Quality You Can See

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A woman inspecting her purchase before buying it all thanks to the transparency of cellophane, 1936 (Series I, Box 43, Folder 15, ‘Advertising tearsheets – 1936’, E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company Advertising Department records (Accession 1803), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE 19807).

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Ad highlighting the visibility of anything wrapped in cellophane, 1955 (Series I, Box 43, Folder 32, ‘Advertising tearsheets – 1955’, E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company Advertising Department records (Accession 1803), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE 19807).

One of cellophane’s most popular qualities was the way it allowed shoppers to use their senses when determining what to buy. Marketing researchers highlighted shoppers’ delight at being able to make contact with products. Waxed paper and foil were too thick and opaque, but cellophane gave people the ability to explore the details of foods without sacrificing cleanliness. Cellophane’s transparency gave shoppers “x-ray vision,” allowing them to see the quality of a product inside the packaging. This was especially useful when buying perishable foods, although grocery stores sometimes attempted to mask the appearance of old, oxidized meat wrapped in cellophane by using red food dyes.[1]

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This couple could choose the exact kind of meat they preferred by seeing the entire cut of meat before buying without having to touch it, 1946 (Series I, Box 43, Folder 24, ‘Advertising tearsheets – 1946’, E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company Advertising Department records (Accession 1803), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE 19807).

By seeing and feeling the product before buying it, customers could now use their personal knowledge of what fresh food looks and feels like to determine their purchases. They could visibly identify higher quality items, such as linens, beauty products, candies, and cigars, even if they could not touch them. They could compare products on their own to make independent choices based on personal tastes. For example, a housewife was now able to pick up multiple slabs of bacon and physically see their leanness or fattiness up close.[2] In the ad seen on the right, a couple is shown grilling the perfect cut of meat. How did they end up with the perfect cut of meat? They could see every detail of it before buying it, allowing them to select exactly what they wanted. Product visibility enabled customers and grocery stores to make the shopping experience almost completely autonomous. Even more importantly, product visibility allowed consumers to “eat with their eyes.” Clear packaging encouraged impulse buys while cellophane’s aura of luxury convinced customers that everything they bought was a bargain.

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Even though cellophane is transparent, it keeps everything wrapped in it fresh, 1945 (Series I, Box 43, Folder 19, ‘Advertising tearsheets – 1940, 194?’, E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company Advertising Department records (Accession 1803), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE 19807).

Watch the video below to see first-hand how marketers highlighted cellophane’s transparency as its defining and most useful quality.

XI. Cellophane in Surprising Places⇒


[1] Horowitz, Putting Meat on the American Table

[2] Fresh Steaks from 20,000 – year – old Siberian Elephant!: DuPont Cellophane,” DuPont Ad Dept. Records, 1938: http://digital.hagley.org/dpads_1803_00502?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=a923a15bce7ccaecdce1&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=6&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=21; “Inspected by You : How To Get Your Money’s Worth,” DuPont Ad Dept. Records, 1936: http://digital.hagley.org/dpads_1803_00254?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=d896cbe24a702fc29eab&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=4&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=4; “How Lean Is a Slice of Bacon? : You Know When You See It Protected in Cellophane,” DuPont Ad Dept. Records, 1946: http://digital.hagley.org/dpads_1803_00606?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=d896cbe24a702fc29eab&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=4&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=7.

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