When Green Meets Packaging and they run into Sales and Marketing

By Dennis Salazar on August 18, 2009

Think of this as a classroom case study of a unique product with a green story, and tremendous potential, that is all dressed up and has nowhere to go.

Chris Marszalek, a business associate and good friend of mine, invented a product called Drink Links. It is an ingeniously simply idea where a plastic ring easily snaps onto the neck of a plastic bottle indentifying your bottle from others, much like a wine charm fits over the stem of your wine glass at a party.

How Is This An Eco Friendly Product?
I saw Drink Links and immediately recognized its green potential because it is primarily designed to eliminate waste. After a party or gathering, we have all had to dump partially consumed bottles of water, beer, or soft drinks because the original owner of the beverage simply lost track of his or her bottle. That is a tremendous waste of product, as well as of packaging. Remember, fewer plastic bottles mean less plastic used or discarded. Drink Links eliminates the need to try to mark your beverage (throw away your magic marker) and easily identifies it as yours. Use recycled plastic to make the rings, add some eco friendly packaging and you have a very solid and sellable green story, or so I thought.

A Health Benefit as Well
As the TV ad man says, “But that’s not all”. The only thing more topical these days that sustainability is health and Drink Links offers the additional advantage of preventing germs from being passed around by people unintentionally sharing a beverage. If you imagine a children’s party or sports team, you know your child will not hesitate to drink for the same bottle as his or her friend. You know; the kid with a runny nose who always seems to be out of school due to illness. The one who’s nick name is “The Carrier” and it’s not because he is built like a ship.

So what’s the problem?
I offered to assist Chris in the marketing and packaging of the product and among others we have showed it to a very large drug store chain, a huge health care provider, a very popular bottled water supplier and everyone we show it to, loves it. I have even had personal requests for more samples because the product is a hit at home. The problem is that no one is buying it or selling it.

We thought perhaps the relatively low retail price point (around $1.00) was a problem so we changed strategies and thought it might make a great give away or private branded promo item. I envisioned an eco minded water bottler perhaps including a free pack of Drink Links included in every case of bottled water? Companies give away millions of pens and note paper pads at conferences, shows, etc. so perhaps we could turn the low cost and price into a negative by making it a personalized ad specialty item? Perfect for any person or company in the healthcare or nutrition business, right? We even showed it to smaller retail chains including a local network of liquor stores. Once again, everyone thinks it is a great idea but no one seems to know how to best market it.

The Homework Portion of this Case Study
You’re assignment, if you choose to accept it is to help us determine why this product is not selling? Here are a couple of thoughts we’ve had:

• Is it the price point? Too low to get much attention? Too high for an ad trinket?

• Is it the packaging? Honestly, you will not hurt my feelings because I entered the picture after the basic design was complete.

• Is it the name? Is “Drink Links” not descriptive enough or is it too internet unfriendly? Google it and you’ll see what I mean. Every bartender’s creation comes up.

• Is private branding the way to go with this?

• Have we not identified the best market, yet?

• Are we over rating its green value?

The primary lesson here is that today, inventing and designing a good, unique and green product is not nearly enough in this fast growing and crowded space. So many things have to come together perfectly to make a product a hit and perhaps you need a little bit of luck as well.

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15 Comments

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Interesting comments. KS, I was not aware of the Target rings for medicine. we will have to check that out. Faithtoo, the different colors and color combinations can sill give everyone at a good size gathering their own unique look. The problem is remembering which is your combination, especially when using them on beer bottles. :) Dennis
Maybe you're going after the wrong user need. I've been to many parties where people drinking vodka or scotch manage to keep track of their own glasses. But a bottle of water or beer starts to get warm after a while, so you get a fresh one. If I want cold water at a party and I'm concerned about the environment, I put some ice in a glass and use the fridge dispenser or the cold water tap. For me, it's the portability of water in bottles that makes them desirable. So now you're at the soccer game with a bottle and a colored plastic ring that have no place to go but the trash when you're finished with them. Oh, and those kids and their germs, it's tough to get kids to put the empty bottles and cans in the recycling bin. You don't really think you're going to get them to remove the plastic ring and put it in the sink so it can be washed? It's easy for folks to tell you it's a good idea. Now ask them if they'd invest their money in it? If they say yes again, tell them $500 in earnest money is all you're asking for. Objective market research probably should be done before pricing, packaging and channels of distribution are considered.
This invention is just like Target's color coded rings used to identify medicines. Maybe people are associating your bottle gizmo with these color coded medicinal rings
Maybe "link-up" with a major water manufacturer to include your product in the packaging for the bulk club markets. The bottled water markets have been hit and this could be a way for them to add reuse the plastic bottle in a marketing campaign along with knowing which bottle belongs to who.
What happens when everyone at the party is using a drink link ...with the variety of colors? Won't you still have a problem with identifying one's own bottle?
Don't think price is the problem. The name is probably weak ... speaks to function not its value to GREEN - if that's your angle. Also, the idea, while appealing is impractical. It's one more piece of clutter ... sort of anti-eco. Something like this needs to come with the bottle not rendez-vous with the bottle. And I don't see how that happens.
If green idea is to be the main selling point, package should reflect that more. Plus it's kind of "kiddy" looking to me, and while it can be used for kids, seems like the target market is to the adults. I like the idea of partnering with major water mfg from Nellie. Maybe tie into some major sporting event that ties to parties, e.g. SuperBowl
Just a few random thoughts... Needs to be more personalised calling it "My drink" for instance? Can it be recycled with the bottle afterwards? i.e. both a PET polymer. It could lend itself to company branding. Could it carry a secondary use, become a branded keyring attatchment say?
It is clearly a useful product in selected situations. It appears to me that it fits into the party supply category and would be purchased for one time use. I think there is opportunity with changes both in the name and packaging to communicate more rapidly to the consumer what the product will do for them.
I was certain PD readers would come up some interesting feedback on this post and you did not disappoint. Some excellent thoughts and angles. I promise you this - if and when this product lands successfully, I will let you know via this blog. Thank you for your input and creativity. Dennis
To claim that this product is "green" is a stretch. More fundamentally,the concept is impractical, which sums up why it's been roundly rejected. What person is mindless enough to leave a drink unguarded and WANT to return to it?
One, package design sucks, looks like it was drawn by a drunk chinese kid.Looks cheap. Two change the name to "My Drink!" the "link" is confusing. Three , put a background picture of a soccer team , and one of a party. (With people holding their "My Drinks") Voila.
In violation of marketing first rule, this product doesn't address anyone's real need. Seriously, when is the last time you host a party and wish there's a way for your guests to mark/identify their drinks. Besides, there are other products doing the same thing...a pen, colored straws, etc. My suggestion, including changing name and packaging, is to target the novelty market; however, that requires you to make the product more appealing with theme designs or even licensing (won't cost $1 anymore though).
MC, I appreciate the comments and they are consistent with our own thoughts and the input of several PD readers. I put this up as a fun experiment and I was not dissapointed by the creativity and positive input I recieved in return. Thanks, Dennis
Hi Cherie and that is an interesting product and idea. I have to assume however that the person who can't remember what color Drink Link is his, is also unlikely to remember to pack his personalized labels. :) Thanks for the comment. Dennis