When it comes to gum, I don't ask for much. I choose Chiclet-style over stick style, because I prefer candy-coated and chewy to soft and squeaky. And I'd rather the gum not have a liquid center, because I'm not keen on confections that ejaculate. But so long as the gum retains its minty flavor for the relatively brief period that I care to chew gum, I'm satisfied. Because when I was a kid, that wasn't always guaranteed. Gum wasn't much of a treat at all when I was growing up. I can remember countless long car trips where my mom handed me a pack of Dentyne, Trident or, yes, Chiclets, and after chewing for three minutes, I was stuck with a sore jaw and a bland, plasticky wad between my teeth. Now though, whatever super-chemicals the gum scientists have been injecting into the product pretty much assure that I'll be bored with chewing well before the flavor gives out. So with the longevity factor mitigated, how can Big Gum maintain brand loyalty? How about with something like this:
According to an article I found via Google, Brian Wright, director of marketing communications for Wrigley, describes the company's new "5" line of gum as "the biggest innovation in stick gum in 25 years." If he's talking about the gum itself, that's a huge overstatement. The pack I bought–"Rain," the spearmint flavor–contained 15 sticks, which I chewed over the course of about a week, and I found the product to be perfectly serviceable, even in the dreaded stick form. The flavor held, and the texture wasn't overly mushy. But it was just gum, you know? It was minty and refreshing; it didn't change my outlook on life or incapacitate me with a heavy wave of pure sensuality.
No, the innovation here is all about the packaging. In addition to "Rain," the "5" line comes in two other varieties: "Cobalt" and "Flare," which you squares probably call "peppermint" and "cinnamon." Each name comes with a little description: "Rain" is "a tingling experience," while "Cobalt" is "cooling" and "Flare" is "warming." The pack opens in a funky way, with a little sliding tab in the back, and the boxes are all square and black and un-gum-like. They look like they should housing cigarettes, or condoms.
It's pretty obvious that Wrigley's is trying to rope in teens with this dark, ambiguous box; but "5" also follows the recent trend towards adult-friendly "fancy candy." The "fancy candy" movement arguably began about five years ago, when Hershey's started offering "Limited Edition" versions of their classic candy bars, laced with caramel or peanut butter or tiny mint cookies. Lately, the LEs have been pushed aside by Hershey's "Cacao Reserve" and its ilk: Oversized candy bars and truffles that emphasize their unprecedented levels of darkness, their natural ingredients (like fruit and "nibs"), or their healthful properties.
What the "fancy candy" packages are pitching is a certain sophistication in snacking. Any slob can fatten up on a Snickers. But a Dove chocolate truffle with cacao nibs? It may have the same caloric and fat content, but it's far too elegant to widen your waistline. Modern confectioners want to create an "experience," since an "experience" lessens the guilt of pigging out. What used to be available exclusively in specialty shops and foreign climes is now available in your local grocer's candy aisle, so you have a choice between a predictable between-meal treat and a soul-nurturing indulgence.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that when I finished my last stick of "Rain" and tossed the box, bent on returning to my reliable Eclipse, I didn't just pitch some trash. I threw away a lifestyle.