Monday, March 04, 2013

New and Improved

Another case of the new formula, another case of a company juicing the books: the diaper wipes that we had settled on for The Daughter got the New and Improved! treatment last week (the exclamation mark is the usual signifier of duplicity). It's the now customary scenario: a company decides to wring out surplus value by squeezing every ounce out of its means of production, typical latter day capitalism at work.

Working in an industry that is perpetually focused on the new and shiny, I probably shouldn't begrudge innovation in a mature market, and what is more fundamental than diaper wipes after all. Furthermore The Wife suggested I should censor this particular rant - perhaps wanting me to elevate the discourse and not fall into a parental blogging rut. I had even planned initially to use the title of this piece to dissect exactly why the recent redesign of Delicious left me in literal despair, but, well, my muckraking instincts for economic malarkey would not be denied. I'm knee deep in it, so diaper wipes toli it is...

I note:

  1. The number of wipes per box is reduced, 64 rather than 70
  2. The formulation is changed - the material is different and the liquid the wipes are soaked in is different. Presumably cheaper ingredients are being used all around.
  3. The price per box remains the same.
  4. Profit!
Counteracting this, my investigations reveal that the size of each individual wipe is slightly increased now a 17.7 by 17.7 cm square as opposed to a 17.7 by 17.2 rectangle. Thus an individual wipe might feel slightly more substantial in your hand. Such are the fringe benefits.

I won't repeat my usual analysis of the costs of all the raw materials (although I was intrigued by some of the substituted chemicals) - I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that the research and development costs of this process tweak is neutral in that regard.

Doing the math however, even if the same raw material for the tissue was being used, they have managed to get a 6 percent decrease in their costs. This combined with a 8.5 percent decrease in the units per box (their revenues are assuredly tied to the total number of units moved) is the icing on the cake, or should I say, the fruit at the bottom.

And the only thing they had to do was change the packaging. The New Formula is marketed as "New and Improved"!, ostensibly "thicker, more absorbent" and the new box has been given a makeover - green graphics evoking the forest plundered in the manufacturing process, marketing copy about how it is good for the environment, bio-degradable, hypo-allergenic etc.

mother and son by e. bonsu

Impressionable Youth


Most egregious is that the new diaper wipes have a stenciled design of what looks like little Winnie the Poohs to make it more exciting for both the adult wipers and the toddler wipees. The owners of A.A. Milne's copyright (or is it Disney) must be smiling at both the licensing opportunity and inspired product placement, eyeballs are everything and the younger and more impressionable the better.

Some surfer of the conventional wisdom says you have to do something 10,000 times (or is 10,000 hours) before you become a pro. Diapers are in most cases a 2 to 4 year part of a parent's life thus one might approach that virtuosity. Incidentally the diaper companies quite ludicrously say that you should expect to change 10 diapers a day (it is obviously in their interest to encourage inflation in diaper changing rates). Crunching numbers as is my wont, in addition to the economic bonanza gained by the process tweak, there are all those ad impressions that can be monetized, marketed to the highest bidder.

The brand is called Seventh Generation, they must be in Seventh Heaven at this turn of events. Really, think about the impressions here. The best minds of my generation are trying to figure out how to get users to click on ads and here we have literal evidence of bottom power. Various science fiction novels and films have emphasized the permanent advertising that is in our near future. The tissues given to economy passengers on some airlines have advertisements on them; much has been made about catering to captive audiences in toilet stalls and the like. The future has long intruded in the most routine encounters, intimacy and privacy be damned.

I expect that my love for Winnie the Pooh, Peter Rabbit and Kwaku Ananse will remain undiminished, but surely one might wonder about a potential backlash. I expect however such things have been taken into account, brand managers are watching social media for signs of reaction to the rebranding. Indeed my company even markets software for this purpose.

Maker's Mark was pilloried recently for planning to dilute the alcohol content of its bourbon and other products; the company reacted by reversing its decision. Fiddling with the formula is a fine art and perilous especially with food and drink (New Coke and horse meat notwithstanding). They should really have just gone with strategy of smaller containers like the orange juice producers. For other types of product the sky seems to be the limit in this respect. Inertia being what it is, most people won't change their practice even if they notice the difference.

We are all jaded customers, used to being nickled and dimed and singing the inflation calypso - this is par for the course in this Great Recession. Anyway, I noticed and wrote it up for what its worth.

A New and Improved Playlist

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3 comments:

Dominic Rivron said...

I bought a portion of fries at A Famous Burger Franchise yesterday. I'm sure it was smaller than it was last time I bought one.

John LeJeune said...

At least Pooh goes with diaper wipes. . .

Fran said...

All about diaper wipes but not about diaper wipes at all. Insightful and articulate. Thanks. If only more people would take time to notice and reflect on the ordinary. . .