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How to Avoid the Mast Brothers’ Scandalous Mistake

by Arianne Foulks

January 12, 2016

I received a bottle of body wash as a gift for Christmas. When it came time to use it, I hesitated for a moment before putting it on my face. The packaging looked kind of generic. Where did it come from? What was in it? Was it going to make my face feel lovely, or make it break out? How could I trust this body wash to not be garbage?

Skincare products are interesting because a lot of your trust comes from the packaging. When you get those classy little bottles of shampoo at a high-end hotel, do you ever wonder if the same manufacturer sells the same shampoo in a cheaper bottle to the lower-end hotels? Is the lovely packaging masking an inferior product? Is all shampoo basically the same, and never worth the higher price?

When I search Google Shopping for “shampoo” and sort by price, the low end is 97 cents and the high end is $140. Since I can buy a bottle of shampoo for a dollar or two, I need a reason to believe that I’ll have a much better experience with the $140 bottle. This made me think of the Mast Brothers scandal.

There was quite an uproar in the world of chocolate last month! The Mast Brothers Chocolate company was revealed to be the “Milli Vanilli of chocolate.” Get the details in How the Mast Brothers fooled the world into paying $10 a bar for crappy hipster chocolate.  The title kind of says it all, but the short version is that these chocolate bars, and even the Mast Brothers themselves, were all dressed up and lovely, but it looks like the promises they made about the “bean-to-bar” nature of their product may not have been true. The article linked above claims that the chocolate that customers were buying was not what was promised.

What your small business can learn from the Mast Brothers chocolate scandal
Photo © Alexi Ueltzen, licensed through Creative Commons.

At Aeolidia, we believe in the power of your business’ story. On the surface, the Mast Brothers were doing everything right. The huge problem they had, of course, was that the story was just that — a story, without the substance to back it up.

The Mast Brothers found a tight, targeted audience. They convincingly told their story with their appearance. The look of their chocolate bars was beautiful. Their packaging stood out on the shelves, was perfect for gift-giving, and appealed to people who were willing to pay a higher price.

These things are great ways to build a strong brand and sell a product. But of course, it only works long-term if your product is all that you promise it is.

So, as you can see from thinking about shampoo and chocolate (and we could muddy the waters here with wine, where, “pricing is largely an artificial construct determined by factors such as scarcity and perceived quality”), pricing for products can be subjective. Particularly for our clients, who sell creative, design-based products, it’s hard to know what to charge. When are you honoring your work, creativity, and distinctiveness, and when are you conning your customers?

Our work at Aeolidia is about striking the right balance. For instance, with the Azalia Spa Goods brand, we crafted a graphic look that reflected everything Aimee had told us about her company.

Luxury spa logo and packaging photography by Jen Lacey
Luxury bath and body packaging design by Aeolidia
Azalia Spa Goods packaging design by Aeolidia

If Aimee had packaged her products less carefully, her look wouldn’t sync with her high-quality ingredients and her brand values. She would be doing herself a big disservice by not building a visual story around her brand. The graphical story of her packaging helps her customers understand what she does at first glance.

This type of storytelling only works in the long term if there is substance behind the promise your packaging makes. If Aimee’s products smelled bad, separated, or caused rashes (which they don’t! I hate to even say it as an example), people would soon learn to avoid her brand, and no amount of pretty would help her – much like what is happening to the Mast Brothers now.

So you can see, your insides need to match your outsides, and vice versa, for your product to succeed. All the beautiful design in the world is not going to help if your product is poor, and the best product on earth can be ruined by inappropriate branding and packaging.

Imagine what you could do with a great business – one you believed in, with high-quality craftsmanship, a compelling story, and the look needed to automatically explain that to your customers. That last step is where we come in. Some of our favorite recent case studies are here:

If you know your business has what it takes to stand up to your customers’ scrutiny, let’s talk! We would love to make them see what you see in your business from the first glance.

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