Ask any child between the ages of 8 and 15 years-old to wash their hands at the kitchen sink. Have them use the regular liquid dish soap. Then watch carefully as liquid detergent, sufficient to wash every dirty dish in America for a week, is dispensed and washed down the drain, unused.
Next, let’s observe toothpaste from a tube as applied by this same group of (what ad guys like to call) ‘heavy users.'
Somewhere in the back of my mind was a recollection of having actually read directions on how to properly measure out and apply at least one major brand of toothpaste. This was so long ago that the package design that I remember is the same package design that served with our military in WW2. But I digress…
I distinctly remembered a reference to a “pea-sized” drop of toothpaste. That was the directed unit/dose for children according to the manufacturer, at that time, and I hadn’t seen the message since then. So I just checked today’s packaging on the same brand name (longevity in consumer products!) and the directions, including the words “pea-sized” are still there.
Back to the observation of youthful consumers: My own report would include approximating the size (in pea-units) and weight of the mound of toothpaste used by our out-of-control group. Yet it’s not just youthful offenders who generate waste by over-dispensing…
…you know who you are…
When was the last time you bought bar soap for the shower? Could you find it if you wanted it? How about soap powder for the laundry? And stop laughing; there really was (is) boxed, dry, powdered soap for the laundry. You can find its descendants in vending machines at Laundromats. We all know how convenient and easy to use these updated and liquefied products are… now that they come in recyclable, plastic squeeze bottles. Maybe.
One of the proudest moments in one's advertising career is to have been on the team responsible for increasing the sales of an existing consumer product that has become so standard as to be virtually generic. Steady sales are not an achievement of note. Stagnant or declining sales numbers are cause for alarm in the consumer product industry.
Remember that the best potential customer is an existing customer.
Increasing unit sales to a current purchaser is controlled by how much of that product a consumer can consume. Marketing and advertising people come preprogrammed with the knowledge that states: Increase consumption… Increase sales… Make a name for yourself… Get promoted… Take note of how much liquid shower soap you squeeze onto your scrungee or loofah or washcloth (what’s a washcloth?) or whatever you use to apply the soapy foam you can create… If you have enough of that liquefied, gelatinous and brightly colored shower soap to work with.
Some years ago I was acquainted with a woman whose father, one career earlier, had been the ‘Go to Guy’ in consumer packaging and marketing. He was point man in packaging appeal for an industry looking to increase sales of underperforming consumer staples while expending the least effort and money. She told me about her memories of shopping with her father as he explored existing packages, soup bowls, plant pots (ceramic and plastic) and a whole bunch of containers we mortals would never have considered as the model for liquid soap or detergent packaging.
This woman friend of mine (having discovered our mutual interest) told me about her father’s experience with a manufacturer whose major concern was: “would the American Consumer actually buy and carry home a simple soap product to which water had been added?”
Water makes things heavier. Its density and non-volatility make it the perfect ‘product-extender’ and it does nothing to enhance the function of the product.
…and they bought it…
Once modern marketing had convinced consumers (that’s you and me in the real world) that the formerly dry-powdered or bar shaped product was now updated and modernized, as well as convenient, easy to measure and use and answered a consumer need despite the fact that no consumer expressed such a need, sales moved steadily higher…
Another benefit to the manufacturers was that as liquid soaps filled a new niche, their ‘ease-of-use’ was responsible for increased product usage because consumers ‘guesstimated’ weights and measures and poured more, and more. Meanwhile, the story from the shower is that with all that high pressured water spraying and cascading about, it is actually difficult to apply a liquefied soap only onto the scrubbing device… much less getting the slippery stuff to stay put anywhere. I myself have seen uncounted ounces of these products defy the scrubbing device (and my dexterity) and slip away, to be diluted as waste and sent to the sewer, never having been used for their intended purpose.
Water treatment facilities have seen increases in the concentrations of many chemicals that are typically contained in shower and bath products to the point where measurable quantities of those chemicals survive treatment, are not removed from the waste water as it is made ‘usable’, and have proven to be problematic because of their persistence and the fact that they are harmful if consumed by humans.
My observation is this: As a device to increase sales volume, adding water to a consumer product is a success. Additionally, marketers must continue to print ‘directions for use’ in such small type as to be unreadable and marketers must also promote the thinking that "If I need directions on how to use a toothbrush, I’m in rough shape."
Through these simple means, another generation of consumers will be successfully educated to embrace their usage, take ownership of their powers of consumption and soldier on in making their contribution to universal resource depletion.