Two-Language Packaging Done Right

An example.

I’ve always been interested in marketing. I think it goes back to a marketing course I took in college when I was a freshman. That’s when I began to realize how the choice of words in marketing copy could mislead potential buyers without actually lying. It’s also where I learned how packaging colors and styles could influence purchase decisions. I still think all that is fascinating.

The trick with packaging is providing all the information a potential buyer needs when in a store making a decision. I’ve been buying a lot of items — including small tools — as I continue working on my living space so I find myself relying, over and over, on what’s written on packages to determine which options go into my cart.

I should point out that it’s not only this part of Washington that has a large Spanish-speaking population. It’s any agricultural area in the United States. It’s also many major population areas where hispanic immigrants do the kind of labor Americans simply don’t want to do. While some folks can argue that “Mexicans are taking our jobs,” the truth of the matter is that if immigrant labor disappeared, a lot of jobs would be left unfilled and a lot of work simply wouldn’t be done. (This was the topic of the 2004 movie, A Day Without a Mexican.) I’m not trying to start a political debate on the topic here — I’m simply pointing out my thoughts on the matter based on what I’ve seen over the past few years in the farms and cities of Arizona, California, and Washington.

This area of Washington has a large hispanic population. It’s all because of the agricultural work done here. Let’s face it, Americans don’t want to get their hands dirty planting orchards, running irrigation lines, pruning trees, spraying pesticides, or culling, picking, or sorting fruit. Much of this work is done by migrant farm workers, especially in the busy picking season. But year-round there’s a core hispanic population. These folks live all around us, send their kids to our schools, and shop in our stores. And while most of them have some English-speaking skills — or even speak English fluently — their primary language is Spanish.

A lot of Americans get angry when they see a preponderance of signage and packaging in two languages. Oddly, they seem more angry when the second language is Spanish than if it’s French, but this post isn’t about the politics behind their anger. It’s about finding a compromise that provides the necessary information in both languages without putting the second language in your face.

And that’s where I think this product’s packaging succeeds.

English Packaging
The front side of the packaging is entirely in English.

Spanish Packaging
The same information is provided in Spanish on the back side of the packaging.

It’s a tool I bought in Home Depot, a pad with a handle that’s designed to paint along edges. I bought it because I need to caulk and then re-paint the area around my windows. I don’t want to get paint on the window frame. Based on the information on the front of this package — which is entirely in English — I decided that this tool would do the job and I bought it.

It wasn’t until I opened it up today that I realized the back of the package pretty much duplicated the front — but in Spanish. The name of the tool in big, bold letters (Edger = Bordes); a list of suggested uses (Doors, windows, ceilings & baseboards = Puertas, ventanas, cielos razos y zócalos) the three steps to use (Load, Paint, Release = Cargue, Pinte, Despreda); and even the tag line (A PERFECT EDGE EVERY TIME = ¡Un Borde Perfecto Siempre!). Even the actual numbered instructions were in two languages, but with Spanish played down in a smaller font size. It was all there, in black and white instead of color, on the back instead of the front.

How could that possibly offend a flag-waving, anti-immigration American? Yet it provides the information both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking people need to know that the tool is, what it does, and how it works.

Anyway, I thought I’d take a moment to share my thoughts on this great solution to a politically charged issue. Well done, SHUR-LINE. ¡Olé!

12 thoughts on “Two-Language Packaging Done Right

  1. Here in California we have a huge population from Mexico as well — all our agriculture + bordering on Mexico, too. The 2-languages thing is commonplace here, and I don’t even think twice about it. Even all through school, starting in elementary school, we had Spanish lessons as part of our regular curriculum. Didn’t think twice about that, either. It’s just been our culture here all my life… and for generations here in California.

    That said, the packaging you showed is indeed superb. Well done.

    And yeah, there are lots of political issues here in California about people crossing the border illegally and its financial impact, among other things. Won’t get into all that, either. ;-)

    • I think that being from the NYC metro area, where America really IS still a “melting pot,” I have a much higher tolerance for people who are different. I WISH we’d gotten more Spanish in school; I wish I were fluent in that language I have nothing against immigrants — my grandparents (father’s side) and great grandparents (mother’s side) are from Germany and Italy respectively. People come here for a better life and if they’re willing to work hard to get it, I’m behind them all the way!

