Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Sun Chips: The Law of Unintended Consequences

In the rush to make their products more "green," lots of companies are adapting their products and packaging. The story of Sun Chips offers a cautionary tale to those rushing ahead with efforts to burnish their green credentials. Several months ago, Sun Chips came out with biodegradable bags for their chips. The company marketed the bags as 100% compostable, as they were constructed from biodegradable plant material. Unfortunately, the new bags are very loud, which annoyed many customers. Talk about an unintended consequence. What's interesting, of course, is that the noise level of the bag turns out to be very important to the consumer. That's not something that one might readily consider as a crucial product attribute. In fact, it probably wasn't top of mind at all for either the firm or the consumer, until the technology changed. Suddenly, this became a critical attribute to the customer.

How did the consumer backlash grow? Social media, of course! Here's a funny story from the Wall Street Journal about how customers complained via social media:

It is louder than "the cockpit of my jet," said J. Scot Heathman, an Air Force pilot, in a video probing the issue that he posted on his blog under the headline "Potato Chip Technology That Destroys Your Hearing." Mr. Heathman tested the loudness using a RadioShack sound meter. He squeezed the bag and recorded a 95 decibel level. A bag of Tostitos Scoops chips (another Frito-Lay brand, in bags made from plastic) measured 77.

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