by Ted Gargiulo — It’s astonishing, the education you can receive simply by reading the product information found on common household items people buy every day. Labels offer, among other things, valuable glimpses of human wisdom (or the presumed absence thereof), marketplace psychology, fractured logic, condescension and hype, plus refresher courses in semantics and basic arithmetic
Take toilet paper for example. The wrapper states that there are six “LARGE” rolls inside. First question: How large is “large?” A number of products I’ve seen define “large” as containing 50 percent MORE (i.e. nuts, dip, paper).
“More than WHAT?” you may ask. Well, duh, more than a package containing 50 percent LESS! Elementary, dear Reader!
Try this problem instead. The manufacturer claims that these six large rolls are equivalent to twice the number of smaller rolls. Got that? In other words, 6 x 2 = 12. Honest, it says so right on the wrapper! Virtually every brand of bathroom tissue (as it’s called in polite society) provides this same indispensable information. Now, consider a heftier parcel of, say, 12 big rolls. That, according to the company’s disclosure, is equivalent to…how many? That’s right, 24 small rolls!
“But,” you say, “why display these dumb, patronizing formulas? The consumer’s NOT getting 24 rolls; he’s getting 12. Count them: 12! That’s still the same amount of paper!”
You know that, and I know that. But shoppers with diminished intellects—present company excluded, of course—will BELIEVE they’re getting more product than they really are. They also feel smarter and more important because the advertiser has given them these complex mathematical equations to solve. I’ve even seen brands that divide the large rolls into thirds, then triple the number of items in the package to show you how many tiny rolls they represent—theoretically, that is. Betcha didn’t know that 12 x 3 = 36. You DID??? Woo-hoo! It’s like cutting an 8oz slab of cheese into 15 slices instead of 10. I dare say, there are citizens walking among us who’d fill up on them sooner. Why? Because they think they’re eating more cheese! Now you’re catching on!
Want to know precisely how much paper a “large” roll contains? Read the small print on the wrapper, and you’ll notice that the amounts all differ. If you ask me, any fewer than 350 sheets isn’t large at all, not when there are other packages containing upwards of 400-500 sheets per roll. You just have to look. Less than 225 sheets? Puh-leese! Can you imagine how itty-bitty a roll would have to be if you divided 225 by three, then tripled the contents to make them seem like more? One use, and you’d finish the whole damned roll! “All gone-gone!” like the poet says. Seriously now, who would sell anything that small? Better yet, who in the sam hill would BUY anything that small? That is, unless that person derived some perverse pleasure from replacing an empty toilet roll 36 times a week.
I can only hope that the dipstick supermarket mentality I’ve observed and lampooned in this article is not, in any way, a true reflection of humanity as a whole. Because if it is, I would definitely NOT want these so-called “peers” of mine sitting on a jury, especially if I was the one on trial. They’d probably kill me!