      That packaging really knocked me out, though. So well designed. Although seeing Spanish on packaging doesn’t bother me, what does bother me is when the Spanish language text is difficult to distinguish from the English text on first glance and I have to actually LOOK for the information in English. Very annoying when I’m in a hurry.

  2. BTW, I do agree with you about the jobs, too, etc. IMO, there are many advantages to immigrants taking all these jobs that so many Americans just don’t want to do. There are also financial issues with illegal immigrants having such a huge financial toil with all the free services, etc. I’m not angry with them in the least, though. I’m just hoping the “cons” side of the issue can be addressed better and figured out, compromises made, or whatever can be done.

    • Every year we have a shortage of apple pickers here. So many Americans supposedly out of work — why the hell aren’t they showing up? Is the work that far below them? Don’t they think it’ll do them good to see what it’s like to work hard and get some exercise and fresh air? Oh, don’t get me started. I don’t think immigrants are taking jobs from Americans. I think Americans are too damn lazy to do the hard work the immigrants are willing to do. ‘Nuff said.

  3. It’s an eye-opener living in a place with few (or no) Mexican immigrants, like up here in Alaska. Construction work is MUCH more expensive, no immigrant labor means all those jobs have to be done by U.S. citizens who expect to be paid a reasonable wage. For the construction guys it’s a positive; comparatively high wages and nearly full (though usually seasonal) employment for those who can do that kind of work. For the home or business owner who needs work done, the increased cost is a real factor. Most of the larger contractors in my town won’t even bid a job that’s under $10,000, and those who will typically try to squeeze it in between “big” jobs or early / late in the season when the weather is less predictable. There is still a lot of union presence in carpentry, electrical, and plumbing up here so expect to either pay full-retail or deal with the consequences of shade-tree mechanic type work. Finding someone that’s both competent AND affordable is nearly impossible in a lot of trades since anyone who is reliable and good at their job quickly gets booked solid. Some types of jobs where Mexican labor dominates down south just don’t get done up here at all, like plaster and stucco work.

    So, a word of advice to those who would close off the spigot of immigrant labor; prepare to pay more. In some cases, a LOT more.

    And try to find a decent Mexican restaurant? Don’t bother.

  4. I am with Sean C.
    As an occasional visitor to the USA, the reliance on Hispanic and other minority labour is clear and obvious. I have stayed in Alaska too.
    Nor is it just a west-coast thing. My cousin, who is fluent in Spanish, lives in Maine now, but when in West Virginia the farm produce was often Hispanic picked, I am told. The notion of an anti-immigration American does seem, at least superficially, problematic?
    Where would America be without German or Swedish or Norwegian Americans?
    If you are talking about anti-isil then I would likely agree. But that is a different matter entirely.

    • The notion of an anti-immigration American does seem, at least superficially, problematic?
      Where would America be without German or Swedish or Norwegian Americans?

      I can see you’re just an occasional visitor! There is a huge anti-immigrant sentiment in this country and I believe that is shameful. After all, unless you’re a Native American, you can trace your roots in this country to immigrants. Yet too many Americans have forgotten this and are vehemently opposed to letting in people from other nations, especially if English is not the first language of those people.

      • Completely agree with you about the history of U.S. immigration. And with your comments about New York. Also, the absurdity and negativity of the U.S. Immigration debate.
        In my defence, as an occasional visitor to the States, I would just like to say that I have been from Florida to Alaska and from Southern Califorinia to Maine ( with lots of stops in between). Way more travel in the States than the average American.
        I have seen US racism and ethnocentrism first hand and it has few subtleties. I have seen a southern white family leave a Yosemite restaurant in mid-meal, leaving $60, when a black family came in. This was not in 1865, but just a few years back.

        And my knowledge of the USA is way better than the American folks interviewed in Rachel Lee’s YouTube clip:
        “How well do Americans know America?”

        Twelve miles south of the Grand Canyon we fuelled the hire car and were served by a local 50 year old woman who had never actually been there!
        Occasional, yes. Superficial, no.

What do you think?