Archive for May 2007

Duchy Original Oaten Biscuits

May 6, 2007

Duchy Original Oaten Biscuits are wrapped in little plastic packets. Two biscuits face each other, as if kissing. Then they are placed inside a packet with another pair of kissing biscuits. All the little packets are then placed inside a box.

The picture on the box is remarkable for its layers of heraldry and pseudo-heraldry. It depicts one of these fine biscuits, the biscuit stamped with a design resembling part of a coat of arms. (Each one of the real biscuits is stamped in this way, but the design on the biscuit is nowhere near as legible to the eye or to the fingers as the picture of the biscuit and its design might suggest.)

The biscuit in the picture is flanked by two sheafs of the biscuit’s two ingredients: oats and wheat. From a distance, the circular biscuit and its surrounding fans of cereal crops looks like a coat of arms.

Above the picture of the biscuit is the real Duchy Original coat of arms. It’s a shield flanked by two birds, with a crown on top of it. This is picked out in a slightly more metallic shade, presumably to signal that this is the real coat of arms, separate from the false coats of arms elsewhere.

The consumer of the Duchy Original Oaten Biscuit is in a situation where the visual medium – the picture of the biscuit on the packet – appeals more to the sense of touch than the biscuit itself. The real biscuit can’t compete with the glorious stippling of the (presumably Photoshopped) box image, let alone the clarity of its outline.

The consumer is further faced with the conflict inherent in the Duchy Original brand’s values: concepts of local, organic and idiosyncratic are pitted against concepts of value, quality and consistency. There’s a reason why “cookie-cutter” is so often used as an insult, but that doesn’t mean we want our biscuits cut all anyhow.

Thirdly, the consumer must absorb the meaning of all these coats of arms. The one on the biscuit has the function of a seal or a stamp. The one including the biscuit and the crops is more interesting; it’s an example of the old advertiser’s trick of depicting your product surrounded by the fresh ingredients used to make it, but it’s also co-opting the naturalness of those fresh ingredients into a heraldic symbol, as if to say: “Freshness is part of the values that we have held for centuries.” The third coat of arms is a neurotic attempt to stamp, seal and legitimise what has already been doubly stamped and sealed.