’s “Dwight” in the 1993 “This Boy’s Life.” Or not. From what I recall of Dwight’s character, even a nanopartical of mustard would have been enough cause for a beating. (See: Mustard Jar Fight Scene)

In addition to having “patented the hell out of it,” the MIT team has also trademarked their invention’s new brand name. Don’t much like their current brand logo, however.

The name “LiquiGlide” has also been used in other product categories, namely eyeliner and car stereo speakers…

“All Audiotex auto speakers feature Liqui-Glide, the rare and costly magnetic fluid that improves performance by dissipating heat from the voice coil, thus increasing power handling capability.  Which means you can really crank them up and they won’t break down. But Liqui-Glide also reduces distortion and aging which means you may very well get more miles out of Audiotex speakers than you do out of your car.”

From an ad in a 1979 issue of High Fidelity Magazine

June 20, 2012

It’s Electro (Not Tobacco)

I’ve written before about how my great aunt, Sarah Augusta Dickson, was the first curator of the Arents Tobacco Collection from the mid-1940s through the 1960s. Her tenure coincided with the rise and regulation of the tobacco industry.

As a small package design firm, big tobacco clients are surely out of our reach, but I have wondered at times what sort of work we might have done for such a client if Beach Packaging Design had existed in my great aunt’s day…

Or if we were to land, say, the 2012 equivalent of Raymond Loewy’s (or Don Draper’s) client, Lucky Strike.

Then early this year with Puf Cigs it sort of happened. Not big tobacco, but electronic cigarettes. Our designs for their flip top and flavor cartridge boxes appear above and below. Can’t take credit for the logo, though. That was done by StayVers.

In Mad Men, much was made of Don Draper’s idea for a new Lucky Strike sales pitch: “It’s toasted!” A simple, declarative statement of fact, but a subtle deception because, according to his clients, everybody else’s tobacco was also toasted.

In reality, everybody else’s tobacco was not toasted. Actually introduced in 1917 (well before Don Draper’s fictional career) “it’s toasted” was meant to differentiate Lucky Strike’s tobacco from its sun-dried competitors.

Still, it makes for a good advertising parable: there were six identical products, differentiated only by their advertising and packaging design.

So I asked myself, “If I were Don Draper, what sort of tagline would I come up with for Puf Cigs?” Something analogous to the toasted tobacco idea…

A simple, declarative statement of fact: It’s electro.

It’s not tobacco. It’s electro.

(Bonus pop culture reference to Sean of the Dead: “It’s not hip hop. It’s electro.”)

See also Packaging and Tobacciana, George Arents Jr. and Packaging & Consumer Eye Contact

June 19, 2012

Clash of the Condiments

Actors in anthropomorphic packaging costumes fighting. TV commercial for Hidden Valley Ranch directed by Matt Fackrell for Tribal DDB Worldwide. (via: Food Digity)

Reminds me of Christopher Guest’s hilarious packaging brawl for a 2000 RC Cola campaign.

(See also: Hello, My Name Is Frank and Pugilistic Packaging)

June 18, 2012

The Crosby Canister

In addition to work on a “Molotov bread basket” style incendiary bomb, Larry & Bing Crosby’s company also had a hand in development of a container for “Project X”—Lytle S. Adams’s idea to launch a surprise attack on Japan using a cluster bomb of bats, each carrying a small incendiary bomb. When I first read about this project it reminded me of recent fiction involving a US government project to weaponize vampires, who unfortunately escape. (As did a few of Adams’s armed incendiary bats.)

Eventually the “Project X” bat bomb lost ground to the Manhattan Project’s atom bomb, but for a while it was a contender. Below is FDR’s memo approving the project:


This man is not a nut. It sounds like a perfectly wild idea but is worth looking into. You might reply for me to Dr. Adams’ letter.



Doc made arrangements with a small manufacturing and engineering company owned by Bing Crosby, the popular singing star, and his brother Larry to fabricate the bat bomb carrying shell to his design. The five-foot-high sheet metal container, which superficially resembled an ordinary aerial bomb with its fins and cigar shape, would hold the compartmented cardboard egg-trays of bats with their attached incendiaries, along with environmental controls — cooler and heater — and a parachute with its deployment device…

In the secrecy of the Crosby factory, located in converted rooms beneath the grandstands at Del Mar horse racetrack, the bat bomb carrying shells were assembled, complete with parachute, automatic barometric opening device, and a small warming unit to bring the bats out of hibernation prior to the drop. The performance of the new sheet metal shell would be an essential part of the Carlsbad test.

Doc had designed the container himself — the cardboard prototype twas the one that had been torn to pieces by the slipstream at Muroc— and it was during the blueprint stage that Adams, in a private moment incidental to the greater work, took a family picture into a shop for framing. As he waited for the proprietor to cut the matt and put the frame together, Doc struck up a conversation in his ever affable way. As they talked, Adams watched the skillful way the framer went about his work and noted the adept use of his hands. Doc came out of the shop with the framed picture under his arm— and with a new recruit.

Andrew Paul Stanley was just the person to cut and glue the cardboard model of the bombshell with its many-compartmented accordion of paper trays. Later he would work with the Crosby Company to make the metal shells and their cardboard contents. Each shell would hold 1040 bats with their attached incendiary bombs. Each bat would fit snugly into a cubicle in a tray much as an egg fits into an egg crate. There would be 26 of these round trays about 30 inches in diameter in each shell. The trays were to stack one on top of the other with the open sides down, all connected together with strings at the edges so that, when suspended from a parachute, the set of three-inch-long strings between trays held one tray above the other like an open accordion.

Bat Bomb: World War II’s Other Secret Weapon
Jack Couffer


On December 21, 1944, the day after Dr. Young and I had returned from the Dugway test, I went out to Hollywood for a conference with Larry Crosby of the Larry Crosby Research Co., an engineering firm set up jointly by Larry and Bing Crosby. The conference was about a container, or shell, or bomb, to be loaded with bats in hibernation, with incendiary bombs attached. My records are incomplete, but my recollection is that Dr. Young made the first contact with Larry Crosby Research Co., that Col. Rhoads then assumed responsibility for the design of the container, and that the Larry Crosby outfit came up with an acceptable design.

Louis F. Fieser
The Scientific Method: A Personal Account of Unusual Projects in War and in Peace


“We got a sure thing like the bat bomb going, something that could really win the war, and they’re jerking off with tiny little atoms. It makes me want to cry.”

Lytle S. Adams as quoted by Steve Silverman in
Einstein’s Refrigerator: And Other Stories from the Flip Side of History